On Paul’s first missionary venture, God led him to the Island of Cyprus, then into modern-day south-central Turkey. There, Paul preached the Gospel of Jesus, evangelized both Jews and Gentiles, and planted churches in the cities of Perga, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe (Acts 13:13-14:25). On his second missionary tour, he returned to many of these same cities to edify and encourage the infant churches (Acts 15:41).
When Paul arrived at Lystra, he found a young “disciple named Timothy” (Acts 16:1). I suspect, though I can’t know, that Paul had led Timothy to saving faith during his first visit to Lystra. I can imagine Paul, with his arm draped over Timothy’s shoulder and with his head bowed reverently, listening as Timothy prayed, faithfully asking God for His undeserved, unfathomable grace. Later, Paul would refer to Timothy as “my dearly loved and faithful child in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:17) and “my true son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2).
Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and his mom, Eunice, were believers, “but his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:1). From his earlies days, Timothy had been taught the Scriptures. The New Testament’s silence concerning Timothy’s dad leads me to believe that he didn’t become a follower of Christ Jesus. We can’t be sure.
Of this we can be certain. Paul saw something special in Timothy, maybe something in his thirst for truth, in his humble service, in his compassionate heart, and/or in his zeal for the Gospel. “Paul wanted Timothy to go with him; so he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, since they all knew that his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:3). Paul didn’t have Timothy circumcised as a prerequisite to his salvation, but to remove a barrier to future ministry opportunities. Had Timothy not been circumcised, he wouldn’t have been allowed into synagogues. Timothy submitted to this costly and painful request.
Timothy accompanied Paul and became a crucial partner in the Apostle’s worldwide mission endeavors. For example, later, on the second missionary journey, when Paul escaped the riotous crowds in Berea, Timothy remained to teach the new converts (Acts 17:14-15). After joining Paul in Athens and Corinth, Timothy returned to Thessalonica “to strengthen and encourage (them) concerning (their) faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:2). On the third missionary journey, while Paul served in Ephesus, Timothy carried Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:10), and then went north to Macedonia (Acts 19:22).
Imprisoned in Rome, Paul directed Timothy to Philippi to deliver the Epistle of Joy. “Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon so that I too may be encouraged by news about you. For I have no one else like-minded who will genuinely care about your interests; all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know his proven character, because he has served with me in the gospel ministry like a son with a father” (Philippians 2:19–22).
So tightly knit were Paul and Timothy that they co-authored six of Paul’s thirteen epistles (2 Corinthians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; Philemon 1). In addition, Paul addressed two epistles directly to his younger partner.
Likely during his second Roman imprisonment, as Paul faced the probability of his own imminent death, Paul beckoned Timothy saying, “make every effort to come to me soon” (2 Timothy 4:9). With a bit of imagination, I can see Timothy sitting in Paul’s prison cell, with his arm draped over Paul’s shoulder and with his head bowed reverently, giving thanks for his partner, his mentor, his friend, his dearly loved and faithful father in the Lord, and prayerfully asking God for His undeserved, unfathomable grace for the soon-to-be-martyr.