Timothy: Guardian of the gospel
Come with me back to 17 AD, to the city of Lystra in what is now Turkey, to a young man brought up by his Jewish mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois (both of whom had converted to Christianity), and having a Greek (i.e. non-Jewish) father. This combination of Judaism and paganism made Timothy a perfect student for Paul, who recognised in Timothy an uncompromising faithfulness to the word of God.
Guard the truth
Indeed, if I were to pick a single most prominent habit exhibited by Timothy, it would be his refusal to be swayed by the religious fraudsters of his time, instead saturating himself and his listeners in God’s unadorned and unadulterated Word. Whilst many at the time came under mental health hardship, and lost their way because of listening to those who proclaimed untruths, Timothy instructed God’s people out of a life of scriptural obsession and zero compromises. For us today, the temptation to agree with, or subconsciously follow, teachings of our world (be it church or secular culture) that are not grounded in scripture, and are often stronger than our human hearts can bear. But there is One who is in us, who has all power to stand up to these ‘false truths’ and to hold firm to the one truth, no matter what the cost.
How can we remain obedient to the gospel and, even more, guard it against the many assaults we know will come? Timothy is told to do this not by his own ability but with our ‘helper’ (John 14:16-17), the Holy Spirit: “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you - guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (2 Timothy 1:14).
Timothy is alerted to the “terrible” times that are to come for the church (2 Timothy 3:1-9). He is warned of church people and leaders who, in the future, will adopt a godly form without crediting power to the Almighty; who will ‘equip’ their church with convincing but unbiblical teachings. Does this sound familiar? Those whose hearts will be blackened with violence, hedonistic desires, self-centred worship and, perhaps the most “terrible”, the inability to forgive others. ‘Take the log out of your own eye’ comes to mind.
Hold on to your faith
How did Timothy keep his conscience clear and fight for the truth (1 Timothy 1:18-19), amidst this fraud-wrought church, and in the knowledge of worse yet to come?
Firstly, as we have seen, there was absolutely nothing lukewarm about Timothy. He was completely soaked in the teachings of Jesus and protected himself from the surrounding falsities, trying to sway his character. One of the classic downfalls of renowned and respected church leaders today is that they protect their ministry with a biblically secure fence, but when it comes to their personal life, there are compromises. As we know, these can start small and, over time, erupt into life-destroying habits. Timothy lived out the truth in both work and life (1 Tim 6:11). He knew it was not only his life on the line but the spiritual health of the Ephesus churches where God’s power was moving.
Secondly, he did not believe in his own power but in the power given to him from above (2 Tim 1:6). One might call Timothy an introvert. His character was not one that was likely to step confidently forward into an open opportunity (2 Tim 1:7), and yet with Paul’s encouragement and God’s sacred anointing, he did more than one could possibly have expected of him. It’s easy to categorise ourselves as an introvert; however, God repeatedly calls these kinds of people into prominent and bold positions, not for their own credit, but as His ambassador. What might He be calling you to stand up for, publicly, today?
Thirdly, Timothy made some rather bold and counter-cultural decisions as an influential young figure. He chose not to drink wine despite his ill-health (1 Timothy 5:23), and he chose to lead by servanthood, not for power (Philippians 2:20-21). It was this counter-cultural character that set Timothy apart, and kept him on the straight and narrow in a time of great challenge.
In the same way that Timothy was alerted to future “terrible” events in the church by Paul, so too were the disciples alerted by Jesus himself that weeds would be planted among the wheat and yeast in the flour (Matthew 13); and that the church would be seeped with falsities - both the teachers and the taught. We see the results of this today, with so much anger and bitterness towards God and the church, often to the point of rejection altogether.
Yet Timothy was granted authority to confront these false teachers who had infiltrated the church and who even challenged his role as a leader, many of them being older and assuming more responsibility than him. “You may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer” (1 Timothy 1:3). In the same way, the creator of the universe grants us the authority to not only resist the human desire to conform and to follow the curve, but to confront those who misguide and mislead believers by painting an easy-to-follow ‘Christian’ way of living which does not lead us to the cross, and ultimately ends in failure and loss of self-worth. We have no choice but to be rooted in scripture if we are to make it through these times, knowing genuine joy and peace in the most unlikely of circumstances, and to bring many others with us to our Saviour King.
Endure for a purpose
“Now, in fact, all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
How can we be convinced that living our lives in a way that goes against the norms and expectation of our culture, and even at times our church leaders, to the extent that we may suffer daily grief and hurt, will make a difference to our world and to the new age to come? We see in the early church that countless people turned and looked to Jesus for their salvation as a direct result of Paul and Timothy’s persecutions (e.g. 2 Tim 2:10), and that the churches grew stronger in their faith. This, in itself, is an incentive beyond any earthly treasures.
Because of his faithfulness to the truth Timothy, like his mentor Paul, and his ultimate model Jesus, is laid bare to mockery, criticism, loneliness, imprisonment and poverty. His life was an aggressive wake-up call to us today, never to give up in our persecuted life for Jesus. Like Paul, he did not falter, and he kept fighting (Heb 13:23) to win more souls for eternity with Christ. It is highly plausible that Timothy would have met a similar end to his earthly and heavenly examples. Paul urged Timothy to stay in Ephesus, stand up for the truth and “fight the good fight” (1 Tim 6:12), but the Bible does not record the rest of Timothy’s life, or death. Extra-biblical records indicate that Timothy’s preaching of the true gospel during ungodly celebrations (one writing suggests during the veneration of the pagan goddess, Diana), inspired an anger-fuelled mob to stone to death God's courageous, and possibly rather elderly by this point, faithful servant.
“Yet, not my will but yours be done” we hear our Saviour’s words through his tear-stricken face as he pleads with his Father, and then obediently and selflessly gives up his body in retribution for all the mistakes you and I have made. Jesus knew this to be the only way for us to receive a full pardon, and a full life. Both on this earth and in the eternal and renewed world.
We, like Paul, Timothy and ultimately Jesus, can stand firm in the face of cultural and religious adversity by reading, digesting, battling with, praying over, and crucially teaching the unadorned Word of God.