Saturday, May 6, 2017

Who was Timothy?--by Linden Malki

Timothy is a great example of the cultural variety  of the first-century church. He was born  in Lystra, a village in the province of Galatia in what is now southwestern Turkey, on the main road from Ephesus on the Aegean coast to Antioch in Syria, a road that Paul knew well. Timothy's father was Greek, and his mother and her family was Jewish. He would have grown up with a Greek/Roman education; the local Jewish community was too small to have a synagogue,  but we do know that his mother and grandmother taught him the traditional Scriptures. Paul and Barnabas came here in about 48 AD, and healed a lame man. This so impressed the locals that they tried to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, thinking they must be the Greek gods Hermes and Zeus come to earth.  Paul used the opportunity to tell about the true God, but the local pagans, encouraged by Jews from the area, stoned Paul and left him for dead. He recovered with the help of local people who did believe, and they went on their way the next day.  When Paul and Silas came back through in 51 AD, they found a growing community of believers, including young Timothy, his mother  and grandmother.  Timothy became a disciple and mentoree of Paul.  He was on most of the later missionary journeys, and also served as a messenger to various of the churches they had founded;  we find Timothy mentioned as Paul's fellow servant and brother in the Lord in six of Paul's letters. During Paul's last imprisonment, in Rome probably about 65 AD, Timothy had been sent to work with the church at Ephesus, but Paul is asking him to come for a last time with him.  Timothy himself was imprisoned at some point probably in the 60's as the last mention of him in the New Testament is a verse at the end of Hebrews, probably written about this time, that says "I want you know that our brother Timothy has been released." (Hebrews 13:23).  Timothy did settle in Ephesus, and is listed in church history as the first bishop of Ephesus.  This was a tough place; it was a major seaport, with a dockside culture to match, as well as being the longtime home of a major temple to the goddess Diana. Paul had had enough success in reaching this city that those who made a living out of the cult of Diana set off a riot (Acts 19).  The priests of the Diana cult taught that the worship of the goddess as necessary to insure harvests were successful, so this was a hard thing to compete with, not to mention the fun and games that were involved.  Church tradition says that Timothy died in 97 BC (at age 80), stoned as he tried to break up a civic festival honoring the goddess Diana by preaching the Gospel to the crowds.  

What we see is a young man who threw his life into serving God, willing to do whatever he can do to assist Paul in his calling; we don't see any indications that he was less than totally cooperative. He was a good choice for leadership in the Ephesian church;  this was not far from his home town, and it is possible that he had Greek relatives on his father's side in the area, so he understood both sides of the community.   It is interesting, with Timothy's background in mind, to look at the message given through John's Revelation to the church in Ephesus--Timothy's area of responsibility. In Revelation 2:1-7, we see that this church is commended for standing firm for the teachings Timothy was given; for their perseverance in trouble. The one shortcoming noted is that they have "lost their first love"; that their love and enthusiasm for their calling is wearing thin, not surprising considering the problems they had to deal with.  They apparently did get their act together; they were one of the major churches in the first few centuries and hosted a major church Council in 431, and had a continuous resident patriarch until the Ottoman Turkish invasion in the 1500's; the patriarchate was
revived in 1797 and still exists.

The history of the Church is basically the lives of people and places;  it is amazing how much we do know about those who followed Jesus and to whom we owe much of what we know about how God has worked in His world.  We are still called to follow and teach and demonstrate what God intends for His people.

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