In the first paragraph of chapter 16, we find a new worker coming on the scene. There is already one new worker, of course. That is Silas, whom Paul took in place of Barnabas. Here we find one that Paul and Silas discovered on their journey and invited to go along. His name was Timothy. This is the first place in the New Testament that Timothy is mentioned.
Timothy, whom we know largely through Paul’s letters to him, must have been a bit uncertain of his abilities. I suppose that he was somewhat overshadowed by Paul, who had a brilliant mind and forceful personality and who was always ready to speak. Timothy was chiefly a pastor, as opposed to Paul who was chiefly an evangelist. Timothy was gifted to minister to those Paul had first reached through his preaching. He must have acquired wisdom for building up churches, handling disputes and counseling those in the churches who had difficulties.
We might think that Paul, being such a strong character, might have looked down on Timothy, thinking, “Timothy is alright, you know, but he has limitations. He isn’t quite like me.” Actually, Paul did just the opposite. He thought highly of Timothy and spoke well of him. He speaks well of him in his letters to Timothy, though we might discount these since when you write to someone you generally say nice things. What is more significant is the way Paul wrote about Timothy when he was addressing other people.
There is a superb endorsement of Timothy in Philippians. It is so good it is worth quoting. Paul wrote,
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon. (Phil. 2:19-24)
In that brief paragraph Paul says a number of interesting things about his young co-worker.
1. Timothy was unique. Some of our versions say that Timothy was “like-minded,” meaning that Timothy thought like Paul. He did not have his identical personality or the same gifts. He had a different work assignment. But so far as the missionary enterprise and the building up of the churches was concerned, Timothy was an individual uniquely like-minded with Paul.
2. Timothy was concerned for other people. Isn’t it wonderful to have someone around who is concerned for other people? Paul was speaking from his own experience, but it seems to me that he was also speaking perceptively of our time when he said, “For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” Paul could be describing our country, our city or our town, because this is what most people are like, today as then. They put themselves first. But here was someone, Timothy, who was so under the influence of Jesus Christ, so filled with the Holy Spirit, that he was concerned about others. He put their interests before his own.
3. Timothy looked out for the interests of Jesus Christ. This is also important, since it is possible to have someone who is interested in other people but not within a true Christian framework. A good non-Christian counselor can be interested in other people and help them, but not for the sake of Christ. Timothy had his spiritual priorities right.
4. Timothy worked well with other people. Have you known people who can’t seem to work with anybody? They do a good job, but it is all by themselves. They know nothing about teamwork. Well, says Paul, Timothy is not like that. Timothy might not have been the best of all pioneer missionaries—he may have been too timid for it—but he was certainly a good pastor, because he could work with others within the fellowship of a local church. That is why Paul gave him responsibility for churches he had founded.
Acts 16:3 tells us that Paul wanted to take Timothy along on this second journey, “so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area.” This might seem inconsistent in view of Paul’s stand against the legalizers at the Jerusalem council, but it was not. Paul’s concern was for the defense and propagation of the Gospel. When the essence of the Gospel was at stake, Paul refused any compromise whatsoever. However, when the Gospel was not at stake, as was the case here, Paul was willing to compromise many things in order to win others to Jesus Christ.