We just finished reading the struggle Paul and Barnabas took up concerning circumcision for the Gentiles and now we are on that issue again. Today there is a different result though for a different reason.
Paul and Silas were working their way backwards from Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey. They were revisiting the cities where they had planted churches. Lystra was one of the memorable cities as their citizens were the ones who stoned Paul and left him for dead. I don’t know that I would be all that excited to go back to such a place, but Paul is not the least bit deterred. He plans to visit the churches no matter where they are or what the personal dangers.
In Lystra Paul and Silas meet a young man named Timothy. He is already a believer and a disciple. His mother is Jewish and his father is a Greek (Gentile). Paul is so impressed with Timothy that he decided to ask him to come along on their journey. Timothy is VERY willing to join them.
Things are a little stick now because of the way Timothy was brought up and the itinerary Paul has laid out. First of all, Timothy’s mother didn’t follow Jewish practices or raise Timothy in the Jewish faith. This is evident by the fact that Timothy is not circumcised. But Paul intends to visit the Jewish synagogues in the cities where they are going. He can’t take Timothy into them as things stand.
Because of Timothy’s mother’s heritage, he is technically Jewish. Jewish bloodline trumps all others but practicing Jewish doctrines is what cements that heritage claim. So in order for Timothy to be accepted by the Jewish brothers and sisters, as well as being allowed in the Jewish holy places, he must undergo circumcision.
But the Gentiles weren’t required to be circumcised so why should Timothy? Because the Gentiles original order from the brethren regarding circumcision was intended to make them acceptable to God. The argument then became that God had already shown His acceptance of them even without any conformity to Jewish traditions. They were not seeking to become Jewish converts but children of God. Whereas Timothy was seeking acceptance by man; Jewish men in particular. His heritage was a well-known fact, so circumcision was a necessity to secure his rights as a Jew.
Here is where we see Timothy’s commitment to Paul, the missionary journey and anything God would ask of him. As an adult with complete free will and freedom NOT to be circumcised he submitted himself to Paul’s hands. This was a painful process but one he willingly underwent.
I find it a bit “tongue in cheek” that the message being delivered to the Gentile believers on this journey was the one about not being required to conform to Jewish standards to be acceptable to God. I wonder how Timothy felt about this message. The churches certainly were grateful for the message. “So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily” (verse 5).
As for Timothy, something that was just ministered to me was that sometimes God calls us to do things that He doesn’t tell others to do. Like Sampson and his haircuts. Or John the Baptist and his time in the wilderness. You can be certain that if God asks you to do something extra, there will be a reason for it. We may not always understand in the beginning but He will make it clear when the time is right. Timothy would certainly reap many benefits from his obedience to Paul that day.
Father God, please forgive me for whining when You ask me to do something that You haven’t required of others. I know that You use my obedience to Your glory even if that obedience is a little on the reluctant side. Thank You for trusting me enough to make those requests. And they are just that; requests. I am free to say no but then I would miss the blessing You have in store if I had obeyed instead. Remind me of this the next time You bring me to one of these choices Lord. I may not understand Your reasons but I can trust Your faithfulness.