Excerpt from Life with God Spiritual Formation Bible

Oh, that we might all have a partner in the faith like the apostle Paul had in Timothy. They met during Paul’s second missionary journey and worked together for some seventeen years. It is hard to imagine Paul’s ministry without the presence of his faithful partner, Timothy.

Although Timothy was young and probably fairly new to the Christian faith, he possessed a spiritual maturity beyond his years. Raised by a devout Jewish mother and grandmother, Timothy likely had a strong commitment to God and a good knowledge of Old Testament Scriptures before meeting Christ. After he became a Christian, his community soon realized his leadership potential, and Paul took him on as a companion, acting as a spiritual father to the young man. 

Paul refers often to Timothy as my child” and calls him loyal,” beloved,” and my co-worker.” He had good reason to care so deeply for his partner; Timothy traveled with Paul to nearly every city on his journeys and sometimes stayed behind to lead a church after Paul’s departure. He was with Paul at the writing of six of the Letters and often took these and other messages to the congregations. Few were as loyal in supporting and assisting Paul’s work. 

Paul wrote to the Philippians: I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel” (Phil 2:19 – 22). Here we find the core of Paul’s love for Timothy. Although many had joined Paul in his ministry, some were ultimately more concerned with themselves and their own lives than they were with the welfare of the churches and the work of the gospel — the interests of Jesus Christ. Timothy demonstrated again and again that truly he did love those he served with the love of Christ. He loved Paul and shared Paul’s sense of commitment to serving God. Even in Paul’s days while in prison in Rome, Timothy was among the few who remained loyal, not deserting Paul as the others did when their connection with him became risky. 

As we consider Timothy’s unfailing devotion, what can we take from him to help us grow in a devoted and selfless spirit? Three attitudes stand out. 

First, Timothy had a humble spirit. So humble was he that he often appeared reserved and timid, prompting Paul to encourage boldness in his leadership. I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a Spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:6 – 7). Spirit-empowered leadership never loses its humility, Paul seemed to remind, for it remains loving and disciplined. 

Madame Jeanne Guyon, in her seventeenth-century classic Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, explained an important outgrowth of humility: If the Lord should be so merciful as to give you a true spirit of His humility, you will not be surprised at your faults, or even your own basic nature. The more clearly you see your true self, the dearer you also see how miserable your self-nature really is; and the more you will abandon your whole being to God. Seeing that you have such a desperate need of Him, you will press toward a more intimate relationship with Him.” 

This desire for an intimate relationship with Christ was Timothy’s second attitude. He had been transformed through the coming of Jesus into his life. Although he was a longtime worshiper of God, his meeting Christ had made him new, forming in him the mind and heart of Jesus. No longer caring primarily for his own interests, Timothy began to care most for the concerns of God. 

William Temple, a leader of modern Protestantism, wrote: The only way to deliver me from my self-centeredness is by winning my entire heart’s devotion, the total allegiance of my will to God — and this can only be done by the Divine Love of God disclosed by Christ in his life and death.” This love for God in Christ sparked an undying passion in Timothy. 

His passion, along with his humility, engendered a third attitude. Timothy sensed his own need for guidance. In Paul he found someone who could train him in his faith, someone who could love him and guide his growth while modeling for him a life lived in wholehearted service to Christ. We might call it mentoring or spiritual direction or holy friendship — whichever term we use, Timothy submitted to the discipline of guidance by opening his life to Paul and seeking growth through Paul’s influence as they worked together. 

Richard Foster writes: If we have the humility to believe that we can learn from our brothers and sisters and the understanding that some have gone further into the divine Center than others, then we can see the necessity of spiritual direction. As Virgil Vogt of Reba Place Fellowship says, If you cannot listen to your brother, you cannot listen to the Holy Spirit.’” 

Timothy viewed himself rightly, and because he didn’t focus on himself, demanding comfort and control of his life, God used him to do great works of ministry. The fourth-century historian Eusebius records Timothy’s appointment as the first bishop of Ephesus. Another writing from the same period details his martyrdom in Ephesus some thirty years after Paul’s death. Timothy remained devoted to the cause of Christ until his death. Oh, that we might show the same devotion to our Lord. 

Personal Reflection

  • Timothy’s humility made it possible for him to work so well alongside Paul. Whom do you work alongside? Do you struggle in remaining humble? What part of your relationship or work might be helped by greater humility on your part? 
  • Have you ever practiced the Spiritual Discipline of guidance on a one-on- one basis? Who has served as a guide (or mentor or spiritual director) for you? Do you see ways God might use such a person in your life now? Ask God to lead you to an individual who could serve you in this way.

Excerpted from the Life with God Bible, edited by Richard Foster, Gayle Beebe, Lynda Graybeal, Thomas Oden, Dallas Willard, Walter Brueggemann, and Eugene Peterson (New York: HarperOne, 2005). Character profile written by Brenda Quinn.

Text First Published January 2005 · Last Featured on Renovare.org January 2022