Dr. Stephen Phinney | Dedicated to Lelah L. Phinney
A MOMMA'S BOY
For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice,
and I am sure that it is in you as well.
(2 Timothy 1:5)
People tend to forget the power of influence a mother has on a son – particularly in our culture today. Biblical Paul had to remind Timothy of this truth.
Timothy was a native of Lystra, now part of present-day Turkey. The city was under the oppressive dominance of the Roman Empire. Apostle Paul visited this community, along with Barnabas, several times.
The conversion of Timothy's mother and grandmother came with a price for Paul. Paul was brought to the edge of death after sharing the message of Truth, which gained the attention of Eunice and her mother.
According to Acts 14:8–10, Paul healed a man who had been lame from birth. The man leaped up and began to walk and thus so impressed the crowd that the locals thought he was the god, Hermes, the Greek god of all gods. The crowd wanted to offer Paul and his colleagues sacrifices, but Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes in distress and shouted that they were merely men. They used this opportunity to tell the Lystrans of the Gospel of Jesus. Due to the Jewish leaders in the city, the Lystrans stoned Paul and left him for dead. However, moments later, Paul stood on his feet and went back into the city to continue their work of evangelizing the citizens from who Eunice and Lois were apart. History reveals that Lois and Eunice did not receive the indwelling Life of Jesus until Paul's return visit on his way back from Derbe. On this visit, both women were baptized and were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Between Paul’s first and second visit, Eunice and her mother Lois evangelized their son/grandson Timothy with Paul's message.
THE BACK STORY
There is a reason you do not read much about Timothy’s father. Although, history reveals enough that we can understand this mystery.
Eunice was a pure bloodline Jew, and so was her mother, Lois. For reasons not stated, Eunice broke the Hebrew law of not marrying outside of the Jewish bloodline – she married a Greek Gentile. Shortly after marrying, she became pregnant with Timothy. Hebrew law requires all sons to be circumcised on the eighth day. Eunice moved forward with the circumcision with the local Jewish priest. Since her husband was a notable leader amongst the Lystrans, he refuted this act, but he also deserted her and baby Timothy. Eunice, stuck between honoring her deserted husband and her loyalty to Hebrew laws and customs, decides not to go through with the circumcision. History never mentions her husband again. However, we know that Eunice remained single throughout her life. We see why Eunice and her mother raised Timothy on their own.
Time fly’s when you are being persecuted!
While we have no data revealing the age of Timothy when Paul first visited Lystra, we know that by his second visit, Timothy was at the ripe age of manhood – minimally 13-years of age. It is also stated that Timothy is said to have been acquainted with the Scriptures since childhood. In 1 Corinthians 16:10, Paul tells his workers, “Now if Timothy comes, see that he is with you without cause to be afraid, for he is doing the Lord's work, as I also am.” While the meaning of Timothy is by nature reserved and timid, Paul had foresight into Timothy becoming his lead disciple.
We see here the faithful impartation of the good news of the Gospel of Jesus being used in training Timothy in the ways of the Lord. These two mothers were known as two of the most faithful women of faith throughout Biblical history. Furthermore, we discover the Lord’s importance of Biblical motherhood. However, as in all cases of the unbalanced view of training boys to become men, Timothy lacked the influence of a father figure. Without question, Paul knew this.
To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Timothy 1:2)
One of the first things Paul encouraged Timothy to do was be circumcised. During Paul’s second visit to Lystra, Paul noted the following.
Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. (Acts 16:1-3)
To ensure Timothy's acceptability to the Jews whom they would be evangelizing, Paul circumcised Timothy with his own hands. Keep in mind that Paul didn’t do this to maintain the Law; he fulfilled Jewish law to open the door for Timothy to evangelize the Jews. In addition, it honored a request that both Timothy’s mother and grandmother had since Timothy’s birth. Since Timothy had mixed blood of the Greeks and that of the Jews, this provided an ability for Timothy to serve both Greek and Hebrew congregants.
Paul became Timothy’s spiritual father.
History notes that Timothy’s birth father was nowhere to be found. Furthermore, there is zero evidence that Eunice replaced his father by venue of remarriage. It reveals that Eunice honored the institution of once married, always married until death parts you. This further shows that Eunice was an honorable wife, mother, and discipler of her son. My guess is that she also knew the importance of her son needing a father figure to balance the equipping process for her son. Since Paul was the spiritual father of both Eunice and her mother, Paul was the obvious pick.
Based on Biblical history, there was a minimal age difference of 15/20-years between Timothy and Paul. During the second visit to Lystra, Paul adopted Timothy as his spiritual son – igniting the many mission trips the two conducted together. Since Timothy lacked a father figure, he latched on to Paul as if he indeed was his father. Thus, fulfilling a prayer that Eunice and Lois had been supplicating before the Lord for many years.
As many Bible readers know, after being ordained by Paul, Timothy became Paul’s most active spiritual son. History notes a minimum of five New Covenant churches he assisted in growing in the Grace and Life of Jesus Christ.
Paul is imprisoned in Rome, beginning in 61 A.D., at the end of his fourth missionary journey (Acts 28:16 - 31). While in prison, he writes four epistles, three of which mention Timothy being with him (Philippians 1:1, 2:19, Colossians 1:1, Philemon 1:1). At the end of his fifth and final journey, while in Rome a second time just before his death, he requests his closest spiritual son to visit him and bring his personal copies of his writings (2Timothy 4:9, 13, 21). This was pure evidence that Paul was setting Timothy as his successor.
When Paul communicated to those in Philippi, he shared his devoted love and trust for Timothy. He said:
But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the Gospel like a child serving his father. (Philippians 2:19-22)
Folks, Paul equipped many in his day. He was able to call most of them faithful workers of the Gospel. However, Timothy was beyond a faithful worker; as Paul said, he was like a child serving his father. There is a not-so-hidden message about the difference between a faithful worker and a son's kindred spirit in this confession. For Paul to say, for I have no one else of a kindred spirit, is a deep confession. I believe that in the end, all but one went on with their lives, leaving their spiritual father in the dust AND alone – outside of Timothy.
What made Timothy different than the others Paul discipled?
The answer is the training of his mother and grandmother. It is not difficult for me to see that our Lord used the strength of mothers and a child's weaknesses without a fatherly influence to establish one of the world's greatest spiritual sons. God has used this modality to surface some of the greatest leaders in Christianity. I am one of them.