... from a spiritual child to a developed pastor and leader at a young age.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, young adults are the most flexible, trainable and available group of ministers in our churches. Millennial's and the forthcoming Generation-Zers have the most evangelical energy of any other demographic among our congregations. They are the strongest and sharpest force for the gospel simply because of their natural vitality and personal availability.
The Apostle John acknowledged the strength of youth in his first epistle. Just before he admonishes the men of the church to refuse the world and its wicked system, he says the following…
1 John 2:12 I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake. 13 I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him [that is] from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. 14 I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him [that is] from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
With that said, the fact that young people are strong doesn’t promise them anything. It doesn’t promise them status or position. It doesn’t guarantee movement up some leadership ladder. To be honest, it doesn’t even mean that they will be following the Lord ten years from now. The value of youth isn’t strength or energy and it certainly isn’t experience; it is their potential for long term faithfulness to a kingdom agenda.
For 2,000 years, growing Christians have been looking to Timothy as a model for what their own personal faithfulness should look like. His testimony is particularly significant to young people because of his age as well as the manner in which his spiritual growth is displayed. We see the pattern of his life from one faith proposition to another, growing from a spiritual child to a developed pastor and leader at a young age.
Paul refers to Timothy as his son in the faith; what a privilege! Paul invited Timothy while he was still a very young man to join him in his missionary endeavor, and by the end of his most formative years Timothy had already experienced all the trial and excitement of being a gospel pioneer. By his early twenties, he was pastoring the church in Ephesus. What was in this young man’s spiritual makeup? What was the catalyst for his undying devotion to the ministry, and how was this faith nurtured? What can young people learn in order to model such faith?
A Pattern of Reasonable Sacrifice
Timothy understood that Christianity is a faith that drives ordinary men to live beautifully extraordinary lives
To understand Timothy it is important to consider his first Christian experience. Timothy would have been an adolescent when Paul and Barnabas passed through his hometown of Lystra, perhaps just twelve or thirteen. He would have been old enough to be aware of the stir that the two would have made - such a stir that the people of the city initially wanted to worship them!
In Acts 14:5-18, Paul and Barnabas come to the city of Lystra where they came across a crippled man. Paul spoke with a loud voice and commanded the man to rise up and walk, and the man did just that. As a result, the people celebrated and declared them to be the Roman gods Jupiter and Mercury, and they brought them gifts. The ruckus was such that, had Paul not intervened, the people would have begun to offer them sacrifices. Paul, however, denied their claims and pointed them to the true and Living God.
14 Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, 15 And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: 16 Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. 18 And with these sayings scarce restrained they the people, that they had not done sacrifice unto them.
The rousing of the people did not come without consequence, though, as the Jewish leaders in the city quickly took the men outside of the city and stoned Paul so badly they were convinced he was dead. The Spirit was strong in him, however, and what he does next is astonishing.
19 And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead. 20 Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, 22 Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.
Timothy’s first experience with Paul was that he came to his city in the name of Christ, healed a man, refused personal praise, was stoned within inches of death and a shortly returned to preach the gospel once again. In other words, Timothy’s first impression of Jesus Christ was that he is so great and so wonderful and so powerful and so persistent that the very gospel message is worth dying for. This encounter would have been the primer and the foundation for his own faith perspective.
Consider how counterintuitive Timothy’s understanding of faith would be in our culture today. Ours is a generation where discomfort has effectively been purged from day-to-day living. We are malnourished and blind. Our Christianity is so puny that it seems a sacrifice to wake up early for church. If we are faithful in our attendance, it is not uncommon to come in late, leave early or be distracted through the service. It is typical for Christians to church hop when they are dissatisfied, measuring the value of a church based on music preferences and cultural climate. In a Wikipedia society, we often believe that truth resides in a Google search, leading many down the road to heresy. We are misguided, put-out, overly-sensitive and we have no comprehension of what it means to suffer or sacrifice.
Php 3:10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;
Timothy witnessed and understood that Christianity is a faith that drives ordinary men to live beautifully extraordinary lives. Timothy knew and embraced radical Christianity as normative, which made him the perfect candidate for Paul to disciple and lead. The leaders in our churches are looking to the young people with hope that they might count the cost. Is a pattern of sacrifice foundational to your walk?
A Pattern of Faithful Servanthood
People were witness to the absolute and undying devotion of a sixteen year old.
Fast forward three years, and when Paul returns to Lystra he meets a sixteen year old man with a reputation that precedes him.
Acts 16:1 Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek: 2 Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium.
Timothy was well reported of by other Christians in Lystra and Iconium. This report of Timothy was not simply people admiring him for his giftedness. Lystra was a community without much leadership and in the absence of the apostle, Timothy had filled the void and busied himself by serving his local church. Timothy had such an impact on his community that people made sure that word had reached the Apostle himself. This was not merely ministry potential, this was ministry movement! People were witness to the absolute and undying devotion of a sixteen year old.
Our leaders are looking for the same traits from their congregants: faithful, consistent people led by the Spirit in response to the need around them. I wonder what our cities would be like if the young people in C&YA and in the Living Faith Fellowship had this level of servanthood? Do people witness an exceptional devotion in us? Is there a pattern to your servanthood that people in your church can count on?
A Pattern of Submission
There is no hesitation when Paul says let’s go, no sheepishness, no indecisiveness.
Upon discovering the testimony of Timothy, Paul did the obvious thing: promoted him. Paul had a need and Timothy was proven.
Acts 16:3 Him would Paul have to go forth with him;
The next thing we see is Timothy joining with and submitting to Paul. There is no hesitation when Paul says let’s go, no sheepishness, no indecisiveness. In a culture stereotyped by indecisiveness, it is important for us to honestly consider this testimony. Notice that there is no record of Timothy being flustered or thrown off balance by Paul’s request. Imagine for a moment if Timothy responded as we often do:
“Well, there’s a lot going on here in Lystra ministry wise, so I should probably just stick around.”
“I’m working a lot of hours this semester and Breath of the Wild on my Nintendo Switch is taking up a lot of my extra time.”
We are just like the rich young man of Matthew 19, suspended by our own comforts.
What makes Timothy’s submission even more amazing is that by his very nature he was timid. Paul writes the church in Corinth to tell them to be aware of this timidity and embrace him.
1 Corinthians 16:10 Now if Timotheus come, see that he may be with you without fear: for he worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do.
We never see Timothy let his sheepish nature interfere with the calling on his life. When Paul asked, he didn’t half-step. How many of us struggle with a cynical, fearful or indecisive approach to the directives of our leaders? When someone asks us to step up into a ministry role, we are often afraid to commit. In opposite cases, some are convinced that their leaders don’t see their potential and should promote them before they are ready (1 Peter 5:5-6). We would do well to establish a pattern of submission, believing that God uses our leaders to point us in the direction of God’s plan for our lives.
Once they had determined that Timothy would be joining the team, Paul made a very personal request.
Acts 16:3b...and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek.
Paul knew that as they journeyed they would come in contact with religious Jews and while he knew that God didn’t care about circumcision, weak minded people would. So he requested Timothy be circumcised so that he could minister to both Jews and Greeks without distraction. Do you understand the physical hurdle and psychological significance of that decision?! Timothy was a sixteen year old who got circumcised for the sake of blamelessness in ministry.
By now, the spiritual pattern was built into his way of thinking. As we have learned from Timothy already, his life was a virtuous repetition of sacrifice, servanthood and submission. Timothy was so submitted to Paul, and understood so clearly the gravity of the work, that circumcision was a reasonable sacrifice in his mind (Rom 12:1-2). Do you balk at God’s call on your life when it seems too difficult? Or do you practice a consistent heart of submission by saying, “yes, Lord”?
The Fruit of a Spiritual Pattern
Being a person with potential is different from being a person of faithfulness
Needless to say, the result of Timothy’s character of faith is that God used him.
Acts 16:4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. 5 And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.
Timothy “delivered the decrees” as they went from city to city. Even as a teen, Timothy knew what the work was. He wasn’t bewildered by the Judaizers or the Gnostics. He was not dissuaded by the culture. He wasn’t intimidated by the authorities’ subversions. And even though in his flesh he was a timid novice, the reality is that he was an evangelical force to be reckoned with. God used Timothy’s service to rattle the very gates of hell!
Being a person with potential is different from being a person of faithfulness. To have potential simply means you are a person of promise, to be admired for your giftedness. To be a person of faithfulness implies that you are a person who is valued for your faith and devotion. One quality should not assume the other.
2 Timothy 2:2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
Long before Timothy ever pastored, long before his first preaching opportunity, long before his first missions trip, he had first established a pattern of faithfulness in a tiny church in Lystra. Would God help us, and especially those labelled millennials, be transformed from people of potential into people of eternal profit.