Verse: Acts 16:1-5
1 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and they increased in numbers daily.
If you’ll recall from chapter 15, Paul (and others) have just come from Jerusalem, where a council of the apostles and elders have decreed that it is not necessary for Gentile (non-Jewish) converts to Christianity to be circumcised. This was necessary to address as it had become a point of contention among some of the Jewish converts. So, what does Paul do to celebrate this announcement? He circumcises the first person he comes across!
Now, this is exactly the kind of seemingly contradictory fact that those who desire to tear down Scripture and Christianity would latch onto. But we know better than to fall for that, right? We know that when something in Scripture doesn’t make sense at face value, it’s time to dig a little deeper into the context. So let’s do that.
We know from verse 1 that Timothy’s mother was Jewish. If you’re at all familiar with Jewish culture, you are probably aware that ethnicity is passed through the mother. So, Timothy himself was fully Jewish. This would have given him instant credibility among the Jewish Christians. However, his father being Greek meant that the family most likely wouldn’t have followed orthodox Jewish custom, as evidenced by the fact that Timothy obviously hadn’t been circumcised when he was born. And we know from chapter 15, that he was not required to be circumcised in order to be saved.
So, why did Paul seem to think it was important that Timothy be circumcised? It is a question of motivation. Verse 3 tells us, “Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, AND he took him and circumcised him…”. If it was a requirement or an obligation, it would’ve made more sense for that verse to read “…SO he took him”, indicating that the former couldn’t happen without the latter.
Instead, Paul recognized the leadership potential that was present in Timothy, which would later be realized when Timothy became the pastor of the church in Ephesus. And Paul knew that, even though Timothy was ethnically Jewish, his ability to shepherd Jewish Christians would be hindered by the distraction of their focus being on his not having followed their customs. It would have been a stumbling block to their faith (Romans 14:13), which would have damaged his ministry.
In the modern church, there’s been a push toward focusing on our “Christian liberty” as opposed to the legalism of rule-following. And while there’s some benefit to that, Paul and Timothy are modeling in this passage an even more important truth of our faith…that Christian sacrifice should always be prioritized over Christian liberty. That rule-following, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing, depending on the motivation. When it’s used as a means to spread the Gospel and not as a means of salvation, it can be a beautiful and productive thing.
God, thank you for the freedom that comes from knowing that salvation is through faith alone in Jesus Christ and is not dependent on any work I need to do or rules I need to follow, But, God, I pray that you will show me when doing something I’m not require to do might benefit my brothers and sisters and strengthen my testimony and/or their faith. Amen.
Author: Dave MacDonald