Few relationships in the Bible are so tender and fascinating as that of the Apostle Paul and his student, Timothy. In the epistles to Timothy, Paul considers Timothy to be his spiritual son, to whom he bears a debt of service, love, and training. He loves Timothy dearly, as his own child – and what is the hallmark of their friendship? Gentleness.
So who was this interesting young man?
Timothy had been loved and cherished by his faithful mother from birth, and was well established in the knowledge of Scripture. His father being a pagan Greek, Timothy was not fully a member of the Jewish community (Acts 16:1)- he wasn’t even circumcised – yet his Jewish mother and grandmother taught him God’s Word diligently (2 Timothy 1:5).
So well-discipled was Timothy, that this meek young man was described as knowing the sacred Scriptures “from infancy”! (2 Timothy 3:15, CSB). Paul was so impressed by this young man’s faith that he insisted Timothy join the ministry. Paul even circumcised Timothy so that he would be fully acceptable to the Jewish community they were ministering to (Acts 16:3).
As I read the story of Paul and Timothy, I’m moved by their friendship. Timothy likely understood well enough that, as a member of the faith, his true family constituted those within the covenant community. He may defer to his pagan father for the sake of obedience to God, but his allegiance would be to the Christian faith. Timothy was a bold young man who learned well from the strong will and faith of his mentor.
Though Paul was not Timothy’s biological father, his relationship to Timothy was almost that of an adoptive father. Paul devoted his life to the church – and especially to mentoring a mature young leader in the church. In the modern American context, we have a hard time fully grasping how a famous and renowned preacher could become so attached to his assistant pastor. Weren’t they just co-workers, after all? The reality is that they spent every moment together.
The reality is that they spent every moment together.
They ministered publicly, they traveled together, they suffered persecution together – Timothy even co-authored SIX of Paul’s epistles (2 Corinthians 1:1, Philippians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:1, Philemon 1:1)! By all accounts, Paul trained and mentored Timothy for at least thirteen years. No man devotes so much love and service to “just a co-worker” – Paul does not exaggerate in the least when he calls Timothy his “true child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2). Let’s look at some of the wonderful advice Paul gives to his ‘child’, Timothy!
“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”2 TIMOTHY 1:7 NASB
Paul implores Timothy – “be powerful!”. But not powerful in the way the world sees ‘power’ (strong and dominating). Paul associates ‘power’ with love and discipline – ‘discipline’ is better translated here as “self-control”. Paul is teaching Timothy to self-regulate his emotions and impulses of the flesh, and to love others passionately. According to Paul, to be powerful is to be a loving, leading shepherd – just as Jesus is.
“But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”1 TIMOTHY 4:7-8 NASB
Throughout the epistles, Paul is so consistent on this point – bodily discipline (essentially asceticism in this context) is NOTHING compared to spiritual piety.He equates harsh physical restrictions (such as rejecting marriage or unclean foods) with SILLY MYTHS.
According to Paul, elaborate ceremonial commands are no less than unbiblical superstition. To Paul, harsh physical discipline does not teach power, love, or self-control.
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”1 TIMOTHY 1:15-16 ESV
Paul gives constant thanks to his Lord, and constantly refers Timothy to the grace and mercy of Jesus. When a man is rightfully sentenced to eternal suffering, and his King takes the punishment in his place, what can he do but be eternally grateful?
Paul is humble and convicted – he has heard the magnificent voice of Jesus Himself! And as our apostle receives the grace, mercy and peace of Christ, he exemplifies it to Timothy. The word Paul uses is “patience”; Christ was perfectly patient, and now imperfect Paul imitates that patience toward Timothy.
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”1 TIMOTHY 4:12 ESV
Paul tutors Timothy to lead by example! He anticipates, possibly from past experiences with older Christians, that Timothy’s age will be a matter of criticism. Perhaps the older members of the church will be unimpressed by someone younger than them. So Paul tells Timothy to give them absolutely no ground to judge him! He consistently advises Timothy to be bold but gentle, strong but pure, disciplined but loving. In a word, “meek”.
Gentle parenting is built on the idea that shame, fear, and humiliation do not educate children. Love, patience, and discipleship are the only God-ordained ways to train children. Paul taught parents gentleness, and he trained Timothy to lead the same lifestyle of humble leadership. Paul LIVED humbleness and patience, never going beyond the Word of God (1 Corinthians 4:6) – and he taught Timothy to imitate his behavior.
Love, patience, and discipleship are the only God-ordained ways to train children.
Paul took personal responsibility for the education and ethics of the church, and taught Timothy to do the same. When Paul wrote the Corinthians, he said, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish (or gently warn) you as my beloved children.” (1 Corinthians 4:14). Paul taught the concepts of gentleness everywhere he went, and in every church (1 Corinthians 4:15-17).
He even says it plain as day in 1 Corinthians 4:21, demonstrating that he will have no need to hold them accountable if they follow his example, showing how greatly he prefers gentleness and love!
Christian parenting, as well as church leadership, has been given a model of gentleness; thus we must inherently reject violent or coercive means of discipleship. Pagans see no further than this world and dehumanize people through violence; Christians live for God’s Kingdom and reject violence as an educational tool. There can be no compromise, according to Paul.
So, parents: raise your littles to love the Lord in gentleness! Lead by example. Our King traverses all of life, conquering every facet of existence. Let us surrender all of our lives, including our parenting and our churches, to our triumphant King!