Remember your first “big assignment”?
You have learned, observed, asked questions, learned some more…and then, it was time. Your boss gave you a task and then went on vacation. The director stepped aside, and you were the only person on stage. Your teacher put you in charge of the class – and then left. How ever your situation came about, suddenly you found yourself working without a net.
If that sounds familiar, then you can empathize with Timothy.
Timothy spent years working side by side with Paul. He’s seen the good and the bad, the easy days and the hard days. Together they have lived life, worshiped God, shared the gospel, and strengthened the faith of believers. Timothy had started the church in Ephesus with Paul, and they ministered there for two years. Now, years later, they have come back to Ephesus…however, this time Paul is moving on and Timothy is staying behind.
Ephesus was the third largest city in the Roman empire, with over 250,000 people living there. It was also the regional capital, a bustling commercial center, and an important seaport. Ephesus was a true melting pot of Middle East culture, and the people who became Christians had a wide-ranging background of religious experiences. As many as 50 different gods and goddesses were worshiped there. Other religious communities included Jewish religious practices and those who practiced magic, shamanism, and the occult arts. The city was cosmopolitan on many levels, and the group of people who believed in Jesus for eternal life no doubt had a fair bit of baggage, a number of questions, and a need for guidance as to how this whole “life in Christ” thing is supposed to work out.
This is Timothy’s mission field.
It would be one thing to lead people with your mentor in an environment like that…it would be a whole ‘nother challenge if he left you in charge – but that’s what Paul did.
Imagine how Timothy felt, after he had been doing his best and some time had passed, when one day he received a letter:
1 Timothy 1:1-2
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus, our hope:
To Timothy, my true child in the faith.
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul had written Timothy a letter of encouragement and instruction. Right from the beginning, you can see Paul’s affection for Timothy – my true child in the faith. These words would have breathed new life into the young man. However, Paul’s words for Timothy weren’t sunshine and fluff. In fact, Paul recognizes much of what he talks about as being hard…and that’s exactly why he writes to encourage Timothy to keep up the good work. About halfway through his letter, Paul says
1 Timothy 3:14-15
I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon. But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household
Paul doesn’t write Timothy to tell him how to share the gospel; Timothy knows how to do that. Instead, Paul gives Timothy advice and encouragement for how to know what God expects of His family in the midst of mixed-up culture. Even from a distance, Paul continues to support and exhort his young protégé.
That is a great observation for us to take ahold of – mentoring doesn’t always happen side-by-side. A note of encouragement can go a long way toward strengthening a person and keeping them focused on their Godly mission. And that’s just the beginning. We’re also going to take a look at what Paul had to say and how it was helpful to Timothy. We have much to learn from their example.