Saints for Our Times: St. Timothy: Friend, companion of St. Paul
By Mary Lou Gibson
Foremost among the early Christian disciples who traveled and preached the message that Jesus was “the Messiah and the Son of God” were St. Paul (after his conversion) and St. Timothy, his close companion and co-worker in preaching.
Much of what is known about Timothy comes from the Acts of the Apostles and in letters in the New Testament said to be from Paul and addressed to Timothy. Paul Burns writes in “Butler’s Lives of the Saints” that these letters to Paul and one to Titus, another disciple, are referred collectively as the Pastoral Epistles.
Timothy was born in Lystra, Lycaenia. His father was Greek and his mother, Eunice, was Jewish. Paul first met Timothy when he came to Lystra in Asia Minor where he converted Timothy’s mother and grandmother and baptized her son. Years later, he returned and found Timothy grown so virtuous, courageous and selfless that he made him his close companion and lifelong friend. Omer Englebert writes in “Lives of the Saints” that “there is no one to whom Paul gave higher praise than to Timothy.” According to Burns, Paul had Timothy circumcised to make him acceptable to Jewish Christians.
Paul later advised Timothy to “a little wine for the sake of your stomach” (1 Tim 5:23). This led to Timothy’s traditional patronage of those who suffer from digestive distress.
Timothy traveled with Paul on many mission journeys to Phrygia, Galatia and Macedonia. They visited Ephesus and then went on missions to churches in Corinth, where the Corinthians did not give Timothy a warm welcome. He was later in Greece with Paul and some others and returned to Syria.
Paul later wrote to the Philippians of his hope of sending Timothy there adding: “For I have no one comparable to him for genuine interest in whatever concerns you.” (Phil 2:20-22)
In Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy, he wrote about several major themes. According to “The Catholic Encyclopedia,” he wished to warn Timothy of false teachers who would teach false doctrines regarding the authentic role of the Old Testament law in Christianity (1:1-20), and to instruct Timothy about public worship (2:1-7), women’s roles (2:8-15), and the selection of ministers (3:1-16).
When Paul was forced to leave Beroea because of Jewish opposition, Timothy remained to baptize, organize and confirm new Christian converts. Rosemary Guiley writes in the “Encyclopedia of Saints” that Timothy next went to Thessalonica to report on the status of Christianity there and to support those believers who faced persecution from Rome. This report served as the basis for Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians believed to be the earliest writing in the New Testament, according to Guiley.
When Paul was in his second captivity in Rome, he wrote these words to Timothy: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.” (2Tim 4:7-8)
It is believed that Timothy survived Paul by some 30 years, presiding as bishop of the church of Ephesus. It was in his old age that Timothy took strong exception to the lewd dancing in the streets for the pagan festival honoring Dionysus and was beaten and stoned to death in about the year AD 97.
In the fourth century, the relics of Timothy were transferred to Constantinople and placed in the church of the Holy Apostles. His feast day has been kept on Jan. 26 since 1969 in the Roman calendar with Titus. It is also celebrated by the Church of England, the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and the Evangelical, Lutheran Church in America.