|Volume 21 Number 2 February 2019||
Timothy may have heard Paul preach through the ruckus that accompanied the apostle’s first trip to Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:6-20), but the entrance of the young servant into Paul’s life would come in Paul’s second appearance (Acts 16:1-3).
This young disciple had been trained in Scripture (2 Timothy 3:14-15), apparently by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5), and had a good reputation in his area (Acts 16:1). Paul was inclined to take this man on the journey of mission work, but something needed done first. Being the son of a Jewish woman and a Greek man made Timothy an outcast in the eyes of many of the zealous Jews. Paul “took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region” (Acts 16:3). There is an indication of commitment. A young adult male was willing to have painful surgery just so the Gospel he was carrying would be more appealing to the folks to whom he was preaching. He did not want to be a stumbling block to Jews who still believed it was necessary (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
Dedication further characterized Timothy’s life. He was with Paul off and on through remaining journeys (Acts 17:14-15; 18:5; 19:22; 20:4; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1). He was characterized by Paul as one who worked for the Lord (1 Corinthians 16:10) and as a son in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2; 1 Corinthians 4:17; Philippians 2:22). Paul lauded him for his selfless sincerity (Philippians 2:19-21). On that occasion, the imprisoned apostle was sending him to spiritually care for the Philippian brethren. No one else could match his qualifications of character (Philippians 2:20).
Yet, there was another man who almost died taking care of Paul in the name of the Lord. Epaphroditus had brought a gift from the Philippians to Paul (Philippians 4:18), and while ministering to him, became so sick that he almost died (Philippians 2:25-30). Although the apostle Paul knew those who were insincere and even maliciously ambitious (Philippians 2:21; 1:15-17), he also knew some very dedicated servants.
The church is supposed to be separate from the world (John 17:15; 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1). There is supposed to be a distinction of behavior that impresses even critics (1 Corinthians 5; 1 Peter 2:15). Most often, there is. Most often, those in the Lord’s church practice a higher moral standard than the profane world around them. Yet, sometimes, those even with higher morals lack a dedication that is needed in the kingdom.
One must be very cautious not to judge another man’s heart, unless the fruits of life plainly manifest either goodness or corruption (Matthew 7:1-5, 15-20; John 7:24). Some generalizations might be speculated, though, based on behavior patterns observed throughout a preaching career. Thus, I sometimes wonder if even some longstanding members of the Lord’s church could be a little more dedicated to the work. Questions upon which I sometimes reflect include:
For years, I have been privileged to travel in my work and meet wonderful brethren. I have met good, hard-working people, who often labored strenuously to keep a shrinking church going. Though these few were zealous and hard-working, the churches suffered from declining numbers and waning interest.
Many factors may have played roles. A devastated economy kept workers from moving in and kept the young people going out. Sometimes the young people went off to college and had no employment at home to which they could return. The numbers of deaths mounted. These were more than lame excuses; they were good reasons these congregations struggled.
Still, I wonder if a defeated spirit of apathy reigned in some places, or even—quite candidly—in my own heart. We went through the motions; we worshiped in truth. Although, again, one cannot be sure of hearts and all causes of a phenomenon, it seemed to me that perhaps half-hearted Christianity was often an unnamed culprit—perhaps the proverbial elephant in the room (that everybody sees, but no one dares mention).
Society’s leanings play a role in these things. Due to America’s secularization, there are more atheists and agnostics than there are people concerned with true spirituality. Although we may sow and water, and sow and water, and sow and water, sometimes the seeds just hit the hardened highway, and its careless travelers flippantly pass.
Still, one reasonably wonders if some of the Bible-class skipping, Sunday morning only, late-in, early-out crowd would take some cues from Timothy and Epaphroditus, if the work would not only survive but progress. If some would help with the burden of dedicated elders, work to make one another’s jobs easier, how much would love be engendered? How could outreach and service to the community be multiplied if more people realized the dedication required of true servants of God?
The part about which I do not wonder is this: All Christians need to be dedicated wholly and repent of any halfheartedness. Jesus demands all (Luke 9:23-24; 14:25-35; Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
If the church will thrive again, if there will be revival, if Christians will “hold forth the word of life” (Philippians 2:16 KJV), the collective whole will need individuals who are willing to step up their devotion to the Lord.