Comfort of the Scriptures
(Acts 16:1) Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek:
(Acts 16:2) Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium.
(Acts 16:3) Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek.
This passage introduces Timotheus (Timothy) to us, a man of note for his faith in Christ as both a follower and a leader. He was a faithful spiritual son in gospel labors under Paul (PHIL 2:19-22), and later a faithful minister over others as a bishop (overseer) in a local church (1TI 3:15). Those are best fitted to faithfully lead who know how also to faithfully follow. Jesus once said of a humble, God-fearing centurion who knew his place in authority, “...I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (LUK 7:1-9). Timothy was already a disciple when Paul met him and “...well reported of by the brethren...” (ACT 16:1-2). Bishops even “...must have a good report of them which are without...” (1TI 3:7).
Our text sets forth a curiosity and an example of Timothy’s humble compliance with leadership’s decisions. For the particular work ahead of him, before Paul laid hands on Timothy to ordain him (1TI 4:14 c/w 2TI 1:6), he laid hands on him to circumcise him “...because of the Jews which were in those quarters...” (ACT 16:3). It was a matter of expediency to avoid offense, no more. Paul was not trophy-hunting as others (GAL 6:13) and circumcision’s value had just been officially downgraded by the Jerusalem church council (ACT 15:24). I would here like to state for the record that what Paul thought necessary is NOT one of the regular duties of a minister, and one which I am thankful has not fallen upon me to perform (especially since my eyesight isn’t the best). I have ordained two men without following Paul’s pattern here and done so with a clean conscience (clean hands, too).
Timothy’s mother was, per our text, a believing Jewess and his father evidently an uncircumcised, unbelieving Greek. No mention is made of his father’s faith, in contrast to what was said about his mother and grandmother:
(2Ti 1:5) When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.
Moses had generally forbade Jews marrying Gentiles (DEUT 7:1-3) but that law was particularly rigidly applied to the seven nations of Canaan which were to be overcome and to the remnants of them who survived (JOS 23:11-12). Places like Derbe and Lystra were beyond Canaan’s borders. Timothy’s parents were unequally yoked together, not merely because of their national difference but because of her faith. It was an imperfect arrangement but a workable one and as long as Eunice’s husband was pleased to dwell with her, her place was at his side (1CO 7:13-14). Let us here observe that imperfect marriages of unequal spiritual yoke, though fraught with risk for the believer (especially where the training of children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is concerned), are nevertheless legitimate marriages. A marriage is “...in the Lord” (1CO 7:39) as long as both parties are of age, of opposite sex, not closely related, and unattached maritally according to God’s definition of unattached. Eunice can show us something.
As a Jewess only, Eunice might have been greatly concerned that Timothy was not circumcised since that was the singular mark of inclusion in the O.T. covenant blessings. She might have been consumed with guilt about her decision to marry an uncircumcised Gentile. She might have harped on her husband until he gave in. She might have hastily circumcised Timothy herself, as did Moses’ wife (EXO 4:25). But there is nothing to indicate such torments or peremptory actions in her. Neither do we read of her, as a believer, constantly badgering her husband to repent and turn to Christ. Whereas prayers for, and some words to an unbelieving spouse are good and advisable, sometimes the best thing for one such as Eunice is to humbly, meekly, submissively and quietly be a good wife without sacrificing her own virtue or faith:
(1Pe 3:1) Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;
(1Pe 3:2) While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.
(1Pe 3:3) Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;
(1Pe 3:4) But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
(1Pe 3:5) For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands:
(1Pe 3:6) Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.
Believers do not know if they will save unbelieving spouses (1CO 7:16) but they do know that they should be good spouses themselves and holding their faith. She could not force change on her husband but she could teach her son the way of truth, which she evidently did. Timothy from his childhood knew the scriptures (2TI 3:15) and Eunice is the most likely source of his early instruction. If so, she did what she could, not what she could not (or should not), and this Jesus honors (MAR 14:8). Being a believer, she knew the scriptures. Those scriptures would have confirmed what was written in her heart: that, as touching one’s righteousness before God, circumcision avails nothing (GAL 5:6; GAL 6:15). She would have known that fleshly circumcision was a novelty given to Abraham whose righteousness had previously been confirmed by his faith (ROM 4:9-12). She would have known that the true circumcision is inward, spiritual, of the heart (ROM 2:28-29). She would have known that Messiah had come and made a New Testament by His death which was the ultimate circumcision (He was cut off out of the land of the living, ISA 53:8 c/w COL 2:11), taking away sin and writing a death warrant for Moses’ Law with its rituals. She would have known that Timothy’s faith was a token of greater blessings and promises than his fleshly circumcision could ever provide, for “...faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (HEB 11:1). Circumcision spoke only of an earthly inheritance; faith speaks of an eternal inheritance in heaven.
How much peace, hope, relief and good counsel can the scriptures give everyday believers in everyday imperfect circumstances and trials!