A Portrait of Godliness: Timothy
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Timothy’s life is a portrait of godliness, whose Christ-centered heart and godly character we should imitate in order to grow more into the image of Christ.
1. Timothy's Testimony v.19
2. Timothy's Heart vs.20-21
3. Timothy's Character, v.22-24
1. Life is a vapor
2. Parents, our kids lives are a vapor too
3. Pray towards letting our children go serve in the work of the Gospel
A Portrait of Godliness: Timothy
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. To be worthy of being emulated is high praise. And this morning I want to challenge us all to be imitators of Timothy, and not just Timothy, but we will see-through Timothy, in a sense, to Christ and copy him, look like him. We will offer the sincerest form of flattery to Timothy and Jesus Christ.
In our passage we see Paul’s plans for the future. He is going to send Timothy to Philippi. Timothy will act as a sort of lighthouse to help steer them in the right direction through the storms they are facing. They know him personally and he is a man of great godliness and wisdom who can be a source of encouragement to them, someone they should look to and follow after. And not just them, this applies to us as well today. By looking at his life and testimony throughout the New Testament, and also these verses that show us his heart and character, we will be challenged to be like Timothy.
Timothy’s life is a portrait of godliness, whose Christ-centered heart and godly character we should imitate in order to grow more into the image of Christ.
So, what we will do first is look at Timothy’s testimony, then zoom into his heart and character.
- Timothy’s Testimony, v.19
What then is Timothy’s backstory? What do we know of his history and testimony before he is mentioned here in Philippians? Obviously, the Christians at Philippi knew him, Paul doesn’t need to introduce him when he says it’s he and Timothy writing to them in chapter 1. He tells the church there that he will send Timothy to them soon, verse 20, and that they know his proven worth. He is personal to them; they have a history, they know him. So, what did they know about him and what can we know about him? This is where we have to stitch together some information from the other writings in the New Testament to come up with his biographical sketch and it’s worth taking a few moments to do just that.
First, we know from the book of Acts, chapter 16, that Timothy came from a town named Lystra, in modern day Turkey. Timothy’s mother, Eunice, was a believing Jew, his father was an unbelieving Greek. His grandmother, Lois, was also a believer and these godly women had taught him the Scriptures since he was a child, as Paul says in his second letter to Timothy.
He may have come to faith in Christ through the teaching and preaching of Paul on Paul’s first missionary journey through Lystra; this may be why Paul continually calls Timothy his spiritual son. But this could also refer to their discipleship type relationship and Timothy had come to faith through the influence and teaching of his mother and grandmother. We don’t know for sure and that detail doesn’t matter too much; what is important is that he came to Christ and had intentional, godly influences in his life inside and outside the home from a young age.
And because of this, we read in Acts 16 that he was known throughout the Christians of his hometown as a godly man and they spoke well of him to Paul when he came back through a second time. This leads to Timothy accompanying Paul for most of the rest of Paul’s life, other than when Timothy stayed or went places at Paul’s request to minister in specific locations.
Timothy took a very active role in the ministry of Paul. He is mentioned in the opening verses of 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon as having written those letters with Paul. He is also mentioned at the end of Romans and 1 Corinthians in Paul’s greetings to those churches from the people with him at the time of his writing.
And if you read of the accounts of Paul in the book of Acts after chapter 16, when Timothy is now with Paul, you learn about some amazing things God did that Timothy was involved in and witnessed. For example, and relevant to the book of Philippians, Timothy would have been in Philippi when Paul was arrested and miraculously freed from jail during an earthquake, followed by the jailer and his family coming to faith in Christ. This is the time when Timothy would have become known to the church at Philippi and they would have learned personally of his proven worth as mentioned in verse 22.
We also learn some personal things about Timothy in Paul’s letters to him, especially the second one. This is when Timothy is in Ephesus, carrying on the ministry there, and Paul is imprisoned in Rome again, nearing the time of his death. These are Paul’s last recorded words, his final letter to his son in the faith.
And what do we learn about Timothy there? A good way to summarize it would be that he was a regular person with weaknesses just like you and me. What do I mean by that?
Sometimes, to me at least, it feels that Paul is just otherworldly. Do you ever feel that way? God worked through him in what seems like superhuman ways. It feels like he is just out of reach for regular Christians. Yes, he talked about his weaknesses and stuff, but I mean, come on, it’s Paul we’re talking about. He was as close to perfect as you could get it seems.
But with Timothy, he is more like us, a little more in reach, so to speak. And I see this in two specific ways from 2 Timothy.
First, it appears that despite all he witnessed in his time with Paul, and his strong testimony and life of godliness, Timothy was still pretty timid. He needed to be encouraged to be bold, to not shrink away from the opposition around him. Paul had to remind him of all that God had done and would continue to do through the ministry of the word that Timothy was called to carry out. He struggled with fear and anxiety, just like I do.
Another thing that adds to his “regularness” is that he had stomach issues that Paul tried to help alleviate. This strong Christian man, that we should all seek to imitate, he had upset stomachs; he didn’t always feel good. He was weak and frail in body, especially in his stomach, just like me. I can relate to this guy on so many levels!
And so, when I see this picture of his life throughout the New Testament, and specifically in our Philippians passage, it makes me feel drawn to him, someone that I can identify with but also someone who I want to strive to be more like.
His weaknesses draw me in; they make him reachable, but his heart and his character make him worthy to be emulated because he was like Christ.
- Timothy’s Heart, v.20-21
So, let’s turn now to take a look at his heart and then his character. Notice verses 20 and 21. Hopefully you recall that Paul is writing to Philippi from his house arrest in Rome. And Timothy is with him, not under arrest himself, but staying alongside of Paul throughout this ordeal. He is ministering to Paul and with Paul. And Paul is discussing here his plans for the future, when he gets released from prison. Remember he believes that is what is going to happen, we saw that in 1:25.
So, Paul wants to send Timothy to Philippi soon, in order to see how they are doing since receiving this letter. This letter to them will be delivered by Epaphroditus, and we will take a closer look at him in the upcoming verses next week, Lord willing. Timothy will arrive later, after the letter gets there and they had time to read, study and apply it. And he will serve the church at Philippi, helping them put into practice all that Paul teaches them through this letter. He will be their interim pastor, in a sense.
And the reason that Paul wants to send Timothy specifically is because of his heart for the Christians at Philippi.
In order to fully understand Timothy’s heart, we have to notice first the negative statements that Paul writes. He seems to be saying that Timothy is the only person left in his company and everyone else has abandoned him for their own interests. Verse 20, I have no one like him; verse 21, for they all seek their own interests. Has Paul really been left alone with only faithful Timothy by his side? Is that what he is saying?
I don’t think that is Paul’s point. One of the reasons why, is that at the end of the letter, Paul says, “the brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints [in Rome] greet you.” So, Paul is not alone, he is surrounded by fellow believers. This is very different from the end of 2 Timothy where Paul is left alone with just Luke. There, at that point, everyone had abandoned him or were off doing ministry elsewhere. But that is down the road, it hasn’t happened yet.
What I believe Paul is doing here, instead, is referring back to those he wrote about in chapter 1, those who are preaching Christ in order to cause him harm, to create division in Rome and Philippi. They are the ones who seek their own interests, they cannot help the Philippians, they cannot help Paul and minister alongside him. They are not likeminded with him; they do not care about the welfare of the church, only their own, and as Paul will admonish them in chapter 3, the Philippians need to be on guard against such corrupt and self-centered hypocrites.
But Timothy on the other hand, he stands out, he is different and Paul is contrasting him with those people. He personifies everything Paul has been encouraging the Philippians to do in this letter. Remember Paul’s commands in the beginning of chapter 2 about humility? That’s Timothy. He does nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, instead he looks out for the interests of Jesus Christ and others.
Timothy has a heart that is Christ-centered which overflows into a genuine concern for the welfare of his brothers and sisters in Christ.
Notice, if you have the ESV, the phrase in verse 20 that says, “who will be genuinely concerned.” This does not mean Timothy doesn’t care about them now, but he will soon. Rather this is an attempt by the translators to capture best what Paul is saying, that when Timothy arrives, they can be assured that he will immediately begin ministering to them, serving them, encouraging them because his heart is sincerely for them and for Christ.
Timothy has a servant’s heart and he is Christ-centered from the inside out.
Perhaps you may know this about me, but I tend to like things that are black and white. The less options the better; things are easier the less gray area available. And here in these verses we are presented with a black and white picture of our hearts: they can be for Christ and others, or for self. There are only two options. Christ-centered, or self-centered. This is consistent with how the rest of Scripture explains our hearts too. There is no middle ground that is sort-of for Christ but sort-of for self. Salt and fresh water cannot come from the same spring, as James puts it. We can be like Timothy or like the world.
And unfortunately, as believers, we bounce between the two in our hearts, don’t we? I want to be Christ-centered, others focused, but all too often I am self-centered, looking out for my own interests instead of those of Christ and others. I cling to my sin and cherish it instead of Christ.
The challenge is: how can we be more consistently like Timothy with a Christ-centered, others focused heart?
I think this passage points us there. First and foremost, like him, we need to desire Christ above all else. Think about that phrase in verse 21, they all seek their own interests and not those of Jesus Christ. There is a worship issue here, its the battle of what we treasure and desire, raging within us each and every day. Our own interests or Jesus Christ. To glorify ourselves, or glorify God. To get what we want, or what God wants. It all boils down to what I value most. I can’t follow Christ if I desire something else above him, whether it be a person or persons like family, or things like money, career growth, retirement, good health, or approval from others, you name it.
Christ and his interests must be uppermost in our affections, in our hearts and minds or else we will always fall short in having a Christ-centered heart. Well how do we get there more consistently then?
This is where Timothy’s testimony comes back to help us.
Remember what Paul said of Timothy, how since childhood he was familiar with the word of God. He spent his life immersed in the Bible. That is what we need to be like, too, that is how we begin to get there!
We need to depend on the Spirit of God to work through the Word of God to show us Christ and raise our affections and desires toward him. This is a work of the Holy Spirit; it is not something we can manufacture on our own but we can put ourselves in the best position to receive it. And having the Word of God be a continual disciple in our lives like Timothy is the best place to start. God works by his Spirit through his Word to show us our sinful hearts and to turn them away from self, and towards Him.
“In Scripture,” one author writes, “we behold Christ, whose glory and beauty and love is the all-satisfying center of the Christian life and the fountain of living waters to satiate the soul.”
But we won’t receive any benefit from our Bibles if they sit unopened on the table except for Sundays or sporadically throughout the week. Our hearts and affections will never treasure Christ if we neglect his Word. As John Newton said of the Word of God, “Let us not be like fools, with a prize, an inestimable prize, in our hands, but without heart or skill to use it.”
No, we need to be immersed in it daily because each day our hearts want to be ruled by self, not Christ. Everyday my eyes get fixed on the world and not Jesus. I am so easily distracted by the world and I need to be daily reoriented heavenward. We need the Spirit of God to work through his Word as much as possible so we can be more consistently Christ-centered in our hearts. It is like keeping a fire going, it needs fuel and kindling continually or else it will go out.
And second, another thing we can learn from Timothy’s testimony, we need to surround ourselves with godly influences, inside and outside the home. Timothy had godly family members, he had mentors, and he was deeply invested in the life of the church. He surrounded himself with godly influences, which God used to strengthen his heart to be more Christ and others focused. This is huge and easily overlooked for us today. I think for a lot of us, myself included, it is easy to default to an island mentality. I can do this on my own, getting other people involved just makes things messy, I’m good on my own. But we are not good and we were never made to be alone. We need each other! We need as much help as we can get, whether we want to admit it or not. Weakness is our default position and that is ok; we don’t need to fool ourselves or others into thinking differently.
We need other people who can be godly influences on our hearts.
If I want to be more consistently Christlike in my heart, I need to put into it more consistent Christlike influences. Starting with God’s word, then to being wise with what and who I surround myself with and hear from. These things can help turn our hearts to Christ throughout our day, keeping us from fixing our eyes on the world and reminding us to treasure Christ above all else. But if we try to do it alone, we will wither and die like a leaf that has fallen from the tree.
There are only two options for the fruit our hearts will bear: Christ or self. What we put in will affect what comes out. Let’s take advantage of all that God has given to us in order to keep ourselves focused on him to be more and more like Christ for his glory from the inside out.
- Timothy’s Character, v.22
This is how Timothy lived. Timothy’s heart, the inside, revealed itself in his godly character, the outside, our next point, verse 22. Again, the Philippians know Timothy. He has worked among them, lived with them, he has shown his heart to them. He has proven his worth, his value, his godly character to them.
And this word translated, “proven worth,” it speaks of someone going through trials and gaining character; he has been put to the test and shown to be worthy and godly. How has Timothy been put to the test? The rest of verse 22: through his serving with Paul in the Gospel.
Timothy has given his whole life to serve alongside Paul for the sake of spreading the Gospel around the world. Like Paul, he has been through times of plenty and times of want. He has been hungry, tired, broken, rejected and persecuted. He has been accepted and praised, he has seen great spiritual blessings and great hardships. And through all of it, he has shown himself to be godly, Christ-like in his character. Timothy hasn’t let the difficulties and tribulations of life discourage him away from God. Instead he has drawn closer to him, becoming more like Jesus Christ.
Yes, he still struggled at times, like I mentioned earlier; he could still be timid. But through all of the ups and downs and trials of his life he stood firm on the solid rock of Jesus Christ and it developed in him a godly character and a Christ-like heart.
That is someone I want to be like, someone I can relate to and seek to imitate. Someone that I can follow as he follows Christ especially during the storms of life.
But it does make me think, really the same question from the last point, why do I too often not look like Timothy especially during difficulties and trials?
More than I would like, it seems that my initial reaction to trials is not Timothy-like, not Christ-centered, but self-centered. I am too easily given over to despair, worry, anxiety, anger, fear, timidity, and self-protection. Why is that? Because difficult circumstances in life are revealing what’s in my heart. They are not creating these things, or causing me to fear or despair or sin in any way; no, they are bringing the sin that is already in my heart out, up to the surface and showing me in that moment what I treasure and desire most. Whether it be pleasure, self-gratification, to be made much of and be the center of the universe, wealth, security, you can fill in the blank with countless idols our hearts devise. Difficult circumstances in life reveal those often times hidden idols of the heart.
Which is why God brings trials and the difficulties to us as his gracious gifts. How on earth could trials be a gift; that is quite a leap you may be saying. I agree it is hard to accept and I say it with great sobriety knowing what there is to face in this world and what many of us are going through right now. Cancer does not scream out “gracious gift here!” The threat of persecution and alienation from friends and coworkers because of our faith does not come in a nicely wrapped little box with a pretty bow, does it?
But one of the reasons all trials are gracious gifts is because our loving Father uses them as a physician uses medicine to heal us of our sinful hearts. Let me say that again, our loving Father uses trials, difficult circumstances, suffering, as a physician uses medicine to heal us of our sinful hearts.
As I said, trials bring to the surface the sin and idols that are present within us, hiding under the surface, they are there like a festering wound deep inside. And our skillful physician gives us exactly what we need to draw it out, to reveal it to us, so he alone can heal and change us to re-center Christ as the treasure of our hearts. That is why trials and tribulations are a gracious gift because they are a healing medicine to our souls.
Oh, they can be exceedingly hard, don’t get me wrong. Most medicine is bitter to taste. This isn’t about putting a happy face on a tragedy. Very real pain and sadness come through trials and tribulations, the Bible is clear on that. The difference is knowing from whose hands those trials come and the good and loving purposes he has in those circumstances.
To quote Newton again, he said of trials,
“All of these crosses are mercies if the Lord works by them to prevent us from cleaving to the world, from backsliding in heart or life, and to keep us nearer to himself. Let us trust our Physician, and he will surely do us good. And let us thank him for all his prescriptions, for without them our soul-sickness would quickly grow upon us.”
And when we can see them in this way, we can follow in Timothy’s footsteps and allow trials to work in us to give us Christ-like hearts and godly character. Then we will begin to treasure Christ more and more, and we too will have proven worth, as trials work to refine us into his image. But none of that can happen if we turn away from God, turning into ourselves when trials come, clinging to our idols when life is not as we would like it to be.
No, instead we must cling to our Great Physician and let him do his work in our hearts, even as it hurts, knowing that it is for our good and our joy to have Christ as our treasure.
A few quick points of application in closing
- Life is a vapor.
Life is short, it is fleeting, it is a vapor, here one moment and gone the next. The years just keep speeding by like a freight train with no brakes. And because of that we can’t waste even one day on ourselves; we can’t afford to neglect our hearts because before we know it, our time will be up. We will all stand before God and have to give an account of what we did today, what we said this morning, what we did with our hearts this week. What is that going to look like? If we let our hearts continue in patterns of self-centeredness, of bouncing back and forth between Christ and self, we will find that we spent too much time on things that will be burned up before God, that had no eternal value and we will mourn our loss.
There is also the possibility that we will find out that we deceived ourselves, and our hearts never belonged to Christ at all, that we never treasured him above all else. Not that we lost our salvation but that we never had it in the first place. We are called to search our hearts today, to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith, as Paul said at the end of 2 Corinthians. We can’t afford to wait to know that answer later because life is a vapor.
- Parents, our kid’s lives are a vapor too.
It’s one thing to think of our own lives as short, but when we think of our children’s lives that brings it to another level. Obviously, I am speaking to myself here with little kids at home; this is really convicting to me! How many people have said, “it goes by quick!” And each new month I feel that more and more.
So, the question is, what am I doing to fulfill my calling as a parent, as a father, to help my children have Timothy-like hearts? Because before I know it, they will be gone. Parents, we all have a God-given responsibility and calling to give them a Timothy-like home. Immersing them in godly influence like Timothy’s mother and grandmother did.
Moms and dads, we are called to be intentional with our children to bring the Word of God into their hearts, to influence them towards godly character. No, I can’t save them, that is God’s responsibility, but I am called to plant the seed and nurture it by immersing them in godly influences as much as I can. I can’t waste any time because their lives are a vapor too.
- Pray towards letting our children go serve in the work of the gospel.
One more specifically for the parents but involves all of us. Pray towards letting our children go serve in the work of the gospel. I am thinking more of Timothy’s mother and grandmother. They obviously loved him and cared for him very much. But one day they said goodbye to him and watched him walk away with Paul.
Back in those days when travel was so dangerous and difficult, there was a slim chance they would ever see him again and we don’t know if they ever did. But they let him go to serve in the work of the gospel.
What a challenge, what a calling, but what a gift! Obviously, the goal of our parenting should be to see our children grow into Christ-like hearts and godly character no matter where they are and what they do in life. But the blessing of that would be multiplied a hundred-fold to see our children serve in the work of the gospel around the world. But the reverse is also true: what a tragedy to get in the way of them discerning God’s call to serve him because we selfishly clung to them, we made an idol out of them, and took away the blessing of them going.
Would this be easy? No, not even a little bit, but it would be worth it.
So that is my challenge to all of us parents and to us as a church. Let’s pray that we would be willing to let our children go, and let’s pray that God would call them to serve in the work of the gospel around the world.
No matter where we are and what we do each day, our calling is still the same: to have Christ as our treasure, to have Christ-centered hearts and godly character. Each of us has that shared call. Let’s walk that together, let’s help each other by growing closer to one another, being intentional godly influences in the lives of others around us by reaching out and encouraging each other to imitate Timothy who treasured and glorified our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.