Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Timothy: of Value to God (Part 2 of 3)

Commendation of Timothy to the Thessalonians

     A few months prior to writing 1 Thessalonians, having been driven out of Thessalonica (1 Thess. 2:17), the three-man mission team worked together in nearby Berea until Paul was forced to leave, while “both Silas and Timothy remained there” (Acts 17:10-14).1 Arriving in Athens, the apostle immediately sent for his partners (Acts 17:15-16), who left Berea to join him at this new mission point (1 Thess. 3:1). Due to the grief of separation and nagging concern (1 Thess. 2:17-29), Timothy was sent back to Thessalonica, while Paul and Silas were “left in Athens alone” (1 Thess. 3:1-2). Why was Timothy sent rather than Silas, and why did Paul not make the journey himself? As noted in 1 Thess. 2:18, Paul and Silas were “hindered” from returning, most likely due to “the security [bond]” that had been paid to city officials (Acts 17:6-9), banishing the accused troublemakers from the city. Accordingly, “both Paul and Silas” were sent away (Acts 17:10), with no mention of Timothy, suggesting that Paul and Silas were the only ones implicated.2
     Timothy is described as “our brother [and servant of God and our coworker] in the gospel of Christ,” sent to Thessalonica “in order to strengthen and encourage you concerning your faith” (1 Thess. 3:1-2).3 Reference to “our brother” [ἀδελφός] is almost certainly in the familial sense and indicative of the tight bond these missionaries shared in God’s family and work (cf. 2 Cor. 1:1; Col. 1:1; Philem. 1).
     Textual evidence is divided over the next description, whether the reading is “coworker” [συνεργὸν], “servant” [διάκονον], or both. B. M. Metzger acknowledges, “on the basis of external evidence it may appear that the reading καὶ διάκονον τοῦ θεοῦ … should be adopted,” but he then opines, “the reading that best accounts for the origin of the others is καὶ συνεργὸν τοῦ θεοῦ …” (Textual Commentary [2nd ed.] 563). However, the vast majority of manuscripts support the inclusion of both descriptive terms: καὶ διάκονον τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ συνεργὸν ἡμῶν (“and servant of God and our coworker,” BMT).4
     A διάκονος is simply a “servant” or “helper” (cf. 1 Tim. 4:6), who renders διακονία [“service” or “ministry”] (BAGD 184).5 The compound συνεργός is a combination of σύν [“with”] + ἔργον [“work”], used frequently in Paul’s writings in reference to his own coworkers,6 particularly Timothy (Rom. 16:21; 2 Cor. 1:24; 1 Thess. 3:2; cf. 1 Cor. 16:10). This faithful service and work are “in the gospel of Christ” (cf. Rom. 1:9; Phil. 4:3).
     The reason for sending Timothy was “in order to strengthen and encourage you concerning your faith.” The verb στηρίζω literally means to “fix firmly” or “prop up,” and metaphorically to “strengthen” or “establish.” Contrary to popular misconceptions, the Pauline approach to missionary work did not merely involve making converts and starting churches. Sufficient resources were invested for adequate instruction and edification, requiring extended periods of time (cf. Acts 14:3; 18:11; 20:27, 31).7 When this luxury was not afforded, as at every mission point in Macedonia (including Thessalonica), ample follow-up work was necessary in order to establish these churches.8
     Timothy’s return to Thessalonica shortly after the missionaries’ departure, and again a few years later with Erastus (Acts 19:22), was also meant to “encourage” [παρακαλέω], an expression conveying multiple nuances, including to “exhort” or “admonish” (Rom. 12:8; 2 Cor. 5:20; 1 Tim. 2:1; 2 Tim. 4:2), “entreat” (2 Cor. 9:5; 12:18; Philem. 9, 10), “console” or “comfort” (2 Cor. 1:4, 6; 2:7; 7:6-7, 13), “strengthen” (Eph. 6:22; Col. 2:2; 4:8; 2 Thess. 2:17), and “teach” (Tit. 1:9). The specified target of this strengthening and encouraging was “your faith” [πίστις], naturally something still frail and volatile in these young Christians (see 1 Thess. 3:10).

Commendation of Timothy to the Philippians

     About six years later, as a prisoner in Rome, Paul writes to the saints in Philippi: “but I hope in [the] Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also might be encouraged by news concerning you. For I have no one [as] likeminded, who will genuinely care for the things concerning you. For the [others] are all seeking the things of themselves, not the things of Christ Jesus. But you know his proven worth, that as a child [with] a father, he has served with me in the gospel. Truly therefore I hope to send him immediately as soon as I have seen how it goes with me, but I am persuaded in the Lord that I myself will also come soon” (Phil. 2:19-24).
     Despite the potentiality of a death sentence, Paul seems to be confident that he will live long enough for Timothy to revisit the Philippians and bring word back to him, if not make the trip himself. The “hope” expressed here is ἐλπίζω (cf. v. 23), the verbal form of ἐλπίς, which indicates anticipation with assurance. Of course, this confidence is “in the Lord Jesus,” comparable to “if the Lord wills” (1 Cor. 4:19; cf. Acts 18:21; 21:14).
     The adjectival ἰσόψυχος refers to one who is “likeminded,” i.e., “of the same mind or spirit.” This description of Timothy would serve “to avert possible disappointment that Paul himself could not come at once and indicated that he had the fullest confidence in his younger associate” (F. E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary 11:132). Timothy’s past connection with these brethren, coupled with a compassionate heart and the influence of his mentor, made him genuinely concerned for their welfare.
     Others, like those described in Phil. 1:14-18 and 3:2, “are seeking the things of themselves, not the things of Christ Jesus.” The implication is, Timothy puts the interests of the Lord and of others before his own (cf. 1:21, 29; 2:3-4, 20). The Philippians were aware of Timothy’s “proven worth” (cf. 2 Cor. 2:9; 9:13), as he had faithfully served alongside the apostle for about a dozen years by this time and had been with the disciples at Philippi on at least three occasions (Acts 16:1-13; 19:22; 20:3-4).
     Timothy is likened to Paul’s “child” [τέκνον] (cf. 1 Cor. 4:17; 1 Tim. 1:2, 18; 2 Tim. 1:2; 2:1), emphasizing the closeness of this relationship. When the apostle says, “he has served [ἐδούλευσεν] with me in the gospel,” the verb is δουλεύω, connoting service as slaves. The letter opened describing both Paul and Timothy as δοῦλοι Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ (“slaves of Christ Jesus”) (1:1). In the first-century Greco-Roman world, in the context of a Roman colony like Philippi (cf. Acts 16:12, 21), the word δοῦλος would be more humbling than honorific. Adopting such a title challenged societal norms where prestige and advancement were highly valued (cf. Phil. 3:7-8). The difference is that a slave of Christ is one who gives himself up willingly and fully to the will of another (cf. Rom. 6:17-20).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation. In the biblical record, Silas of Acts is Silvanus of the epistles (cp. Acts 18:5 and 2 Cor. 1:19).
     2 Apparently the Athenians were not as receptive as was hoped, so Silas also returned to Macedonia (cf. Acts 18:5), probably to do follow-up work in Berea, since Timothy was in Thessalonica and Luke was in Philippi (Acts 16:12–17:1). Paul moved on to Corinth around autumn of 50, where he was eventually joined by Silas first and then Timothy, both of whom had traveled “from Macedonia” (Acts 18:5). It was here that Timothy brought good news about the Thessalonian church (1 Thess. 3:6), and 1 Thessalonians was written.
     3 Textual variation complicates the reading, whether Timothy is described here as συνεργὸν (“coworker,” CSB, ESV, NASB, NRSV), διάκονον (“servant” or “minister,” ASV, RSV), or both (N/KJV; cf. NIV).
     4 The prevailing theory assumes that a hypersensitive scribe, offended by the “objectionable” idea of God having a human coworker, replaced συνεργὸν (the supposed original reading) with διάκονον (the supposed secondary reading), and then subsequent copyists conflated the two. But the concept of God having “coworkers” [συνεργοί] in 1 Cor. 3:9 apparently did not offend anyone or result in variations of that text. It is certainly plausible that each word was accidentally omitted in different manuscripts, and that both were present in the original.
     5 On the noun διάκονος, see 1 Cor. 3:5; 2 Cor. 3:6; 6:4; 11:15, 23; Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, 25; Tit. 1:9; notwithstanding the special sense in Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8. On the verb διακονία, see 1 Cor. 16:5; 2 Cor. 3:7, 8, 9; 4:1; 5:18; 6:3; 8:4; 9:1, 12, 13; 11:18; Eph. 4:12; 2 Tim. 4:11.
     6 Rom. 16:3, 9; 2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25; 4:3; Col. 4:11; Philem. 1, 24. Also God’s coworkers (1 Cor. 3:9; cf. 2 Cor. 6:1).
     7 See K. L. Moore, “The First Missionary Journey,” Moore Perspective (10 Feb. 2013), <Link>.
     8 When only a brief time was spent in a given location, it was typically because of forced departure rather than by design (cf. Acts 13:50; 14:5-6, 19-20; 16:30; 17:10). Even so, continued follow-up work was done by way of return visits (Acts 14:21-26; 15:36, 41; 16:1-6; 18:23; 20:1-38; 1 Cor. 16:5; Phil. 1:26; 1 Thess. 2:17-18; 1 Tim. 1:3; 3:14; 4:13), fellow-evangelists (Acts 19:22; 1 Cor. 3:6; 4:17; 2 Cor. 8:6, 16-24; 12:17-18; 1 Thess. 3:2-6), and written correspondence (1 Cor. 5:9; 2 Cor. 2:3-8; 2 Thess. 3:17; etc.).
     9 It seems that Paul was expecting a verdict soon (Phil. 2:23), anticipating a positive outcome that would enable him to revisit the Philippians (v. 24). What he says prospectively here appears to have eventuated not long thereafter (cf. 1 Tim. 1:3).

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