Paul Chooses Circumcision of Timothy
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This bible study examines an interaction between Paul and Timothy at the beginning of the Second Missionary Journey. To add Timothy to his team, Paul got him circumcised despite an existing ruling of the church that circumcision is not necessary for salvation and is not required of Gentile (or non-Jew) believers. He got Timothy circumcised to forestall potential challenges about circumcision during the mission and instead focus energy on preaching the gospel. By so doing he illustrates the principle of choosing to avoid certain battles in order to focus on the war. The bible study also illustrates the value of a healthy
parent-child relationship between churches, based on the Antioch church consulting with the parent church in Jerusalem to resolve an issue regarding circumcision of Gentile believers.
Paul and Circumcision of Timothy
Paul and Silas met Timothy in Lystra at the beginning of the Second Missionary Journey. He was regarded highly among the brothers in Lystra and Iconium, who introduced him to Paul as showing great promise for the gospel. Paul added Timothy to his team but first got him circumcised to forestall potential challenge from Jews [Acts 16:1–5]. Paul was well aware that Timothy, son of a Greek father, did not need to be circumcised because he [Paul] was part of a delegation that the church in Antioch sent to consult with the Jerusalem church on circumcision of Gentile believers. The consultation became necessary to resolve a disagreement among members of the Antioch church following a controversial declaration by some men from Judea that Gentiles had to be circumcised according to the laws of Moses in order to receive salvation [Acts 15:1–2]. The Jerusalem consultation resulted in a church declaration that salvation is for all people through the grace of our Lord Jesus and does not impose special requirements on any person, Jews and non-Jews alike [Acts 15:1–29]. Paul knew about and delivered the Jerusalem decision to people in the area [Acts 16:4] but chose to have Timothy circumcised to avoid arguments about his circumcision.
Choosing Battles to Avoid
Every person often has to confront life issues that tend to get more complicated as one tries to deal with them. Having the foresight to identify aspects of the issue to dispense with using a low-resistance approach enables one to focus energy more on the core aspects, or the “bigger picture.” Thus, smaller or peripheral aspects of the issue could be dispensed with quickly and simply, avoiding battles on such aspects and focusing effort on the core. We illustrate this principle using two examples from the bible.
Example from David
Second king of Israel David illustrated this principle in dealing with adversity brought on him through a rebellion led by his son Absalom, which we discussed in a previous bible study HERE. While David was on his escape from Jerusalem, a man, Shimei, from the tribe of Benjamin (home of previous king, Saul) presented him with a tempting diversion. Shimei cursed and threw things at David, claimed David stole kingdom from Saul, and taunted him saying that God had paid him in his own coins through Absalom. David cautioned his men to leave Shimei alone. By this action he illustrated ignoring the symptoms and staying focused on the core of the adversity. Going after Shimei would have consumed energy needlessly, diverted focus from the real problem, and maybe distorted impression about David’s tolerance [2 Samuel 16:5–13]. As we discussed in a previous bible study HERE, he returned to dealing with the Shimei problem when he could do so at much less cost [1 Kings 2:8–9].
Example from Paul-Timothy Interactions
Paul knew that Timothy did not have to be circumcised based on the Jerusalem decision but expected repeated challenges from Jews in the area if Timothy was not circumcised. He could have dealt with such challenge by arguing on the basis of the Jerusalem decision, which he could defend by referring to the appropriate scriptures. But doing so would potentially consume significant effort. Paul needed to focus energy on using the scriptures to prove that Jesus is the messiah that God promised and that his life, death, and resurrection fulfill prophesies about him. He knew proving this to the Jews and Gentiles demanded a lot of effort from him and he did not want to divert some of the effort to debating about circumcision. Timothy did not have to be circumcised, but having him circumcised relieved Paul from having to argue about his circumcision status during the mission. Therefore, Paul chose to avoid that “battle” in order to focus on the “war.”
Parent-Child Relationship between Churches
The church in Antioch took advantage of its parent-child relationship with the Jerusalem church to resolve a thorny issue that arose among its membership. The members were embroiled in a debate on circumcision, featuring a group led by Paul and Barnabas that argued Gentile believers did not need to be circumcised and the opposing group led by Jewish traditionalists that argued for circumcision of Gentiles. The Antioch church saved itself from potential internal strife by recognizing the Jerusalem church as having the authority and membership wisdom to resolve the issue. Several churches today deny themselves the benefits of a senior sister or parent church and at times pay a high price for attempting to “go it alone.” Potential benefits of being part of a hierarchy of organizations, such as the Antioch church example, at times may compare favorably against the benefits of working all alone.