A popular notion is finding its way around Christian circles today. Perhaps you’ve heard it or even said it. It sounds good, so maybe you’ve put faith in it. It goes something like this:
Everyone needs a Timothy, and everyone needs a Paul.
If you know anything about these two men from the New Testament, this sounds good on the surface. But something about it has always bothered me. I didn’t realize what it was until my daughter came home from her small group recently. They’ve been reading a book together, and this concept came up. In our discussion about it, I realized that she was troubled by the exact same part that bugs me.
And that sent me into prayer and deeper study, wondering as always: Is this popular notion biblical?
The Relationship between Paul and Timothy
Whether we like it or not, God made us for relationship: with Him and with each other. ~Carrie Daws, Other Military Spouses: A Military Spouse’s Guide to Finding Great Friends
One of the key Bible passages that gives us insight into the relationship between these two men is Philippians 2:19-24
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.
These verses seem to indicate a closeness between them, and many see a mutual love and respect, much like a father and son would share. As I suspect you know, parent/child relationships are rarely clean-cut, and I suspect Paul wasn’t always the easiest person to get along with.
A little more insight
Second Timothy 1:3-4 tells us more. Paul writes,
I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.
Rose colored glasses aside, Timothy spent many years at Paul’s side. Paul trusted him to go to Corinth to help settle problems in the church there and left him to pastor the church in Ephesus. In their years together, they would have experienced great joys, tremendous frustrations, and heartbreaking tragedy.
A Willing Student, A Trustworthy Teacher
Timothy is first mentioned in Acts 16:1. Born to a Greek father and Jewish mother, 2 Timothy 1:5 indicates his grandmother and mother shared a faith in God that they entrusted to Timothy as well.
We also know that the two men had a substantial age difference. We know 1 Timothy was written about A.D. 64, so Paul would have been older. We don’t know when he was born, but from the other events in his life, we can guess he would have been about 60 years old.
In contrast, Paul tells Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young” (1 Timothy 4:12). The Greek word here for young would have referred to anyone up to age 40, so Paul and Timothy could have been twenty or thirty years apart in age.
Everyone Needs a Timothy
This part is not that difficult for me. Lots of Christians are on the road behind me. Over the years I’ve walked with Jesus, I’ve learned some things that God wants me to impart.
Faith is personal in that it must be gained and cultivated on one’s own. But, just as extra care helps plants and animals thrive, sharing the lessons we’ve learned and the times God proved faithful encourages others to step forward and trust.
Shared faith begets greater faith.
Everyone Needs a Paul
This is the part that hangs me up, though. Does everyone really need a Paul?
On the one hand, it would be really nice.
On the other hand, consider this for a moment: Who was Paul’s Paul?
Or the apostle Peter’s? Or the apostle John’s? Or James’s, the leader of the church in Jerusalem?
These days, particularly in America, we have a plethora of wisdom available to us. We can learn through some of the great men and women of our day by simply reading their books. Or listening to podcasts and televised sermons. Or attending conferences and webinars.
But in the days of the early church, they didn’t have that luxury.
They only had each other.
Ask God to put the women you most need where you will find them and to help you recognize the women who most need you. ~Carrie Daws, Other Military Spouses: A Military Spouse’s Guide to Finding Great Friends
And that’s what I think we overlook.
Did Paul have issues? Yes. Peter? Of course. Was one greater than the other? I wouldn’t think so. Yet God used each of them to make the other better.
Perhaps in our search for a Paul for ourselves, it’s not the older, wiser, more mature Christian we need to be asking for.
Please don’t misunderstand me. If God presents you with someone older and wiser that you can form a relationship with, go for it!
But let’s not underestimate or negate the value of another Christian that’s roughly where we are in life. Someone who probably is strong where we’re not, just as they are weak where we are not.
A person who loves God and seeks to follow Him — and will challenge you to do the same.
Maybe, just maybe, that friend is your Paul.
If you want to read more from me about friendships, check out my book Other Military Spouses: A Military Spouse’s Guide to Finding Great Friends. It’s not just for military families.
Other military spouses can be one of the biggest stressors in a wife’s life. From gossipers to back-biters to spouse shamers, the problem is reaching epidemic proportions, and many don’t know what to do about it. What if you could find a better way? Instead of attacking the problem-women head on or avoiding all women entirely, what if you could find women worth knowing and cherishing? No matter where you are, God placed around you women of great value, women who strive to love Him first, and women who want to love and encourage you. Instead of resigning yourself to a life of loneliness, let me show you who to avoid and what characteristics to look for in quality friends.