During my first visit to Asia, I spent a couple of weeks in Southwest China… in an area that never sees Westerners. When we would walk around a corner, the people who looked at us would LITERALLY jump back and stare at us, open-mouthed. They would walk up and look us up and down. They would walk around us in a circle. They would come close and stare into our pale eyes. They would grasp our arms, rub the skin, and then look at their hands to see if the color had come off. They would pull the light hair out of the skin on your arms.
In Beijing, we were never treated that way. They are cosmopolitan and sophisticated there. In Shanghai and Hong Kong we Westerners were a common sight. In Nanjing, they never batted an eye. But in the provinces of Guizhou outside of the capital of Guiyang, we were trailed as we went into little shops or walked down the street. When we sat down at a restaurant table, strangers would LITERALLY come and sit down in every empty chair at our table so that they could watch how we behaved, how we ate, and so they could listen to how we talked.
It doesn’t take long before “being the outsider” gets very old.
I would like you to come with me for a moment, and meet someone who grew up putting up with that sort of treatment his entire life. I want you to look with me into the eyes of a strange-looking young man barely out of his teen-age years.
He is odd-looking because no one else looks like him in town. There is a reason for that. Timothy is a mixed-race kid in a single-race world. And, what is worse, neither of the two races that mixed within his veins were the local ethnicity. He lived in Turkey, but his ethnicity was not even part Turkish. It was Jewish and Greek. The little enclave of Jews in his town did not look like the Turks of that day among whom they lived, and neither of those groups looked like their ancient Greek counterparts. Timothy stood out as someone foreign in their midst.
To make matters worse, the Jews did not DO the thing that brought him into this world; they did not MARRY outside of their faith and have children of mixed-race heritage.
(As if to prove the point, in one little corner of the Jewish world there had been some of that, long before, but the descendants of that scandalous time now bore the name “Samaritans.” They were not considered Jews or even half-Jews, and after all of those generations passed, the Jews still did not accept them WHATSOEVER.)
So there, standing in front of you is Timothy. And he looks DIFFERENT than everyone else in the village.
Let me tell you about his family. His grandmother is a Jewish woman named Lois who had become a Messianic believer in Jesus. Her husband (Timothy’s grandfather) was NOT a believer. So Timothy’s grandma was the spiritual matriarch of the family. To her was born Timothy’s mom, Eunice. In that culture, when little Eunice grew up she had no choice about who she was going to marry. Her mother Lois had no say about it either. Only Eunice’s unbelieving Jewish father had the right to choose her husband.
If you want evidence that Timothy’s grandpa was NOT a believer, consider the shock-wave of scandal that would have swept through their community when he arranged a marriage for his daughter with a GREEK man. There would have been only ONE REASON why a marriage like THAT would have been arranged (since it was a social taboo), and that reason was money.
Apparently grandpa couldn’t have cared less what his wife Lois begged him, or what his daughter Eunice wanted, or even what the community of Jews would think of him. He struck the bargain. He gave her away. He went home and counted the money.
So Timothy’s mom, Eunice, who according to the Scripture was a Christian like her mom (not a non-believer like her dad), did her best and raised her boy Timothy to love Jesus. She had no help from her husband in that department. Being a Greek, he wouldn’t have had any interest in circumcising his baby boy, and we know that he didn’t bother to do so. So from birth, Timothy was marked as an outsider to their Jewish community. Eunice did her best in a bad situation. Spiritually single, she… like her mother before her… was forced to be the head of the home spiritually and to raise her son to know and love Jesus.
So here stands Timothy. Can you see him in your mind’s eye a little more clearly now? With his background and looks, and the prejudiced town he grew up in, it is no wonder that he was known to be reserved and maybe even timid.
Here’s what happened in Timothy’s home town of Lystra: When Timothy was still a boy, a man named Paul had come through his town of Lystra like a whirlwind. He didn’t stay long… just long enough to make a HUGE impression! Paul began speaking to the townspeople (who may or may not have been paying very close attention) …until he noticed one of their citizens who had always been crippled. When Paul saw that at least the crippled man was paying VERY close attention, he said six words both loudly and directly to him: “Stand on your own feet… upright!” No sooner had Paul uttered those words than the man they had known all of their lives LEAPED to his feet and began walking around. This so stunned the astonished crowd that they fell down on their faces before Paul and Barnabas, thinking that they must be gods. Then, after Paul got that misunderstanding sorted out, he continued to preach and teach in the city. But before long, Paul’s enemies showed up and talked the fickle mob into stoning him to death.
They crushed him under a hail of fist-sized rocks until his blood ran in the streets, and then dragged him out the gates and threw him down to rot in the desert sun. But after the believers gathered around his body, God raised him up to life. Paul walked straight back into the city (probably looking like something from “the night of the living dead”). The next day, after encouraging the new believers to remain firm in their faith, he left town for new challenges.
You don’t forget a man like that, even if you’re just a wide-eyed boy watching from the edge of the crowd.
It was a few years later when that same larger-than-life man showed up in town again to see how the church he had planted with his own blood-stains was doing.
You know the story: When he ran into Timothy at church, Paul would have looked him over and known at a glance what he was looking at; a young kid who had been born with two strikes against him, raised by a spiritually single mother, but who by now was a young man… sweet and somewhat shy, but sincere in his faith, and respected by the Christians in Lystra… and even over in Iconium.
Now the apostolic calling always includes a supernatural capacity as a talent scout, and no one had it better than Paul. One look at Timothy… one conversation with him… one review of his spiritual resume, and Paul had to have him on the team.
LIKE ALL APOSTLES, PAUL SAW MORE IN TIMOTHY THAN TIMOTHY SAW IN HIMSELF.
So he prepared him for greatness. SPIRITUALLY, he laid hands on him and imparted to him spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit to turbocharge his usefulness to the kingdom.
And PHYSICALLY he laid hands on him as well, and not just in the way we usually mean, because… well… Timothy was not circumcised, and if they were going to work among both Jews AND Gentiles, the Gentiles would not care if he were circumcised, but the Jews would care VERRRRRY much.
So the day came when Paul… quite literally… took Timothy in his hands, and cut him deeply enough that the blood ran. In that heart-stopping, nauseating moment of pain, he sliced the foreskin off of his young recruit before turning away to save what was left of Timothy’s dignity.
Some of our leaders may think that they are gifted when it comes to recruitment, but try that, and then we will see what you’ve got under the hood in the recruitment department.
When Paul left town, Timothy left, too.
By Acts 19:22… Timothy was one of his “helpers.”
By Romans 16:21… he was “Timothy, my co-worker.”
By Philemon 1… he was “Timothy our brother.”
Any after that, it was always “Timothy my son,” “Timothy, my TRUE SON in the faith,” Timothy, my son whom I love.”
God in his kindness had given “bachelor Paul” a son of his own. Paul had given the spiritually-fatherless orphan named Timothy a father, a life-purpose and a destiny.
HERE’S A WARNING: CHURCH LEADERS CAN GET SO LOST IN THE BLUEPRINTS, THAT THEY MISS THE ACHINGLY BEAUTIFUL WORK THAT GOD IS DOING IN THOSE WHO FOLLOW THEM.
IT IS AN OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD OF GIFTED LEADERS THAT THEY CAN TEND TO USE THOSE CLOSEST TO THEM IN ORDER TO ACCOMPLISH THE MISSION.
I want to repeat that: IT IS AN OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD OF GIFTED LEADERS THAT THEY CAN TEND TO USE THOSE CLOSEST TO THEM IN ORDER TO ACCOMPLISH THE MISSION.
It is really very likely that Paul would have been like that, too. By the time he met Timothy, there was an opening on his team because he had rejected John Mark and also waived Barnabas off the team when Barnabas voted for forgiveness and a second chance.
But you know what? By the time the second missionary journey began, God had allowed suffering in his life to thrash the coldness out of his heart.
GOD IN HIS KINDNESS WILL THRASH THE COLDNESS OUT OF YOU AND ME UNTIL WE ARE OPEN-HEARTED AND TENDER TOWARD THOSE WE ARE LEADING.
Paul said, “I had a great vision. The temptation to be prideful about it would have been so great, but God sent it in the context of suffering and neediness. He showed me how much I would suffer. He kept it in my life although I asked three times for Him to remove it. He made me need other people.”
God tenderized Paul to the needs of others by placing him in situations in which he was reliant on others.
ONE OF THE WAYS THAT GOD KEPT PAUL RELIANT ON OTHERS WAS TO PERMIT HIM TO SPEND A GREAT DEAL OF TIME IN PRISON. “I was in prison more frequently than any of you,” Paul told the Christians at Corinth.
Prisons of the ancient Near East were nothing like prisons today. There were no cafeterias in the prison-house. There were no “Aunt Bees” in the kitchen, preparing trays for prison suppers. And there were no guards bringing anything to your cell, not even water. Unless you knew someone who would come to the outside of the jail and hand you food and water through the bars, you were NOT going to eat that day. If they forgot, you were not going to eat that day. If they were detained, you were not going to eat that day. If no one on the outside would care for you, then you were going to die in that jail… and many did.
IT DOES SOMETHING VIOLENT AND BEAUTIFUL TO A MAN WHEN HE IS ABSOLUTELY DEPENDENT UPON THE KINDNESS OF OTHERS IN ORDER TO SURVIVE.
Paul learned to be thankful for every person, large or small, who put themselves at risk by pushing something through the tiny window of his cell. He learned to be thankful!
He never grew soft, but he learned to be tender. There is a difference between being soft and being tender, and many swaggering leaders never learn it. “Soft” means that you no longer have the strength to do the right thing. But “tender” is different. “Tender” means that you permit your heart to be involved in your life, and you look at people through kind eyes.
By God’s gracious work in Paul’s life, he learned to really see other people, and to cherish them.
He told the Thessalonians, “We loved you SO MUCH that we were delighted to share with you- not ONLY the gospel, but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.”
He told the Corinthians, “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.”
By the beautiful work of God in Paul’s life, God made room for a Timothy, who needed nurturing and deserved to be noticed and welcomed into the kingdom work that Paul was doing to reach the lost.
Fellow leaders, we cannot afford to overlook the people that God has brought to our side to finish the work. In fact, our love for the lost is defective if we don’t love the saved who are trying to help us reach the lost.
Paul learned and taught, “Do good to all men, ESPECIALLY the household of faith.” Way too often, we do good to all the people we are trying to reach, but drift into either ignoring our fellow workers, or even treating them badly.
AS I WRAP UP THESE THOUGHTS, I WANT YOU TO THINK OF THAT PERSON WHO HAS BEEN SACRIFICING SO MUCH SO THAT YOUR MINISTRY WOULD BE SUCCESSFUL.
Here are two steps you can take to cherish them as they need and deserve:
First, I want to challenge you to change the language that you use about them. Move from “My helper” or “my coworker” to “my brother or sister,” ”my son,” “my true son,” ”my daughter.”
Second, I challenge you to get out your phones right now before you forget, and text that person in your life. Tell them (in your own words), “Hey, I have just been thinking about what a huge role you are playing in the task that God has called me to fulfill, and I just wanted you to know that I notice, and I appreciate you. You are making me so proud! I feel like your spiritual father, and I am so blessed to have you in my life. Thank you.”