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For the Sake of Ministry

When Paul encounters an unusually godly young man, he does what Jesus did when He called His disciples, asking Timothy to follow him. By doing this, Paul is asking a lot: Timothy will be giving up his present life, his freedom, his responsibilities to his family, and surprisingly, in order for him to minister effectively, Paul felt that it was necessary for Timothy to be circumcised. This seems strange, because throughout their tour of Lystra and Derbe, the apostles’ mission was to deliver the dogma handed down by the Jerusalem Council, which made it perfectly clear that circumcision is not necessary for becoming a Christian!

This is a huge credibility snarl for Paul. Do we circumcise or don’t we? You talk a lot about freedom, Paul, but when it comes down to it, do you walk the walk? I think the key is found in the last sentences of Galatians 5:1-6 and 1 Corinthians 7:17-19, where Paul makes the same point: it doesn’t matter whether or not you are circumcised; loving and obeying God is what marks out a Christian. So couldn’t Timothy love and obey God without being circumcised? In the abstract, yes, but in Timothy’s particular case, the answer is surprisingly, no. In order to love and obey God, Timothy needed to be circumcised. Why?

The answer goes back to Timothy’s situation: everyone he will be ministering to knows that he has a Greek background. He is Jewish, because his mother is Jewish, but because his father was Greek, he was an uncircumcised Jew, a covenant breaker. This would prove to be a huge stumbling block for many Jews, as well a practical hindrance in that Timothy would have no access to the temple or to the synagogues where Paul launches his ministry in each city. So why circumcise Timothy? Not for the sake of his salvation, but for the sake of ministry.

The question is not “what does the law require?” but rather, “what does faith working through love look like?” And in Timothy’s case, faith working through love meant that he would become all things to all men by going under the knife, so that his heritage and background would not be a stumbling block to the people he was called to minister to.

And in the text, we see the immediate fruit of Timothy’s sacrifice: they went unhindered throughout the region, delivering the news that circumcision or uncircumcision was no longer the issue; the issue was faith in Jesus Christ. And as this news spread, the churches were strengthened internally, growing in faith, and externally, as they increased in numbers daily.

Timothy’s example challenges us to radically change our outlook regarding our rights. We live in a culture that tells us to demand our rights, and even though conservatives and progressives differ over what those rights are, they often still share the same basic outlook towards them. However, the New Testament was not given to tell us whether conservatives or progressives have the correct list of rights. What Jesus does is free us from our slavery to our rights altogether. Jesus declares that He is Lord, not your rights. This means that your rights are no longer your master. You don’t have to panic, whine, or complain if you feel that someone is taking them away. You don’t have to fight for them! You can let them go with a completely clear conscience and an unworried heart if letting them go will serve the gospel.

So don’t ask this question: “What are my rights?” without also asking “Can I serve Jesus better by giving my rights up?” His particular claim on your life might run roughshod over your rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Just watch what happens to the missionaries in Acts! Anytime we find ourselves shocked by what Jesus asks of us, we are usually pretty close to discovering an idol. Our minds sputter with a thousand “buts” because we have spent our lives demanding our rights. But surrendering your rights to Jesus is never wrong. We need to learn to forget the language of law and requirement, and learn the language of love and sacrifice. This is the attitude that we see in Timothy: gladly giving up freedom, rights, and even his body for the sake of serving Jesus. May this be our response as well.

Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2014 by CJ Bowen