On a low hill in the midst of broad valley stood the Roman outpost of Lystra. Like Pisidian, Antioch, her sister city, Lystra was a Roman colony. Augustus had bestowed the honor on her to defend the southern part of the province of Galatia against barbarous mountain tribes who plagued the region. The climate was pleasant and the surrounding fertile valley was well watered. Her only disadvantage was her remote location far from the main roads. This made Lystra a rather rustic and provincial town. But perhaps for that very reason Paul and Barnabas sought refuge there from the persecution at Iconium (Acts 14:1-7).
It is very likely that during this first missionary visit they converted a young man named, Timothy. His father was Greek and his mother was Jewish (Acts 16:1). There is no record of a synagogue at Lystra, but there was probably a “place of prayer” such as the one the apostles would find at Philippi (Acts 16:13). But even without a synagogue, Timothy had been taught the Scriptures from his birth by both his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14,15).
His Early Years with Paul
When Paul returned to Lystra on his second missionary journey, he and Silas needed a young man to help them with the work as John Mark had done on the first journey. Young Timothy was well-known to the Christians in both Lystra and Iconium and upon their recommendation Paul laid his hands on the young man, circumcised him, and called him to join this mission (Acts 16:1-5).
From Galatia Paul and his band traveled to Troas where the apostle received the “Macedonian call” to cross over into Europe (Acts 16:6-10). Luke joined the group at this point and traveled with them to Philippi. There they enjoyed the hospitality of Lydia, the first of Paul’s converts in Europe. But late, because Paul had healed a slave girl of demon possession, he and Silas were taken before the city magistrates and punished. Timothy was not arrested, but he was a witness of the power of the Holy Spirit who freed Paul and Silas during the night (Acts 16:16-40).
From Philippi they traveled south to Thessalonica but after three Sabbaths they were forced to move on by the plots of jealous men in the synagogue (Acts 17:1-9). They fared better at Berea but again agitators from Thessalonica stirred up trouble and Paul had to be sent by the brethren to Athens. Silas and Timothy remained behind and encouraged the new Christians in Berea (17:15).
These two caught up with Paul (Acts 18:15) but Paul’s concern for the young church at Thessalonica caused him to send Timothy north again. His mission was to see how they had fared during the persecution and to help put the work there on a firmer basis (1 Thessalonians 3:1,2,6).
Events in Corinth
Shortly after Paul’s arrival in Corinth the familiar sequence of events repeated itself. After preaching in the synagogue, jealous Jews made a united attack on Paul. They dragged him before Gallio, the proconsul, and attempted to have Paul punished. However, Gallio refused to hear the case and Paul was able to spend almost two years in Corinth preaching and teaching (50-51 a.d.). The apostle concluded his second missionary journey by returning to Jerusalem and Antioch.
We next encounter Timothy at Ephesus with Paul on the third missionary journey (Acts 19:22). Reports had reached Paul that the Corinthian church was badly fragmented and facing many challenges. Paul commissioned Timothy to go there and help settle matters (1 Corinthians 16:10, 11) and was apparently only partially successful. Paul then sent a second letter, but this time with Titus (compare 2 Corinthians 1:1, 19 and 8:16ff.).
Now accompanied by Paul, Timothy returned to Corinth and was with the apostle when he wrote to the Romans (Romans 16:21). Timothy was also a part of the relief mission to Jerusalem that concluded Paul’s third mission (Acts 20:1-6).
Timothy in Ephesus
We lose sight of Timothy during Paul’s Caesarean imprisonment but when the apostle arrived in Rome, Timothy was there with him (Col. 1:1, Phil. 1). It is likely that Timothy carried the Philippian letter to Macedonia (Phil. 1:1; 2:19) and after Paul’s release from prison, Timothy was left in Ephesus to set things in order (1 Timothy 1:2) while Paul visited Macedonia. Perhaps from Philippi the apostle sent the first letter addressed to help Timothy succeed in Ephesus where he had failed at Corinth.
The Final Years
The reconstruction of the final years of Paul’s life are difficult. He may have fulfilled his desire to go to Spain (Romans 15:24) and he certainly visited the churches of Asia, Macedonia and Achaia. It may be that during this time Timothy was arrested and released (Hebrews 13:22,24). Titus had been left on Crete to help organize the churches there and Paul intended to winter at Nicopolis. Unfortunately Paul was arrested again and sent to Rome for the last time. Paul’s final letter, and our last historical notice of Timothy was addressed from prison with the final apostolic wish that faithful Timothy might “come before winter.”