Timid Timothy and Powerful Paul: Helping Our Sons to Grow Up*
A biblical example of a person struggling to grow up is Timothy. Timothy was in training under the apostle Paul to be a leader of the church in Ephesus. There was only one problem. Timothy had a “spirit of timidity.”
Apparently this lack of confidence was a serious obstacle for him (2 Timothy 1:7). So much so that Paul had to write to Timothy in an earlier letter, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young . . .” (1 Timothy 4:12). Timothy was probably in his mid-30s or younger, and in that day, such an influential position was not usually held by a man so young and so obviously lacking in confidence. Perhaps for this reason, the older men were questioning his authority.
Timothy was a man who received his religious instruction and knowledge of God through his maternal lineage: his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5). From childhood he had been taught the Old Testament. But because his father was a Greek and not a Jew, Timothy would not have been equipped to know much about manhood in a Jewish community.
Even Paul anticipated this liability and circumcised him (Acts 16:3). Later, Paul ordained Timothy by laying hands on him (2 Timothy 1:6). He also had the presbyters or priests at Ephesus lay their hands on him (1 Timothy 4:14). These three acts—circumcision, ordination, and laying on of hands by the elders—are a kind of “rite of passage” for Timothy. We have no clue as to whether he had otherwise been instructed on the virtues, responsibilities and expectations of manhood. Maybe a lack of preparation by his father caused Timothy to be insecure in his role as a leader. Could this be why Paul “adopted” Timothy as his “spiritual son”, becoming his surrogate father and mentor in the faith? (1 Timothy 1:2, 18; 2 Timothy 1:2; 2:1).
Paul’s instructions to Timothy often sound like a father’s instruction to his son—to enable him, to empower him, and to pass on the mantle of manhood. This becomes more obvious in 2 Timothy 2:22, when Paul tells him: “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” In 1 Corinthians 13:11, Paul uses somewhat similar language, as we have already seen, to talk about young faith versus mature faith: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”
By adopting Timothy as his son, instructing him, and providing him a “rite of passage” before presenting him to the world, Paul called him to manhood—to accept the full measure of his uniqueness as a man, something Timothy’s grandmother and mother, for all their good intentions, apparently could not do. Hopefully, my point is clear that we as parents—fathers to sons and mothers to daughters—can do for our children those rituals and ceremonies that tell them who they are in YOUR eyes—as capable woman or equally as adept men. By doing this now, adult children will evade the possible effects of the classic father or mother wound and cast out of their lives “a spirit of timidity”!
*(This article is adopted from Dr. O’Donnell’s new book coming out this October, What a Son Needs from His Dad by Bethany/Baker House Publishers.)