16:1 Paul  came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brothers  at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily. (Acts 16:1-5 (ESV)
This text is great. Paul sets out to be a Jew to the Jew and a gentile to the gentile. His concern is to not show needless offense to those he wants to teach the gospel too. He won’t be bound by legalism, but he also won’t offend the sensitivities of those he wants to reach with the gospel, at least not in any needless way. This all comes to center on the person of Timothy.
It’s a strange thing. Timothy had to have been baptized. He followed his mom’s lead in that as is obvious by his belief, and maturity in the faith. Timothy’s father was a Greek, his mom Jewish. We don’t know if his Father believed or not, but every indication is that his Father was not a believer. At this point we really don’t know if he was alive. Timothy seems to have been raised by his mother and grandmother as is indicated in the Pastoral epistles. He is raised on the Jewish scriptures, but for some reason was never circumcised. We can only attribute this to an objection of his father, at least in the early childhood. But this does not stop his mother from instructing him in the faith.
That’s the great thing about believing mothers. It is a common observation of pastors that though God designates the Father as the spiritual head of a household, it is most often the mother who trains the kids in the faith. This was in large part true in my own household even with my dad as a pastor. It was my mom that would break out the “Portals of Prayer” at breakfast and read them to us children. I have to say, I often found those devotions to be less than profound, and yet over time they have the potential of profound impact. This sort of thing seems to have had profound impact on Timothy too. And this example can be one of great encouragement for many a mother who like St. Augustine’s mother Monica, worry that their instruction is in vain, or being undermined by the example of the father. The Holy Spirit is at work in the word. One is hard pressed to stop Him from doing his work, even if he is technically the spiritual head of the household. Everything is sanctified by the word and prayer, this includes your children.
Timothy became a believer, and Paul wants to take him along for the rest of the journey. In fact, Timothy will become a coworker with Paul, and a pastor. His time with Paul serving as a sort of seminary education learning those things that will qualify him for the office. But there is a problem, he is a Jew according to the flesh and not circumcised. This is an odd thing about the Jewish religion, a late development perhaps started during the Babylonian exile. The Old Testament is a rather patriarchal document. You would think that it would be the religion, or nationality of the father that would matter most. But in Judaism it is the mother. If your mother is Jewish, they consider you to be Jewish. Likewise, it seems from what can be discerned in Ezra and Nehemiah that children of Jewish fathers born to gentile mothers were not considered to be Jewish. In any case, Timothy’s mother was Jewish, and as such his uncircumcision would cause more offense than that of Titus who was not a Jew. So Paul doesn’t have Titus circumcised. But he does have Timothy circumcised, even as he is basically on a tour to discuss he finding of the council in Jerusalem that in fact one does not need to be circumcised in order to be saved, to be a Christian. And yet, if Jewish Christians want to continue circumcision for cultural reasons etc. they are free to do so. They are not thereby damned, or even beholden to the whole of the law by being circumcised, unless of course they want to attach their salvation to circumcision. In and of itself it is nothing one way or another. But if you make it a prerequisite for salvation, this becomes another matter altogether. Of course the same is true of any work of the law. Once you attach salvation to them, the whole thing becomes a millstone around your neck.