Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
Acts 16:1-3 (Also read Galatians)
In Acts 15, the question rose as to whether circumcision was required of Gentile believers. The council met to discuss this matter. The Christian Pharisees insisted that circumcision was needed for salvation. Peter argued that it was not required and Paul gave testimony affirming that any Law added to the Gospel wasn’t the gospel anymore. He had seen first hand the Spirit’s work in uncircumcised Gentile Christians and was fully convinced that Gentiles do not need to become Jews in order to follow Christ (Colossians 3:9-11). The debate was settled when James declared it not to be required after hearing both sides. Paul and Silas were then tasked with the duty of going from church to church and educating them in this.
However, here in Acts 16, Paul does a strange thing. He circumcised Timothy. We might be led to think that this Paul back paddled on the decision of the council, but it is obvious that he did not. He did it for Timothy’s benefit, so that Timothy could travel among the Jewish community and be accepted as one of them. This was important for Timothy because the Jews would not associate with him otherwise!
For the Jews, circumcision was an important marker that sets them apart. It was a sign of the Covenant of Abraham (Genesis 17:10-14), and thereby their own covenant since they considered themselves sons and daughters of Abraham (Luke 13:16). This important point of separation between a Jew and a Gentile was a part of the Law (Leviticus 12:3).
Paul’s stand is that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision holds no value for Christians (Galatians 5:6, 6:15). It is very much a neutral thing. Circumcision was of no value to Timothy, he didn’t gain any spiritual benefit by doing so. However without circumcision, Timothy would have been deemed as unclean and repulsive to the Jewish community. His access to bring the gospel and minister to them would have been hindered. It was perhaps of practical importance that Timothy was circumcised.
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
1 Corinthians 9:19-22
For a young man brought up as a Gentile, such as Timothy, this was no easy feat. His circumcision would have been painful. It requires weeks of recovery (6 weeks in this modern era) and risks infection. But to Timothy it was only a small sacrifice for a bigger cause. The temporary pain was endured so that the gospel wouldn’t be limited by him. He put the gospel first and his own comforts and security second.
- What in my background hinders me from spreading the gospel that I need to cut off?
- What comforts and security needs to be taken away for me to be more effective in reaching out?
- What is my greatest sacrifice for the furtherance of the gospel?
These are potent questions. I don’t think I have given enough. There is so much in my life that is just excess and a hinderance to the gospel. I am only thankful that I don’t have to endure physical circumcision.