Sacrifice

How serious are we, anyway?

Acts 16:1-5 (ESV)

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. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. 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. 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. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

Wait. The Jerusalem council just decided that converts don’t need to be circumcised and now Paul is circumcising Timothy. What’s going on here?

Timothy doesn’t have to be circumcised; that’s what the council decided. However, it’s a good idea for him because of his Jewish mother. Luke notes that Paul took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. In other words, the Jews might get upset over Timothy not being circumcised. That’s enough justification for surgery?!?

Yes. Timothy’s sacrifice for the gospel seems pretty great to us, but it only merits a quick summary here. Luke doesn’t heap praise on Timothy for this. That level of sacrifice was expected in the early church.

The next sentence really pulls this all together. 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. Paul circumcised Timothy so that he could help Paul deliver to the cities the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. That decision was that Christians don’t need to be circumcised!

Get it? As circumcised Jews, Timothy and Paul could credibly deliver the message that you don’t need to be circumcised. If an uncircumcised man (especially one with a Jewish parent) were to deliver the message that the high council had ruled against circumcision, he would be met with skepticism, if not mockery. And Paul’s plan worked.

So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.


Timothy’s sacrifice for the gospel should shame us. We’ll undergo elective surgery for cosmetic reasons but making that much sacrifice for Christ is almost unheard of today.

But there’s more. Notice that the passage doesn’t mention Timothy agreeing to be circumcised. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him. It sounds like it was entirely Paul’s decision. That’s how Luke meant it to sound; Timothy was submitting to authority here.

The modern church is so far from this level of commitment that a first century Christian might mistake us for unbelievers. We need a miracle. We need a revival. Pray for one.


The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

Today's ReVision

Sow a Little Confusion

We need to challenge false worldviews.

Join the Ailbe Community

The Fellowship of Ailbe Newsletters