[Note: This article was one I originally write in October of 2005 for the Vertical Thought magazine. It was never published, but I thought the subject of mentoring worth discussing here, at least to provide some of my “early” thoughts on the matter.]
The Issue of Conversion
For anyone who is or is trying to become a Christian, the issue of conversion is a difficult one. For many who convert to the truth while living ways directly against the truth, the conversion process (or the change from wrong behavior and belief to right behavior and belief) is obvious, often sudden, and is life-changing. However, many of us do not share that viewpoint, and thus it is more difficult to determine the moment we are converted from the moment we are not. However, the life of Timothy provides inspiration for those of us who may not be aware of the process of our conversion as dramatically as others whose lives changed much more dramatically as a result of a shocking and powerful encounter with the truth of God’s Word.
2 Timothy 1:3-5 gives the heritage of faith for Timothy: “I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.” Like many of us, Timothy came from a believing household. Paul, in reminding him of his duties as a Christian and as a pastor, reminded him of his heritage of believing family that instructed him and set him a proper example as a youth. The value of this experience is vital, for those of us who are born into the truth can be superior to those who are not in the sense that we do not have to learn from the same sort of horrible mistakes of experience, but can grow up believing and can grow gradually into that full knowledge and obedience. This is a gift that should never be taken for granted or disregarded, and is nothing to be ashamed of.
The Importance of a Good Mentor
Nonetheless, for that faith to find its fullest result, it is necessary to find a mentor, a positive adult role model (even if those are difficult to find sometimes), in order to come to successful adulthood. In Acts 16, we see Paul and Silas coming across Timothy, a young man with a Christian mother but an unbeliving father who came with a good reputation from his congregation. Paul was so impressed with the young man (who was probably only a teenager), that he took Timothy along with him.
It is a shame such things do not occur that often nowadays. In this day and age, problems of divorce and the general cultural collapse of parenting ability and interest have left a lot of young people without suitable parental role models. Timothy’s own father was an unbeliever, and thus did not present a suitable guide to a Christian life. However, by taking the young man under his wing, Paul was able to provide a role of mentorship for the young man. It is vital for young people to have mentors to show them good examples of how adults (and Christians) should behave. Without these examples it is difficult for young people to learn how to live properly on their own.
Importance of Handling Responsibility
A large portion of the mentoring that Paul provided Timothy was not only in instruction on the law (where Paul was, as a trained rabbi, no doubt skilled), nor merely in personal example (though that too was vital), but also in practical opportunities to demonstrate a capacity for handling responsibility, which leads to greater maturity and the handling of even greater responsibility in the future. Even early on in Timothy’s work with Paul, in Acts 18, we see that Paul sent Timothy as the assistant to Silas to deal with the churches in Macedonia. Thus, even as as young man Timothy was dealing with the missionary work in a responsible manner. In Acts 20, we find that Timothy was part of an advance party sent to prepare for Paul’s arrival in Troas, a city in Asia minor. From reading the greetings at the closings of Paul’s Epistles, we find that Timothy was a valued fellow worker of Paul’s (Romans 16:21). Timothy, through sharing in Paul’s work and experiences, had become a very able and devoted young man to the truths of God.
A Major Challenge
It was then, while still in his 30’s, that Paul decided to send Timothy on a difficult task to teach the brethren in Ephesus. The task was especially difficult because, then as now, young people were not well respected in positions of authority. Timothy was, moreover, a timid young man (2 Timothy 1:7-9) who may have found great difficulty in his task of being resolute and strong. Nonetheless, even here Paul did not leave him without help, for he wrote two beautiful and touching letters advising Timothy on how to properly behave. In these letters Timothy was given valuable advice (which we too can take advantage of) concerning how to deal with those who may look down on us because we are young, and was told to always set a proper example and treat other people with respect. Also, Timothy was given the charge of teaching the correct doctrine to the people of Ephesus, and in finding other people capable of teaching and gently guiding others. Paul also gives Timothy another difficult task—to come and visit him, a condemned criminal, before he dies, and to bring with him some valuable parchments, which may have included the scriptures (2 Timothy 4:9-13).
The Final Word
Paul’s time on earth was near at hand, but we can rest assured that Timothy had used the example for his own benefit, and better learned how to live the Christian life. The last words in the Bible we find about Timothy are recorded in Hebrews 13:23, where Timothy has just been set free (presumably from prison). So we can be comforted that Timothy did go to Paul as Paul had requested, and had taken courage to the difficult task. You see, the conversion process of Timothy (as it is for many of us) was gradual, but that is not a bad thing. What it meant was a lifetime of service to God and brethren, as well as a continual and gradual growing into responsibility and knowledge. It was not without its problems, for Timothy, like many of us, was somewhat timid, and needed courage. However, the lessons of Timothy in growing up in the faith, being properly mentored by an older adult, and in growing into his responsibilities can be an inspiration for all of us who are young and grew up in the truth. One needs no road to Damascus in order to be a valuable Christian. God is with all of us, even (or maybe even especially) those who are born and reared into His ways.