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 16:3
Paul had traveled to the city of Lystra where the disciple Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and his father Gentile. Paul desired to take Timothy on his missionary journeys, but the Jews in the area knew of Tim’s Gentile father. Thus, Paul took it upon himself to circumcise Tim to have him accepted by the Jews. Once Tim was circumcised, his word would be better received by the Jews he encountered.
Paul’s move here may seem advantageous in their mission so as to have Timothy (Tim) accepted by the Jews they encountered. However, to me, Paul makes a big mistake here in circumcising Tim. Why? Because we will read in many writings from Paul himself about the uselessness of circumcision. Read along:
Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. – Romans 2:25
Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. – 1 Corinthians 7:18
Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. – 1 Corinthians 7:19
Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. – Galatians 5:2
Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. – Galatians 5:3
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. – Galatians 5:6
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. – Galatians 6:15
Paul taught against the physical circumcision of any man because it legally bound him to fulfill the Mosaic Law and thus be subject to its consequences. James would remind us elsewhere that to break one part of the law was to violate the entire code. Thus, it made no sense for a man to try to keep out of coercion and obligation the letter of the law. Jesus taught that even those who broke the Spirit of the Law were guilty of breaking the law. (See Matthew 5 – Sermon on the Mount) Even Peter withstood the Pharisees who demanded that Gentiles be circumscised and follow the Mosaic Law (while Paul was standing in his presence) said, God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus. – Acts 15:8-11
If Paul heard Peter make this statement and would later teach all these things against physical circumcision, then why did he have Tim circumcised? It makes no sense at all. Paul preached against the very thing that he had done to this young man? All for acceptance as a Jew by the Jews?!?
I bring this up because Paul confronted Peter in Antioch over Peter’s eating with Gentiles so long as no Jews knew of it. Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. – Galatians 2:11-12. However, Paul taught against circumcision, yet he circumcised Tim. I would have had to withstand Paul to the face about his actions.
The truth of the matter is that we all make mistakes. We are all human. Paul may have had the best of intentions when circumcising Timothy so as to appease the Jews in Lystra and the surrounding area. They knew Tim’s dad was a Gentile. His half-breed status would probably have made him an outcast in either segment of society: Greek v. Jew. However, Paul should have stood tall and proclaimed the fact that Peter raised when Barnabas and Paul where in Jerusalem: God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.
I am no better than Paul, who was no better than Peter. We will make mistakes in our time on earth in our present physical state. We are not God. Thus, let us learn to practice the other big doctrine that Paul taught on so well – grace! Yes, we should confront people with their sins and even their mistakes, but let us do so in love of the Father and with speech seasoned with salt and grace. As Paul said elsewhere, I have not yet arrived (and neither have you).
Father, we all have good intentions in our heart and want to do the right thing when we walk with You and serve You. However, as the old adage says, even the path to destruction is paved with good intentions. Help me to study Your Word and to know it inside and out to show myself a worker worthy and approved of You but also in an intimate level that makes it come alive within me as I walk out my life. I have made gross errors and sins in this life, as we all have. I don’t want to be guilty of hypocrisy or pointing the finger at people needlessly. When there is cause for concern that requires addressing a situation, help me to do so judiciously but tempered with mercy and grace. None of us, Jew or Greek, would be here without Your love, mercy, and grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.