Among all the names mentioned in the letter to the Hebrews, only one belongs to a member of the New Testament church. Here are four clues. If you still can’t get the answer, look up Hebrews 13:23. Clue number one: This person seems to have been known to the author. That is not much help in narrowing down the field, unless one holds the minority view that Paul wrote Hebrews. Clue number two: This person had recently been released from imprisonment for the sake of Christ. Got him yet? Clue number three: Actually this person was known very well by the apostle Paul. If you are still wondering, then try clue number four: His mother was a Jewess, his father a Gentile. Still not enough? Clue number four is: Paul wrote two letters to him. If you still have not worked it out, it is time to look at the third to the last verse in Hebrews!
So what is the relevance of this piece of Bible trivia? Well, for one thing it means we know the name of one person who did not write Hebrews! For another, it tells us something about that person we otherwise would never have known. And, perhaps most interesting of all, it suggests that this person, a Jew by birth, raised on the Old Testament Scriptures, which are featured so dominantly in the letter to the Hebrews, mixed the promise of God with faith (Heb. 4:2), fixed his gaze on Jesus (Heb. 3:2; 12:2–3) and endured suffering for His sake.
This is one of the fascinating things about the New Testament believers whose names are mentioned in the correspondence of the apostles: They frequently illustrate the very lessons the letters were seeking to inculcate in the first readers. This person is no exception. Indeed, he obviously lived up to the beautiful words Paul wrote about him in Philippians: “I have no one like him … you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel” (Phil. 2:20, 22). Yes, wrote the author of Hebrews “our brother Timothy has been released” (Heb. 13:23).
Most commentators envisage Timothy as a comparatively young, possibly shy and timid person, perhaps with some stomach problems. The evidence can be overdone, of course. But certainly he did not have a “gung-ho” personality. Unlike the famous Ignatius of Antioch who seemed determined to suffer martyrdom, Timothy perhaps needed the apostle’s encouragements not to be ashamed of the Gospel and to take his share of suffering (2 Tim. 1:8) in order to be assured that this was the pathway for all believers (2 Tim. 3:12) and that the Lord would not desert him. Certainly Paul’s words, paving the way for Timothy’s arrival in Corinth — “When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you” (1 Cor. 16:10) — do not suggest that the young evangelist enjoyed dealing with controversial situations or difficult people. Yet, Timothy had been faithful; like Moses, he had calculated that the reproach of Christ was greater wealth than the treasures of this world (Heb. 11:26). He had endured. And now he was being delivered.
The reference to Timothy helps to illustrate a theme that runs through Hebrews 13 — the characteristics of true leaders and the attitude we are to develop and maintain with respect to our spiritual leaders: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7); “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17).
In his relationship with Paul, Timothy exemplified the disposition of a follower. Timothy remembered him, observed the fruit of his faith and imitated it. He submitted gladly to Paul’s leadership; he was thankful for his spiritual father who was his mentor. This was why — in words that Hebrews echoes (13:17) — for Paul the leader to see Timothy his disciple was to be “filled with joy” (2 Tim. 1:4).
Have you yourself shown heart submission to the leadership of others? Are you prepared to suffer for others, to go through trials? Perhaps you are a ruling elder. When things get tough and rough and sore, do you simply complain, or perhaps tend to pull back a little and look to the teaching elder/pastor as though to say: “The tough ones are for you to handle!”?
Most of us are church members, not church leaders. Are you a joy, or a burden? What a telling question! How sad when we count — of all things — argumentativeness, a domineering spirit, an angular personality, an ongoing motif of cynicism about other believers — as graces. Have we no idea that we make our leaders groan rather than rejoice? Should we not make one of the questions for church membership: “Will you seek to be a source of joy to your leaders?”
Timothy is a model for both disciples and leaders. He was the latter because he had learned to be the former. And once we have been both, we too become living letters, versions of the great letter to the Hebrews, those in whom the Lord is “working that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” And Amen!