After moving through Syria and Celicia (15.41) Paul came to Derbe and Lystra. By all accounts this is now around five years after his last visit and time spent there (14.8-21). As Barnabas had left (15.39) the Lord provided a ministry team member in waiting:
“A disciple named Timothy was there, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but whose father was a Greek. The brothers in Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him.”
(Acts 16.1b-2, NET)
Legally a Jew because of his mother, Paul took Timothy and circumcised him. Isn’t this what Paul has just been arguing against, the need to perform outward works of religious obedience to gain favour?
David Guzik writes:
“…Paul did not contradict his belief or the findings of the council when he had Timothy circumcised. Paul did this not for Timothy’s salvation or right standing with God, but so that Timothy status as a non-circumcised man from a Jewish mother would not hinder their work among the Jews and in synagogues. Paul did things for the sake of love that he would not do for the sake of trying to please God through legalism. Paul insisted that Titus, a Gentile co-worker, did not have to be circumcised (Galatians 2:3-5).
“By Jewish law Timothy was a Jew, because he was the son of Jewish mother, but because he was uncircumcised he was technically an apostate Jew. If Paul wished to maintain his links with the synagogue, he could not be seen to countenance apostasy.” (Bruce)””
Certainly not salvific, then, and more a case of opening a door for Timothy’s ministry opportunities in the same way believers move overseas and learn a local language, adopt local culture, and change dress and habits.
As the newly formed team went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached (cf.15.28-29). As a result we read that the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
Churches will grow and faith will be strengthened if we focus on the fundamentals. Trying to supplement faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour will only lead to foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law [and] they are unprofitable and worthless (Titus 3.9).
How we pray that our churches are families of believers who come together to worship the Lord, to strengthen one another’s faith, and to live out the Gospel in beautiful community!