The Bible provides many examples of how not to parent, and some on how to parent a child. Many cases offer us limited insight. How did Mordecai raise Hadassah (Esther) to be willing to risk her life to save her people? How did Daniel's parents prepare him to be faithful in captivity in Babylon? How did Moses' parents prepare him to be faithful in the court of Pharaoh? And, of course, how did Joseph and Mary raise Jesus to withstand the full weight of tradition and go up onto the cross in contradiction to all the world?
In the cases mentioned, we know next to nothing. What we do know is that the parenting was successful. These children became heroes of faith.
We may surmise one other thing as well; all successful parenting is parenting in which one or both human parents cooperate with God in raising the child. There is no Christian parenting without the help of God. Parenting is not a stand-alone operation. If successful, it is done in the help of God.
If this is true then how do we parent in the help of God? How do we raise children side-by-side with the Ultimate Parent?
God loves us too much to leave us to ourselves and we must love our own children enough not to leave them to themselves. Mordecai, Amram and Jochebed parents of Moses, Daniel's parents, whose names we do not even know, Joseph and Mary and eventually only Mary--did it. Successful Christian parenting is doable. The evidence is in the pages of your Bible. What practical help can we offer today? We will take our hints today from the story of a young person whose parenting we actually do know something about. His name is Timothy.
Timothy Part I
Timothy served as apprentice to Paul, a worker in the churches. We do not know a great deal about his life but we can reconstruct at least the framework of a biography. Timothy's name turns several times in the New Testament. Paul and Timothy are mentioned as working side by side with each other for the gospel in two places (2 Corinthians 1:1; Philemon 1). and four times in letters Paul writes to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:2, 18; 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:2). Timothy is mentioned by Paul yet again in the book of Hebrews (13:23). Timothy comes up several times in the book of Acts. We draw valuable insights into parenting from the story of the life of Timothy.
Our story begins with the man who was not Timothy's father yet who would come into a father-son-like relationship with him. The apostle Paul went on three missionary journeys before his fourth and final major trip to Rome to stand trial. On his first missionary journey he traveled the main East-West route through what is to us modern-day Turkey. This trip occurred in the early to mid 40s AD, around ten years after Jesus' crucifixion. Paul came eventually to Iconium where there was a Jewish Synagogue. After some time, the city was divided and even its leaders took sides against Paul and Barnabas and tried to kill them (Acts 14:1-5). They left there and along that road came next to the city of Lystra.
In Lystra Barnabas and Paul labored to raise up a small group of believers. It was not long, however, before trouble rose up again. Paul healed a crippled man and was mistaken for the god Hermes. The priest of Zeus came with crowds to sacrifice to them, but Paul preempted this and preached to them about Jesus (Acts 14:6-18). News of all this soon reached Iconium and opponents of Paul came from there and stirred up the locals so that they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city leaving him for dead (Acts 14:19). But Paul rose up and fled with Barnabas to Derbe.
Eventually, he continued his journey, even returning to Iconium and Lystra and formally organized the new believers there into churches (Acts 14:21-26). All of which brings us to Timothy. In the first verses of Acts 16 we have his initial biblical mention of him. On Paul's second missionary journey, late in 49 AD, guess where he went? Through Lystra again. And there the believers pointed out one among them who had a noteworthy Christian experience: young Timothy.
Timothy's mother was a Jew and her name was Eunice. But his father was a Greek whose name is not recorded. His mother is mentioned as being a believer but the father, not. Very likely then, he was not. If he was not a believer in the one true God, he almost certainly, in that time and place, was a believer in many. Timothy was not circumcised as he would have been in any conventional Jewish family. Timothy grew up in a divided household.
But Paul sees in this young man an enormous potential for the work of God, and circumcises Timothy. He takes him with him on the remainder of the journey. Later, Paul will pass the torch to this believer. But we should pause here and try to understand something of Timothy's earliest years, at least as much as the Bible makes available to us.
Turn with me to 2 Timothy 1:5.
I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:3-7). (All Scriptures from ESV translation.)
Here, we learn several things about Timothy. Yes, he grew up in a divided family. And not only his mother Eunice but Eunice's mother Lois were persons of faith. They were Jewish believers in Yahweh, the one true God. We also know that when Paul and Barnabas came to Lystra they preached Christ, and, very likely, at that time Lois and and Eunice were converted and became Christians. We never hear anything more of Timothy's Greek father. Perhaps he died about this time; we do not know. But we do know that his mother raised him in the faith. Her faith in God was transmitted to him.
We learn something else about the childhood of Timothy in 2 Timothy 3.
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:14, 15).
From childhood Timothy had been taught the Scriptures. Remember, these would in particular be the Old Testament Scriptures (the New Testament had yet to be written). And how was it that Timothy was taught the Scriptures from childhood? It didn't just happen; adult caregivers made it happen. Lois and Eunice made it happen; in this case, not daddy, but a believing mother and a faithful grandmother. Youth is the opportune time to teach our children the Bible and to model before them our faith. Youth is when the parent especially can:
- Provide loving boundaries and free spaces to thrive in
- Protect from physical and emotional violence
- Model God's love
- Model biblical masculinity and femininity
- Teach him to be a learner and a follower of Jesus' model for passing through this rebel world
- Guard him against absorption into mistaken idolatries of science, state, and culture
- Demonstrate Christian faithfulness in marriage
- Guide to a godly understanding of courtship
- Show how to care for aged parents
- Model involvement in God's covenant community, His church
Surely Eunice accomplished the above as best she could for young Timothy. And, let's keep in mind that children range in age from zero to 100; we are all children. Some of us were dedicated to God by our parents; others not. But, here we are now. Whether you have children or not, you pass through the stages of life. You develop from one situation to another. Some will never be a father or a mother biologically. The biological is only one aspect.
If a child could be raised from a test-tube and kept apart from people, in a bubble, that child would not be parented. It takes warm brains to parent; feeling and thinking working together. Parenting costs something; the life of the parent is spent, invested, in the child.
Neither Timothy nor any of us come from a background of having had perfect human models. While loving our parents deeply, we can admit that unintentionally, and often, they taught us what not to do. Our own failures are innumerable. There is mercy for us and grace for our children. We praise God that there is help from above.
We ought not wallow in regrets for past failures, but direct our current energies mostly to forward-looking action. What can God do through me now? Evey parent feels unprepared. We are here, now. Today is our day as children, parents, grandparents, and great grandparents.
Timothy Part II
After Acts 16 we see Timothy journeying and adventuring with Paul. He takes on responsibilities in the early church. Again and again we see him traveling back and forth, a messenger (angellos) to and from the churches, carrying the epistles of Paul and news from congregation to congregation Philippians (2:19, 20). He is given leadership responsibility, appointing elders and even rebuking errant leaders. Timothy is with Paul in Macedonia in 2 Corinthians 7:5 (circa 56 AD) and is visiting Paul later when imprisoned in Rome about 62 AD. Timothy leads the congregation in Philippi and later the congregation in Ephesus.
Timothy's early training, that is, the parenting of Eunice, was the best help of his life. Paul trained him by experience, yet it was the spiritual nurture of the mother that gave him a foundation. There was something for God to work with later because the mother and the grandmother had guided him with the scriptures in his youth. And what a task this was for Timothy! He became a shepherd. Paul wrote that Timothy was like-minded to himself; He saw this young man develop into a person of proven character, and the relationship between Paul and Timothy became like that of a father with a son.
This is an interesting point for us, because there is no direct biological connection here. What you had was a nurturing friendship relationship, a connection that developed between two believers, Paul and Timothy. Not all of us here are parents, but we can develop friendships and relationships with each other, and strengthen and be strengthened. The task of parenting is really just part of the task of nurturing and maturing. Nurturing and maturing does not end at age 14 or 18 or 21. It continues through life. God uses us all, if we are willing to be used. We may lose a parent, as apparently Timothy lost his human father. But God is still our Ultimate Parent, and He has human friends that He will bring to us and He will continue to parent us. We're all involved in parenting then, whether we know it or not; we are parenting and being parented in this wider sense.
The work of Timothy was pastoral and very challenging. Paul reminded him to avoid oddball doctrines and distractions, to rebuke elders who were sinning, to faithfully fulfill the prophesies made about him. He reminded him to publicly read scripture, to teach, and to preach. Timothy was a human person very much like all of us. He saw, he thought, he felt. Paul mentions Timothy's tears (2 Timothy 1:4) perhaps at a time of parting. Eunice raised an apparently balanced child and God put him to work for the gospel. He was useful to God.
Timothy Part III
The last part of Timothy's experience we consider comes at the close of Paul's life. Paul is in custody in Rome, soon to be executed. Timothy is somewhere at a distance. Paul writes to Timothy. He has already had a preliminary hearing in Rome and the outlook is grim.
I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. . . At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. Do your best to come before winter (2 Timothy 4:6-21 selected).
Paul has some acquaintances with him in Rome but his heart calls out to Timothy. Their relation is parental, father to son, son to father, although they are not that biologically. This was perhaps Paul's last sending, his last call to Timothy. He pleads with him to bring his cloak and his "Bible." He urges him to come before winter, for if he does not come by then, Paul may not see him again until the resurrection.
This is certainly a letter between the two in a father like son relationship, but it is even more. Paul is aged now, and facing martyrdom. But he is still fathering, still teaching. He is teaching Timothy to care for his aged "parent."
There is more. While the epistle we call First Timothy is filled with counsel for dealing with church matters, and this epistle has it too, this second epistle is much more personal. For here we see Paul "passing the torch" so to speak. The aged leader is passing the scepter to the more youthful. Timothy is "graduating" if you will.
Paul is giving him very likely his last instructions.
Paul is still parenting.
We have considered, rather briefly, parenting. We took a Bible example and looked in three parts at the life of Timothy. We saw him growing in youth, in early adulthood, and later in the full bloom of adulthood. All the way through there was parenting. And we can only wonder how many families, how many little boys and young girls were impacted by the ministry, the parenting of Timothy?
We who are parenting need the Scriptures in our hearts and minds. We need to be praying and pleading for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We need to maintain a heart mindfully aimed toward Heaven. We need to be steady, redemptive in discipline and in mercy. We need to be working with our human and Divine partners. All these are good for parenting but they are also good for living as Christians.
Parents, redouble your efforts. Christian parenting is doable! But don't do it alone. Cooperate with God; learn from other brothers and sisters with families; receive wisdom from other persons of experience; do not neglect the counsel of the grey headed. All this is gift from God for your little ones and for you.
Bonners Ferry ID SDA 2012-06-02