Timothy was unique as a minister because of his age, frequent illnesses, and what appears to be a timid spirit. Such obstacles could hinder many individuals from becoming successful ministers, but Timothy had a secret weapon named Paul. Paul referred to Timothy as his “beloved and faithful child in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:17; cf. 1 Timothy 1:2, 18; 2 Timothy 1:2), and as a ”fellow worker” (Romans 16:21; cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:2). Timothy became one of Paul’s most reliable traveling companions after being recruited by the apostle on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:1-3). From that point forward, it seems as though Timothy left Paul’s side only when Paul gave him special orders to work with certain congregations (Acts 17:14; 19:22; 1 Corinthians 4:17; 16:10; 1 Thessalonians 3:2). As a result, Timothy is identified as accompanying Paul in more than half of the Pauline epistles (Romans 16:21; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; Philemon 1).
Needless to say, there was a unique and consistent interaction between these two individuals, and I believe that it is this unique relationship that made Timothy a successful minister. Through Paul’s continual guidance and encouragement, Timothy was able to overcome his potentially debilitating obstacles. When Timothy’s age became a hurdle, Paul encouraged him to not let anyone look down on his youthfulness (1 Timothy 4:12). When Timothy’s illness became a hurdle, Paul provided instructions on how to alleviate some of his ailments (1 Timothy 5:23). When Timothy’s fear became a hurdle, Paul reminded him of the spiritual gifts that God gave him (2 Timothy 1:6-7). Ultimately, Paul helped Timothy recognize and overcome his weaknesses in order to become a successful minister. In fact, Timothy became such a useful agent for Paul that he utilized him in some daunting ministry situations such as encouraging the disheartened Christians in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:2), troubleshooting issues in Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17), and addressing false teachings as well as appointing elders in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3-4). But none of this would have been possible without Paul’s training of Timothy.
The unique relationship between Paul and Timothy underscores the importance of mentoring relationships in the body of Christ. A mentor is one who functions in an advisory role to another by educating and equipping him or her based on the mentor’s previous experience and expertise. In other words, a mentor is a mature follower of God who helps a less mature follower of God mature. And this type of relationship is prevalent throughout the Bible. Moses functioned as a mentor to Joshua, Eli functioned as a mentor to Samuel, Elijah functioned as a mentor to Elisha, and Jesus functioned as a mentor to the Apostles.
Thus, when we talk about training a Timothy we are talking about mature Christians embracing the role of a mentor. This is a role that Paul assumed mature Christians would assume. That is why Paul told Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (2:1), namely that “older men are to be…self-controlled” (2:2), modeling such behavior for the younger men who receive the same instruction (2:6), and that “older women” are to “teach what is good, and so train the young women” (2:3-5). So, while we should pursue a Paul for our own spiritual maturation we must also intentionally grow to such a degree that we can one day pay it forward by training a Timothy in the same fashion.
So, what makes a mentor a mentor? A mentor is actively pursuing perfection. Mentors, with the exception of Jesus, are not perfect, but they are pursuing perfection. This is best illustrated in the life of Paul. Paul repeatedly instructed his readers to “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1; cf. Philippians 3:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:7). Thus, Paul volunteered himself as a mentor, as someone to imitate. Was Paul perfect? Absolutely not. His past as a persecutor of the church was anything but exemplary. So, on what basis could Paul assert that he was worthy of being imitated? Paul could say, “imitate me” because he was confident in his pursuit of Christlikeness. Thus, Paul’s status as a mentor was not contingent on his reputation of perfection but on his pursuit of perfection.
The question we must ask ourselves is whether or not we are engaging in that same pursuit. In other words, are you actively working to mature your faith by pursuing perfection? The truth is that God expects every Christian to mature in the faith. This expectation is evident from the fact that we are expected to “add to [our] faith” such things as virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, kindness, and love in order to prevent spiritual barrenness (2 Peter 1:5-8). This expectation is evident from the fact that the author of Hebrews criticized his readers for failing to develop into teachers (Hebrews 5:12), and challenged them to “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1). This expectation is evident from Jesus’ own words when He said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Thus, the Christian life is designed to be a process of maturation not a pool of stagnation, and one way to gauge your level of spiritual maturity is whether or not you can confidently hold yourself up as a mentor, saying, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”