I was momentarily perpuzzled at a little happening in Acts 16 the other day. Timothy joined Paul and Silas, and Paul decided he’d like Timothy to come along with him on his next adventure for the Gospel. As an important bit of backstory, Timothy’s Mom was a Jewish woman who believed in Jesus, but his father was Greek, which meant he hadn’t been circumcised. Before they took off, Timothy was circumcised, as the Scripture puts it “because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew his father was Greek.”

What had me temporarily perpuzzled about that?

Well, just one chapter before, it’s recorded that the Apostles got together for a good wee chat, in those days known as a council, because there was a conflict over circumcision. Some people were preaching that you couldn’t be saved without being circumcised according to the custom of Moses, and new converts weren’t really sure what to believe. And I imagine having to be circumcised might be a hindrance to some of the men-folk believing.

At the council, Peter spoke up and pointed out that God had made it clear that the Gospel message was for Jew and Gentile (non-Jew) alike, that it’s through the grace of Jesus Christ that both Jew and Gentile would be saved, and that trying to hang more burdens on the necks of Gentile believers just wasn’t cool. So to speak.

Then Barnabas and Paul told some stories about all the incredible miracles and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through their work.


Eventually everyone agreed that it wasn’t necessary to put the burden of circumcision on the Gentiles who were turning to God, but rather to encourage them to abstain from eating food that had been dedicated to idols and from sexual immorality, among other things.

So they all agreed that that was a good plan and wrote a letter to the Gentile believers saying as much.

And that’s where I got momentarily perpuzzled — if everybody just agreed that it wasn’t necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised, then why did Paul circumcise Timothy?

The answer was right there in the text: “because of the Jews in that region, for they all knew his father was Greek.” {v.3}

It seems though Paul and Timothy knew they were free from the law, yet the love of Christ compelled them. Timothy was judged to be a good candidate for preaching the Gospel — perhaps he was well-learned or well-spoken, perhaps he was a passionate speaker or easily able to engage a crowd.

For whatever reason, Paul judged that Timothy would be able to do a great amount of good for the Gospel, so, as Matthew Henry puts it,

Paul circumcised Timothy not like the teachers of the law who imposed circumcision upon Gentile converts, but only to render his conversation and ministry passable.

For the sake of the Gospel, Timothy, like Paul, would become as a Jew to the Jews, that he might gain the Jews. They weren’t going according to the letter of the law, but rather according to the spirit of it, “a spirit of tenderness towards the Jews, and willingness to bring them off gradually from their prejudices.” (also Matthew Henry)

What might it mean if we lived this way? What if, though aware that we are free from the law, out of concern for those who don’t know the Lord yet, and perhaps for those who do, we started thinking about what might need to be circumcised from our own lives? Excessive spending? Certain entertainment choices? The way the we sometimes choose to speak to people or about people?

And how would the Lord lead us, if we were willing to listen more often to His leading, and less often to our own rules? What would the God who is looking for mercy and not sacrifice — more relationship and less religion say?

Being very literal, I can only imagine that Timothy’s decision to be circumcised for the sake of his ministry was not very comfortable. His love for others is a beautiful example of the kind of sacrificial love Jesus showed us how to live. More than a Jew to the Jews or a Greek to the Greeks, He is the God who became a human to the humans in the name of love.

When the moment passed, and I was un-perpuzzled, my heart was warmed and my face was smiling, considering the beautiful example this simple story gives of how we ought to love, how we ought to live. Are we willing to be uncomfortable for Jesus?


P.S. Enjoying Scotland even though it’s Blowing a Hoolie outside!

P.P.S. Bonus points and a clever badge for naming the movie quoted in the title.