Acts 16:1-5 1 Paul[a] came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brothers[b] at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
Wait a second. Paul had Timothy circumcised? But didn’t Paul also teach that circumcision was no longer needed?
Romans 2:29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
1 Corinthians 7:19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.
Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
This puzzled me when I first read it. So I read it again, and then again. Sometimes you have to do that. And what I noticed was “because of the Jews who were in those places”. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him. They were going places where they’d be speaking to Jews. Timothy’s father was a Greek, and “they all knew that his father was a Greek”, and that fact is brought up twice in this short passage. Clearly, Timothy’s Greek-ness was going to be an issue for “the Jews who were in those places”. They were the kind of people who would “make a thing” out of it. So it looks to me like this was a way for Timothy to claim his Jewish heritage (from his mother’s side), so that he would be accepted in the places they were going. We read last week in Titus about avoiding “foolish controversies”, and circumcision was a big controversy with early Christians. It seems to me that this was a way for them to avoid controversy, to remove a distraction (the argument about circumcision) so that they could speak on other things. It wasn’t done as a spiritual act ; Paul didn’t believe anyone needed it for their salvation. It was done so that nobody could use the issue to take the focus off of their message. And apparently it worked, because he says “So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.”
Maybe we (as Christians) should take a page from Paul’s playbook and examine ourselves for anything that takes the focus off of the message. Is there something about how I present myself that would make people choose to turn away from me before hearing the message? Or something that I make such an issue about that other people can’t hear the message of God from my mouth, because of this other thing? Or is there something that I am so distracted by that I let it take my focus off of God? If so, am I willing to … remove that thing … in order to better represent God?