16:1 "Then he (Paul) came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek. 4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily."
Working with people is tricky business. Even to His own disciples Jesus admitted "I have many things to tell you but you are not able to bear them now." We humans are "married" to our ideas, strapped to our cultures, and restricted by our religious ideas. Truth seems like a threat and an enemy when it crosses the grain of what we already believe.
Today we find Paul traveling again with Silas now and he meets a young man named Timothy. He is impressed by this young man and wants to make him part of the team. There is a problem though. Timothy is what elitist Jews called a half breed. His mom is a Jew but his dad is a Greek and as a result he was never circumcised. Does he need to be? No. Will it keep him out of God’s kingdom or make him less of a child of God? Absolutely not.
So then why does Paul do something unexpected and get him circumcised? Isn't this the same Paul who just came from a council in Jerusalem where he argued against the need for circumcision? Is he back pedaling? Has he begun to compromise his firm belief that nothing can be added to what Jesus has done for us?
For sure not. Paul's motive had nothing to do with the gospel or pleasing God. It had everything to do with wisdom and how to work with people. The Jews are struggling with the idea Gentiles don't need circumcision. Timothy is half Jew. In the minds of a Jew circumcision is not optional. A Jew is circumcised. Period. Paul wants Timothy to be able to preach and work for the salvation of his fellow Jews who did not yet know Jesus. The Good News was enough of a barrier. There was no need to add another barrier. Again let's be clear: Timothy was not circumcised to make him "more saved", he was circumcised to facilitate his acceptance among the Jews and eliminate an unnecessary barrier.
When I was 17 I went with a team of youth to the Ukraine for 6 weeks where we taught English classes by day and shared Jesus every evening. We worked closely with the church leaders. They coached us on the dos and don'ts of the culture. One of the don'ts was wearing shorts. Respectable people kept their legs covered. The average temperature when we were there was 44 degrees C. Another cultural norm was standing for prayer as a sign of respect for God.
Now neither of those practices were salvation issues. They had nothing to do with a command from God. But guess what? We kept our legs covered and stood to pray in order not to offend the locals and damage our ability to share Jesus with them.
Wise as serpents and harmless as doves. We must be wise, humble, teachable, and willing to do whatever it takes to reach people while never compromising the Gospel. The same Paul who wrote to the Galatians that to be circumcised was to make Jesus of no value to them was willing to have Timothy circumcised to bridge a cultural divide. See the difference? Motive is everything. That's why the Bible says man looks at the surface but God looks on the heart.
Never twist the Gospel to get "more saved" but always be willing to bridge a cultural divide.