Raised in Lystra (Acts 16:1–5), “from childhood,” Timothy had “been acquainted with the sacred writings” (2 Tim 3:15), thanks to his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice who had “a faith that dwelt first” in them (2 Tim 1:5). Eunice was “a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:1), and likely an unbeliever as evidenced by his opposition to Timothy being circumcised according to Mosaic Law (cf. Acts 16:3).
Minus his father, Timothy’s family likely accepted Paul’s gospel when he came to Lystra during his first missionary journey (AD 47–49; cf. Acts 14:5–23). Paul had there healed a cripple, provoking an attempt to worship him (Acts 14:8–18), and he was soon thereafter opposed, stoned, and left for dead (Acts 14:19–20). Shortly after, however, Paul was “strengthening the souls of the disciples” and left them in the hands of their newly-appointed elders (Acts 14:22–23).
Likely among those who followed Paul at that time, it is no surprise that Timothy matured and was later “well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:2). Thus, “Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him” (Acts 16:3) during his second missionary journey (AD 50–52), which may have been when Timothy was formally set aside to use his “gift” of preaching and teaching, “given” to him “by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on” him (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6).
Luke’s Acts and Paul’s letters give but a few snippets from his life of missionary service. Timothy would at times be separated from Paul (Acts 17:14–15), sent to churches with specific tasks (Acts 18:22), such as checking up on them (1 Thess 3:1–10), helping in handling their problems (1 Tim 1:3), and doing so in a manner that mirrored Christ (1 Cor 4:15–17). He would join Paul for his third missionary journey (AD 53–57; cf. Acts 20:4–5; Rom 16:21; 2 Cor 1:1) and then encourage him in a Roman prison (AD 59–61; Phil 1:1; Col 1:1; Phm 1). He joined him again for a fourth journey (AD 62–66), finally to be left at Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3) where he remained until the death of Paul (cf. 2 Tim 4:6–8), except for perhaps an occasional trip to Paul or elsewhere (cf 2 Tim 4:9, 13, 21).
Some suggest that Timothy was timid since the Corinthians had to be told not to despise him (1 Cor 16:10–11) and the admonition to use his gift in Ephesus implied that he may not have been doing so (2 Tim 1:6). Some add to this weak persona his occasional sickness (1 Tim 5:23). At the same time, we remember Paul’s glowing commendations of Timothy (1 Cor 4:17; Phil 2:19–22) and that he dealt with problems in Corinth, Ephesus, and elsewhere, and his last mention in the NT is having been freed from being imprisoned for the gospel (Heb 13:23). Whatever his flaws may have been, he is an excellent example of Christlike service for us today (1 Cor 4:15–17).