Summary: Timothy had to find balance balance between the freedom he had through Christ and the things that were needful to reach others with the gospel.
Lawful or Expedient
Acts 16:1-3 (KJV)
1 Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek:
2 Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium.
3 Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek.
Christian liberty is a wonderful thing. The freedom that Christ brings to our lives is one of the greatest gifts of salvation. The knowledge that we are free to live a life of fellowship with our creator without fear is truly incredible. Jesus said that those who accept Him would be made free by Him... and those whom He sets free will be free indeed. Free from the bondage of sin, free from the bondage of our pasts, free from the bondage of death, and free from the bondage of the law.
There were problems understanding this freedom in the early church, just as there are problems today. In those days, there were many who had problems with the thought that a gentile could be saved simply on the merits of faith. They felt that these new Christians needed to adhere to the Law of Moses and circumcision. This became a heated point of debate and was finally settled in the fifteenth chapter of the book of Acts.
Acts 15:5-11 (KJV)
5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.
6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.
8 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;
9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
It was agreed upon by the council at Jerusalem that they would not force this on the gentiles because it was obvious that God was moving and saving them... purifying their hearts by faith, not works.
Now, as we look at our passage today, we find a surprising twist. Verse three tells us that Paul "took and circumcised" Timothy.
What? Was Paul not paying attention? Paul was helping to deliver this message of freedom yet he has Timothy circumcised! What is going on here?
You see church, this is the difference between something being lawful and something being expedient.
The thoughts about this act being "lawful" had to do with the effects of the act to the salvation of the person actually being circumcised. This is why the early church sent word that it was not required. Jesus saves based on faith and faith alone. I can do nothing to make myself more attractive to God or more worthy of salvation. He loved me when I was lost and He loves me now that I'm saved. He has always loved me. The Bible tells me that He loves me so much that He chose to show me His love by sending Christ to die for me while I was yet a sinner. When I was still at odds with God and His plans for me, He gave His life on a cross so that I might have life in Him.
Christ completed the law.
Expedient, on the other hand, has less to do with me and more to do with those I am trying to reach. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:23, "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not." Paul was trying to explain that even though we have certain freedoms as the children of God, exercising those freedoms can sometimes hurt those to whom we are trying to show Jesus. In other words, just because it's lawful for me to do something, that doesn't mean I should. To put it another way, I should be less concerned with what I can and cannot do and become more concerned with how my actions effect those around me... those I am trying to reach for Christ.