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Fan into Flame

Date: Jul. 23, 2017

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

2 Timothy 1:1-18

Key Verse: 2 Timothy 1:6-7

“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

Have you ever been uncertain of yourself? Have you ever been so filled with fear and doubt that you feel bound or paralyzed and quaking in your boots? It is not an uncommon thought, if you’ve had it. People are overcome by uncertainty all the time. We don’t know what lies ahead and sometimes that prevents us from moving forward. The political environment for the past decade has been fraught with uncertainty. For the past two years, in Illinois, we didn’t have a state budget. The governor and the legislature couldn’t agree on anything and for two years there wasn’t been a budget. Many state services had to stop and emergency funding had to be given to public schools and universities. Many people just didn’t know what to do and many more left Illinois. It’s hard wondering if you would get paid. It is hard seeing your state’s credit rating fall into the toilet. When you are uncertain, you refrain from doing anything. You are stuck, but today’s passage shows us the power of God to overcome all sorts of uncertainty and fear with his wonderful gift.

Today we start a study in 2 Timothy. This is still a part of our series Ministry, but the focus begins to shift from the focus of Titus. In Titus, we saw a lot of outward efforts, reaching out to build a church. In 2 Timothy, the focus is more on internal growth. Both Titus and 2 Timothy were written by Paul. Whereas Titus was a Gentile-Christian serving in the church, Timothy was a half-Jew who became Christian. Titus was written after Paul’s house arrest in Rome, while he was on his missionary journey to Spain. On the other hand, 2 Timothy was written after that missionary journey, when Paul was imprisoned again, but this time, he was chained like a common criminal. This letter is the last piece of Scripture that Paul wrote before his death at the hands of the emperor Nero. That means that much of the language is in light of Paul knowing that he was going to die soon, so he is preparing Timothy for a life of ministry without him.

Our passage, today starts with Paul’s greeting to Timothy. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” (1-2) Right at the beginning, we can see Paul is realizing that he is at the end of his life. He calls himself an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and he adds, “in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus”. That last part sounds like Paul knows that is time is short because he says he kept the promise. How can he say he kept the promise unless his life was near its end? If there was much more life ahead of him, then he would be uncertain about keeping with the promise of life in Christ Jesus. Paul continues, “I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.” (3) Again, here, Paul refers to serving God as his ancestors did. This seems a little odd because his ancestors were Jews and Paul was a Jew of Jews and persecuted Christians in his youth. It is hard to believe that his family served God as he has done since becoming a Christian, but he adds, “with a clear conscience”. Perhaps, his family was sincere in their service to God and counted among those with clear consciences even without knowing Jesus like David or Moses or Abraham. But, he prayed earnestly for Timothy. Paul had known Timothy since the beginning of his life of faith. Paul has seen Timothy grow up in his faith. They worked together on Paul’s journeys. When Paul planted a church in the city of Ephesus, he left Timothy behind to lead the church. Timothy was like a son to Paul and very dear to his heart and the same was true in the reverse.

Paul wrote, “Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” (4-5) As we know, being in a Christian family is no guarantee that you will be a Christian, but Paul knew that Timothy had the same sincere faith that his mother and grandmother had. Timothy’s father was a Greek and not a believer, but his mother Eunice was a believer. Although families are not guarantees of faith, a family that believes can lay a foundation of faith that can help children believe. I look at my kids and they are very young. They don’t have faith at this point. My daughter is going to enter the first grade and she sings primarily secular songs. There is hope that one day she can develop her own faith in Jesus and the same holds for Lucas. Neither my wife nor I had such an opportunity when growing up, but our children do. However, that foundation actually requires us to have faith.

Which brings us to Paul’s next statement. “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” (6) Because Timothy has sincere faith, Paul reminds him to fan in to flame the gift of God. I like that phrase “fan into flame”. It reminds me of when we were having a campfire at the Easter conference. If you remember, we kept having to tend to the fire because it would go out. We kept having to add small branches to help the fire keep going because the wood was too wet. We also had to fan the campfire to get more oxygen to the flame. Sometimes, there were just a few embers that we had to reignite. The extra oxygen helped out and the fire restarted, but, unfortunately, the fallen hot dogs didn’t seem to help keep the fire going. Paul is reminding Timothy to do the same with the gift of God. Just like with the campfire, when we serve God, we are at times ablaze with glory, but other times, we are just smoldering embers. We cycle because of our humanity. Our flesh is weak and has limitations. Therefore, we need rest and that is why we like vacations so much. When we try to serve God with our own strength, we might be on fire…for a while, but in a very short time, we become burdened and tired. We can’t rely on our own strength. Instead, we have to rely on God and his gift to us.

We have to fan into flame the gift of God, but what is the gift of God? When I have read this verse in the past, I thought that the gift of God was taken to be some sort of ability or abilities, like a spiritual gift or talent. Some people are good leaders or good speakers or friendly or persuasive. Paul also writes in another letter, “But each of you has your gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” (1 Corinthians 7:7) This seems to give credence to the thought about the gift of God being tangible abilities. But look closer at the verse I just mentioned. It says, “gift from God” and not “gift of God”. Now I might be getting caught up in words, but “gift of God” makes it sound like God is the gift. There is precedent to that idea. There was one time that Abraham had just had a great victory. He had just rescued his nephew Lot from the hands of four kings, but he was bummed out. Abraham had no children and his nephew, who was like a son, went off to live his own life once again. The victory seemed to be a hollow one, but God came to Abraham and said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Genesis 15:1) God was Abraham’s true reward. Also, Jesus showed that knowing God is the definition of true eternal life. Jesus once prayed, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) God is what we should be seeking and he is the best gift that we can have. The gift of God is God.

This is also affirmed in verse 7, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” Now, some of you have the old version of the NIV translation. That one says, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (7 NIV1984) The newer version reinforces the thought that the gift of God is God and his Spirit. When verses 6 and 7 are taken together, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” When you read the two verses together, you get the sense that the Spirit is the gift of God, since it was given to us and gifts are also given. Then, when Paul writes that we must fan into flame the gift of God, he is referring to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is given to us as a gift. He lives within us like a fire in our soul that we have to keep pushing and using. We have to stoke it. Faith brings the Spirit, but action stokes it into flame.

Let’s look closer at how the Spirit works in us. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (7) Is God known to be a timid God? No. Being timid means that you are holding back and unsure about yourself. Being timid is rooted in fear. We are timid because we are afraid of what will happen. We are afraid of how people will respond or we are afraid of what we are able to do. Last week, we heard from Bob that we should burst into song and ululate because of God’s unfailing love. Children are very free to sing, but as adults we tend to be more reserved to just sing. We become afraid of what other people would think of us. We become timid. I have a voice that tends to carry and I can get loud very easily, but when I was young, I was reprimanded for being loud a lot, and I began to be very self-conscious about my voice. I started to mumble and eat my words because I became afraid of my voice. That self-consciousness permeated throughout my life leading me to become timid in nearly every aspect of my life. Underneath, I could be seething, but outwardly, I was a very timid person. I don’t know about you, but that does not sound like God’s Spirit to me. Any time that we are reserved or timid, we are not acting according to the Spirit God gave us. We are giving into fear, and not living without it.

Now, we can decide to not let fear get to us and to turn ourselves around and live boldly in our lives. When I was in college, I decided to not let the darkness inside of me control me. I had no joy, but I decided to push the darkness away and surround myself with lighter things. And it worked for a bit. After I started studying the Bible and started to understand it, I came across this verse, verse 7 and it resonated with me. I buckled down and pushed the timidity away from my life. By the sheer force of will, I pushed my timidity away, and quite honestly, this is still how I live my life today. I am timid and fearful, and I don’t like it. There are times where I give into the fear, when it is too powerful. However, there are other times, when I feel timid or fearful and I just bulldoze my way through, steely-eyed and determined. Unfortunately, this is the wrong way to do it. I am using my own strength to ignore the truth of my fear and it is wrong because of the results.

The verse goes again, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (7) God’s Spirit gives us power, love and self-discipline. It gives us all three and that is important. When we try to push past our timidity on our own, we tend to leave at least one of these things out. The opposite of being timid is being powerful, but power without love and self-discipline is disastrous. When I push through my fear by my own power, I don’t have love and don’t have complete control, and people get hurt. I become snappy and rude because I am trying to overcome my own fear and my words have hurt my wife on a number of occasions, along with countless other people. But that is not God’s Spirit working in me. The Holy Spirit does not hurt people because there is love. In God, we have power, tons of power, but we also have the ability to control it through self-discipline and use it properly because of love. Fire is something that can be a great tool or a great disaster. There is power in fire. We can cook with it and fire can lift a rocket into space, but when fire is uncontrolled, it is a wildfire that destroys everything in its path. Power must be properly controlled. The Spirit can give us power, but he also gives us the ability to control it through love and self-discipline. When we have love for others, we are far less likely to hurt them. We think of others before we think of ourselves. With self-discipline, we don’t give in to our indulgences. Power corrupts, but power with love and self-discipline is from God and freeing.

It takes all three to properly balance life. If you just have two, there can be problems. A rocket has power and it has control, but it does not have love. You can’t get too close to a rocket. Even though, it is controlled, if you are too close it will still roast you. You can’t get love from a rocket. If you have power and love, but not self-discipline, you don’t put any limits and anything goes, whether it is positive or detrimental. If you have love and self-discipline, but not power, you are not effective at anything. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can have all three. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can overcome the fear that cripples us. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can have power, love and self-discipline. When we have those three, fear is dead anything is possible.

Paul continues, “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” (8) Many times, we are ashamed of the gospel. There is a lot of hate out in the world toward the good news of God, and we don’t want to get caught in the line of fire. But because the Spirit gives us power, love and self-discipline, we do not have to be ashamed of the gospel or fear the result of sharing Jesus. I was burned early in my faith when I tried sharing my faith with my parents, so I gave up doing so out of fear of what would happen, but I don’t have to be ashamed. We were not called to live a safe life, but rather a holy life.

Paul writes, “He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (9-10) Jesus saved us for his own purpose, by his grace, not because of our effort. Living in fear is not holy. Living in fear is like living as a cowering animal, but by grace and not by our effort, we are holy. I like how it says that the grace was given to us before the beginning of time. God is unchanging and his grace is unchanging. It has always been around, but was only made known to us through the coming of Jesus. Now, we know about the grace of God and can live a life in the gospel. A life that is free from the power of death and free from fear.

Paul understood this well. He wrote, “And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” (11-12) Paul taught the gospel and that was why he was in chains when he wrote this. The Roman emperor Nero didn’t like Christians. He would tie them to a pole and light them on fire to use them as torches to light events. When Rome burned, Nero blamed the Christians for it. Despite Paul’s imprisonment, his spirit was not dampened because he knew God and his power to protect. Paul’s situation was dire, but Paul was still filled with hope and joy, not for his release, but for the power of God. He was singing because of God’s unfailing love, like we heard last week.

Paul continues, “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (13-14) The gospel is the good deposit. It is the sound teaching and that teaching must be accompanied by faith and love. Again, the Holy Spirit is there to guard the gospel in us. Since we are human, it is easy for us to go off the mark. It is easy for us to drift away. We get preoccupied with something, like a dog with a squirrel. When we take Daisy out to do her business, she gets very distracted at times. She might be sniffing around for a place to go, but then a person walks by or a car or a bug or bird, and she forgets what she came out to do. We can be like that when we get caught up in controversy or enticed by the things of the world. When we do that, the gospel can become corrupted in our hearts because these other things seem more important. Therefore, we have to be on constant guard that the gospel is not polluted with additions. Christ died for us and put death to death. It is by faith in him that we are saved and it is by grace that we have faith. There is nothing more to our salvation, but we have to be constantly reminded of it. There is power in its simplicity, but our humanity has trouble believing it. So, we need the Holy Spirit to help us guard the good deposit in our hearts. We don’t need to defend it in the outside world. We need to defend it in our own hearts.

When we don’t do so, we are filled with fear. A number of people abandoned Paul after he was imprisoned. “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.” (15) It must have been a blow to Paul to see so many people abandon him, but it was their fear that led them to be ashamed of Paul and his predicament. Paul was locked up in a maximum-security prison. He was treated like the worst of offenders. Phygelus and Hermongenes did not hold on to the gospel and let fear control them. They were timid and in their weakness, they abandoned Paul in a time of great need.

On the other hand, Paul mentions one who did not abandon him. “May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.” (16-18) Onesiphorus did not abandon Paul. In fact, despite how hard it was to find Paul, Onesiphorus sought him out. He had the power to do so, the love for Paul to do so, and self-discipline to overcome his fear.

God has given us a gift…himself, and, as with any gift, we have to make a choice. If someone gives you a gift, you have to choose to accept that gift. You have to take it and say, “thank you”. You also have to use the gift. If someone gives you a back scratcher and you never scratch your back with it, you haven’t really accepted the gift. If it sits in a drawer or is thrown away, how can you say that you have accepted the gift? We have to take the gift of God and use it. Through using God’s Holy Spirit, we fan it into flame. When we trust in God and his Spirit, we live with power, love and self-discipline. When we try to overcome our fear by our own will and strength, we fail epically. I recently had a bit of a crisis. I constantly battle feelings of inadequacy. I never think that I am good enough. I always fall short. For all my abilities or perceived abilities, I amount to nothing. When I get these moments, I try to push through them, but it causes more problems like an uncontrolled wildfire and eventually, I break down. I am inadequate. I am nothing, but God…God is not inadequate. God is not nothing. With the gift of God, I no longer have to succumb to my fear. I can have power, love and self-discipline. We don’t have to be held back any more. Fan into flame the gift of God. Trust the Holy Spirit. Give him your fear. Do not worry about this world or what others can do to you. You have a God that loves you so much that he died for you and protects you all the way to his arms. Break free from yourself and live with power, love and self-discipline.

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