STIR UP THE GIFT! – 2 Timothy 1:6-7
Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on January 1, 2012 under 2012 |
Preached January 1, 2012
2 Timothy 1:6-7
Theme: Paul’s words to Timothy encourage each of us, in the coming new year, to ‘stir up the gift’ of ministry that God has given us.
(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
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To appreciate this word of encouragement from the apostle Paul, we need to understand something of the circumstances in which it was given.
Paul was in a prison cell, somewhere in Rome, for having preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are other imprisonments, mentioned in other of his letters, in which he wrote of an expectation that he would soon be released; but there’s no such expectation expressed in this letter. From all indications, this was the last letter he wrote. It appears that, soon afterwards, he was beheaded by order of Nero; and then departed this world into the presence of the Lord Jesus that he loved and faithfully proclaimed.
Paul had a great deal of confidence in his present situation; and that was because of his confidence in his eternal outcome. He knew Who it was that he had believed; and was persuaded that He was able to keep what he had committed to Him “until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12). He had fought the good fight, had finished the race, and had kept the faith (4:7); and knew that “the crown of righteousness” was laid up for him by the Lord Himself (v. 8). But Timothy was not displaying such confidence. Paul had entrusted the ministry of the gospel to him; and seeing how Paul had suffered for that gospel had made Timothy a bit fearful and timid about fulfilling his responsibilities as he should.
I love how Paul didn’t scold Timothy for this, though. Paul was gentle in his treatment of his younger child in the faith. But neither does Paul hesitate to urge Timothy to embrace the same zeal that drove him, and to faithfully and courageously endure for the cause of the gospel—just as he was doing.
Look at the encouraging way he begins his letter to Timothy;
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus,
To Timothy, a beloved son:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also (2 Timothy 1:1-5).
And then, in verses 6-7, Paul gives Timothy the words of exhortation that I am proposing we embrace for the coming year;
Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (vv. 6-7).
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Working through this passage has made me think back to October 23, 1977. That was an important day for my wife and me. We were both in our twenties; and we had just begun to start dating one another. I think God was working in both of us in the same way; because it was on the evening of that day that we both sat and talked about how dissatisfied we were with the level of our commitment to Jesus Christ. We were both tired of having Christian lives that were characterized by mediocrity.
I wonder if such a thing has ever happened to you. Have you ever felt frustrated by a mediocre commitment to Christ? Have you ever found that you had fallen into an attitude of indifference about your relationship with the Lord Jesus?—as if you were satisfied with just not having to experience eternal judgment, and didn’t want to give anything more to it than that?—as if it’s enough that you go to church regularly, and wear a fish symbol somewhere on your person every now and then, and just fulfill the minimum requirements? We both felt that we had fallen into that attitude; and it had frustrated us. We wanted to be different. We wanted to be truly committed to follow Jesus Christ. We wanted to truly be on fire for Him. And so, on the evening of October 23, 1977, after spending some time talking about it, we both prayed earnestly that God would change us—that He would make us more committed to Him. Ever since then, we have looked back on that experience as a pivotal one in our life together. We often refer to it simply by the date—our ‘October 23rd’.
A lot happened after that. We became engaged a month later. After we were married, we became involved in youth ministry at our church. And it wasn’t too long afterwards that the Lord led us to move to Portland, where I began to receive training for a pastoral ministry. There have been lots of ups and downs along the way. There have been many times when we’ve had to re-examine our lives with respect to our original commitment, and to reaffirm our ‘October 23rd’ before the Lord. It’s a commitment that we constantly have work at keeping fresh and alive. And even still, after all these years, we have a long way to go. But I praise God for our ‘October 23rd’ experience. It has kept us going during many trials when we were tempted to fall back into mediocrity in our faith. It has kept us laboring for the Lord, and looking ahead to the day when—by His grace—we will hear the Lord Jesus say, “Well done!”
I think that Timothy had a similar pivotal experience. For him, it was that important day sometime in the past in a church service somewhere, when—after having examined his life and having determined that God had called him—the leaders of the church commissioned him to the ministry of preaching the word. I don’t know what day that was; but I believe—if I may put it this way—that it was Timothy’s ‘October 23rd’.
The apostle Paul sought more than once to spur Timothy on in ministry by reminding him of the importance of that day. Way back in his first letter—in 1 Timothy 4:14—he wrote;
Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you (1 Timothy 4:12-16).
The “gift” that Paul referred to was God’s gracious call of Timothy to ministry—along with the divine enabling to perform it. Did you know that “ministry” in the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ is a gracious gift? We don’t always think of it that way; but we should. Paul certainly saw it that way. Paul counted it an unspeakably great privilege—a “grace” from God—that he was called to serve the cause of Jesus Christ! He said, in Ephesians 3:8, “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ . . .” And he, as it were, told Timothy, “Now; you too have been given a great privilege!—a grace from God!—a gift! You have been called to serve the cause of Christ by preaching His word. It was affirmed to be your gift from God by prophetic utterance; and it was fully recognized and validated as from God by the church leaders when they laid their hands on you. I myself was among them! But listen, Timothy: It’s your responsibility to maintain this gift. Don’t neglect it. Give yourself over to it. Grow in it. Nurture it. Continue in it!”
And I believe that’s at the heart of Paul’s words to Timothy in this morning’s passage. Timothy was becoming fearful and timid because the exercise of this gift from God had—at times—proven to be very difficult and costly. He was tempted—as even the best of God’s saints sometimes are—to pull back from God’s call and neglect the precious gift of ministry that God had entrusted to him. And so, Paul wrote to encourage him and said—in the words of our passage this morning—”Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (vv. 6-7).
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Now; Timothy’s call was, of course, a unique one. Paul pointed back to a specific thing that Timothy was called to do—and to a particularly noteworthy event that marked that call. Not all of us are called into the same task of ministry as he was; nor do all of us have such a marked event to accompany that call.
But each one of us, who are in a relationship with Christ by faith, have nevertheless been called into His service. Each one of us in the Body of Christ has been equipped by the Holy Spirit for a place of service in the church. Each one of us are called to serve faithfully in that place He has called us to, and in the power with which He enables us. And I am proposing that Paul’s words to Timothy are meant to be an encouragement to each of us to ‘stir up that gift’ of ministry that God has given us in the coming new year.
Look first at . . .
1. WHAT PAUL REMINDED TIMOTHY TO DO.
He said, “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (v. 6). The word in the Greek that’s here translated “stir up” is one that means to give life again to a fire—to rekindle a flame that has grown dormant. It’s a figure of speech for “reviving” or “stirring up” something that has been neglected or has grown weak.
What Paul was telling Timothy to do was to “stir up” and “rekindle the flame” of the gracious gift of ministry that God had given him. Looking at Paul, Timothy had grown fearful of what that ministry might cost him; and so, he began to neglect it, and his zeal for it began to grow cold. Paul was encouraging him not to let that happen. It was Timothy’s responsibility to ‘stir it up’ and ‘rekindle it’. In fact, it’s put in the present tense of the verb; which means that Timothy needed to make it his regular pattern to habitually ‘stir it up’. So do we. Praise God for those people that God puts in our lives who “remind” us of this!
As I was studying this passage, I wondered what it might be that happens to us that causes the passion for ministry to weaken. Each of us has a place of ministry in the body of Christ—whether it’s a behind-the-scenes work (such as caring for the church’s building and resources, or preparing food for our fellowship times, or developing one-on-one relationships for discipleship and evangelism), or an up-front kind of ministry (such as teaching a class, or serving the needs of children, or of helping to lead in worship). But whatever it may be, why is it that—at times—our zeal for ministry needs to be “stirred up”, and the fire rekindled?
One reason that I can think of—a reason that was particularly relevant to Timothy—was because opposition to the work of the faith can sometimes be strong. Timothy was seeing that the enemies of the faith were fierce in their opposition to Christ; and it tempted him to neglect the gift of ministry God had given to him. Paul certainly encouraged him by his own faithfulness and personal sacrifice. Looking at the zeal of those who faithfully pay the price in their ministry is one way we can stir up our zeal for our own.
Sometimes it’s because the work itself can be hard, and the labors can make us weary. It takes hard work to prepare lessons, or to make phone calls, or to drive out to the church and meet its needs. Sadly, it can sometimes seem like a thankless job; or that we feel like we’re the only ones who care. And at times like that, our zeal in the Lord’s service needs to be rekindled. (It sure helps, though, when we recognize each other’s labors, and say ‘thank you’, doesn’t it? It can be a real encouragement when we offer to lend each other a hand, too.)
I wonder, too, if one of the things that might sometimes weaken our zeal is doing the work of the Lord in the power of our own flesh, rather than in reliance upon His sustaining strength. Jesus told us that we must abide in Him; because apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). We easily forget that all-important requirement in ministry; and when we try to do the work God has called us to in our own power, we become frustrated. It’s in such times that we need to rekindle the flame by, once again, learning to abide in Christ as we do His work.
A failure to remember our original commission to our work is something that can cause the zeal to die out. It’s God who calls us to our place of ministry; and that call from God often comes through the leadership of the church and from the appeal of the church family. We sometimes forget what a privilege it is to be called into His service; and when we forget, the flame begins to grow weak. Going back again and remembering our initial call to service helps to stir up the flame.
Sometimes, there are causes for the weakening of our zeal for ministry that have their source outside of that ministry. For example, we can grow weary or weak in the work of the Lord through neglecting our own relationship with Him, and not taking care of our soul. Sometimes, we mistakenly think that the work itself will sustain us spiritually. But when we neglect to have a personal time with the Lord daily through prayer and Bible reading, we are failing to keep our own relationship with the Lord fresh and alive. Making sure to take care of your own spiritual needs goes a long way toward increases your zeal to serve the spiritual needs of others.
At other times, our zeal for service to the Lord can become weak because we have allowed ourselves to become too distracted by worldly concerns. Jesus warned us not to let our fruitfulness in His kingdom become choked-out by “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches” (Matthew 13:23). It’s not that it’s wrong to be properly concerned for such things; but if our zeal for His service is becoming weak because it’s not as important to us as other things have grown to be, we may need to re-examine our priorities—seeking His kingdom first, and knowing that all the other things will be added to us (Matthew 6:33).
A lack of love for other people can cause us to lose our sense of zeal in our ministry. In the work of the Body of Jesus Christ, our ministry is for others—not for ourselves. And if we allow our love for people to become weakened through such things as bitterness or unforgiveness or jealousy, then our zeal for ministry to those people will weaken also. Seeing the people we minister to as the Lord Himself sees them—and loving them as He loves them—helps to stir the flame of ministry to them.
Sometimes it’s not a lack of love for people that weakens our zeal, but rather a love for secret sin in our lives. Holding-on to sinful habits and attitudes that the Lord is telling us to get out of our lives will rob us of our zeal in His service. It’s good to have the regular habit of praying as King David prayed: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and now my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
Failing to meet regularly with our brothers and sisters in Christ can rob us of our zeal for ministry. All that God calls us to do in ministry is to be done in a “one-another” context; and we need to be around each other—just for fellowship and enjoyment—for the context of ministry to be fulfilled. I sometimes think of it as if, together, we were a campfire; and as if each of us were individually burning logs in the fire. We need to be up close to one another for the flame of ministry in each of us to be strong.
And finally, I am sure that we lose our zeal for ministry when we fail to keep our eyes on the rewards that the Lord promises us for our service. Sometimes people think that it’s somehow more “noble” and “spiritual” to serve in ministry without any thought of reward from the Lord whatsoever. But I sincerely believe that that’s an attitude that will ultimately lead to the weakening of our zeal. As we’ve already seen, Paul certainly looked ahead to the reward. As he told Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Perhaps you recognize something in all this that has caused you to lose your zeal for service to the Lord. Perhaps you had a passion once to serve; but things have gotten in the way and put the fire out, and now you’re content to just sit on the sidelines and let someone else do the work. But don’t let that happen, dear brothers and sisters in Christ! There is a day coming when we will soon stand before the Lord Jesus; and there will be nothing more important on that day than to hear Him look at us and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
“Therefore”, for the coming year, I offer to you the word of encouragement that Paul offered to Timothy: “I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you . . . ”
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But don’t let it be because you got a great ‘pep-talk’ at the beginning of the year. Paul wanted Timothy to make sure that his motivation was based on something higher than just Paul’s encouragement. Go on to notice also . . .
2. WHY PAUL URGED TIMOTHY TO DO IT.
In verse 7, Paul went on to tell him, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
The word that Paul used for “fear” here is a different word that is usually translated “fear”. It appears only here in the New Testament. It means “timidity” or “cowardice”. It’s that attitude that—out of faint-heartedness and trembling of soul—causes us to hold back in our labors for the Lord, or that prevents us from doing what it is that God has called us to do in His strength. Any time we have an attitude of timidity and shyness that keeps us back from doing that thing that God calls us to do, we need to understand that that attitude is never from God. It is not something that God has, at all, given us.
That was something that, I believe, really plagued Timothy. He was, by nature, the kind of person that tended to worry too much about what other people thought of him. I suspect that he sometimes almost felt that he needed other people’s permission before he could do what God called him to do. I’m afraid I can sometimes all too easily relate to that. Perhaps Paul could too. I notice that he didn’t tell Timothy that God hadn’t given that spirit to him. Rather, Paul included himself—and all of us—when he said that God hadn’t given that spirit to us!
Instead, God gave us a different spirit. Some scholars have argued that, by “spirit”, Paul means a prevailing attitude or mindset. Others have argued that Paul was speaking of the Holy Spirit Himself. Personally, I believe both are absolutely possible; because we wouldn’t have the prevailing attitude and mindset that God wants us to have without the gracious help of the Holy Spirit. And Paul tells Timothy that the spirit God gives us is characterized by three things.
First, it’s characterized by “power”. That’s the Greek word dunamis. That’s the word from which we get our English word “dynamite”—but don’t make the mistake of thinking that it means the same thing. Dynamite is a power that results in destruction. Dunamis speaks of a power that is constructive. It speaks of the power to effectively do what God calls us to do. We need never be timid about our service to the Lord; because it’s not a work that is to be done in human power. It’s a work that is accompanied by—and made effective through—divine power! That’s a great reason to be zealous for it!
Second, it’s a spirit that is characterized by “love”. “Power” speaks of the means of our ministry; and love speaks of its motivation. It’s not a love that we conjure up for one another, but a love that the Lord Himself gives us for each other. It’s the “new commandment” that He gave to us when He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). It’s the reason Paul gave for why we are each to use our own “gift” of ministry toward one another when he wrote, “. . . through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:14). That’s another reason for being zealous about the ministry God has given us!
Third, just as “power” speaks of the means of our ministry, and “love” speaks of its motivation, we’re told that we’re also given a spirit that is characterized by “a sound mind” as the manner of our ministry. It suggests a frame of mind—and an enabling of the Holy Spirit—that is calm and patient in ministry. It doesn’t panic when things go wrong; and doesn’t act in an emotionally out-of-control kind of way. It sees things as they really are—as God says that they are! Just think of how differently we would conduct ourselves in the ministry God has given us in the coming year if we did so in a spirit of “power” as our divine means, “love” as our divine motivation, and “a sound mind” as our divine manner! What a zeal for ministry that would give us!
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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; we stand this morning at the threshold of a brand new year of ministry in our church family. If we trust God for it, it can be one of our greatest years ever! But we must do what God’s servant Paul encouraged Timothy to do: