Fan the Flame of Faith

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus,

To Timothy, my beloved child:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. 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 God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:1-7 ESV

Over the course of his memorable and eventful life, the apostle Paul managed to write a number of letters, many of which would eventually form a large part of the New Testament canon of Scripture. His pastoral letters, like First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, were addressed to the churches in those communities which he had helped to start. Paul was, first and foremost, an evangelist, with a Christ-ordained mandate to take the good news of the Gospel to the Gentiles. In his former life, Paul had been a dedicated Pharisee on a personal crusade to eradicate every last vestige of “the Way,” the name given to those who had chosen to become followers of the former rabbi, Jesus, who had been crucified in Jerusalem years earlier.

Paul, as a faithful Jew and a zealous member of the Pharisees, had deemed the teachings of Jesus as radical and a threat to the Hebrew faith. Yet God, in His infinite wisdom and as part of His divine redemptive plan, had chosen to redirect Paul’s ambitions and turn him from antagonist to evangelist.

The story of his conversion from persecutor to church planter can be found in the ninth chapter of the book of Acts. It explains how Paul had an unexpected and life-transforming encounter with Jesus Christ Himself. As a result of this once-in-a-lifetime experience, Paul would come to realize that the rumors concerning Jesus, the itinerant rabbi who had been executed by the Romans, were actually true. He was alive and well, having been resurrected from the dead. And all as proof that Jesus was who He had claimed to be all along: the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah.

As a result of his roadside encounter with the risen Christ, the trajectory of Paul’s life was changed forever. He discovered a new purpose for his life and a much-improved focus for his ambitious nature and high-octane personality. Paul became one of the most outspoken proponents of the gospel, focusing his evangelistic efforts primarily on the Gentile world. Over the course of his life, he would lead countless individuals to Christ, helping them come to know the joy of salvation through faith in Christ.

Paul was an apostle, literally “a messenger” of Jesus Christ, who had been called and commissioned by Jesus to carry the gospel to the far reaches of the known world. And Paul would take his commission seriously, eventually embarking on three extensive missionary journeys to the far corners of the Roman Empire. And along the way, he shared the gospel with both Jews and Gentiles, revealing the truth “that Christ was crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23 NLT) and “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV).

Paul faithfully preached this message in cities, synagogues, public squares, before governors and magistrates, and with a tireless passion to see the lost come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And along the way, he witnessed countless individuals come to faith in Christ, including the young man to whom this letter is addressed. Timothy was a disciple of Paul’s, having been hand-selected by the apostle to join him on his missionary journeys and assist him in the spread of the gospel. The tone of this letter reflects Paul’s deep and personal affection for Timothy. Written from Rome where Paul was under house arrest and awaiting a hearing before the Roman Emperor, the letter is a highly personal and intimate message from the apostle to his young protégé and friend.

Paul’s love for Timothy is reflected in his salutation: “To Timothy, my beloved child” (2 Timothy 1:2 ESV). Paul viewed Timothy as a son and this letter contains words of fatherly love in the form of encouragement and admonition. Paul was obviously proud of Timothy, and even complimented him for his “sincere faith.” He was thankful that God had placed Timothy in his life and longed to see his young friend again. But, since Paul was under house arrest in Rome, and Timothy was ministering in Ephesus, Paul could only pray for and write to his son in the faith. And, in part, this letter was intended to encourage Timothy to remain faithful in the face of opposition. Paul was determined to help his young coworker become all that God intended him to be. Physically separated but spiritually bound by a common belief in Christ and a shared calling to preach the gospel, Paul felt a personal responsibility for Timothy’s life and ministry. And this letter is his attempt to pour into this young man’s life by calling him to an ever-increasing commitment to his faith and his Christ-mandated mission.

Paul reminds Timothy to “fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you” (2 Timothy 1:6 NLT). We’re not told what “spiritual gift” Paul had in mind, but we know that he viewed Timothy as having been specially gifted by God and he longed to see him use every resource at his disposal to faithfully accomplish his work. And he wanted Timothy to know that because he was gifted by God, he had no reason to embrace thoughts of inadequacy or fear.  

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. – 2 Timothy 1:7 NLT

This was not the first time Paul had challenged Timothy to live in the power provided for him by God. In a previous letter, Paul had provided Timothy with strong words of encouragement aimed at countering any feelings of inadequacy or inability he may have felt.

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.

Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received through the prophecy spoken over you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you. Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you. – 1 Timothy 4:12-16 NLT

Paul knew from his own experience just how difficult living the Christian life could be. And the added pressure of preaching the gospel and shepherding the flock of Jesus Christ made Timothy’s job that much more difficult. He was young, relatively inexperienced, and in a high-pressure career where he faced opposition of a spiritual nature.

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

Timothy had been blessed to have a mother and grandmother who had modeled the life of faith for him. But he was now having to “fan the flame” of his own faith, learning to trust in the power provided for him by Christ. Paul wanted Timothy to know that he had power, love, and self-control at his disposal. He had everything he needed to accomplish that task before him. His age, inexperience, and any feelings of inadequacy he may have felt were irrelevant. He had a saving relationship with Christ, a clear calling to the gospel ministry, and the indwelling power of the Spirit of God. And Paul wanted him to know that he had a responsibility to remain faithful to his commission as a minister of the gospel because it is a “holy calling” (2 Timothy 1:9 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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