Keeping The Fire Lit
Rev. Bryn MacPhail
Paul's second epistle to Timothy is, for me, one of the most meaningful books in the
entire New Testament. What attracts me to this epistle, more than some of the other
epistkes, is the personal nature
of this letter. Paul addresses this letter specifically to Timothy who he affectionately
refers to as his "beloved son
This letter is the stuff TV movies are made of--Paul is in his last imprisonment.
His death is imminent. Paul is spending much of his time praying for those individuals
and churches that he cares so deeply about. Of all the individuals Paul mentions
in his writings, it is clear that Timothy holds a special place in his heart.
Evidently, things are not going smoothly with Timothy's ministry in Ephesus. In a
previous letter to Timothy, Paul had to urge a discouraged Timothy not to leave there(1Tim.
1:3). In verse 4, Paul mentions how he often "recalls (Timothy's) tears
" and how he longs to see him. There was indeed a special bond between Paul and Timothy.
What is amazing is that, Paul, who is in prison and very near death, is writing Timothy
to encourage him. If you have ever been discouraged in your relationship with Christ,
then I suspect that Paul's words to Timothy will be a great blessing to you. In times of frustration and doubt, Paul's words to Timothy have felt like words specifically
for me. My prayer is that today, and for the next 6 weeks, they will feel like words
specifically for you.
After Paul's standard introduction to his letter, he begins to encourage Timothy by
telling him that he is being prayed for: "I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day
"(v.3). The second thing Paul does to encourage Timothy is he commends him for his
"(v.5). This is no small compliment. Whether you are being assaulted by sin and temptation,
or whether the ministry that you lead is crumbling under your feet, knowing that
your faith is "sincere
" is what keeps us from despairing.
Our faith in Christ is what sustains us. And this faith is not a lifeless structure,
rather, it has the potential to grow and to wane. To illustrate this, Paul uses the
illustration of fire to exhort Timothy: "For this reason I remind you
"--Paul means, 'Since your faith is sincere I remind you'-- "kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of hands
The Greek verb Paul uses here is a metaphor for rekindling a fire(Fee, 1&2Timothy, Titus
, 226). The principle for us here is unmistakable--Just as a fire constantly requires
kindling, so our faith must constantly be given fuel. The intensity of our faith
must be maintained.
This is a very important point. So many Christians begin strong--they begin with fervor
and enthusiasm, but this quickly wanes in the face of adversity and the busyness
of everyday life.
Maybe you have been a Christian for many, many, years. Perhaps you were once very
active in serving the Lord. Perhaps there was a time when you regularly shared your
faith with others; a time when you regularly invited others to church. The question
is, 'What have you done for Him lately?'.
If there was a time when Christ was your treasure; if there was a time when Christ
was your greatest priority, and your greatest love, is He less than that now? And
if Christ is no longer your greatest priority, guess who left?
The apostle Paul discerned in Timothy that his faith lacked the intensity it once
had. Could the same be said of you? If the fire of your faith has indeed been waning,
you have a choice: Rekindle the fire or continue to go through the motions.
You may ask the question, 'What does rekindled faith look like?'. Does rekindled faith
mean good church attendance? Does rekindled faith mean attending Bible studies and
prayer meetings? Does rekindled faith mean helping with church dinners and property
upkeep? Not necessarily.
One does not need an intense faith to attend church or a Bible study. One does not
need an intense faith to help with every church social. What, then, does a Christian
with kindled faith look like?
Paul begins by telling Timothy what kindled faith is NOT. Paul reminds Timothy, first
of all, that "God has not
given us a spirit of timidity
"(v.7). Although your Bible likely gives "spirit
" a small 's', Paul is speaking here of the Holy Spirit. The context demonstrates
that Paul is equating "sincere faith
" with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Paul is saying to Timothy that 'since your
faith is sincere, since the Spirit of God resides in you, don't be timid'.
Christians are to act in accordance with the Spirit that is within us. The Spirit
of God, Paul tells us, is not a Spirit of timidity, "but of power
and sound judgment
"(v.7). Here we have 3 characteristics of a Christian whose faith is kindled: power, love, and sound judgment
. Bibles differ on the translation of that last word, but the meaning of the Greek
suggests one who is discerning and one who has good control of their mind.
A Christian whose faith is kindled, then, should demonstrate power
. Some will say, 'But that is not me, I'm not a powerful person by nature'. To that
I would respond by saying, it is irrelevant what you are 'by nature'--it is not you
that is powerful, but it is the Spirit of God that is within you. If you are in step
with the Holy Spirit, it is His power
, not your own that you will be demonstrating. Remember, the gospel is not a 'Help
Wanted' sign, it is a 'Help Available' sign. God desires to work for you to accomplish
His purposes. God desires to manifest His power in every faithful Christian
How does God manifest His power in Christians? His power is manifest for the tasks
that He has called us to do. God's power enables us to pray for and with others.
God's power enables us to speak to unbelievers about what it means to have a relationship
with Jesus Christ. And as we see from verse 8, God's power enables us to endure "suffering for the gospel
". Paul actually invites Timothy, "join me in suffering for the gospel
"(v.8). Paul was able to embrace suffering only because he had tapped into the power
God's power, we also learn in verses 13 and 14, is needed to stand firm against harmful
doctrine. Paul exhorts Timothy to "Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me
"(v.13). Paul also tells Timothy to "Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted
The church today is being assaulted on many fronts. There is pressure on the moral
front to accept behaviours that the Bible explicitly forbids. And there is pressure
on the political front to set aside vital doctrines in the name of church unity.
I am all for church unity, but not at the expense of "the treasure which has been entrusted to (us)
". For the church to survive these assaults on biblical truth, we must commit ourselves
" this truth "through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us
Not only will a Christian whose faith is kindled demonstrate power, but a Christian whose faith is kindled will also demonstrate love
. Love balances power. The fact that God is all-powerful might scare us except for
the fact that we also believe that "God is love
"(1Jn. 4:8). It is not 'unchristian' to demonstrate power. We are only acting in an
'unchristian' manner when we demonstrate power without love.
An example that comes to my mind is how different groups protest abortion. Some groups
exercise their power by simply picketing the front of abortion clinics with signs
that only serve to agitate. I have seen some churches, however, combine both power
and love by setting up pregnancy crisis centres. In these centres, the Christian counselor
is able to stand firm against abortion while acting lovingly and supportively towards
the expectant mother.
Of all the things that the Bible says about love, I think this particular quote from
Jesus is the most helpful for this discussion: "if you only love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners
love those who love them
"(Lk. 6:32). Loving your family and friends does not make you a Christian, let alone
a good Christian. The Christian whose faith is kindled will love the unlovable. The
Christian whose faith is kindled will demonstrate love towards those who either don't
want it or don't deserve it.
The third characteristic of a Christian whose faith is kindled is that they will be
characterized by sound judgment
. What does Paul mean by that? My suspicion is that Paul is reminding Timothy of what
he reminded the Corinthians of--that is, Christians "have the mind of Christ
"(1Cor. 2:16). Not only do we have supernatural power, not only do we have the ability
to love as Christ loves, but we have the ability--through the Holy Spirit--to judge
on matters as Christ would judge.
When Paul urges Timothy to "retain the standard of sound words
"(v.13) he assumes that Christians may be influenced in such a way that they may actually
give up this "standard
" of sound words. Here is a message for today's church. We have become a society that
has allowed the media, rather than God, to carve out for us what is right and what
is wrong, what is true and what is false.
Christians have been made to feel foolish for believing in a Virgin birth, for believing
in bodily Resurrections, for believing that heaven and hell are actual places. In
response to these assaults, many Christians have folded like cheap tents. Perhaps,
Paul was worried Timothy would give in to these influences. Paul's words to Timothy
apply equally to us today, "I am not ashamed; for I know in whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able
to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.
Only when we recognize that Christians have the "mind of Christ
", only when we tap into the "sound judgment
" that is ours through the Holy Spirit can we survive the assaults on biblical truth.
Paul is urging Timothy, and he is urging you and I, to throw kindling on the fire
of our faith. As Christians, we have been given the Holy Spirit--a Spirit that gives
us power, love, and sound judgment. It is not up to us to generate this power, love,
and sound judgment--it is up to us to utilize
the power, love, and sound judgment that has already been given to us in Christ Jesus(v.13).
Paul does not encourage Timothy by giving him more things to do, rather, Paul encourages
Timothy by reminding him of what God wants to do in him. Paul encourages Timothy,
not by telling him that he is able, but by reminding him that " (God) is able
If you are discouraged in your Christian walk, if you feel that you have failed God,
it is likely because you have been relying on your own strength. Paul instructs Timothy,
and he instructs us, to stay the course--not by our own strength, but "through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us
"(v.14). Our success as a Christian depends on our willingness to rely on the Holy
Spirit who dwells in us. As Solomon's proverb instructs us, "In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight
"(Prov. 3:6). Amen.