At the end of last year, YouVersion highlighted the top 10 Bible verses that were shared the most. I found the list interesting and thought that it could be helpful to understand them in their original context. Today we are looking at 2 Timothy 1:7–which according to YouVersion was the ninth-most shared verse in 2013.
“…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control”. (2 Timothy 1:7 ESV)
2 Timothy 1:6-14 is Paul’s challenge to Timothy to boldly and courageously guard the good deposit (1:14) that has been entrusted to him.
You will notice that verse 7 begins with the word “for”. This word is usually a ground—meaning that it is the reason given for the previous statement. Let us follow Paul’s train of thought. In verse 5 Paul says that he is reminded of Timothy’s sincere faith and how this faith came from his mother and grandmother. Paul is certain that this same faith dwells in Timothy. And so “for this reason” Timothy ought to fan into flame the gift of God.
Timothy has an option. He can fan into flame this gift of God or he can let it grow cold. Paul stands before him as a man that has fanned his gifts into flame. But Paul also stands before young Timothy as a man that is suffering as a prisoner because of this gift. If Timothy fans this gift into flame then it is quite likely that suffering awaits him. Letting that fire grow cold would likely mean a life marked with less suffering.
And so Paul reminds Timothy that God gave them a spirit of power and love and self-control and not one of timidity. Paul gets at his point in verse 8-14 when he tells Timothy to not be ashamed but to share in this suffering of the gospel and guard this good deposit that has been entrusted to him.
We live in a scary world and so we like verses that remind us to not be big chickens. 2 Timothy 1:7 is such a verse, but I believe we misapply it. We imagine that Timothy is a weak-kneed introvert that is scared to death to knock on his neighbors door an tell her about Jesus. But there is no indication that Timothy is any more timid than the rest of us if faced with his situation.
With this false story in mind we apply 2 Timothy 1:7 to our situations which might cause cowardice. A young man trying not to wet himself as he asks his girlfriend’s dad for her hand in marriage quotes 2 Timothy 1:7 to himself as a reminder to buck up. A young woman scared to death of a difficult job interview quotes 2 Timothy 1:7 to remind her to be bold and to be who she was made to be.
Those might be fitting applications of 2 Timothy 1:7, but they are not the near application. The near application here is that the gospel and its gifts ought to be fanned into flame even if such a fanning would increase our persecution. And the backbone for such a statement is that God hasn’t called us to be cowards with his precious gospel. God has given to us a spirit that is able to stand up in the midst of suffering with power, love, and self-control.
Many people use 2 Timothy 1:7 as an encouragement in personal evangelism. But should we? I believe it is a fitting application. While we might want to also look at the idolatrous reasons why we are afraid, it is also true that proclaiming the gospel is tough work. There is an element of suffering that is going to be attached to missions work. Sharing Jesus without fear might mean that you haven’t truly counted the cost. When legit fear rears its ugly head remember that the Spirit that indwells you not cowardly with the gospel.
If you are a believer, then you are at a similar crossroads as Timothy. Will you fan into flame the gift of God—even knowing that such a thing will likely lead to suffering? Or will you let it grow cold and try to keep one bare foot on holy ground while keeping that other shoe-laced up in comfort?
Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world…