Stirring up the Gift of God

Tom Wilson, Levin, New Zealand

Paul's letters to Timothy were written to encourage him to be spiritually exercised. The younger man was being confronted by people who were teaching false ideas. To counteract this influence, he was told to exercise (or train) himself in godliness, 1 Tim. 4. 7. Spiritual fitness, the apostle said, was more important than being physically fit, v. 8.

In the first Epistle, Paul said that this exercise would involve giving sound teaching, ch. 1; guarding procedures and responsibilities in public worship, chs. 2-3; exposing false doctrine, ch. 4; maintaining church discipline, ch. 5; and caring for the believers, ch. 6. Each of these exhortations culminates in an exhortation, 1. 18-20; 3. 14-16; 4. 11-20; 5. 21-25 and 6. 20-21.

In the second, more personal Epistle, Paul encourages Timothy to overcome his natural timidity. He says, "Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord", 1. 8; "endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ", 2. 3; "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth", 2. 15; (concerning Alexander, the coppersmith) "of whom be thou ware ...", 4. 15.

Probably the key verses to these Epistles are the charge, "Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind", 2 Tim. 1. 6-7.

Timothy's Gift. Clearly, Timothy had received a special gift by the laying on of hands by Paul. The result of that act was that the church, through its overseers, recognized and identified itself with that gift and calling. It was also an indication of their support, 1 Tim. 4. 14.

But with that act came the responsibility that Timothy should be faithful to his charge. Now that the way was becoming hard, Paul found it necessary to remind him of his calling lest he should be overcome by, apparently, a natural diffidence.

The word "gift" (charisma) is characteristic of Paul who uses it sixteen times in his letters. The only other mention is by Peter, 1 Pet. 4. 10. It means "a gift of grace, a free gift", and often, as here, refers to spiritual abilities given by the Holy Spirit for exercise among the churches.

Timothy, having-received this God-given talent, was now responsible for using it. It had to be "stirred up". This can be rendered "fanned into flame". As a neglected fire will soon become dying embers, so the gift of God unused will lose its effect by neglect. William Booth once put it this way: "The tendency of fire is to go out; watch the fire on the altar of your heart".

Old Testament Illustration. On one occasion, the Lord said to Jeremiah that he was to buy a linen girdle (or belt), Jer. 13. 1. This was a tight-fitting thigh-length undergarment, symbolising the close relationship between God and Israel. Then he was told to bury the girdle by the Euphrates and leave it there. This indicated that Judah's sins had come between them and God.

Many days later, he was sent to retrieve the garment. When he found this, he found that it had decomposed and become useless, symbolising their spiritual decadence. They were no longer an effective instrument for God's use.

They had no sorrow for their sin. The chapter goes on to picture Judah as a complacent, self-indulgent people in the wineskins filled with wine, vv. 12-14; it is a fact of history that they did not give glory to the Lord, v. 16. They were an Old Testament counterpart to the Laodicean church, Rev. 3. 14-19.

Spiritual gifts, like natural faculties, decline through neglect. This happens unobtrusively, unnoticed, and is often accompanied by the false sense that all is well. It leads to apathy.

Hence the impassioned plea to Timothy, "stir up (fan into flame) the gift of God (the embers that are ready to die through neglect), which is in thee".

True, Paul says in another place, "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance", Rom. 11. 29, but this refers to Israel's position as God's covenant people, not its spiritual state; cf. 9. 4-5. Similarly for us, our salvation is not in view when we consider stewardship of the gift, or gifts, that God has given to us.

Exercise. We are, as Timothy, called upon to stir up the gift of God within-the talent with which God has entrusted us to use among, or on behalf of, the Lord's people.

In these days of wickedness, are we not perhaps tending to timidity? Are we afraid of what people might say or do if we take our stand for Him? Then remember the wise man's counsel: "The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe", Prov. 29. 25. Let us heed Paul's reminder to Timothy: "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind".

Or are we simply neglecting the gift that God has given us? Are we distracted by the world-its material things, pleasures, philosophies? Then we should remember, with Judah, the message of the linen girdle, decayed through misuse and neglect.

Before giving them that object lesson, the Lord had said to Jeremiah, "let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord", Jer. 9. 24.

Here we have God's exercise towards His people. What of our exercise towards Him and towards His people? If we stir up the gift of God which is in us, then our exercise is His also, and our delight is His.