Fan the Flame

2 Timothy 1:1-12

June 3, 2023 | Brian Bill

As we kick off the summer, I want to share how God led me to our new series called, “Standing Firm” from the book of 2 Timothy.  Initially, I planned to preach through Colossians but as I followed the readings from the Bible reading plan, I was gripped by the call to be unshaken and unashamed from the book of 2 Timothy.  Since we will be focusing on worldview and apologetics this fall, this letter from the Apostle Paul will lay the foundation for what we’ll be learning together.  

I wrote down four words that summarize the book:

  • Personal
  • Pastoral
  • Practical
  • Passionate

Here’s our main idea: Fan the flame of faith so you remain faithful when tough times come.  I see five points of application for us in these tumultuous times.

1. Intentionally invest in the next generation. 

Paul’s introduction is found in verses 1-2: “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…”  Most of Paul’s letters were written to groups of Christians gathered in churches; but here, he singles out Timothy and calls him his “beloved child.”  “Beloved” refers to someone “dear and highly valued.”  Even though Timothy was not his physical child, he had become a spiritual son to him.  

After greeting him with “grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord,” Paul became quite personal in his feelings.  All this led him to pray tirelessly for Pastor Tim.  Check out verse 3: “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.”  When Paul remembered Timothy, he prayed for him unceasingly and incessantly.

It means a lot to be thought of, doesn’t it?  When we think of someone, we should thank them.  Beth and I experienced this one Sunday afternoon during Covid, when a whole stream of cars drove by our house honking their horns.  When I went outside in my socks, a couple Edgewood kids ran up and handed me a plate of cookies and a thank you note and then quickly jumped in a car and drove away.  I noticed the window of one car had these words on it, “Thank you for all you do!  Gather, grow, give, and go with the gospel!”  Another car was covered with hearts.  This drive-by-blessing was done for all the pastors on our team.

Paul was honking his horn for Timothy.  Not only did he think and thank, but he also stayed and prayed.  At this point, Timothy was the pastor of the church in Ephesus but had traveled with Paul for many months previous to that.  When we come to verse 4, we see how this triggered a tender memory for Paul: “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy.”  As Paul recalled Tim’s tears, it made him “long” to see him.  It had been about 11 years since they last saw each other.  This word means “to yearn and desire earnestly.”  The word “filled” has the idea of being empty or hollow.

Timothy represented the next generation of emerging Christian leadership.  Paul was old and days from his death.  Timothy was in his 20s or 30s and pastoring a challenging church.  Paul was committed to encourage and equip the next generation.  The older I get, the more convinced I am that I must pass along what I know before I pass away.

Timothy was not only young, but he was also prone to “frequent ailments” according to 1 Timothy 5:23.  On top of this, he was timid by temperament.  This is so encouraging, isn’t it?  It doesn’t matter if you’re young, physically frail, or timid, God can use you!

In verse 5, Paul honors Timothy’s spiritual heritage by celebrating how God used his mother and grandmother: “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.” 

Fan the flame of faith so you remain faithful when tough times come.

2. Fan the flame of fervency. 

Listen to verses 6-7: “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.”  The phrase “fan into flame” means, “to stir up” or “keep at full flame” and was used of hot coals or embers.  It has the idea of rekindling what is starting to smolder.  A fire left to itself will always burn out so it must be stirred up with fresh fuel and focus.  

When we share our faith, we end up being reminded of God’s grace and all that He has given to us in Christ

We must do whatever we can to stir up that “inner fire.”  One way to do that is by intentionally sharing the gospel with people.  One of my favorite verses in this regard is Philemon 6 in the older NIV: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”  When we share our faith, we end up being reminded of God’s grace and all that He has given to us in Christ.  When we don’t share the gospel, we can get spiritually stagnant.

In 1 Timothy 4:14 Timothy was told, “Do not neglect the gift you have” and here he’s urged to actively fan it into flame.  1 Thessalonians 5:19 says to “not quench the spirit” and here we’re told to keep fuel on the fire.  We can infer that Timothy struggled with timidity and fear.  One commentator points out 25 times in Paul’s two letters to Timothy, he was urged to be bold, to stand firm, and not cave or compromise.  Do you struggle with being timid?  Is fear causing your fire to flicker?  Do you need to stir it up?  

Notice Paul doesn’t say we’re “to start the fire” but rather, “to stir up the fire that is already burning inside.”  Stop holding back!  Serve with all you have.  Everyone can do something for God and most of us can do more than one thing.  Gather with God’s people without making excuses.  Intentionally grow in your faith.   Give what you’ve been given.  Go with the gospel.  Be passionate, not passive.  Don’t be a spiritual slacker.

Paul reminded Timothy that God had already equipped him with three gifts that will keep his fire fervent:

  • Power.  When we do what we’ve been commissioned to do, we’ll have the power we need to do it according to Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  I think of Micah 2:8: “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord.”
  • Love.  Love balances out power as demonstrated by how Jesus washed the feet of the disciples.  We must always be loving and gracious to people trapped in sin.
  • Self-control.  This has the idea of being disciplined, calm, and orderly and refers to a sound mind or an “inner self-government.”  It’s the opposite of being panicked.

God’s gifts need to be used or they will atrophy.  Fan the flame of faith so you remain faithful when tough times come.  

3. Persevere when persecution comes. 

Let’s ponder verse 8: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.”  For about 25 years, the Christian movement spread rapidly across the Roman Empire with pockets of pushback and persecution.  This all changed in A.D. 64 when Nero burned Rome and blamed it on Christians, which ushered in a tsunami of persecution.  

One pastor put it like this: “Suddenly being a Christian became a dangerous and sometimes deadly affair.  It wasn’t popular to mention your faith in public…in addition, false teachers had crept into positions of influence in many local churches…Paul saw all these ominous developments and knew things would get worse before they got better.”  Sounds like our world today, doesn’t it?

Shame and the certainty of suffering keep many of us from speaking up for Christ.  Like you, I have to battle this every time I have a gospel opportunity.  Paul knew Timothy struggled in these areas, so he emphasized it at least once in each chapter.  

2 Timothy 2:3: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”

2 Timothy 3:12: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

2 Timothy 4:5: “As you for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering…”

Brothers and sisters, settle this.  Persecution is promised to the believer.  One pastor says it like this: “I’m afraid we have sanitized Jesus and disinfected the cross, making it all safe.”  I know many believers who openly deny the prosperity gospel and yet seem to believe they will somehow avoid adversity and skate around suffering.  Unfortunately, when tough times come, some believers end up questioning God’s goodness or even His existence and end up angry and buffeted by bitterness.  Listen.  Jesus promises to give us peace, but He also promises persecution in John 16:33: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Jesus didn’t teach the prosperity gospel.  He taught the persecution gospel.  Bold sharing of the gospel and suffering always go together.  One pastor says, “If you decide to go public with your faith, someone is not going to like it and you’ll pay a price for your faith eventually.”  

Fan the flame of faith so you remain faithful when tough times come.  

4. Get grounded in the gospel. 

Now more than ever, we must be grounded in the gospel because it is under attack, both outside and inside the church.  According to verses 9-11 we must remember, retell, and rehearse the gospel all the time.  We’ll do that at the end of the service as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper: “Who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher.”

The gospel must be preserved in order to be proclaimed

The gospel must be preserved in order to be proclaimed.  We’ve been saved by grace and set apart for gospel purposes.  Death has been abolished and we’ve been given life and immortality because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  As 1 Corinthians 15:55 says, “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  If we die for our faith, then we live with the Lord forever in heaven.

Fan the flame of faith so you remain faithful when tough times come.  

5. Live convictionally without compromise. 

Check out verse 12 and listen for how the themes of being unashamed and being prepared to suffer are repeated: “Which is why I suffer as I do.  But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.”  Note Paul knows whom he believes, it’s not just what he believes.  Both are important.  I think of Job’s confident confession even while he was suffering in Job 19:25: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth.”  Psalm 56:9 says, “This I know, that God is for me.”

Spurgeon captured it like this: “I know the person into whose hand I have committed my present condition, and my eternal destiny.  I know who He is, and I therefore, without any hesitation, leave myself in His hands.”

The word “convinced” means, “to be fully persuaded.”  My mind goes to Romans 4:21 where we read Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised.”  When you’re feeling fearful and timid like Timothy, remember that God is guarding what has been entrusted to you.  In 1 Timothy 6:20 we read Timothy was also responsible to guard what he had been given: “Guard the deposit entrusted to you.”  God does His part, and we must do ours.  When we give Jesus our life, He is fully able to keep it.

Fan the flame of faith so you remain faithful when tough times come.  

In 1933, the threat of Nazi power was growing in Germany, and many were concerned about the compromise of the church with the Nazi movement.  Seeing the weakness of many German pastors and their lack of preparation for obedience to Christ and resistance to the regime, the Confessing Church sensed the need for stronger training.  In 1935, Dietrich Bonhoeffer created an underground seminary that would match orthodox belief with orthodox practice.  His vision was an intentional Christian community committed to living the ethic of Jesus found in the Sermon on the Mount. 

In the providence of God, a large, empty house was available in the rural town of Finkenwalde.  Seminary life centered on prayer, the Scriptures, confession, and shared rhythms, and much of the vision was included in Bonhoeffer’s well-known works Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship. 

Bonhoeffer wrote during this period, “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.”  Their daily rhythm of life together was built on a vision for a new kind of disciple, one characterized by fidelity to Jesus Christ despite the cost.  This robust vision of discipleship would be tested as the Gestapo would eventually arrest more than two dozen seminary students.

When Bonhoeffer’s pastor friends began to read copies of his sermons and hear reports about the intensity of the discipleship at the seminary, questions began to arise.  Was this level of formation truly necessary?  Would the students burn out?  Would they lose credibility and be seen as too extreme by the national leadership? 

One friend in particular, a young historian named Wilhelm Niesel, came up from Berlin to visit, being “suspicious of too much ‘spiritualism.’”  Bonhoeffer decided to take Niesel on a rowing trip. 

One author described the scene this way: 

When the two rowers reached the far shore, Bonhoeffer led Niesel up a small hill to a clearing from which they could see in the distance a vast field and the “runways of a nearby squadron.”  German fighter planes were taking off and landing, and soldiers moved hurriedly in purposeful patterns, like so many ants.  Bonhoeffer spoke of a new generation of Germans in training, whose disciplines were formed “for a kingdom…of hardness and cruelty.”  

It would be necessary, he explained, to propose a superior discipline if the Nazis were to be defeated: “You have to be stronger than these tormentors that you find everywhere today.”  What he was doing in the seminary had to be stronger than what Hitler was doing with his army. 

  • Discipleship must be stronger than cultural formation. 
  • Loyalty to the Lord must be stronger than compromise.

What he was really saying was this: This must be stronger than that!

It’s time for us to recalibrate around the gospel to fan the flame of faith so we remain faithful when tough times come.   

If we want to make an impact in our hurting community, this must be stronger than that!

Lord’s Supper

My mom was really big on table manners.  She was tenacious in what she taught and quick to correct when we messed up.  We learned all about elbows not being on the table (which I still do), not chewing with our mouths open (which I sometimes do), not slurping soup (still do), and not eating until everyone’s been served.  One of her repeated refrains was this, “Someday you’ll be invited somewhere special, and I want you to know how to act.”

In a similar way, God has some table manners He wants us to learn when we come to the Lord’s Supper.  Every born-again believer is invited to participate but manners matter because today we’re invited to something really special.

In writing to the Christians at Corinth, the Apostle Paul was concerned about some bad manners that were going on in chapter 11.

  • Division and conflict.
  • Selfishness and un-confessed sin.

27 “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”

Take some time to examine yourself right now and decide to…

  • Fix any relational ruptures.
  • Deal with any spiritual drifting.
  • Fan the flame of your faith.

We practice open communion here.  You don’t need to be a member, but you do need to be a born-again believer.  Our leaders will pass the tray down the rows.  As it comes to you, simply take a cup (there are actually two cups together).  Twist the top one slightly to separate them and then hold a cup in each hand until everyone is served.

23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. 

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?