This article is part of the What Does It Mean? series.
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.—2 Timothy 1:7
The Spirit and the Gifts Are Ours
There are lots of reasons to fear in our world today. News updates about the COVID-19 pandemic, political divisions, and social upheaval worry and concern us, compounding the more mundane pressures we face in our relationships, work, finances, and health. We may feel a bit like Charlie Brown, plagued by pantophobia—the fear of everything! The apostle’s words in 2 Timothy 1:7 offer timely encouragement for fearful saints: “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
Paul calls young Timothy to follow his example of fearlessness in suffering and faithfulness in ministry in 2 Timothy 1:1–2:7. This is the apostle’s final New Testament letter, and he reflects on the real challenges he faces—abandoned by his friends, assaulted by his foes, alone in a Roman prison (2 Tim. 1:8, 15; 2 Tim. 3:11). He exhorts his protégé to be unashamed and “share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God” (2 Tim. 1:8).
To persevere in painful, puzzling times, disciples need more than a pep talk; we need power that comes from God himself. That’s why Paul reminds his spiritual son “to fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Tim. 1:6). We kindle the divine gift by prayerfully and persistently pursuing joyful communion with the divine Giver and by serving others in the strength that he supplies. The next verse explains why Timothy must kindle and not neglect this gift: “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” The “spirit” in view here is probably not a God-given attitude or mindset but “the Holy Spirit who dwells within us” (2 Tim. 1:14).
Paul unpacks four fruits of the Spirit’s work in our lives in verse 7: fearlessness, power, love, and self-control. The Spirit does not produce in God’s people “fear,” which could be translated timidity or cowardice. Rather, the Spirit gives us courage or fearlessness even in fearful situations. We see this in the book of Acts when Peter and John boldly testify to the crucified, risen Lord Jesus before the hostile Jewish Council and when the early church responds to threats against them by praying for God’s help to continue speaking the word “with all boldness” (Acts 4:8–13, 29). Instead of fear, the Spirit gives us “power.” This doesn’t mean that Christians have superhuman strength like Samson, who tore a lion in pieces when the Spirit rushed upon him (Judges 14:6). Jesus promised his witnesses heavenly power to carry out their global mission, and Paul stresses that God shows his supreme power in our weakness (Luke 24:37–49; 2 Cor. 4:8). Spirit-produced power enables us to endure suffering and to abound in hope in whatever circumstances we face (2 Tim. 1:8; Rom. 15:13).
Instead of fear, the Spirit gives us “power.”
The Spirit also works in us “love” and “self-control.” Because God has demonstrated his love for us by sending his own Son to die in our place and has poured out his love into our hearts through the Spirit, the church is marked by genuine, heartfelt love for one another (Rom. 5:5, 8; 12:9). Love is the supreme fruit of the Spirit’s transforming work in our lives (Gal. 5:22). Paul urges Timothy to pursue love and thereby set an example for other Christians to follow (1 Tim. 4:12; 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22). Philosophers of Paul’s day urged people to improve themselves by practicing self-restraint and controlling their desires for vice and excess. But the apostle explains that self-control or self-discipline flows from the work of God’s indwelling Spirit. The Spirit brings order to our scattered lives, awakens new desires to resist sin and to please God, and helps us to think and act with sobriety and wisdom.
Christians, remember that God has graciously given us his Holy Spirit, who makes us fearless in troubled times, works his power in our weakness, stirs in us genuine love for our neighbors and even our enemies, and gives us self-control to live as God’s holy people. The apostle’s words in 2 Timothy 1:7 make us want to sing: “The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth.”1 Therefore, “fan into flame the gift of God” because of the presence and power of God’s precious Spirit at work in our lives.
- Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress.” R. Kent Hughes similarly references this hymn in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard the Deposit, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2000), 174.
Brian J. Tabb is the author of 1–2 Timothy: A 12-Week Study.
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