Rekindle the Fire - 2 Timothy 1:1-14

This weekend Jo and I celebrated our wedding anniversary. 11 years on Friday. To some people who have just got married this seems like a long time. However, this week I also spoke with a gentleman who was married for 65 years. He and his wife received two letters from the queen for this accomplishment. And an accomplishment it is. The queen doesn’t write to people for getting a promotion at work or for receiving an academic qualification. Some people receive honours from the queen for their work, receiving honorific titles. Yet if you stay married for long enough, sure enough, you will get the royal nod from her majesty.

The point is that it requires quite an effort to stay married. Getting married is simple enough – although I admit there is a fair amount of fuss and palaver. Once the invites are out, the dress is purchased, you’ve had a chat once or twice with the Vicar, the party is sorted and the cake iced, the words said and the documents are signed. Suddenly you are married.

Promises have been made and now you live with them.

That’s when the hard work begins.

Marriage involves all kinds of wonderful things and all kinds of sufferings associated with it. There are highs and lows as anyone of you who has been married for more than a moment will attest too. Couples face all kinds of challenges together – The challenge first of all of getting to know each other well, the good, the bad, and the bewildering. Couples face the challenge of fertility or infertility. The delight of making children and hard work of having children and raising them well or the pain of not being able to at all. Couples face the challenge of building a home, supporting one another in work, sharing faith and their questions about the mysteries of the universe, couples face all kinds of problems together, whether it be illness or fraught relationships in families. The point is, being married takes work.

This kind of relational work is not just for the married.

This can equally apply to friendships and life in community. For the single person maintaining life long and loyal friendships that weather the storm require just as much, if not more effort, because these friendships lack the formal legal commitments of a marriage.

Relationships require commitment, promises said and unsaid, and they require work.

For a good marriage or a friendship to last the distance it must be tended to – treasured as a gift. The relationship will also require rekindling from time to time so that love may be kept alive and well.

And so, it is no surprise that in todays reading from Timothy we see that there is the theme of treasuring and rekindling our relationship with God and the calling he has given us.

Like all relationships in life, if untended things can get distant, stagnant, cold, superficial or perhaps tense. The spiritual life, our relationship with God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will have ebbs and flows, highs and lows, times of great joy and times where we might experience what St John of the Cross called the “dark night of the soul.”

Paul’s letters to Timothy invite us to engage, to lean in, to respond to God in all of these moments.

2nd Timothy is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to Timothy. It is a letter from an older and experienced follower of Jesus to a younger one and it is full of wisdom and insight on what it means to treasure the gift of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Over this month we are going to look at this letter and I encourage you to read it closely, inviting God to speak to you as you do.

This letter has a context. It was written by Paul, one of the first preachers of the Christian message. It was written from prison, most likely in Rome. It was likely written not long before Paul’s death. He was executed at the hands of the Romans under the persecution of Nero, the Roman Emperor who blamed the great fire in Rome on the influence of Christians in the city.

And so, Paul writes under the very shadow of death. He writes this letter to his young apprentice Timothy, encouraging him to carry on the faith. To share in Paul’s mission and pass it on.

This letter reads as a kind of last will and testament of Paul as he urges Timothy to carry on the work of living the faith and sharing the message of Jesus.

As we read it, we get the privilege of sharing in this personal letter, we get to hear Paul’s words to Timothy and as we do we are invited as followers of Jesus today to pick up the message and to be encouraged in our faith.

Paul begins this letter by reminding the readers of his apostleship – his authority and calling to share the good news of Jesus. In doing so we can assume that this letter wasn’t just intended for Timothy alone but also for the wider Christian community – both reminding them of Paul’s calling and of Timothy’s calling to leadership in the church.

Paul refers to Timothy as his beloved child. Clearly the two of them had a special relationship in which Timothy was mentored by Paul.

Paul then gives a greeting which we might skip over but if we pause for long enough we can see just how theologically rich it is.
He says grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. In this short greeting Paul summarizes beautifully the good news of Christianity.

John Stott put it well, saying:

“We may perhaps summarize these three blessings of God’s love as being grace to the worthless, mercy to the helpless and peace to the restless.”[1]

It’s this beautiful message which Paul has been entrusted with and shares with Timothy. Paul has given his whole life to share this with the world.

The message of the Gospel is again asserted by Paul in verse 10 when he talks of Jesus our Saviour “who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

This good news, this gospel which Paul talks of is life changing stuff.

It addresses even death itself. The good news of Christianity is that God created us, God loves us, and not even death will get in the way of God’s love. Through Jesus Christ, God enters death itself, breaking its power and ministering to us in love. That is why the resurrection is so important to the Christian message. It asserts that death doesn’t have the final say – God’s love is stronger than death and in relationship with God we will have fullness in life in this life and in the next.

The message of Christianity is profoundly hopeful, and it is one that every generation needs to hear.

In verses 3 through to 5 Paul acknowledges the heritage of Timothy’s faith. It has been passed on from his grandmother and mother. This is a wonderful reminder that Christianity is passed on in such a way.

It is caught not just taught. It is passed on through relationship and nurture. Like a treasured gift it is passed on from one generation to another. Each generation must come to value it and care for it, to hold it and to then pass it on to others. Paul acknowledges both the heritage of Timothy’s faith and the fact that it was passed on to him, but then he encourages Timothy to really own it, to treasure if for himself.

Paul says: “rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of hands…”

Yes, Timothy has received a gift.

But he must never simply take it as given. It must be received and actively kindled.

I love this image and find it really helpful.

If we imagine our faith, our relationship with God as being like a fire.

The fire is lit by God. As Paul says in verse 9 it is God who saves us not according to our own works but according to his purpose and grace. Yet throughout this letter we will see that Timothy is invited to respond to God’s grace in faith. He is invited to steward it and share it.

When I was a kid it was often my job to light the fire at home. Getting a good fire going was all about creating the right environment for the fire to take off. Lots of paper, kindling stacked in such a way to let the oxygen flow, and away it would go.

Timothy is invited to rekindle the gift of God in him. Other translations say “fan into flame the gift of God.” The idea is to respond actively to that which God has given.

So, what is the gift here?

A lot of people have thought about this and commented on it over the years. Was it referring to the ordination of Timothy? Was it about him being prayed for and commissioned to share the Gospel? Was it a particular gift he had been given by God? Perhaps a gift of prophecy or evangelism? Or was this referring to another gift?

I think that here Paul is referring to a much more fundamental gift – the gift of the Holy Spirit living in Timothy. God himself, dwelling with Timothy.

It is this gift which gives Timothy courage. It is this Spirit which is the very opposite to the spirit of timidity or fear.

Paul elsewhere talks about the Spirit which gives courage.

Rom 8:15—[For] the Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.

God’s very presence, the Holy Spirit living in Timothy is the gift which will enable him to do all that God has asked him to do. The Holy Spirit is the common denominator through all fruitful ministry in the church since its beginning.

Timothy is called on by Paul to rekindle the gift of God. With this image in mind I wonder what this might mean?
Perhaps it is about making space for the Spirit to work? Being open and receptive to the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit?

After all, Timothy will need it.

It is clear from this letter that Paul and the early Christian community have their opponents.

Paul reminds Timothy not to be ashamed.

And Timothy might have reason. Paul is in prison, people are suffering for the message of Jesus. It doesn’t look like they are on the winning side of history.

I know that this week on the news there was a story about the decline of Christian belief and commitment in New Zealand. The latest census identifies a downwards trend in Christian commitment and church attendance.  Several pastors and Christian thinkers were interviewed, and the common thread was that they expressed they weren’t threatened by statistics. One minister even mentioned that Christianity actually does better when it is under the pump rather than in the seat of power or privilege. They made the point that these statistics help us to be honest about what we believe.

I think this is absolutely true.

Christianity’s worst expressions have been wedded with human power and aspirations. The crusades, the inquisition, indulgences and various abuses of wealth and privilege.

Christianity’s best expressions have looked like power in weakness – the work of the Holy Spirit in unlikely people to bring hope and change. We might think of Mother Teresa’s commitment to the poor in Calcutta, Rosa Parks who refused to give in to racism and changed history with a bus ride, or simply the everyday Christians we know who face life with faith and hope because of Jesus.

Paul helpfully reminds Timothy and us to rely on the power of God, and our need for the help of the Holy Spirit.

Like every good relationship, our relationship with God will require rekindling and tending.

Where are we today?

Are we feeling encouraged in our faith? Full of hope and joy in the Gospel?

Or are we feeling tired, discouraged or just not so sure that the good news is all that good?

Like Timothy are we at times timid, fearful or tentative about sharing our faith?

Like Timothy do we hear the invitation from God to rekindle the gift?

I’d love for us to pause for a moment today and ask that the Holy Spirit would minister to us, that the Holy Spirit would encourage us and fill us afresh with faith, hope, and love. That like Paul and Timothy we might reach out to the world with the good news of what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do. Amen.  

[1] John Stott, The Message of 2 Timothy: Guard the Gospel (InterVarsity Press: Leicester, 1973)

Josh Taylor