Sunday, April 22, 2018

2 Timothy 1:3-7 "God Has Not Given Us A Spirit Of Fear "

Our focus text is  the 7th verse. Fear can be a good thing, but it can also be a very crippling thing. It is good when it keeps you from doing stupid things like dangling from long elasticated ropes, jumping into deep gorges and from suspension bridges. The Bible also says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (e.g. Prov. 1:7). So there is healthy fear.  Our text however speaks about   the matter of unhealthy fear, and this is the subject we are addressing today. I have provided you with some additional reading material on the subject, available in your bulletins and by way of an extra pamphlet we have published.

Last time we considered the opening verses (1:1-2) of   the second letter of Paul to Timothy. These opening words gave us an insight into the nature of Paul’s ministry. He was an apostle by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus. Paul was endowed with a tremendous sense of power and authority from God. That is what he needed for this particular apostolic work to which he was called.

From a concurrent study of the book of Acts on Sunday evenings we are able to observe the almost fearless nature of Paul as he,   in his apostolic journeys among the gentiles in Asia and Greece, walks into the proverbial lion’s den time and time again.  In 2 Corinthians 11: 16-33 he provides us with a biographical sketch of    what happened on his many journeys. It is hair-raising, and yet he kept on and on. On his last missionary journey[1]  he, against  all counsel  and  warning, went  on to Jerusalem, knowing that trouble and hardship would await him there  which would send him into this prison in which he now finds himself in  Rome. Yet he did not waver, for he knew that God had given him a spirit, not of fear, but of power and of love and of self- control.

Paul is writing to Timothy, his beloved child in the faith (2 Tim. 1:2).  Timothy is currently serving the church in Ephesus  (1 Tim. 1:3) , and it appears  from his first letter that Timothy had to contend with a number of  tough issues there, and it seems as if Timothy is really struggling  to apply himself  in this situation.  He is clearly suffering for the sake of the gospel (2 Tim. 1:8) and that always brings with it peculiar temptations and fears.  So, Paul wrote this letter to strengthen him and to encourage him. He does this with so much love and tenderness and with insight into Timothy’s background.
But he also writes with firmness. He reminds Timothy that he is a gifted man and therefore an enabled man (1:6). We must not be tempted to think that Timothy was generally  weak and fearful. Why would Paul send Timothy into spiritually difficult situations if he was so fearful? It would seem quite unlikely that a timid soul would be entrusted with such an important  assignment.  He is essentially lacking nothing to do this difficult work in Ephesus, but he appears to have this Achilles heel- this fearful heart, this timidity at this time, and it is not helping him in this ministry. What then must he do?
Paul says to him, “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self- control.” Now how will that piece of advice solve Timothy’s problem?  More than you may realize at this present moment! But before we look at this, please note that Paul does not address this statement specifically to Timothy but to "us". He applies this matter to all his readers, all people (you and I) including himself.  And if you are like me, you may also often   be oppressed by a spirit of fear which comes to us in many different ways.   Anxiety, worry about what might or might not happen … these are forms of fear; this is the spirit of fear. This verse says that these do not come from God.

Did it ever occur to you that we Christians are forbidden to fear or to be anxious when it comes to trusting God with our life? How many times in the Scriptures do we read that Jesus said, "Fear not!"; "Do not let not your heart be troubled" [Jn. 14:1, 14:27]; Do not be anxious about your life… your heavenly Father knows [Matt. 6:25-34].  Stop it when it starts going that way. God does not give us a spirit of fear.

The word translated as fear here in the ESV (timidity in the NIV) is not the normal word used in the Greek (phobos). It is the word deilia and it was never used in a good sense[2]. In Greek literature it describes the behaviour of a man running away in battle and so it is associated with a cowardly fear. How does this happen? It may be a timid or cowardly nature, whereby a person is just a plain coward. But I do not think that cowardice was Timothy’s problem.    It seems that Timothy may have become battle weary in the front lines of this spiritual battle. Paul in his days in Ephesus mentioned that he fought   with the wild beasts of Ephesus[3]. Timothy was in the same position. Day after day he faced the enemy of the gospel in so many different ways.  The danger of becoming battle weary is that we stop standing against the enemy and withdraw from the front lines of serving Christ, allowing the enemy to gain ground.  The rule of spiritual warfare, according to Ephesians 6:10-18  is to stand  against the enemy. 

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874 -1965) once spoke to the boys at his old school, Harrow School, in October of 1941, on Speech Day and he told them, "Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” [4]
Well, there was a man who led Britain through her darkest hours against overwhelming odds. By his leadership he caused Britain to stand resolutely against Hitler’s German Reich. 

As Paul sat in this Roman prison, awaiting execution, he wrote this final letter to encourage Timothy to not to give into cowardly fear, despite the opposition.  And this letter is for every Christian enlisted in the war for Christ and His kingdom, and against Satan and his kingdom.   And God doesn’t give us a spirit of cowardice.  He calls us not to hide our lights under a cover.  He calls us not to be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That is not the spirit of the Christian soldier.  

So how is that very common experience of fear (whether through actual cowardice or induced by battle weariness) dealt with among us? Listen to Paul’s brief answer, as he provides us with an effective  threefold strategy from God to combat this spirit of fear.  God gives power, God gives love and God gives self- control - and this is the remedy!

1. God Gives Us A Spirit Of Power.
Thank God that we need not be slaves to anyone – and especially not to fear.  We have been given powerful resources in Christ. We are not helpless or defenceless.  No one in the Bible puts it better than the apostle Peter:  His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence“ [2 Peter 1:3]. Being a Christian is not a self -driven effort.  The Bible tells us that the   God who begins a work in our lives helps us [Phil. 1:6]. If he begins a work in us then he will bring it to completion. His power continues the work that his power began. So too, everything that God gave Timothy to do, He also equipped him for.  Paul knew that so well. He wrote to the Philippians, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” [Phil. 4:13]. Whatever God commands us to do in the Bible, that He also gives us the power to do.  When He wants you to forgive your worst enemies He will give you the power to do so.  When He commands you to love Him with all your heart and to love your neighbour as yourself, He will give you the power to do so for every situation.  When He commands you to love your wife as Christ loved the church, and you ask Him to help you, He will.  And you dear woman, can submit to your difficult husband, as to the Lord (1 Peter 3:1-7). Children,    you can obey your parents when your teenage hormones are beginning to rage against them.  You can do everything through him who gives you strength. Everything God asks of you in the Bible you can do by the power God gives you every day, and sufficient for the day thereof.  God has not given us a spirit of fear but a spirit of power. This power  does not belong to a  Christian  elite.   This power from God is given to every single Christian without exception. 

2. God Gives Us A Spirit Of Love.
The apostle John, that great apostle of love, gives us the most profound insight in this regard. He says in 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”  He tells us that God is love [1 Jn.  4:8]. And God loved this poor world that He gave us His Son as an atoning sacrifice to take away our sin. And John says that if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another [1 Jn. 4:11] …and not only ought we to. We can stand firm in love, because God has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us [Romans 5]. Against all opposition and intimidation that gave way to fear, a   great spirit of love came upon the early Christian church, so that they shared all they had with other Christians. They loved one another not just in word but also in deed. That love, God gives to every one of his people, and it drives out fear. Love is the antidote to fear. You will not fear your enemies if you love them.

3. God Gives Us A Spirit Of Self- Control (NIV – self-  discipline)  .
Again this word is found only here in the New Testament (Gr. sōphronismou). It means to be wise and   level-headed; to have a practical, sanctified common sense. How can anyone lead others when they cannot control themselves?  Even power must have self-control. A powerful engine without controls is power out of control.  A powerful dictator without accountability is out of control.
And love too must have control. Love without truth is hypocritical, mushy, soppy sentimentalism. Love without principled truth behind it will cause a man or a woman   to leave their spouse and family and run off, simply because   they are utterly infatuated with one another. We need this self-discipline, along with love and power to fight against the spirit of fear.  And so you see that we have a powerful triad here.  These three Christian graces need to be present in forming our Christian character in this world. And you need them all – just like faith, hope and love, another vital Christian triad.   Not just two out of the three – all three.  

Will you measure yourself and test yourself by the Scriptures today?
·       Especially with regard to your fears in immersing yourself completely in the gospel?
·       Being a fearless soldier in Christ’s work? 
·   Will you lay hold of God’s power and God’s love and will you exercise self- control by His strength this week?
·       Will you ask Him for it in prayer?
·       Will you believe that He will supply your need against fear?
·       And will you testify some day before this congregation how God helps you in this matter?

[1] Acts 18:23- 21:26
[2] Vines Expository Dictionary: p. 230 .
[3]  See 1 Corinthians 15:32.   This probably refers  to the struggles that  Paul  had with  the  devotees of Artemis (The Cult of Diana of Ephesus).
[4]  This  link contains the short, but powerful  speech given on that occasion.

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