Steadfast in Service
2 Timothy 1:6–10
Timothy was a young leader in the Ephesian church when the apostle Paul wrote the epistle of 2 Timothy to encourage his “son” in the faith. The church was fraught with problems; and though Paul suffered in a Roman dungeon, he instructed Timothy as much as possible before the inevitable executioner arrived to snuff out Paul’s life.
As Timothy’s spiritual father, Paul knew the pressures the young man faced; and he felt a great need to counsel Timothy concerning his call and commitment to serve the Lord.
Steadfast in the Call
The apostle’s appeal was cautious, rather than corrective: “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1:6). Paul did not question Timothy’s fervor for the ministry and knew that persecution had not diminished Timothy’s spiritual zeal. Rather, he reminded Timothy to stay zealous and totally committed to the work—as we, too, should do, especially in a world hostile to Christianity.
“Stir up the gift,” Paul said. The phrase refers to poking burning logs or coals to prevent them from flickering out.
Paul used the phrase the gift that is in you . . . with the laying on of the hands of the eldership in his first letter to Timothy (1 Tim. 4:14). He did not identify or define the gift, but he knew Timothy was sufficiently equipped to pastor and teach in a difficult place like Ephesus; and he encouraged Timothy to use what God had given him or risk losing his fire and becoming ineffective for the Lord.
The church elders also believed in Timothy’s gift, which was bestowed and confirmed on the young man “by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership” (v. 14). This verse could refer to Timothy’s ordination at Lystra (Acts 16:1–3) or his installation as pastor in Ephesus.
The Old Testament speaks of laying on hands when leadership passes from one person to another. Moses laid hands on Joshua (Num. 27:18–23; Dt. 34:9). In the New Testament, the apostles laid hands on men to approve them for special service (Acts 6:6). The practice provided a visible gesture of empowerment and encouragement to someone God approved for service.
Gifts, of course, vary. Some people possess more than others, and not all men and women are gifted in the same way. Believers should not compare their gifts but, rather, concentrate on serving God using them.
Knowing Timothy was young, Paul assured him that fear did not come from God but from within himself: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).
The word spirit does not refer to the Holy Spirit but, rather, to the individual’s spirit. People can manifest negative or positive spirits. A negative spirit of fearfulness does not emanate from God. Someone with a spirit of fear will cower before opposition or persecution and shrink back from standing steadfastly for Christ. However, someone with a burning desire to serve God can draw on three resources in his spirit to overcome timidity:
→ The spirit of power. The word power is the Greek word dunamis, meaning “dynamite.” The Holy Spirit gives Christians the needed power to stand, overcome, and endure persecution.
→ The spirit (or heart) of love. God gives us such a spirit in times of fear. Jesus told believers, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Mt. 5:44). Jesus showed this type of love to His persecutors, especially at His crucifixion. The apostle John said it well: “There is no fear in love; but perfect [complete] love casts out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18).
→ The spirit of a sound mind. The words sound mind mean “self-control” or “self-discipline.” A sound mind requires sober thinking. Only someone controlled by the Holy Spirit and living according to God’s Word was equipped to withstand opposition from the Roman Empire and the philosophies and heathenism of that day.
Steadfast in Courage
The apostle then appealed to Timothy to be brave: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Tim. 1:8). Paul outlined two sides of courage: the contrary and the compliant.
The contrary side. The admonishment not to be “ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner” did not assume Timothy was ashamed. Rather, Paul cautioned Timothy never to allow himself to become ashamed of Christ or of his witness for the Lord, despite persecution. Likewise, we must never shrink back in our commitment to Christ or be ashamed to preach the gospel. Paul let Timothy know he was not ashamed of being incarcerated for his faith, nor should Timothy be ashamed of Paul’s situation.
Because Timothy was Paul’s close friend and coworker, Roman spies may have been anxious to arrest Timothy. In fact, some of Paul’s friends, wanting to save their own skins, already had distanced themselves from him. So Paul encouraged Timothy to be brave and stand firm for Christ and the gospel. Whether imprisoned or persecuted, they were secure in the Lord who controlled their destinies.
The compliant side. Paul pleaded with Timothy, “But share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Tim. 1:8). He reminded him to accept whatever suffering came in presenting the gospel. Paul faced unimaginable suffering, including poverty, strife, flogging, chains, stoning, imprisonment, persecution, sickness, near-death experiences, and other hardships and dangers (2 Cor. 4:8–11; 11:23–28). Timothy endured some of these troubles with Paul and saw how Paul responded.
Such suffering was “according to the power of God” (2 Tim. 1:8). That is, God’s power, which brings people to salvation and transforms them into new creations, will also strengthen and protect those suffering because of their witness.
Steadfast in Christ
Paul reminded Timothy that individuals are saved according to God’s purpose and grace, not due to any work or merit on their part: “Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (v. 9; cf. Eph. 2:8–9).
It is God’s power that saves us and calls us to holy living according to His purpose and grace. We do not deserve, nor can we earn, our salvation. God devised His plan in eternity past, before time or the world existed (Eph. 1:4), and unveiled it in His grace.
Paul then moved forward in time to show God’s plan of salvation as manifested at the appearing of Jesus Christ: “But [salvation] has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10).
The phrase revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ conveys the idea of revealing something previously concealed or invisible. Hidden was the “appearing [epiphany] of our Savior Jesus Christ,” referring to Christ’s First Advent at His incarnation and earthly ministry. The word Savior reveals the reason for His manifestation: to save all who heard the gospel and believed in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.
Through His earthly ministry, Christ “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light.” Death entered the world through Adam’s willful sin. But it was “abolished” by Christ’s death on the cross. Abolished does not mean annihilated but, rather, rendered powerless. Thus, Christ made impotent mankind’s final enemy: death (1 Cor. 15:26, 56–57).
Through His death and resurrection, Christ broke death’s power over humanity and the Devil’s power over death (Heb. 2:14). We are delivered from spiritual death (eternal separation from God) at the moment of our salvation and will be delivered from physical death at the Rapture of the church.
Christ’s redemptive ministry also “brought life and immortality to light” (2 Tim. 1:10). That is, every believer now possesses eternal life in Christ. This assurance applies to all of us who accept Christ as Savior by faith (cf. 1 Cor. 15:20–26).
This entire redemptive message comes “through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10), and this Good News is to be preached throughout the world in every generation. Paul counseled Timothy on his power in Christ in order to strengthen Timothy’s resolve to stand for the Lord. He also was to stand against whatever persecution, hatred, and cruelty he might encounter from a despot like Roman Emperor Nero.
Martyrs like Stephen saw heaven open and Jesus standing to welcome them home (Acts 7:56). Should Timothy be martyred, Paul wanted him to know he had nothing to fear because “to be absent from the body [is] to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).
What a promise to hold dear in the face of death. As the world grows spiritually darker today, Paul’s letter encourages us to stand firmly in our service for Christ, no matter the cost.