This week’s memory verse is taken from the first chapter of Paul’s second letter to his son in the faith, Timothy. And like so many of the verses in the Bible that we work to memorize, the full value of the verse can only be treasured when we look at the larger context. If you feel like you have a calling on your life, and all believers should, you need to memorize this verse.
…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1.7)
Paul wrote this letter as his life was drawing to a close from a prison cell in Rome (see 2 Timothy 4.6). He had fought the good fight and run a very difficult race, complete with sufferings and persecutions. He faced challenges from the Jewish religious leaders who opposed his ministry, from angry mobs who opposed a gospel which led the populace away from pagan worship, and even sustained friendly fire from fellow believers within the church. Through it all, he worked to carry out the work of an evangelists and to fulfill the ministry given to him by God.
And now, he was passing the baton the Timothy, a baton beaten and scarred from the difficulties of battle. Paul was instrumental in the faith development of Timothy. Paul disciple the young man, and brought him alongside him in ministry. Timothy traveled with Paul, and Paul often sent him on important missions. Timothy even co-wrote six of Paul’s letters. Timothy was a man who spiritually grew up under Paul, and a man who co-labored with Paul.
When he wrote that God had not given Timothy a spirit of fear (see 2 Timothy 1.7), his words were not to be taken lightly. There was much to fear. Some were afraid of being associated with a man in prison, Onesiphorus for one (2 Timothy 1.16). There were various sufferings associated with being a soldier for Christ (2 Timothy 2.3), even the chains of a common criminal (2 Timothy 2.9). The Lord’s servant must be prepared to patiently endure evil (2 Timothy 2.24), times of difficulty (2 Timothy 3.1), persecutions and sufferings (2 Timothy 3.11-12). In fact, doing the work of an evangelist was intimately connected with enduring suffering (2 Timothy 4.5), a work so tough that Paul called it a good fight and a difficult race (2 Timothy 4.7). And to add insult to injury, many close friends will desert you in your time of greatest need (2 Timothy 4.16)!
Have no fear? Are you kidding me, in light of all that is to be feared? The words of verse 7 take a greater significance not only in light of all to be feared but in light of how we can live fearlessly and why we would want to.
Paul wrote of Timothy’s faith, a faith that was passed down to him by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1.5). But Timothy was not to trust in this generational kind of faith, but he was to take ownership of his faith and of the gift God had entrusted with him and “fan it into flames” (2 Timothy 1.6). This echoes Paul’s words to the church in Rome, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Romans 12.11) where “fervent” literally means “boiling with heat.” Keep the water boiling. Fan the embers into flame. Because there are forces within and without that will work to douse the Spirit’s work at every turn.
Timothy’s gift was described in more detail in Paul’s first letter to Timothy.
Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15Practice these things, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4.14-16)
Timothy’s gift and calling was not something to treat as a static and constant companion. It must be practiced, devoted to, kept a close watch over, and persisted in. At times, it must be fanned into flames for the opposition is great.
Paul was writing to a man who knew he had a calling on his life, and that calling meant that he could no longer just float downstream. And when you sense a calling upon your life, you swim upstream against constant opposition and struggle. The spiritual forces of evil are against you. Even some of those within the church will oppose you. The words of 2 Timothy 1.7 are for serious minded believers. And even though Paul wrote these word to a man with the calling of an evangelist, but these words apply to every believer today because we are all God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God has already prepared for us to do (see Ephesians 2.10). There is a calling upon all of our lives, a calling which separates us from generational faith (also known as “pew sitting folks”) and puts us in the context of this memory verse.
We immediately see that this calling is not a license to soar high above all struggle but a calling to slug through the mud. The mud gets thick, but there is purpose and reason to keep slugging. More importantly, there is a divine gift within that strengthens us even as we trudge along. We are not left alone to carry out this divine calling for God has entrusted us with a Spirit who brings power, love, and self-control. Verse 7 may be speaking of God’s Spirit or our spirit, but the larger context definitely speaks to the power and love of the indwelling spirit that empowers us in our calling. We labor with the power of God that works powerfully through us (see Colossians 1.29). And even if this calling and power lead us to suffer for His name’s sake, it is a holy calling, one in which God is working out His own purpose (2 Timothy 1.9). Paul was appointed a preacher/apostle/teacher to share this message, and it often led him to suffer accordingly (2 Timothy 1.11-12). But that was not a bad thing.
In fact, Paul was not ashamed to suffer, for he knew that God was able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to him (2 Timothy 1.12). What does it mean that God could guard that which was entrusted to him? Was it his calling or the Spirit? Verse 14 clarifies it for us, “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1.14). The deposit entrusted seems to be the calling and gifts, the same gift Timothy was encouraged to fan into flame, the same gift that would lead him into sufferings, persecutions, and other struggles.
But rejoice! God has not left us alone in our calling. He has not given us a spirit of fear. The Greek word for fear in this verse is deilia, the only time it is used in the New Testament. In extra biblical literature, the word speaks of one who flees from battle and carries a strong sense of cowardice. Paul is saying to Timothy, God has not given you His Spirit so that you will flee from battle. No, God has given you His Spirit so that you can carry forth with your calling in power, love, and discipline. Let’s take a moment to look at each of those gifts.
The Holy Spirit who indwells us gives us power, power to carry out our calling in the face of sufferings and persecutions.
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1.28-29)
It was the power of God at work in and through Paul that enabled him to proclaim (preach), warn, and teach. It was the power of God working through him that enabled him to carry out his calling (see 2 Timothy 1.11)
Even if we know our calling, what causes us to work so hard, to fan it into flame, to keep on running such a difficult race? What motivates the call? It is the love of God. Once we know God’s love for us, a love that knows us and chooses us, a love that is worth sharing, then we are internally motivated to struggle to carry out the call.
…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3.17-19)
We get filled to the fullness of God when we are rooted and grounded in His love, acceptance, and grace towards our personal lives.
The word translated “self-control” by the ESV is only used this one time in the Greek New Testament. Sophronismos is an “admonishing or calling to soundness of mind, to moderation and self-control” (Thayer’s). It is variously translated “self discipline” (NIV, NRSV), “sound judgment” (HCSB), “discipline” (NASB), and “sound mind” (KJV). It comes from a root word which means to “restore to one’s senses, to hold to one’s duty.”
The Spirit of God is not a Spirit that causes us to flee from the scene of battle, but a powerful indwelling of God Himself who restores our senses, clarifies our mind, and empowers us to hold to one’s duty in the face of struggle and persecution.
This memory verse is not for the weak at heart, nor for those who are looking for a way to use Christ to earn a comfortable life. On the contrary, this verse is for those who know their calling, who know the struggle of living a life of calling, who know that dangers within and without, who know the tendency of the fire to burn out instead of burning bright. This verse is an encouragement to every soldier who labors for the King, who wonders if they will be able to finish the course set before them. This verse is an incredible reminder of the grace gift of God that empowers and enables our calling.
God has given you His Spirit, the indwelling presence of God which will not allow you to flee the scene of battle but will empower you, ground you in His love, and restore your vision to help you keep on fighting the good fight. Praise God for such an incredible word of encouragement and hope.
 ESV Study Bible notes on 2 Timothy 1.7.