2 Timothy 1:7 “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”
I am taking you through this particular letter of Paul to Timothy on these Sunday evenings, and though this is a special occasion, a service that will end in a believer’s baptism, I see no reason to desist from turning again to this epistle and these particular words because they remind us so eloquently of what are some of the basic consequences of becoming a Christian. So it seems to me to be a very relevant message for this occasion because they answer the question some of you are turning over in your mind, “What’s in religion for me? If I should become a believer in God and a disciple of Jesus Christ what can I expect? Is my life going to be a following a list of big Do’s and Don’t’s with its consequent inconsistencies and failures and a guilt trip? Is that what I am being invited yet again to take seriously?”
You will see that the words before us describe to us becoming a Christian from God’s perspective, by reminding us of a brief selection of some of the gifts that God gives everyone who turns in faith to him, and also one weakness that God will not allow to dominate our lives. He says when people become Christians they don’t become like timid little mice “ wee cow’ring, timorous beasties.” You have noticed that in Amy over the past year, you who are her friends, that becoming a Christian hasn’t turned into a stuttering shrinking violet. She still has her own unique personality, her opinions and tastes and attitudes that she’ll share with you.
Then Paul is also reminding Timothy here of a few of the new resources we gain when we start to follow Jesus of Nazareth. Positively, Paul says, we experience a new spirit, a spirit of power over such weaknesses as compromise and temptation – over the sins that hurt other people whom we love. We also experience, Paul reminds him, a new depth of love, and how our stony old hearts need more affection, and we experience another thing that is really in short supply in our nation today, self-discipline. Those are great virtues aren’t they and we are told that God gives graces like that to people who become Christians.
So the sentence before us, with these terms are what I’m going to explain to you in the next half an hour, and then after I have finished speaking and we have sung a hymn together you know what is going to happen before Amy’s baptism? She is going to speak and say in a couple of minutes the way she became a follower of Jesus Christ and what that means to her.
Some of you are shocked at the thought of having to speak to a whole congregation in a church. You’re thinking, “You’ll never see me standing in front of a hundred people and talking to them.” It makes you tremble even to think of it! But you understand that this is a voluntary action. We don’t insist that a person being baptized speaks to us. Amy volunteered to do this. It was important to her. But do realise that she speaks not because she’s a forthright and confident young woman so that you wish you had something of her genetic make-up. Nor is it that she’s been psyched up by me or all of us and she’s on some emotional high. Christianity has little to do with emotional highs. The real reason for that part of the service (Amy saying a few words) is here in these verses before us. God doesn’t give us a spirit of timidity but power. God changes people and he enables them to become serious Christians – not in word but in reality and from the heart.
Let me explain what happens. When God begins to work in your life then usually the first signs are a growing restlessness with materialism and the vague evolutionistic explanation of everything and an appreciation of purity and goodness. You start to consider the big questions – Did this world come about by chance? Is it all a matter of billions of lucky coincidences over billions of years that we are as we are in this world today? Is the Bible true? Did Jesus of Nazareth live and preach the Sermon on the Mount, and also heal every sick person who came to him? Did the winds and waves obey him? Did he die to make atonement for our guilt and shame? Did he rise from the dead? Does he live today at the right hand of God? Does he come in spirit and join with a mere two or three people who’ve gathered in his name? Does he come into our lives and help from within us those who’ve received him? Or am I and Amy and many of us here self-deluded? Are we deceived men and women? Such initial first stirrings in our minds about our origins, and about God and about who we are and whether we can be helped by being followers of Jesus Christ, or is it going to hinder and warp us – I say such musings as those are the beginnings of the journey to knowing God. I am insisting that it is in our minds that Christianity begins. Please think, we urge you. You can disagree, of course, but you can’t refuse to think about it. That is obscurantism. We beseech you not to switch your brain off when you are considering the case for knowing the living God.
Let’s consider what Paul says here. “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” That is it, quite simple words to understand isn’t it? But in fact it’s making enormous claims about what God did for Timothy, for Amy and what he can do for you. If these words are true, then they’re actually offering you some true upgrade, quite a revolution in your life, new resources, things that could improve your daily life and routine and relationships and whole future. Shouldn’t you then take them seriously for half an hour and consider that these words in the Bible that most of you have never noticed before might be of lasting help to you? Knowing God for yourself, and following Jesus Christ, could be the greatest discovery you have made on your visits to this town or in your studies in the university. Paul starts of with a little negative saying this . . .
1. GOD DOES NOT GIVE US A SPIRIT OF TIMIDITY.
God does not give anyone who becomes a Christian a spirit of timidity. It is a quite a good translation. It could be translated ‘cowardice’ and maybe that is better. It is not the word ‘fear’; that Greek word is phobia but that is not the word here. God hasn’t made us cowards, Paul says. This word ‘timidity’ in the original Greek is found only here in the whole New Testament. But when we find it elsewhere in Greek literature it describes the behaviour of a man running away in battle. Stand to your guns! Don’t be a soldier overcome with funk, or this lovely rare word, ‘pusillanimous’! Children isn’t that a word to savour? Don’t you like new words? When your brother cries because a dog barks at him you can say, “Charley, don’t be pusillanimous.” In other words, don’t be a scary cat.
What is old Paul saying to young Timothy? Why does he start with this particular negative? He doesn’t want Timothy to let the legalists, and the bully boys with their threats, and the hypocrites, and the gnashing teeth of the Gnostic cultists – those early heretics – win. Stand up to them Timothy! Resist them! He doesn’t want Timothy to give up without a fight. You remember how Admiral Nelson sent a message up in flags on H.M.S Victory to the sailors in the English fleet as the battle of Trafalgar began. ‘England expects every man this day to do his duty.’ What a boost to their morale! You remember Churchill returning to Harrow School, his alma mater, during the war, and speaking to the boys there on Speech Day and telling them, “Never give up . . . never, never, never give up.”
God doesn’t give us a spirit of cowardice. I think God does give us a spirit of fear, that deep fear of hurting the people whom we depend on – that is a gift from God. We have seen what false religion has done to those murderers in Paris earlier this month. Imagine hurting people, shooting strangers and bombing them and stoning them and burning them alive and killing yourself. I’m not interested in making people religious. Man’s religions have been his greatest crimes. My concern is to introduce people to Jesus Christ, to explain what he achieved and who he is today, and what he can do for you, and why it is worth everything to follow him, that it is the greatest enrichment of life, personally, and in our families and also when we join a community of people who are following him (in a gospel church). Christianity strengthens our fear of taking advantage of people, of betraying them, of making vows and promises to them that we don’t intend to keep. In my teens, before I got married, I had a fear, which I believe came from God, of committing adultery. How thankful I am that I had that fear. I could have been locked in a wrong relationship. I could have got someone pregnant. I could have caused an unborn child to be killed. I could be paying child support for 18 years to a woman who wished that she had never met me. I am so thankful that God gave me a holy fear of adultery. There is a good fear that God does give us, but he doesn’t give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice. That is the explanation of why Amy will take a deep breath and say a few words today. It is because of some sweet divine enabling she’ll be given, just as the same grace of God in me helps me to teach the Bible.
Many years ago there was a public meeting on abortion and I went along with a woman from the church named Pearl. She was feminine and retiring but during that meeting she became concerned as the women there spoke in so dehumanizing a way. One woman spoke about ‘cutting out this growth that was in her’! She had no idea about the livingness and the faculties that an unborn child has. Anything less like a cancer you cannot imagine. I could feel the bench on which we were sitting trembling and then Pearl got to her feet. Her voice was breaking as she told the audience of the pain of her losing a child in a miscarriage during the past year. Not losing a growth but an unborn baby.
Where did she get the courage from to speak up and address those harsh and intemperate women? It is here in this verse, that God hasn’t given us a spirit of timidity. We are not afraid when there is racism, and the abuse of women, and cruelty to animals, and when the Christian faith is being scorned, and so on, to speak up. Becoming Christians does not make us milksops.
In other words the most important thing about Amy or about any professing Christian here today is not that we have become religious. Amy has responded to truth as she has found it in Jesus of Nazareth, his profound teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and the parables and the discourses in John’s gospel. No man ever spoke like this man. She has looked at the extraordinary miracles and signs that he did, healing every kind of sickness, raising the dead and showing power over the winds and waves. How do you explain all that happened? Through the New Testament she has heard Jesus say that the reason he came into the world was not for men to fall before him and swoon over him like teenagers watching a boy band. He came to serve us and help us and the height of his service was to give his life as a ransom to pay for our debt of guilt and shame. He became the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world. We Christians are very thankful to God that he so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. Amy and every other true Christian here looks at the life of the Lord Jesus and we can’t help being impressed by the fact that he was thoughtful, forgiving, helpful, caring, strong, kind, pure, consistent, unselfish, generous-hearted, good to poor people and to little children and to women. He took advantage of no one; he even prayed for those who had crucified him that God would forgive them for they didn’t know what they were doing. We worship such a man and we follow him and we want to live like him and we do this by the strength God gives to us. God has not given us a spirit of cowardice. We do not hide our lights under a bushel. We are not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We want to be always ready when we are asked to give a reason for our hope. So, if the word spirit here refers to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that came upon the church on the day of Pentecost then we know that he is not the Spirit of timidity indwelling us.
2. GOD GIVES US A SPIRIT OF POWER.
“Timothy,” says Paul, “You have to remember your resources in Jesus Christ.” And we are all in danger of forgetting them. People say that they could consider becoming a Christian but they don’t think that they could keep it up. They think that becoming a Christian is a purely human decision and to keep going day be day is by human effort. But the Bible takes a quite different view of things. It tells us that it is God who takes the initiative, and he actually begins a work in our lives; he creates an interest; he leads us to books and people and ministries who help us, who answer our questions, people we can trust, and God goes on like that right through our lives. If he begins a work in us then he will bring it to completion. His power continues the work that his power began.
So everything that God assigned to Timothy, he could take it and do it in a way that pleased God. However God is pleased to advance the gospel, whether by the long life of John and the short life of Stephen, we can say, let God’s will be done. God provides power for 50 years’ work for some of us or just for 18 months as was the length of the ministry of John the Baptist. However long or short, whatever easy road or rocky road we are given, we’ll be given power to keep going. Paul once said that he had learned the secret of facing plenty or hunger, abundance or want. “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” He said he was able to live in contentment as a child of God, in peace and fellowship with God, carrying out God’s purposes for his life, in every circumstance in which it had pleased God to place him. Whatever the temptations, whatever the trials, pressures of body or mind, whatever the afflictions, even prosperity and success, with all the trials that were Paul’s in a damp cell chained to a Roman legionnaire, or whether he was in a terrible storm on the Mediterranean Sea, Paul had learned in all these situations that through the power of the Spirit he could carry out the purposes of God and live as his child in them all. This is really what he was saying.
I am being promised power to love God with all my heart, and to love my neighbour as myself – not perfectly, but with the seriousness of a new man in Christ. I am given power to forgive those who sin against me. I can turn the other cheek. I can bear all things, endure all things, believe all things and hope all things. I can live like that. I can love my wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. I can obey my parents. I can esteem other Christians better people than I am. I can shoulder the burdens of the weak. I can pray without ceasing. I can become mighty in the Scriptures. I can be filled with the Spirit. I can present my body a living sacrifice to God. I can give a reason for the hope that is in me to anyone who asks me. I can run the race to the end, and finish the course. I can put on all the armour of God. I can die daily to sin and live to Jesus Christ. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Everything God asks of me in the Bible I can do by the power he daily gives me.
It is absolutely magnificent. We sometimes look at the pressures we are under, the mountains God asks us to climb, the burdens he asks us to bear, and we say to ourselves, “How can we possibly cope?” We might say, “I can’t manage it. I’ll sink down and down.” Then we read these great words promising us that God has not given us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power. So, yes, you can cope. You can live like that. You can be a more than survivor, more than conqueror. This power, this enabling, isn’t given to just a proportion of the Lord’s people, or a minority, or to super-Christians, or those who’ve had the baptism or the anointing or the filling, but this power from God is given to every single Christian without exception, to the newest and the weakest lamb in the flock, and the one recovering from the greatest fall and those repeatedly conquered by a sin that easily besets them. Paul is reminding Timothy and ourselves what God’s children can do. It is an invidious suggestion that you can be a Christian and not live at a higher plane, the suggestion that it is even normal and average to be a Christian and not possess the great and mighty resources of his power. That is simply an excuse for sub-Christian living and for our failures, complaining, “We have no power because God didn’t give us Spirit baptism, and we can’t cross that river because we haven’t had Spirit baptism, and we couldn’t resist the devil when he came to us because we hadn’t had Spirit baptism.”
Pathetic excuses! I don’t believe that a single Christian has a right to argue in that way. I believe that you can climb any mountain, you can bear any load, you can endure any pain, you can overcome any temptation, and you bear any pressure through him who gives you strength. Wherever God places us, in need or in plenty, well fed or hungry, in prison or in liberty we can do all things through him who gives us the spirit of power. We can never blame our lack of resources for our failure to do what is God’s will for his church. God gives every Christian power.
3. GOD GIVES US A SPIRIT OF LOVE.
There are few problems in any congregation or in any home that can’t be overcome by more loving lives, and more loveliness in Christians. And God has made provision for this by giving his own love to us, giving it excessively and quite prodigally. Paul tells the Christians in Rome that God sheds his love abroad in our hearts. The picture is like your being caught while climbing Plunlumon by a sudden torrential downpour and you get soaked, but you are dripping and laughing as you finally get back to the car. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples. Before this time they were still doubting and locking the doors whenever they met because they were afraid that what had happened to Jesus would also happen to them. “I am going to give you the Holy Spirit,” Jesus promised them “and you will have power,” and they did, and they had great authority to preach in Jerusalem to the people who had killed Christ. But more than power was theirs. There was love. A great spirit of love came upon them so that they shared all they had with other Christians, and supported them and made sure that no one was in any need. They voluntarily did this. But they could do it because God had poured his love upon them.
The great thing that apostle John tells us about God that he is love, a person to whom we can relate as the most super father you could ever hope for. He is not simply an influence or power like nuclear fusion or electricity. Such things are unaffectionate like all the New Age gods. God is not logical deduction, nor an intricate mega-computer, nor a philosophical necessity. Those concepts have no love. He is different in his being from the vast universe he made and fundamentally he has a heart and life and personality by which he extends himself in love to the people he’s redeemed.
God’s love is his essence and being. This is the core of God. Right in the depths of his being this is what he is and yet he is not niggardly and selfish in showing it. He extends himself in blessing and kindness and good will to those he has made. You consider the whole implication of the incarnation. God is the one who in extraordinary love determines to take the form of a servant. God in love with us looks not upon his own things but upon our things. God is love through and through and through. You go into God and he is love; and you go in and in and he is love; and you go in and in and in and he is love; and you go in and in and in and in, and he is love; and you go in and in and in and in and in, and he is pure love.
God is love in all that he does. His love is never contradicted by anything he does or did. There is no dark background in God. He has no past: he is not recovering from anything. Love is what he is in the depths of his being. Love is what he is through and through. Love is what he has always been and what he will be eternally. His love never grows cold. His love never waxes or wanes. Love is what he is consistently, and this is what he gives to us. His very own love! Imagine going through life with God’s love at the centre of your being.
What tremendous comfort it is as we face for ourselves the calamities and tragedies of this life, to know that we are not simply little creatures on a tiny planet in an insignificant galaxy the product of the chance evolutionary survival of the fittest beings over billions of years, but rather we sit here now inestimably precious to Almighty God. This God who created this universe loves me. He has a heart, and he is in love with the world, and he gave himself for me – this great Mathematician, this incomparable Physicist, this tremendous Engineer, this Thinker with his awe-inspiring creativity and instinct – he has a heart and he loves me. And he loves us illimitably; there is no measure to its height and length and depth and breadth. If all the sky were parchment, and all the ocean ink there would not be enough room to write all the love of God. God could say
How much do I love you? I’ll tell you no lie
How deep is the ocean? How high is the sky?
How many times in a day do I think of you?
How many roses are sprinkled with dew?
How far did I travel to be where you are?
How far is the journey from here to a star?
I’ll never lose you, I tell you no lie.
How deep is the ocean? How high is the sky?
Doesn’t an awareness of his love transform every agony we meet, and comfort every sorrow we experience? It is such a God who exists with such a profound commitment to men and women. He came from heaven to be where we are. He gave his Son to bear his justice that we might be forgiven, and he did it because he loved us. We are not insignificant. We are not lonely beings trapped in an impersonal cosmos aching for some contact with extra-terrestrials to offset our alone-ness in the universe. We are not buried in the darkness of a vortex of irrationality and despair. Our lives have been caught up in the benign and loving purposes of Almighty God. That love, God’s love, he gives to every one of his people.
4. GOD GIVES US A SPIRIT OF SELF-DISCIPLINE.
Again this word is found only here in the New Testament. In such Greek writers as Plutarch and Xenophon it is used to describe the change that occurs when a wild horse is tamed – curbing a skittish horse. It means something as broad as a wise head, level-headedness, practical sagacity, self-control. How important it is especially when you are tempted to shout out “Don’t panic! Don’t panic!” How can a man be an example to others and lead others when he can’t control himself? It is not enough to have power is it? Think of a piston engine driving a machine on and on but it has no brake, no control handle. Help! Power must have self-control. Love also is such a dangerous force without self-discipline. A man will leave his wife and children and run off with a much younger woman who is also married to someone else because they are utterly infatuated with one another. How we all need self-discipline, along with our love and power. What a mighty trio! Self-discipline means that we know when we have watched enough TV, and read enough escapist literature, and spent long enough in reading the daily paper, and talked enough about ourselves to other people, and know when we have drunk enough and eaten enough, and spent enough money, and are growingly content with what we have. Self-discipline is a very helpful and utterly essential grace.
So these three graces are what becoming a Christian must result in in every new believer. That is the kind of fruit that gives credibility to someone professing to know God. You have no choice in this matter in determining the kind of Christian character you are going to choose for yourself. This is not an option. Not pick’n’mix. You cannot choose two out of the three. They are like siamese triplets – if such unfortunate creatures exist! God gives us grace. God gives everyone who receives Jesus Christ into his life the right to be called children of God. And then he gives these three graces, and they are the family likeness, not timidity or cowardice, but rather a life powerfully serving God and becoming more like him, full of love and characterized by level-headedness and self-control. Don’t you think that this has a ring of truth and reality about it? If God were at work putting your life together, maturing you in graciousness and wisdom then wouldn’t this be the sort of life you would expect God to make? Many people sitting around you tonight live exactly this kind of life. They have been changed by God and you can be changed by him too. I would guess there are many good reasons why a change like this would be very helpful to you for the rest of your life, and for all who get to know you.
29th November 2015 GEOFF THOMAS