Saturday, May 26, 2018

Fan into flame ( 2 Timothy 1:6-18)

Something has changed, between Paul’s first letter to Timothy and his second. It’s not the context Timothy is still is Ephesus where Paul had sent him to counter the false teaching there that was stopping the church fully participating in the mission of Jesus Christ.

Something has changed. Paul’s circumstances have changed, in first Timothy he was travelling and ministering in Macedonia and had left Timothy in Ephesus, now he is in chains and in prison in Rome.  A prisoner for the sake of the Gospel. But Paul’s passion for the gospel his passion for Jesus has not changed. He writes to Timothy again to encourage him to continue in his ministry and mission.

Something has changed. You get the sense that the change has come in Timothy’s life. He hasn’t lost his faith in Jesus, as we read on Mother’s day Paul knows the faith that he has received from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice is strong. But the spark has gone, his enthusiasm for ministry seems to have waned and if we were to use modern terms you could say that he finds himself burned out: The tank is empty. We all face it, it’s that challenging question “have you felt like giving up, recently?”

Maybe it was the constant battle with false teaching and having to explain the gospel of Christ and Christ crucified, not a popular message competing with  the supposed more spiritual teaching of the false teachers. I don’t know about you but sometimes it can sap ones enthusiasm for talking about our faith and about Jesus when other Christians seem to shoot us in the foot when they express their faith in ways that make us cringe and feel ashamed, they put the good news badly or the media picks up on the excesses of fringe elements or the seeming money hungry and our faith is judged by that. Even those who are praised for their good deeds are acknowledged as humanitarians and not people motivated by the love of Christ.

Maybe it was that things were difficult and hard. Paul was in prison, he wasn’t always the most popular of people and now Timothy’s mentor was spoken against and written off. The headway Timothy had made was lost, his relationship with Paul now seen as a liability not an advantage. It is easy to get despondent as we tackle one problem after another. I love Winston Churchill’s definition of success, that success consists of going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm”,  but you and I know that kind of enthusiasm is not easy to maintain and that success  not easy to achieve.

Maybe it was simply the demand and challenge of an on going consistent ministry. I got given a book as a thank you gift for hosting a seminar here at St Peter’s last Saturday, a book on preaching (text messages: preaching God's word in a smartphone world edited by John Tucker) and I opened it up to an article (by 'depleted no more by Philip Halstead) talking about burn out in preachers. I read  a sentence that talked of frantic schedules, unrealistic expectations and incessant demands causing stress and resulting in anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger depression, fear and alienation.” And a quote from, Andrew Pichard, who I know and respect as a preacher, who said “Preaching was often bad for my health. At the worst of times it became a robber. I allowed it to rob me of health, sleep, and sanity, and I allowed it to rob my family of a husband and a dad”. I know many of you who do things in the church feel that way, it can be a tough grind and a seemingly thankless task. I know it is easy to feel that way and Christian witness and showing Christian love can become one more thing on a never ending to do list in a busy and hectic life.

Something had changed, the zeal and passion of Timothy as a young man was now tempered and flagging. So Paul writes to encourage him to help him fan into flame the gift of God. To recapture the fire. Paul’s encouragement of Timothy is equally helpful for us as we face similar challenges on our road to maturity and ministry following Jesus Christ. For Paul the answer is found in our understanding of God and in the passage we are looking at today Paul encourages Timothy with three things that have not changed and will never change.

The first is to remind Timothy of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in his and our lives.

Paul commands Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of hands.” Some people have equated this with the ministry gift Paul had told Timothy not to neglect in 1 Timothy 4:14 as it to was imparted by the laying on of hands by the elders. But here Paul is very careful to talk of the gift of God and as he goes on to talk of what it does in a believers life in v7   he talks of God’ Spirit not giving ‘us’ a spirit of timidity but of Power and love and self-discipline. Paul is reminding Timothy to remember the abiding presence of God, by the Holy Spirit in his life. God dwells in us. While it may be easy to forget that and try and do things in our own strength or give in to natural timidity and reticence to be different from those around us, which is the impact of shame in a shame culture, Paul reminds Timothy of God’s Spirit with him, and with us.

A spirit that Paul says imparts three things.

 Power: Power is an attribute of God. God is able to do what he says he will. In Romans 8:11 Paul talks of the same power that raised Christ from the dead is in us and gives us new life. In Acts 1:8 Jesus last words to his disciples were to wait in Jerusalem till they received power and they would be his witnesses from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.  Of course at Pentecost we saw that become a reality, as he Spirit filled each believer gathered in the upper room and they began to praise God and Peter preached and three thousand believed in Jesus Christ. It is the spirit of God that enables and empowers us to live for and witness to Christ. Paul even calls Timothy to share his suffering for the gospel, and he is able to face that because of the power of the Holy Spirit. To the church in Philippi Paul in chains says facing hardship and prison “ I can do all thing in Christ who strengthens me.

 Love:  In the pastoral epistles love is usually connected with faith and is seen as the outward visible expression in horizontal relationships of the reality of that invisible relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We are not called to love out of our own selves but again it is the Spirit of god living in us that allows us to experience and now the love of Christ and enables us to serve others in a self-sacrificing way. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul speaks of God giving gifts to enable us to work for the common Good and in 1 Corinthians 13 says they are to be used in love. It is the grace of God and the presence of the spirit that enables us to love others. In Galatians 5:22 Paul says the fruit of the Holy Spirit and walking with the Spirit in our lives is love.

Self-Control:  The Spirit’s presence allows us to order of lives in tune with the gospel. We are no longer slaves to sin and death, the spirit is the friend who leads and guides us. Self control is what we need to keep the good spiritual disciplines which enable us to become more aware of the Spirit’s presence and aid  as Philip Towner says ‘it allows timothy the clarity of thought necessary to trust in the invisible God despite  the threats of very visible opponents”.

That same Gift of God is with us. Paul calls us as he did timothy to renew our dependence on the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God that dwells within us.

The second thing Paul does is he directs Timothy once again to remember Jesus and what he done for us. .

In a sermon to the dioceses of Bath and Wells  Justin Welby, the arch bishop of Canterbury was asked to address their new mission statement ‘evangelism and mission at the heart of everything. In it he said that was a noble ambition and vision, but that no amount of training for or talking about it was going to make it a reality, what was going to make people enthusiastic about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ was if they became captivated once again with Jesus Christ and his unconditional love for us. This is what Paul does with Timothy he reminds him of the Gospel of what Jesus has done for us.  In verses 9 and 10 we have this wonderful exposition of the gospel. It focuses on the grace of God shown to us in three ways.

Christ saved us, the grace of God is shown by his life and his death and resurrection that we have been put right with God. Our sins have been forgiven by Christ’s death on the cross and we are able to experience new and abundant life because of his death and resurrection. It is not because of who we are or what we have done, but it is because of Gods unconditional undeserved grace and love shown in Jesus Christ. We are loved and we have been longed for and sought and God has sent his son into this world to bring us out of darkness as it says in 1 pater 2 into his wonderful light.

Christ calls us to live a holy life, you and I have been invited to live a life in relationship with God as our loving father, a relationship with God that is holy, not out of some sense of unobtainable moral perfectionism but because, we show the love that we are shown by Christ, our lives reflect the one whom loves us. It is a holy life because it is lived in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. A life of meaning and purpose, of hope and transformation. Paul reinforces that in this passage in verse 11 and 12 where he speaks of his own sense of call and how it allows him to withstand the suffering he has to endure while not being ashamed of the gospel.

Thirdly, Jesus Christ has destroyed death and has bought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Paul is able to say we don’t have to fear or worry about suffering for the gospel, while it is very real and painful reality the ultimate reality is that Christ has conquered death and we have the assurance of abundant life with him despite the circumstances we face, and life with him on into eternity because it is lived with and in and through the eternal God.

When we become captivated again by Jesus and what he has done for us and we experience its reality in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit we fan into flame the gift of God within us and we are able to face suffering and hardship for the gospel because of Christ’s abiding presence.

Finally Paul begins to tell Timothy about the practical ways he can fan that flame into a fire again.

Note I said only starts because Paul through out the rest of his letter will encourage Timothy in his ministry again. Here it simply starts with focusing again on the pattern of sound teaching he has received. This is both the content of that teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, that is to be lived out by loving others and the communication of it to both study it and proclaim it.

One of the key ways that we are made aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives and that we can be captivated a fresh by Jesus is through good spiritual disciplines that focus on scripture and prayer.  It is the key way that the Holy Spirit is able to speak into our lives. As we read and reflect on the gospels that is how we again see and know and encounter Jesus our saviour and Lord. Timothy didn’t have them in written form rather he had the oral traditions that were passed on from Paul and the apostles, but by focusing on them and how they apply to our lives, sound teaching in the pastorals usually means the gospel worked out in action… faith and love in Jesus Christ.

It’s interesting here that Paul speaks of two groups of people as well. One were the people from the province of Asia, who were with him in Rome but deserted him and it seems that Phygelus and Hermogenes were of great disappointment to him. Ephesus of course is in the province of Asia so this may have impacted on Timothy. You can sense Paul’s disappointment and pain at this. Then Paul speaks of the household of Onesiphorus who is also from Ephesus and who has sort Paul out and been an encouragement and help to him. Part of the fanning into flame is being aware that Christian brothers and sisters will let us down at times, but also that part of the grace and love of God for us is to be found in the care and love and support of other Christians, part of God’s gift to encourage us and help that love of Christ swell up within us.  We need each other to rekindle the flame. Prayer encouragement support and simply sharing our hope and enthusiasm for Christ.
Something has changed, maybe you find yourself in Timothy’s place and the fire and passion has dwindled to an ember or you feel like there is just some charred wood left in the hearth where once there was a raging fire. Your tired, disheartened or simply feeling the affects of the hard slog of it all. But the logo of our Presbyterian church is the burning bush and it’s moto is ‘burning but not consumed’ So today  Hear Paul’s call to action to Timothy to ‘fan into flame the gift of God which is in you’. Reawaken and allow the holy Spirit to again fill you up and give you the power, love and self-control you need.  Become captivated again with Jesus Christ, Christs unconditional love for us, that you are loved by God. You know fanning a ember into flame again requires some work on our behalf and once again put into place those healthy practices that open us up to the oxygen of the spirit that allows our hearts to reignite with the love of Christ. As that fire begins to burn people will come to be warmed and illuminated by its glow. 

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