Fan the Flames
2 Timothy 1:1-14
If there is one thing that is certain about life, it would probably be that life is never certain. Who knows what tomorrow may bring? Interest rates are rising, hurricanes are blowing, areas are being flooded, droughted, melting, and burnt. The war in Ukraine is far from being settled and Russia wants to threaten the world with nuclear weapons. (Just when you thought duck and cover belonged to a bygone age) Besides all this life always has its tensions and stresses.
May I ask, what is a Christian supposed to do? How does God want us to live within this hectic and uncertain existence? Well for the good it may do us, times were not much better for Paul or Timothy. Perhaps in many ways life for the apostle Paul was even more uncertain. The Apostle Paul writes,
“As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
The context of the letter would place Paul in the moments of his final imprisonment in Rome and his subsequent execution. Tradition tells us that Paul was beheaded sometime around 67 AD. In 64 AD there was a great fire in Rome. It is said that half the city’s population was made homeless, and the blaze destroyed 70 per cent of the buildings. The legend tells of the emperor Nero playing his fiddle while Rome burned. This is probably more of a metaphor than history, but there is historic truth that Nero needed someone to blame for the fire and the growing number of Christians became a target. The Roman historian Tacitus, described the times this way:
“Therefore, to stop the rumor [that he had set Rome on fire], he [Emperor Nero] falsely charged with guilt, and punished with the most fearful tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were [generally] hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius, but the pernicious superstition – repressed for a time, broke out yet again, not only through Judea, – where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, whither all things horrible and disgraceful flow from all quarters, as to a common receptacle, and where they are encouraged. Accordingly, first those were arrested who confessed they were Christians; next on their information, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city, as of “hating the human race.”
Therefore, Christians were killed by wild animals in the arena, nailed to crosses, set on fire, or just plain executed. In the later part of these times, the Apostle Peter was hung upside down on a cross outside of Rome and the Apostle Paul, who as a Roman citizen, was more humanely beheaded with a sword. The church lost two of its most venerated and greatest leaders. How do you replace Peter and Paul?
To truly understand the depth of this loss it is worthwhile to think about the relationship between Paul and Timothy. 2 Timothy reflects the heartfelt intentions and feelings that Paul had for him. He writes:
2 To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul spoke kindly of Timothy as his child whom he had nurtured in the Christian faith, and he saw in him a trusted colleague in ministry. Timothy shared in much of Paul’s Second Missionary Journey, and when Paul was unable to be present somewhere, Timothy was one of those he would send in his place. After several years of joint ministry, they parted but remained the closest of colleagues and friends. Paul recalls this parting that came with tears and affirms his hope that Timothy might be able to come to see him.
For times such as those what could Paul say to one of his dearest friends. Timothy…remember to duck and cover…Timothy…run for the hills and hide…Timothy take up your sword and fight. If you or I were in a world where the spiritual leaders of our faith were being imprisoned and put to death, we might think running and hiding would be good advice.
In a region of modern-day Turkey, in Cappadocia, people had tunneled into the soft volcanic rock to create underground cities. Some of these complexes were capable of housing even 20,000 people. People used these tunnels to escape persecution or being captured by other enemies. Hiding was an option, but no, instead Paul writes: Timothy… “6 …rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands…” “8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God,…”
Paul would call Timothy to remember his call to ministry and to live out his faith all the more. From the beginning of the church those called have been ordained and commissioned by the laying on of hands. Even today this is the church’s blessing to each of its ministers. Paul reminds Timothy to remember this consecration and to continue in the work that God has called him to.
The idea of rekindling the gift of God, carries with it the image of fanning the embers of a fire. If you have ever been camping or spent some time around a campfire you can understand this metaphor. After a fire burns for awhile the flames tend to die down. The exposed wood for the fire becomes more charred and the oxygen within the fire a bit more restricted. The fire burns more at a simmer, and is working itself towards burning out, but if you take a stick and shove the wood closer together and blow air back into the fire, the fire will jump back to life. The flames will shoot up into the air and suddenly the fire is giving off a lot more light and heat once again. The fire will go from sort of a dormant ineffective state to once again being brilliant and warm. So, Paul tells Timothy, in times like these live with a renewed love for God and zeal of Spirit. Don’t be intimidated by either the embarrassment of Jesus death on a cross as a criminal or of the scandal of Paul’s imprisonment. Rather join in the suffering for the gospel and rely on the power of God. Paul would easily pit what God will do against the power of Rome any day.
Therefore Paul is seen as wanting Timothy to stay in the game. Instead of retreating to the rear, instead of hiding in the ground, instead of cowering in some dark corner, Paul calls upon Timothy to let his faith shine all the more. He wants Timothy to live out his calling and ministry regardless of the circumstances. He wants Timothy to continue being the witness God has called him to be. Why, because the spirit of God is not a spirit of cowardice, but a spirit of power, love, and self discipline. Why, Because God’s power has “saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.” Why, because this grace (the undeserved and unyielding love of God) “has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Why, because God will prove these truths as valid again and again if we hold faithfully to them. “…he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13 Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” Paul points Timothy to the Power of God, the Love of God, and the Self Discipline of continuing in the knowledge and truth of God! Paul is confident and he knows that if his time is ending then Timothy’s work is beginning. Just as God had been with Paul, so God will be with Timothy. God will continue to work out the divine plan in the lives of those who come after.
In this world, troubles have always been a prevailing reality. HH How shall we face the world of which we are a part? Like Timothy we need to rekindle our faith in God once more. How has God blessed and directed you?
Our task is not to be timid within our faith, but to live according to the power, love, and self discipline of the Spirit of God. These attributes of the Spirit that Paul lifts up lead us away from surrender, complacency, and compromise with the world. If we realize the power of God within our lives, then we also realize that God will continue to accomplish his will through each of our lives. We do not walk through this life alone nor are just about what we want but rather we are called and enabled to accomplish God’s will within our living. That is not accomplished through our own power but by the power of God.
If we realize the love of God within our lives, then we live with an eternal understanding that in the living and even dying we do there is life. Christ has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light. This the world does not have and can not give, but alone through the love of God is life found and shared with all who seek.
Therefore live and teach one another according to this truth. Be disciplined in not forsaking the gospel massage of the ages that gives us life. Even though, the world around us is going another direction, it is God who has called us, loved us and enables us to live by His Spirit. We are more than victors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37) Shall we fear the world or the circumstances of this life?
Today is world communion Sunday. This is a day when through the sacrament of communion, Christians are invited to stand in witness to the unity that is ours in Christ. Today consider God’s great power and love that for you. How God has brought you out of the darkness and into His great presence, and then holding fast to these truths, fan the flames faith once more until they burst in brilliance into the world in which you live and declare the great truth of how God has given us eternal life in Christ. Let us live boldly according to the message we have been given. Amen.