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Worship Theme: Use God’s Words to Testify to His Power

Sermon Theme: Fan into Flame the Gift of God

When the apostle Paul wrote this letter to his co-worker Timothy, he knew that death was near. What parting words would he leave with Timothy? Let’s find the answer in 2 Timothy 1:3-10:Fan into flame the gift of God.” June 19, 2022.

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If you were lying on your deathbed, what message would you like to leave with friends and relatives? If you were about to breath your last, would you pull yourself up on one elbow, point to a loved one or friend and say, “Remember all the good times we had together” or “Now behave yourself!” or “Guard my investments”? I imagine that there have been people who left this world with a message similar to one of those. Unfortunately, words like that have no lasting value and are easily forgotten. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could leave your friends and relatives with a message that would last, better yet, that would last for them and put them in touch with forever?

When the apostle Paul wrote this letter to his co-worker Timothy, he knew that death was near. A number of times in his career he had been arrested and imprisoned just because he was preaching about Jesus. But this time he was not getting out or getting away. “The time has come for my departure ... I have finished the race” (2 Timothy 4:6-7). What parting words would he leave with Timothy? What could Paul say to bolster and encourage Pastor Timothy who was carrying on God’s work in the Ephesus area? Let’s find the answer as we explore today’s second reading: “Fan into flame the gift of God”

By looking back

There’s a statement in our back-to-the-basics-of-the-Bible adult instruction notebook that is designed to engender thought and discussion. “A good education will help a child more than anything else.” Many agree. With a good education a young person has a chance to get ahead in this world. But from God’s point of view, the best thing we can do for children is tell them about Jesus. That’s the only thing which will give them life beyond this life. Single folks might be thinking, “That’s got nothing to do with me. I don’t have kids.” It is true that parents have the primary responsibility to nurture the trust in Jesus implanted in the hearts of their children at baptism. But whether you are single or married, whether you have children or not, you have a significant role to play as a part of this spiritual family known as Grace Church. By your prayers, by your support of our Sunday School program, by volunteering time to help teens connect with each other, by your offerings, a portion of which supports full-time Christian education for our youth, you are fanning into flame the gift of God implanted in our Grace young people.

Fan into flame the gift of God. Wait a minute! What exactly is that? What is the gift of God the apostle is talking about? God gives many gifts to his people. I’ll bet you can rattle them off: talents, the ability to reason and think, daily nourishment, sunshine, rain, answers to prayer. Is Paul talking about stuff like that? Let’s scroll down a few verses. God has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Your parents were in the arch of the living room beaming from ear to ear, watching as you spy a big, red-and-green striped box with a Christmas bow under the tree and your name on it. What were you thinking? Your special someone steps to the side to reveal a line-up of birthday gifts on the kitchen counter, especially that smaller one in the middle with the expensive store-wrapped paper and the emblem of an exclusive jewelry store. What are you thinking in that moment? God himself, the only God there is, the God who is all-powerful, all-wise, all-everywhere, is standing in front of us, not with a sledge hammer to smash in our skull so full of sinful sludge swimming around in there, not with fire from his nostrils to torch us for “Me first” thinking but with the most beautifully wrapped package, covering over all our sins with Jesus’ blood, which guarantees a close relationship with him, and the faith to believe it’s true. That gift of God, that spiritual package, comes – Did you catch it? – not because of anything we have done but because of [God’s] own purpose and grace. What did you do to turn God’s frown because of your sin into God’s smile of acceptance? Nothing! What did you do to change the deserved verdict of “Guilty!” into a verdict of “Not guilty!”? Nothing! So, when Paul writes, Fan into flame the gift of God” he is saying, “Strengthen your hold on the forever-connection you have with God, which is the opposite of what you deserve, but which is yours because of Jesus.”

To help Timothy do that, Paul told him to look back. “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also”. Can you see it? There’s Grandma Lois holding little Timmy on her lap and singing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” And there’s Eunice, Timothy’s mom, reading him a Bible story at bedtime. Did they pray before each meal that God would grace their table with his presence? Did they model life with God? You bet! Paul wrote, “From infancy you have known the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Timothy’s dad isn’t mentioned. We don’t know if his father had died or was out of the picture. But Timothy did have a spiritual father. Both of the letters in Scripture written by the apostle Paul to Timothy began, “To Timothy my true son in the faith ... my dear son” (1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 2:2). What a precious gift! When Timothy looked back, he realized, “God has given me a spiritual family who has fanned into the flame the gift of God!”

Nearly every day God places before us opportunities to let others know that Jesus is this world’s only hope. It may be your co-worker who would like to know how you were able to cope with COVID symptoms and especially COVID fears. It may be a neighbor who just lost her job. It may be a friend who is burdened by guilt from past indiscretion. Those are open doors to proclaim God’s greatest gift, Jesus Christ, and fan into flame the gift of God. Then, when you least expect it, that person will look back and send you a text, “Thanks for fanning into flame the gift of God in my heart!”

 By looking around

Are there times when you feel all alone? There are some who seem to have lots of friends, who look like the life of the party, who on the surface have a happy marriage, but inside they feel like they are on an island, left out, all alone.

Timothy had accompanied the apostle Paul on two missionary journeys. They had worked and worshiped together, preached and prayed together, been in jail and in joy together. How many times do you think Paul went for a walk with Timothy to offer a word of encouragement? Paul wrote, “Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.” What a close bond they had! But this connection with Paul was going to end. With Paul on his way to the gallows, where would Timothy find such a close connection? Would he be left alone? Hardly! Paul urged, “Timothy, look around! You have fellow believers in your congregation in Ephesus. You have co-workers like Aquila and Priscilla. Encouragement from Christians around you acts like lighter fluid on charcoal embers to fan into flame the gift of God in you.”

Got relatives nearby? Some do; some don’t. But we do have a spiritual kinship with the fellow believers in our congregation and church body. Look around. This is your spiritual family. When we commune together, we are stating, “These are my spiritual brothers and sisters.” Come to Bible classes, and enjoy the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love! Say, “Yes!” to participating in a small group which we’ll launch this September. As we study, grow, and encourage one another, Christians around us are fanning into flame the gift of God in our hearts and we in theirs.

By looking ahead

People shift opinions. What we used to call weird is normal. Downtown changes. What used to be vacant lots and rat-infested warehouses are now new buildings and more and more people. What will the future hold? The same question was being asked seventy years ago as this neighborhood began to change. It’s not hard to think of obstacles. Neighbors may think we are religious nuts just because we go to church every weekend. Friends and relatives may pressure us with teachings that do not match all of the Bible. What will future hold?

Timothy had plenty of challenges ahead which would cause his knees to rattle and tempt him to hide in his house. Ever since emperor Nero had taken over in Rome, the heat was on for Christians. Paul himself was writing this letter from prison in Rome with the ax not far from his neck. Would persecution reach Timothy in the Ephesus area? Yes! In the meantime, Timothy was butting heads with false teachers. It seemed like for every soul gained, they stole two. Add to that his relative youth. He was in his early thirties and most preachers of his day didn’t even get to second the motion till forty much less gain any respect. Would he give up, give in? Paul wrote, “You can grow in courage by looking ahead. Do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God … For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. Timothy, you can stand before the high and mighty and before the down and out because Christ Jesus has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. I want you to continue proclaiming who Jesus is and what he did because he’s the reason you and all those who believe what you say will end up heaven. So, fan into flame the gift of God by looking forward to what God has in store for you.”

Anxious about being a twenty-first century timid Timothy? Are you wondering what the future will hold? God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power. The same God who holds the future in his hands is the one who has guaranteed life and immorality, living forever, because Jesus lived and died and lives again for us. Look ahead, and you won’t be ashamed to testify about our Lord.

Not everyone will have this opportunity, but if it happens to you, imagine rolling on your side, propping yourself on an elbow, and leaving your loved ones with a final word. What will you say? How about, “Look back at what Jesus has done for you, look around at your fellow Christians who share your story and have supported you, and look ahead to glory in order to fan into flame the gift of God”? You’ll be glad you said that to them, and they will, too. Amen.

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