2 Timothy 1:7

Not Timid

This evening our text is from Paul’s second letter to Timothy, chapter 1, verse 7: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

Now, let’s get a couple of bits out of the way to start with. Firstly, is this spirit the Holy Spirit or Timothy’s natural spirit – the personality he was born with. There is some disagreement amongst the commentators about this, but the majority come down on the side of it being the Holy Spirit, pointing to the characteristics that Paul says it gives, and the way in which this links so well with other descriptions of the work of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, it’s worth noting that this is, “the Spirit God gave us” – this is a completed action in the past. As Christians we have all received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul uses the metaphor of fanning it into flame. We might also think of it as a gift, unwrapped and in daily use or left on a shelf somewhere gathering dust. Which ever it is, it is a gift we have been given, and so this evening I wanted to explore with you these three aspects of this gift, power, love and self-discipline.
So let’s begin with power.

It seems to me that we have an ambiguous relationship with power. Whenever I hear the word power, it feels like a negative word. What is it they say, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” There seems to be an implicit idea in my head that those with power are those who coerce, who dominate, who control. I think that this understanding of power is even seen in simple things like the love of the underdog that is often described as an English trait. In the run up to the recent world cup final, I’d say that the majority of people I spoke to had decided to support Croatia, largely because they were the underdog. France were the favourites, the powerful ones, so we’re going to support the ones without power, the weaker ones.

We even find this ambiguity in the Bible. How often are the powerful chastised by the Old Testament prophets, and even by Jesus, for their misuse of power, for the injustices perpetrated by them?

It seems to me that there is another aspect of power that gives us pause. As Spiderman discovered, “with great power comes great responsibility”. Are we sure that we want the responsibility that comes with power, or does the thought of that scare us a little bit?

So far, so gloomy. On the one hand power goes to our heads, puffs us up, induces pride, and on the other hand it puts us in the way of difficult decisions that we don’t really want to take, challenges us to step up to the plate, or puts in tough situations.

What are we to do? How are we to open ourselves up to this good gift that God wants to give us in a way that will be positive and avoid these traps?

Why don’t we look at some of the scriptures about the power that the Holy Spirit brings, and see what they say.

The first one we’re going to look at is in 2 Corinthians 2:9. Paul writes this, “God said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

Whose power is it? Christ’s power. Whose power is it not? Paul’s power. In fact, it is Paul’s weaknesses that show Christ’s power to be as glorious and powerful as it is. So Paul does not boast in his power, but in his weaknesses. Whatever spiritual gifts we may have, however God might be pleased to work through us powerfully, we are only channels. It is never our power. If we keep this reality front and central then it helps us to resist those temptations of pride and self regard. It would be as daft as a drain pipe feeling proud of the power of the flow of water through it in a downpour.

Now, hold on a minute I hear you cry. Or at least the observant amongst you. We were talking about the power of the Spirit and in that Corinthians passage Paul was talking about the power of Christ. Well, if we go to Luke 4:14 we read that,

“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.”

So I think I’d argue that the power of Jesus is the power of the Spirit. My understanding is that Jesus laid aside his heavenly power when he became a human being, and that he received power at his baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended on him, and that now the Father gives us that same Spirit that empowered Christ in his ministry, and so empowers us in ours.

But, what is this power for? What are we to do with it?

Perhaps our first clue is found in Luke 9, when Jesus sends out his disciples on a mission trip. We read, “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal those who were ill.

Jesus gave his followers power to heal and to free people from the oppression of evil spirits, as a sign of the values and freedom that are found in the kingdom of God. Following Pentecost, the power of the Holy Spirit also worked in some of the disciples to do these things, but not all of them. Others had other gifts the power was expressed through. What was common to all these expressions were three things: witness, hope and love.

At the end of his time on earth, after he was raised to life and before he returned to the Father, Jesus said this to his disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’”

The power of the Holy Spirit, whatever gifts it is expressed through, is the power to be witnesses of Jesus. To show and tell the good news of his Kingdom, that has begun, and will break through in all its glory in the fullness of time. We look forward to that time, and we look forward with hope. We don’t deny the darkness, or the pain of life, or the evil we see in the world, but still we hope, because we have the power of the Spirit to do so. As Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

The fundamental reason and core of that hope is the love of God, expressed so eloquently in Paul’s prayer for the Christians in Ephesus, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

The greatest aspect of the gift of the Holy Spirit of power in our lives is that it enables us to grasp love, and it is this core of love that, if we truly embrace it, allows us to receive this power humbly, and to use it well and to step up to the responsibility that comes with it, because we are driven forward by the compassion that it stirs up in us.

So, that’s power. And, finishing off with a nice link into the next subject on the list:

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

The Spirit God gave us … gives us love.

A man once came to Jesus and asked him what the greatest commandment was. Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’

I wonder how you’re doing with these two? If I were to ask you to give yourself marks out of 10 for loving God and loving others?

It’s a big ask, isn’t it. Especially when you see the mark scheme that Jesus uses. “Love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind. That’s the standard that Jesus sets – all of you, every single piece of your identity, who you are, focussed on loving God. Not 10% of you, or half of you, or an hour on a Sunday of you, but all of you, all of the time.

And “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Not love those who love you, or love your family, but love your random neighbour (and of course in the accompanying parable Jesus ups it even more – by the way your neighbour is the foreigner you can’t stand and don’t trust) And not just like, or do a good turn for occasionally, but love.

And what is love? Surely not the pitiful excuse for self-indulgent unfaithfulness that is the modern conception of romantic love. No this is self-sacrificial, considering others better than ourselves, promise keeping, cross shaped love.

How are those mental score sheets doing now? Mine look pretty poor to be honest. And that’s OK. Because God’s power is made perfect in weakness. It is only when I acknowledge that I have come to the end of my resources to love that I can open myself up again and further to the gift of love that the Spirit gives. We cannot love God and our neighbour in the way that we are commanded without the Holy Spirit’s gift of love. We love with God’s love, it’s the only love that’s big enough.

And how does the Holy Spirit give us this love? We’ve already touched on it, the Spirit gives us this love by enabling us to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.

Christ’s love is so wide that it encompasses every aspect of our lives, his arms are open wide on the cross, reaching to embrace us, our children, our families, our work, our enemies, our fears, our failures, our hopes, our dreams. The love of God is so wide that nothing escapes it.

Christ’s love is so long that it began before the beginning of time and will reach to beyond the end of time. Before we were born God knew us and loved us. Through our first death we will be held and loved in eternity. The love of God is so long that we cannot see the ends of it.

Christ’s love is so high that it overtops the mountains, the stars, the heights of worship and joy and ecstasy. It is there in the clouds of first love, wedding day, and new birth. The love of God is so high that we cannot get over it.

Christ’s love is so deep that it is bottomless. However low we are, however dragged down we are by circumstances – perhaps ill health, unemployment, or grief, we cannot get it out from under us. We are never alone, underneath are the everlasting arms. However dark the shameful secret or sin, it is never too deep for God’s love and forgiveness. God’s love is so deep that we cannot out dive it.

This is God’s love for us, a love that the Spirit gives us experience and knowledge of. And it is this love, as we receive it, that overflows in love of God and love of neighbour.

So that’s power and love. What’s next?

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

Now, it’s quite possible that if we’ve got some different translations in the room, that some of us don’t have self-discipline at the end of this verse. Some of might have “a good mind” or “a sound mind” or “self-control”. The reason for this is that this is the only time that the Greek word that is being translated appears in the New Testament – and it has a range of meanings in Greek literature. What they have in common is this idea of your head being screwed on straight, being level headed, being able to think clearly and make good decisions.

When I was reflecting on this, the phrase “power is nothing without control” kept coming back to me. I’m a bit of a Formula 1 fan, and I could bore you with lots of examples about the interaction of power and control, and how badly things can go wrong when the power being put out of the engine overcomes either the mechanical control of the suspension and tyres or the emotional or physical control of the driver. As I said, I could bore you with lots of examples, but I’m more self-controlled than that, so I won’t. I’ll restrict myself to three.

The first is the start of the race. Everybody drives round the track once, positions themselves in order on the starting grid. A set of lights light up one at a time. Suddenly the lights go out and the race starts. Any driver going before the lights go out receives a penalty. Any driver too slow to react or who loses control in the launch phase with too much wheel spin gets flooded in cars piling past. Power without control is nothing when it’s time to go.

The second example is just before the first corner. The drivers have all got going and now they have a decision to make. When are they going to brake? Too soon, and they’ll lose all that speed that they’ve built up, and get overtaken. Too late, and they won’t make the corner, will run wide, might even spin off and lose places. Power without control is nothing when it’s time to slow.

The third example is going into that first corner. What line to steer. Too tight and you lose speed and will be so slow on exit that you could get overtaken. Too wide, and another driver will slip up the inside. Decisions that all need to be taken in a split second with 20 other drivers all making similar decisions about which bit of tarmac they want to drive on next. Power without control is nothing when deciding what line to steer.

And so it is in our lives. These three things require self-discipline: go, stop, steer. Courage, restraint, wisdom.

Courage. When it is time to speak up, time to act, time to exercise the power that we have. When it is time to accept that responsibility to do something that comes from the power we have to do it. When it is time to love enough to challenge, with grace. When it is time to step out and to step up. At these times we need the self-discipline of courage.

Restraint. When it is time not to speak, time to wait, time to choose not to exercise power, perhaps because others need space to grow into. When it is time to love enough to absorb the hurt and pain of others and not to give it back, but to give it to God. When it is time to stop and be in the midst of urgent demands on us. At these times we need the self-discipline of restraint.

Wisdom. When it is time to decide if courage or restraint is needed. When it is time to decide the way to go. When it is time to decide the person to follow, or how to lead. At these times we need the self-discipline of wisdom.

And on the flip side, those who lack self-discipline with regard to restraint will run ahead of God. Those who lack self-discipline with regard to courage will lag behind. Those who lack self-discipline with regard to wisdom will wander off the path.

How’s the score card on this one? Mine’s pretty poor to be honest. And that’s OK. Because God’s power is made perfect in weakness. It is only when I acknowledge that I have come to the end of my resources to be self-disciplined that I can open myself up again and further to the gift of self-discipline that the Spirit gives, and so grow in courage, restraint, wisdom.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So, let’s not be timid tonight. Let’s come once again to the God who loves us, whose Son died for us, let’s approach the throne of grace with gratitude for the gift of the Holy Spirit that we have been given. Where we need power to witness, where we are lacking in hope, where we need a refreshing of experience of God’s love for us, where our self discipline has worn a bit thin, God is more than ready to forgive and to pour out, pressed down and running over – so much more ready to give than we are to receive. Come, thirsty, and drink.

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