Fan your gift into flame

II Timothy 1:6,7

“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.”       (verse 6)

This was Paul’s last letter before his execution. As a ‘first generation’ believer and apostle, he was ‘handing on the baton’ to a younger man, so that the work of spreading the gospel and building Christians up in their faith could continue. Since at that time the emperor Nero was persecuting Christians intensively, the survival of Christianity must have seemed to be hanging in the balance.

For this reason…

So Timothy’s task was a daunting one; humanly speaking, it was impossible. To encourage him, Paul reminded him of his family heritage: the faith of his Jewish mother and grandmother (verse 5). Nobody is isolated from the past: however we came to faith, we are connected to and indebted to past generations who have believed, and then lived out and passed on their faith (Psalm 78:1-7), often under very difficult circumstances.

The gift of God

We don’t know the exact nature of Timothy’s gift; we can only assume that it was something appropriate to his ministry of leadership, teaching and evangelism. He had received it when he was commissioned for his ministry – when Paul (and some church elders) ‘laid hands on him’ (verse 6; I Timothy 4:14). This could have been when he first left his home town of Lystra to travel with Paul and Silas on their missionary journey (Acts 16:1-3).

But whatever (and whenever) it was, it had been given to him for a purpose. King Solomon was given the gift of wisdom – and he did not keep it to himself but made use of it, not only in giving legal decisions, but also in ‘scientific’ investigation and education (I Kings 4:29-34). He found – and used – many outlets for his gift, to the blessing not only of his own people, but also many ‘outsiders’.

Stoking the fire

Jesus spoke of a universal principle: “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you – and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” (Mark 4:24,25) Just as our physical abilities increase with exercise and atrophy if disused, so do our spiritual gifts. The more we use what God has given us, the more opportunities He is likely to send us to use it again. The gift is a supernatural ability, from God; but the decision to use it rests with us. Whatever our gift is, we should be using it as much as possible and to the best of our (God-given) ability (Romans 12:6-8; I Peter 4:10,11).

The Spirit of power (verse 7)

The Holy Spirit is often associated with fire (e.g. Matthew 3:11; Acts 2:3,4). Fire is something that easily gets out of control. ‘Fanning the flames’, if overdone, can generate more than we can handle! This is one reason why many are wary of spiritual gifts: they have seen them misused. Hence Paul’s injunction to the Thessalonians: “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.” (I Thessalonians 5:19)

The problem is that when God acts with power, we are not by any means in control!
“Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before You!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil…” (Isaiah 64:1,2)
We would all like to see God ‘in action’ – but the reality is somewhat scary. We have to trust that He knows what He is doing. His Spirit is more than just a Spirit of power: He is a Spirit also “of love and self-discipline” (verse 7). This is the spirit in which gifts should be exercised: for the benefit of others, not to inflate our own egos or to gain a reputation for ourselves.

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