Fan the Flame (with French Interpretation)

Institut Biblique de Genève | Geneva, Switzerland

Thank you so much for the invitation to be with you. It’s a tremendous honor to be a part of this speaking team, and our focus is going to be on 2 Timothy 1:1–12, and so I ask you to turn there if you have a Bible and we will look at it together.

Fanning the Flame of God’s Gift

Let me begin by trying to state in my own words what the main point of this unit is, and when I say main point, I don’t mean necessarily the most important thing, but that which everything else is supporting. So here I think the main point is this: “Timothy, keep on feeding the white-hot flame of God’s gift, and that gift is the unashamed courage to speak openly of Christ and to suffer for the gospel. So feed that flame, Timothy.” Everything else in this paragraph is supporting that exhortation.

Now here’s the outline that we’re going to follow. There’s going to be three of them. First, where does that main point come from? Second, what does Paul do to feed that flame? Thirdly, what kinds of things does he say as a means to feed that flame?

The Nature of the Gift

First, where do I get that main point? Focus with me on 2 Timothy 1:6–8:

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, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God,

My way of summing that up is to say, “Timothy, feed the white-hot flame.” And I’m getting it from the first part of 2 Timothy 1:6. He says, “I remind you to fan into flame . . .” So the imagery here in the text is one of a flame. Those aren’t my words. Those are the words of the apostle Paul, and all I’m doing is adding a few words to bring out the meaning. When I call it a “white-hot flame,” I’m simply emphasizing that a flame is really hot. We use the word hot in different ways. You might touch someone with a fever and say, “You are hot,” but if you put your finger on their forehead, it doesn’t burn your finger. But if you put your finger in a flame, your finger gets burned. So the picture here is to fan the flame. This is really hot.

Paul speaks elsewhere in Romans 12:11 like this: “Do not be slothful in zeal, but boil in spirit.” That’s the literal translation — boiling in the spirit. So I think when he says “fan into flame,” or, “feed the flame,” he really means that this is intense. And when I say, “Keep on feeding that flame, Timothy,” I’m simply drawing out the present tense of the verb. The problem is not that Timothy has fallen into a temporary moment of lukewarmness and he needs just a singular remedy for that moment. That’s not the situation. The situation is this is a lifelong battle to keep your flame alive.

So how is this flame supposed to keep on burning? And to know that, we need to know what the flame is. I’ve said, “Keep the gift of God flaming.” Let’s look at 2 Timothy 1:6 again:

For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God.

So a gift has been given to him, and he is supposed to fan that gift into flame. The gift includes fire that Timothy is supposed to keep on feeding with some kind of fuel. He is saying, “Fan into flame this gift that God has given you.” If you don’t fan this gift into flame, it will go out.

Now lest you think that therefore the gift of God is held hostage by Timothy’s weakness, you have to remember something. The feeding of the flame is just as much a gift as the flame itself. So the gift of flame was given and then he’s commanded to feed the flame. What we’re going to see is that even that feeding of the flame is a gift of grace. I’m not saying that just because it’s theologically appropriate, but because it’s actually in the text, which we’ll see in a moment.

The Flame and the Fan Are From God

But first, what is the gift that has been given that needs to be inflamed? Let’s start in the middle of verse 2 Timothy 1:6:

. . . the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us (that’s the gift) a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

So God gave you a gift not of fear, but of courage. And to be sure it’s a powerful courage, and it’s a loving courage, and it’s a self-controlled courage, but the note falls on courage. That’s why 2 Timothy 1:8 continues and says, “Don’t be ashamed.” That’s what courage is. Courage is the ability not to be ashamed in a moment of difficulty. He continues:

Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel . . .

So he is saying, “Don’t be ashamed of speaking openly (that’s testimony), and don’t be ashamed of my shameful circumstances as I sit in prison, and be willing to suffer for the gospel.” He says, “Share in suffering for the gospel,” which is at the end of verse 8. He is saying, “Embrace this, Timothy. You will have to suffer for the gospel. That’s part of your courage.” And then notice the last phrase in 2 Timothy 1:8, which says, “By the power of God.” When all your feeding and fanning is done, it will have been God who did it. That’s where I got the idea just a moment ago that it’s God who gives the feeding as well as the gift that’s being fed. So by the power of God, you are to feed this flame of courage and this willingness to suffer.

We’ve seen this before in the Book of Acts. For example, Acts 4:31 says:

They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

So the Holy Spirit was the key to boldness and fearlessness. That’s what Paul means in 2 Timothy 1:8 when he says, “By the power of God, feed this flame of courage.”

Now, how did Timothy get this gift of courage in the first place? Again, in 2 Timothy 1:6, Paul says that he got it through the laying on of his hands.” Let’s read that:

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 . . .

A Spirit of Courage

Now, what was that referring to? I think it’s 1 Timothy 4:14, which says:

Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.

Here’s the way I picture that situation. Timothy is being set apart for the gospel ministry. It’s kind of like an ordination service, and the elders are gathered around, including Paul, and they’re laying their hands on Timothy and they’re praying for him. And while they’re praying, the Holy Spirit gives Paul a word of prophecy to speak over Timothy. And that word must have gone something like this: “Timothy, in answer to our prayers, God is going to give you a flaming, unashamed courage for Christ beyond anything you’ve known before.” And at that moment, I think Timothy wept.

Now why do I think that? I think of it because of 2 Timothy 1:4. Paul says, “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy.” Now, most commentators say these are tears of farewell when they parted. I don’t think anybody knows for sure, but in this context, I can’t think why you would assume that when the main thing going on here is a very moving moment of consecration. The God of the universe has just spoken, through the most authoritative person on the planet, a word of prophecy about you. And we know from reading the pastorals that Timothy was, by nature, a very timid young man. And against all of his natural inclinations, God Almighty says, “I’m giving you an extraordinary spirit of courage.”

Now, Paul is saying, “Feed the flame of that gift of courage.” Now, if you were to ask me right now, “What is your hope for this conference?” I was praying for you this morning about two hours ago, and I simply asked the Lord, “Would you just do this for these men and women? Would you let my words or the words of one of the other speakers be such a prophetic word over their lives, so that they may have come in here feeling very discouraged and very timid and very unable to speak with power, and they will have heard not a man, but the very word of God saying, ‘I’m going to give you a fresh courage for my name.’” So I pray that that’s what God is going to do in this conference for us.

Let me sum up the main point one more time. Paul is saying, “Timothy, keep feeding the white-hot flame of God’s gift, namely, the unashamed courage to speak openly of Christ and to suffer for his name.” That’s the main point as I see it in this paragraph. And just for the help of my translator, I’m skipping point number two, going over to page nine here.

How to Fan the Flame

Here we are at the second point. How does Paul intend for this feeding of the flame to happen? If you’re going to feed your flame of God’s courage in your life, how does it happen? Now let’s go back again to the end of 2 Timothy 1:8. Do you see that phrase that says “by the power of God”? You will feed the flame of God’s gift by the power of God. And the question is, how does a human being feed his own God-given gift by God’s power? This is the paradox and the mystery of the Christian life over and over again. We are told to do things that only God can do. So it says, “You feed the flame of God’s gift.” If you ask, “How can I do that?” God says, “By my power.” And I want to say, “Well, I don’t control your power, so how can I do it by your power? If it’s your power, you have to do it.”

I find myself asking that kind of question over and over again in the Bible. So here’s my answer. It comes from seeing the connection between 2 Timothy 2:1 and 2 Timothy 1:2. Focus with me on 2 Timothy 2:1, and then we’ll go to 2 Timothy 1:2. It says:

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1).

You’re asking, “How do you bring the power of God to bear on this flame?” And Paul’s answer is, “Be strengthened — that is, appropriate power — by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Or you could say, “Feed the flame of your courage with the grace of God.” Now that’s not an answer, but it does move us toward an answer. So if 2 Timothy 1:8 says, “Feed the flame by my power,” 2 Timothy 2:1 says, “You’ll be strengthened with this power through the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” It’s interesting.

I’ll just stick in a little parentheses here. My wife and I were reading in Hebrews 13 this morning, and I was just so encouraged because this point was reaffirmed in Hebrews 13:9, where it says, “It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.” It was as though the Lord were just saying to me, “Yes, you’re on the right track. Keep doing that.” Okay, you close that parentheses.

Now to answer the question, “How do I appropriate grace which empowers, which inflames?” let’s go to 2 Timothy 1:2, which says:

To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

So 2 Timothy 2:1 said, “Be strengthened by grace.” And with that strength, you’ll be able to fan into flame the gift of your courage.

Grace to You

Now, Paul says, at the very beginning of the letter, “Grace to you.” Now, how are we supposed to hear the beginning of Paul’s letters when they all start with “grace to you”? I think to feel the force of what he’s saying, we need to notice something. You may have seen it, I don’t know. Let me point something out. Every one of Paul’s 13 letters begins with some form of the phrase “grace to you,” and every one of the letters ends with some form of the phrase “grace be with you.” Now, why is that? Why do the letters begin, “Grace to you,” and the letters end, “Grace be with you”? To me, it’s astonishing that there is no exception to this in all 13 letters of Paul.

Here’s my sense of what is happening. I think that Paul begins his letters with “grace to you” because he believes that his words are mediating grace as they’re being read. And then at the end of the letters, as the church service is concluding and the letter has been read, the people are about to go out into the world now and live their Christian lives, and at the end of every letter he says, “Grace be with you.” In other words, “The grace that has just come to you through my apostolic word will now be with you as you go live in the power of that word.”

So if you ask me, “How do I feed the white-hot flame of God’s gift of courage to me?” I’m going to answer you, “Feed it with the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8). And then if you ask me, “Well, how do you appropriate the power of God to feed this flame of courage?” I’m going to answer from 2 Timothy 2:1, “I’m going to be strengthened and be empowered by grace.” And then if you ask me, “Well, how do you experience the grace of God in your life for power?” I’m going to go back to 2 Timothy 1:2, and I’m going to argue, “When the apostolic inspired word comes to you, grace comes to you in that word.”

Remember how Paul described his own inspiration and authority in 1 Corinthians 2:12–13. It goes something like this:

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit . . .

Now, those are extraordinary words. In fact, Paul says that here in this text, that’s the way he speaks, with the will of God, not just the will of man. Look at 2 Timothy 1:1. He says:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus . . .

So grace comes to you when you read this because Paul is not speaking on his own authority. He’s speaking because he has been chosen by God to be an authorized spokesman for the risen Christ, and his authority isn’t randomly focused, it has a focus.

An Essential Means of Grace

Second Timothy 1:1 says:

. . . the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus.

That’s my focus. Paul is saying, “You have that life, Timothy, and you have power in that life. God has given you a gift of unashamed courage by the laying on of hands. And I am speaking to you with a focus on that life, that grace, and that power. So take my words and make them the fuel of your flame.”

Let me just rehearse this point. How do you feed that flame, the flame of courage and willingness to suffer? The end of 2 Timothy 1:8 answers, “By the power of God.” If you ask, “Where do I get that power? How do I appropriate that power?” 2 Timothy 2:1 says, “You are empowered by grace.” And if you ask, “How is that grace mediated to me? How does it come to me every day?” 2 Timothy 1:2 says, “Grace comes to you as I speak. As you are reading this letter, grace is coming to you.” I wonder if that’s the way you feed your flame. Did you do that this morning? Or was breakfast more important to you than fanning the flame of your courage?

Many of you are young enough to be my sons and daughters. My oldest son is 39 years old. So raise your hand if you’re under 39. I just wanted to see. That’s a lot of sons and daughters in this room. Now I’ve lived longer than you have, and I can not only say from the Bible, but from experience, feeding the flame of the zeal and courage of your life has to be done daily. Your own sin and the devil are trying to constantly put it out. I wrote a whole book about how to fight for joy. Every day you get up and this flame is starting to go out. What do you do?

I have so many people come to me and they say, “I don’t have zeal anymore.” And I say, “Are you feeding it every day? And are you crying out for the power of God to be manifest through the word of God in your life? Or have you just settled in with your discouragement?” So remember, it’s a present tense verb. Keep on feeding this flame. And the most practical thing we’ve seen so far is that the grace for the power is mediated through the divine word. I don’t know any other way to feed the flame of my passion for Jesus than to keep my face in this book every day, to have extended reading and extended meditation and continual memorization. The power and the grace of God move in sync with the word.

An Apostle’s Encouragement

Now let’s turn to the last point. How did Paul speak so as to feed Timothy’s flame? So we’re bringing more precision to the question, how do you feed the flame? Our answer so far has been by power, by grace, and by the word. And now the question is, well, what word? What does Paul say in these 12 verses that would fan the flame of courage in a timid Timothy? There are three things that he says that I’m going to point out, and I believe Paul chose to say these things precisely because they would feed the flame of courage. He knew the kind of person he was talking to, a naturally timid person, not a naturally courageous person. I’m going to deal with these three things in the order from the most intimate to the most eternal.

So let’s start with 2 Timothy 1:3–5, which says:

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors . . .

Let me pause there and just say a word. I don’t know how it is in French, but in English, the word “ancestors” is a little vague and it’s really “from my parents.” The reason that’s going to be relevant is because he’s going to talk about Timothy’s mother and his grandmother. So let’s start over:

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.

Now here’s my paraphrase of what I think Paul is saying in order to fan the flame of Timothy’s courage. Focus on that word “sincere,” when he says, “your sincere faith.” Paul is saying, “I believe with all my heart, Timothy, your faith is real. Even though your faith is rooted in your mother’s faith and your grandmother’s faith, it is authentically yours. You are your own man. You’re not a mama’s boy or a grandmama’s boy.” I really believe this is important here. You remember about Timothy’s father. He was not a believer. He was a Greek, and his mother and his grandmother knew the true faith.

You may have grown up in a home like that. It might’ve been your mother who really knew the faith and your father didn’t have any time for that at all. What does that do to a young man? Where did Timothy’s timidity come from? Paul understood this young man. He’s saying, “Don’t feel less authentic because the lineage of your faith goes back to your mother and your grandmother.” In 2 Timothy 1:3, Paul says, “My service to God, Timothy, also is rooted in my parents. I too have been deeply shaped by my own lineage. Don’t feel bad about the family influence that you have, even if it comes through your mother and your grandmother. Glory in this faith. Be thankful that you had this mother and this grandmother. And if you are wounded, if you are sorrowful, or if you are timid because your father was so absent spiritually, remember something.”

Now, what did Paul say that would compensate for a spiritually distant father? He said, “I am your father.” I don’t think he’s calling Timothy his beloved child for sentimental reasons, and I don’t think he’s calling him his beloved child just because he was the product of Paul’s ministry. Paul is saying, “I’m calling you my beloved child right now because I am being, at this moment, a father to you. Grace is coming to you by what I am saying, by the inspiration of God, and grace is coming to you through me, an older man, speaking to you as a younger man, and I’m calling you my son. And I want you to know something, Timothy. I love you. I’m remembering your tears. It will make me happy when we are reunited.”

Father Hunger

Do you young men feel the force of this? Imagine a man that you admire with all your heart, the apostle Paul, taking the time to write you a letter, and saying, “It will complete my joy when I’m back together with you,” reminding you not to be discouraged that you got your faith from your mother and your grandmother, and saying with all of his heart, “I, the apostle Paul, the great man, love you.”

Doug Wilson just published a book called Father Hunger. He believes in culture, there is a deep hunger for fatherhood, for being fathered. And that’s true. For a generation or two, fathers haven’t known what it is to be a father. Most of the young people in America grew up in homes where their father was not a strong, spiritual influence. If there was any spiritual influence, it would come from mothers, usually. And so we have a father-starved generation.

One of the roles you young men need to fill in your church is to be a father for your church. I can’t tell you how many young men have come up to me in conferences and said, “You’re the father I never had.” I don’t even know these men. That’s how hungry young men are to have an older, strong, wise man in their life.

So I don’t think these verses are sentimental. I think they are very, very deep. They are Paul’s way of mediating the precious fatherhood of God to this young man for the sake of his courage. One of the marks of manhood that will be needed in France and Switzerland and everywhere in Europe is this manly, humble, sacrificial courage. There is a feminine form of that courage, and there’s a masculine form of that courage. Men and women are not the same, and both in Christ are supposed to be courageous and willing to suffer for the King. So that’s the first of the three ways that Paul speaks for the courage of Timothy.

An Apostle’s Example

Now, as you would expect, number two, Paul offers himself as an example of courage. Let’s read 2 Timothy 1:11–12:

I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.

Paul is saying, “Timothy, when you consider your suffering and your timidity, look at me and consider my life. My life has not been easy, and I have not been ashamed of the gospel, and it has cost me dearly. I am writing to you from prison, Timothy. I don’t want you to be ashamed of my imprisonment. Your father is in prison. Don’t be ashamed of it. Share in this courage. And here’s the reason you can be unashamed: I have been entrusted with a gospel and the one who gave it to me will guard it until the last day. There will be great power and great grace and jealousy for the gospel to keep me. God is going to fight for us, Timothy. He’s not going to leave us to ourselves. He’s going to make sure that we have the power for courage. He’s going to make sure that we have the grace for the power, and he’s going to make sure that we have the word for the grace and the power.”

That’s how he guards the deposit that he’s given us. God will get you up in the morning and God will incline your heart to his testimonies. So Paul is saying, “Don’t be ashamed, Timothy. He’s going to be there for you and fight for you. He will guard you and he will guard your deposit.”

An Apostle’s Exhilaration

That brings us now to our third and the last thing that Paul says for the sake of Timothy’s courage. We’re ending where we began. Remember we said at the beginning that Paul is calling Timothy to do something. He is saying, “You, Timothy, feed this flame of courage. You must do this or it will go out.” And yet we saw that the way he does it is by the power and the grace of God. So the courage was a gift in the first place, and then the means by which we sustained the gift is also a gift. So the last thing he’s going to say to Timothy, the deepest and strongest thing, is here in 2 Timothy 1:9–10. He’s going to underline how gracious and free the gift of grace and the power for this courage is. So let’s read it:

[He] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel . . .

Paul is saying, “Timothy, listen carefully. The grace of God that awakened you at the beginning of your life, the grace that brought you to faith, the grace that gave you the gift of courage through the laying on in my hands, that grace was given to you in Christ Jesus before the ages began. Your name was written from the foundation of the world in the book of the life of the Lamb that was slain. God planned your salvation, God planned creation, God planned the fall, God planned the redemption, and God planned the cross.”

Now the question is, why? Why did God give grace to Timothy before the world was formed? Timothy was made the beneficiary of undeserved grace before the creation of the universe. Why does Paul say that to this young man at this point? The answer is so that he would not think that his appropriation of this grace and his appropriation of this power was dependent on his own works. Paul says so clearly here, “It’s not because of your works. It’s not because of your legalistic works, and it’s not because of your works done in righteousness. It is because of God’s own purpose and grace.” So note the contrast is not between your works and your faith; the contrast is between your works and your faith and your everything, and on the other side it’s God’s purpose and grace before the world existed.

So Paul is saying, “When Christ died for you, Timothy, he became your punishment and he became your perfection. When he rose again, he abolished death and opened everlasting life for you, and he manifested the gospel and the purpose of the gospel from before creation. And the purpose of that gospel was to bring grace into your life, to sovereignly move you to hear the word of God daily, to experience grace flowing into your life daily, and thus to appropriate the power of God daily so that you would be feeding the flame of your courage daily. So don’t be afraid, Timothy. I am sure that he will do for you what he has done for me.” And here, I’ll quote the end of the book. It says, “He will rescue you, Timothy, from every evil deed and bring you safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Timothy 4:18).