Fan Into Flame the Gift Which Is In You

Our text today comes from II Timothy 1:6-12. These words were spoken to Timothy, who was soon to be St. Paul’s successor, from a dungeon in Rome. It was Paul’s last letter. Soon he would die as a martyr as Emperor Nero continued to slaughter the Christians.

While the letter is written specifically to Timothy, it is divine counsel for all Christians in every age and time. But note, the letter is written to those who confess Christ as Savior and Lord. It would make little sense to any person who was not a Christian whether it is today or anytime.

Let’s take just two verses from our text: 6 and 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. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self discipline.”

What is the gift of God which is in you?

God has given us many gifts but the one spoken in this text is the gift of God which is in you. While Timothy’s mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois taught him the story of Jesus, it was the Holy Spirit who worked through their teaching. As a result, Timothy personally knew Christ as the Savior who came to this world and died for him. Paul tells Timothy, “He is in you.”

In Romans 10:17, Paul writes, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

It is important to stop here and emphasize that faith is a gift from God. Not all who hear the Gospel are Christians. It is safe to say that many who sit in our churches on Sunday know the Gospel intellectually but have never received Christ. Notice what Paul says to Timothy: “The gift . . . in you.” Bringing Christ into our hearts is the work of the Holy Spirit. No preacher, no matter how gifted he might be as a theologian or speaker, can create faith. The Holy Spirit alone can do that. However, it is also necessary for us to remember that he does not force Christ upon us. We are free to reject him, and, sad to say, many do.

God’s gift of faith to Timothy and all Christ’s servants includes many gifts. Notice what Paul says:

1. Faith will take away your timidity and give you a spirit of power.

When something is sin, according to the Scriptures, we will be given the power to speak against it. What a word that is for Timothy and the Church in any age!

Timid preachers in the pulpit and timid laity in the pews have watched God’s Word be adjusted to make it less offensive to the prevailing culture of our society. What fools we are, thinking that a more liberal presentation of the Scriptures will attract an unbelieving world when right before our eyes we see mainline Protestantism in decline and Evangelical churches growing! Case in point is the blessing of same-sex marriages and universalism.

2. A spirit of love.

Timothy, you will have many days when you will be angry with people who refuse to advance God’s Word as the only solution to our many problems Ð be they domestic, ecclesiastic, or political. However, your ministry must be done in love.

We need to remember, in modern times as well, that God is our Father, and he will deal firmly with his children, but always in love. If they will repent and come to him, he will forgive them. We should remember that an angry spirit can be as detrimental to the witness’ efforts as an amended gospel.

3. Self-discipline. Later on in the book, Paul writes, “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

Our lack of patience and temper flares are symptoms of our fallen nature. Here God working through His Word will give us the gift of self-control. This empowers us to continue working with others in the spirit of love.

The history books tell us about the anger that has been displayed by Christian people in a congregation. When the decision that is being made is not dealt with in Scripture and we have to depend on the wisdom of humans, there have been fights in the congregations which have separated families. Here the unbeliever is heard saying, “They talk about loving one another, but they do not practice what they preach.”

Here Paul says to Timothy and us, “fan into flame the gift of God which is in you.” Now he is talking to us about the Christian life that we are to live. It is a picture of how our faith in Christ can grow. Christianity is not simply receiving Christ and having the promise of eternal life; it is growing more Christ-like while we live out our days here on this earth.

John Stott has written, “Timothy’s mother and grandmother could teach him out of the Scripture and lead him towards conversion. Paul could actually bring him to Christ, befriend him, pray for him, write to him, train and exhort him. And God could give him a special gift at his ordination. But still Timothy must himself stir up the divine gift within him. He must add his own self-discipline to God’s gifts.

“We are no different. However much we may have received from God, either directly or indirectly through our parents, friends and teachers, we must apply ourselves in active self-discipline to cooperate with God’s grace, to keep fanning the inner fire into flame. Otherwise, we shall never be the men and women God wants us to be, or fulfill the ministry he has given us to exercise.”

This means Bible reading, worship, prayer, fellowship with Christians, learning better from others how to share the faith.

Becoming a sanctified, mature Christian is a life-long journey.

It does not save us but it is a fruit of our salvation.

Without sanctification, we can question our justification.

Suffering Is Part of the Christian Faith

Last Sunday, in our series on being faithful servants of Jesus Christ, Paul told us not to be ashamed of the Gospel. He writes, “I am not ashamed of the gospel (of Jesus Christ), because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew and then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16).

Today the Bible talks to us about suffering for the gospel. Paul writes, “Join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy life.”

Society has been very successful in making some tasks in life much easier than they were a few years ago. Doing laundry is a good example. My wife’s inability to walk because of a stroke has sent me to the laundry room. It is a beautiful room with two beautiful machines: a washer and a dryer.

Things were much different when I was a kid. My mother set aside most of Monday to do the washing. All she had in our basement were two wash tubs, a scrub board, and a wringer. I often turned the wringer for her. After washing the clothes, they had to be hung on the clothes line outdoors. That chore wasn’t too bad on a nice warm day, but on those cold February days, as she hung those wet clothes on the line, her fingers would turn purple. What a happy day it was when we bought her first Kenmore washing machine from Sears and Roebuck!

People now days also want an easy Christianity, free from suffering. Consequently, they look around for a church that is up-beat and puts no emphasis on Jesus’ words to “Take up your cross and follow me.”

However, a Christianity that has been worked over by humans Ð adding and subtracting to please the happy-go-lucky crowd Ð will not serve us in our hour of need. We cannot simplify our Christian faith in order to make it more appealing to our fallen world. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Suffering is at the heart of the faith. Do you believe that? Let’s see what the Bible says.

We begin with Jesus. “He came to his own, and his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). Jesus was rejected by his hometown friends. In Luke 4:16-30, Jesus went to the synagogue to worship on the Sabbath. As he read from Isaiah 61:1-2, he announced that this prophecy had now been fulfilled in their hearing. Jesus was telling his friends, with whom he had often visited in Joseph’s carpenter shop, that He was the Messiah. The Bible says the people were furious and drove him out of town.

When a person is rejected by old friends because of their Christian faith, suffering is involved.

But more suffering was to come. Jesus chose twelve disciples. He taught them for three years that he was the Son of God and would have to die for the sins of the world. Then came that night in the Upper Room when he instituted the Lord’s Supper and announced to the disciples that his time had now come to be crucified. Couldn’t he count on his disciples to be faithful in this difficult hour? Apparently not. Listen to what happened in Pilate’s courtyard.

“Then one of the Twelve Ð the one called Judas Iscariot Ð went to the chief priests and asked, ÔWhat are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?’ So they counted out thirty silver coins for him. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over” (Matthew 26:14-16).

Jesus knew that Peter, the most vocal disciple, would weaken in the final hour. “Now Peter was sitting in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. ÔYou also were with Jesus of Galilee,’ she said. But he denied it before them all. ÔI don’t know what you are talking about,’ he said” (Matthew 26:69-70).

“About an hour later another asserted, ÔCertainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.’ Peter replied, ÔMan, I don’t know what you are talking about!’ Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. . . And he went outside and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:59-62).

I wonder which was worse Ð Jesus’ physical suffering at the cross or the emotional suffering of watching some of his closest friends turn their backs on him, just when he needed them most.

During the disciples’ three-year training period with Jesus, He had been very straight forward in telling them they would also experience suffering when sharing the Gospel. Paul describes his own suffering in his New Testament letters. In II Timothy, he is sitting in a dungeon awaiting his execution. In Athens, Paul did not experience physical suffering, however his reception was pretty cool. The Bible reports, “A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, ÔWhat is this babbler trying to say?’ . . . When they heard about the resurrection from the dead, some of them sneered . . .” (Acts 17:18, 32).

Paul suffered spiritually to watch these intelligent people reject Christ.

In today’s text, Paul is at the end of his life. He says to Timothy, “This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s Word is not chained.” The Roman Emperor could imprison Paul, but he could not imprison the message of the gospel, which Paul was preaching.

And now it was Timothy’s turn to suffer. And if he, like Paul, was not ashamed of the Gospel, it would be no easier for him.

Think of it! Because of the suffering of thousands for the Gospel, we today can know Christ and enjoy all the wonders he gives us. Now it is our turn to give our all for the Savior, and that will call for suffering on our part. Our day will not take us to dungeons, as St. Paul experienced. However, to be a faithful servant of the Lord in any age will bring hard times both spiritually and emotionally.

That might cause you to wonder why you do not also experience this type of suffering. How disturbing is it to seldom hear of unbelievers being converted? Does sadness not fill our hearts when the worship center is half full on a Sunday morning? While it is true that church attendance does not save us, if we really love the Lord, wouldn’t we want to be in his house with fellow believers?

The sneers of the intelligentsia in Athens were heart-breaking to St. Paul. Is it not also true that leaders with an agnostic spirit are teaching our youth in today’s institutions of higher learning and writing their columns for our daily newspapers?

When we take God’s Word seriously and apply these truths to our day, I believe we will find plenty that will make us experience spiritual suffering.

Christ brings us peace, joy, mercy, forgiveness, and many other blessings. Think about it. Does he not also cause us to suffer for his sake?

Ashamed of Christ

Ashamed of Christ?

A teenager came to his father and asked if he could accept a summer job in a lumber camp cutting down tall trees. He told his dad that the pay was good, and he could build his body strength in preparation for his senior year on the football team.

His father was not very excited about the job that would take his son away from the family for the summer months. The crowd of men at the camp were a rough crowd, and he did not feel it would be a good environment. Dad spoke from experience. The summer he had been at the camp, some of the men belittled him when he read his Bible before going to sleep.

However, the final decision was the son’s, and he chose to accept the job offer. When he returned, the father asked about his summer and if they had belittled him because he was a Christian.

“No,” the son replied. “I remembered what you told me about being ridiculed when they saw you reading your Bible. I joined them in their lifestyle and never let them know all summer that I was a Christian.”

Was he ashamed of Jesus or just being smart considering where he was living? How many of us can point to times when it was beneficial to go incognito rather than reveal our faith in Christ as Savior and Lord of our lives?

St. Paul wrote to Timothy and Christians of all ages: “Do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner” (vs. 8). “That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (vs. 12).

Christians have been plagued with being ashamed of Christ in every age for sundry reasons. Christians living in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia realized that confessing Christ as their Savior made them political enemies of the state, which could subject them to life in the concentration camp or death. So the temptation to be ashamed of Jesus in order to escape persecution was always present.

John Stott, a well-known preacher in England, writes, “The notion that Christian service is hard work is so unpopular in some happy-go-lucky Christian circles today that I feel the need to point out that to remain silent, when a strong testimony for Christ would bring exclusion from certain social groups, is common.”

And yet to be ashamed of Christ is serious, for Jesus himself has said, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). Our Lord knew that being ashamed of him was one of Satan’s weapons in causing us to deny Him by word or to silence our trust in Him.

What is there about Christ that causes people who belong to the church in our communities not to talk to anyone about the difference Christ makes in their lives? Do we believe our faith might be a reflection on our intelligence. Might people think less of us because we are gullible enough to take some of Jesus’ basic teachings literally? Many people can accept Jesus as a religious leader and believe his ethics should be taught to make this a better world. Practicing them makes for a better world. But when we teach the basics of his doctrinal teachings, which are the core of the faith, they are unacceptable and quite offensive.

We just celebrated Christmas a few weeks ago. The biblical teaching for the birth of Christ tells us that God has broken into human history and become man. That man, Jesus, was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary. Listen to the words spoken by the angel to Joseph, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20).

For the non-Christian, this Christmas story is only a beautiful myth to be preserved. But in real life, they ask you, as a Christian, “Do you believe, in this enlightened age, that Jesus is God?” Are you ashamed to say, “Yes, I believe that Jesus is God. He came to this world and was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” The human mind cannot conceive of such a teaching to be literally true. For the non-Christian to accept this dogma would be an insult to their intelligence.

To confess Jesus as God in the presence of non-Christian people might be offensive, so the polite thing for the Christian in these circumstances is to minimize the divinity of Christ and make Him the “sweet little Jesus boy they laid in a manger.” This is to be ashamed. According to Scripture it is sin that Jesus takes seriously.

Let me give you a personal illustration. It was Easter Sunday and in my sermon I proclaimed with all of the power in me that Christ had been raised. During the following week I visited with a man who had been in the congregation that Sunday. He asked, “In confidence, you don’t believe that He was raised, do you?” There was the temptation to evade the question, but God gave me the grace to say with all my heart, “Jesus is my risen Lord.” All he did was shake his head and say, “I can’t believe it, but I imagine in this free country a person has the right to believe what he wants, no matter how irrational it is.”

Once, in a social gathering of neighbors, some ladies gathered in a local cafŽ for coffee. When the conversation turned to religion, one lady asked, “Do you believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven? My son married a Moslem. Can’t she be saved by being a faithful member of her religion?”

It was a difficult question to answer without offending the mother-in-law. One lady responded, “Well, you know me. I could not remain quiet. As kindly as I could, I told the group that, as a Christian, I could not deny what our faith teaches Ð Jesus is the way to heaven.”

This is a very difficult question, and we need to talk about it more. God loves the world, and he will guide us in our discussions. It is not being ashamed of Christ to be temporarily silent waiting for the proper time to discuss the gospel with this person. But it is sin to let one opportunity after another go by without sharing Jesus with another simply because we are concerned how they will judge us.

How many years have you lived next to that neighbor who is an unbeliever by his own words and you have never talked to him about Christ? Is it being ashamed and fearing that he will think less of you if you clearly tell him what Christ means to you? He is not ashamed when he says to you, “I can’t understand how you get up early in the morning when the temperature is zero and go to church.”

It might be painful for us to realize how often we are ashamed of Jesus who is not ashamed of us.

I learned a great lesson from Dr. James Kennedy, who is a master in teaching people how to share their faith, when he emphasized that we need to earn the right to share the faith. Those well-meaning people who ask freely, and in wrong places, “Are you saved?” often do more harm than good. It is not being ashamed of Christ just to be silent and wait for the proper time to engage the person in discussing this personal question, but it is a sin to let an opportunity to point a person to Jesus go by simply because we are ashamed.

Think through your week and see how often you have been ashamed to point people to your Savior.

Shake and Shine

I want to talk about you today. If you’ve tasted the grace of God and walked in the light of Jesus Christ, you have a significant calling from God according to what Jesus tells us in this passage today. There is an emphasis on that word you. “You are . . .” Jesus said.

According to the earlier part of this chapter, Jesus is talking to his disciples. They were made up of fishermen, perhaps a couple of farmers, a tax collector Ð ordinary folks who have tasted his grace in their lives.

Notice also the tense of the verb he uses. You are. It is the present tense. Not you were or you will be, but you are.

So what are we? He uses a couple pictures to describe us as Christ’s followers.

First, he uses this picture. He said, “You are the salt of the earth.” It is important for us to understand that back then salt was viewed as a valuable commodity, governments actually paid soldiers in salt. Thus the sayings we know today, “He’s worth his salt” or “She’s the salt of the earth.”

Salt was considered valuable because, first, it brings out the taste in food. It really livens up a piece of steak or a bowl of soup. Anyone who has had to go on a no-salt diet knows exactly what I am talking about. Life without salt can be pretty bland.

Salt is also used as a preservative. In the ancient world, with no refrigeration, salt was used to get the fish to market and keep it from spoiling. It was the preservative that was most necessary to keep food from rotting.

There are at least a couple things Jesus is trying to help us see as he uses these images to describe his followers.

Number one, he seems to be saying that we are valuable in this world. We have an ability to make life better for others and impact people’s lives for the kingdom of God. However, being salt also implies that it is necessary for us to maintain contact with people. We are not to live in isolation from the world like monks in a monastery. Instead, we are to get out of the salt shaker and bring Jesus’ joy, values, compassion, and character into our world Ð at work, at home, at school, in our community Ð wherever we’re around other people. We are called to be people who can make life better for those who cross our paths.

I came across this story awhile ago about a person who was in school preparing to go to China as a missionary. She writes, “The very first day of class, the teacher entered the room and without saying a word walked down every row of students. Finally, still without saying a word, she walked out of the room again. Then a few moments later she came back and addressed the class. ÔDid you notice anything special about me?’ she asked them. Nobody could think of anything in particular.

“Finally one student raised her hand. ÔI noticed that you had on a very lovely perfume,’ she said. The class chuckled. But the teacher said, ÔThat was exactly the point. You see, it will be a long time before any of you will be able to speak Chinese well enough to share the Gospel with anyone in China. But even before you are able to do that, you can minister the sweet fragrance of Christ to these people by the quality of your life. It is your lifestyle, lived out among the Chinese people, that will minister Christ Jesus to them long before you are able to say one word about having a relationship with Jesus Christ.'”

Dear brothers and sisters, it’s like that with us, as well. We may not be eloquent speakers. We minister to the unbelievers we encounter first of all by the Christ-likeness of our daily lives, in our talk, and in our actions.

Sheldon Vanauken (a friend of C.S. Lewis) wrote a statement in his book, Severe Mercy, that has always stayed with me; “The best argument for Christianity is Christians Ð their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the greatest argument against Christianity is Christians who are somber and joyless. When Christians are self-righteous, smug, and complacent, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.”

When I think of salt-of-the-earth Christ-followers, I think of a friend of mine who is a joyful encourager of people. He is interested in everybody he runs into. When he shows up, everything in the room becomes enlivened. He just brings that with him as he displays his I-care-about-you attitude to everybody around him.

I think of a lady and her congregation in downtown St. Paul Ð a little Lutheran church in a very poor neighborhood with lots of crime and lots of problems. Instead of just huddling amongst themselves and saying, Oh, woe are we; we’re shrinking, they decided to open the doors of that building and launch a program to feed those who are homeless and living in poverty. They go out into the streets and give blankets to people on the street corners. They’re making life taste better to the people they encounter.

In an even bigger way, I think of William Wilberforce back in England in the days of slavery. He was a voice speaking out against slavery; and he did it on the basis of the Gospel. He knew slavery was against the values of the Kingdom of God, so he spoke out and did everything in his power to have slavery abolished. One day, lo and behold, it really happened.

We are to maintain contact with our world. That is how we are salt.

Finally then, in talking about us being salt, Jesus mentions that we always need to maintain our distinctiveness as Christ-followers. He tells us to be careful and do not lose our saltiness. Keep out the impure, twisted values of this world. Be different. But no matter what, keep our distinctiveness as his followers.

Then Jesus went on to use another image. He said, “You are the light of the world.” Jesus once stated that he was the Light of the world. But now he is telling us, his followers, to reflect the light he’s shined on us. The light of his love, his grace, and his truth is meant to be shared, not kept under a bushel basket or hidden.

Think of what great things light provides for us. It brings illumination into our world making it possible for us to see clearly. Sometimes we talk about seeing the light. We say to people, “Let me shed some light on that subject for you,” so people can understand the truth. It is a great thing to have light to keep us from tripping in the darkness at night so that we can see the way and get to where we need to be safely.

Jesus said, Nobody who has a lamp in their house, lights it up, and then covers it. He lets everybody see the light and be helped by it. A city on a hill at night can really be a beautiful thing for people to see. It is a hopeful sign as they make their way to that particular city. These lights aren’t hidden; they’re meant to shine, to assist people.

Jesus went on to say, In the same way then, like a city on a hill or a light on a lamp stand, don’t hide the light I’ve given you. Don’t keep it to yourself. Everybody needs this light, and God wants everyone to have it.

So how does one shine for Christ? He goes on to say, “Let them see your good works.” The word used there is kalos. In the Greek it means actions, deeds. What are these good works?

Before this section of Scripture, Jesus had been talking about the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who show mercy. Blessed are those who are poor in spirit for they shall see the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who are peacemakers. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” Ð for right things in the world. As we show mercy, as we work toward the world being right, as we make peace with people in the relationships around us, as we give ourselves away, we are letting our light shine.

I think of a couple in my congregation who winter each year in the South. However, instead of going down simply to play golf, read books, or travel around, they work as volunteers in communities with great needs. They love the work. They are making a difference in other people’s lives, and they’re doing it in the name of Jesus Christ. It is their commitment to Christ that drives them.

I ran into a friend of mine at a nursing home across the river from where I serve. His mother once lived there, but passed away years ago. When I asked him what he was doing there, he said, “I’m retired now, and I come over here a couple times a week. I read to these people and pray with them. I’ve gotten to know them.” He does this out of his commitment to Christ. He’s letting his light shine.

I think of another retired couple who have gotten heavily involved in helping poverty-stricken children get a proper diet, an education, and a relationship with Jesus Christ through an organization called Compassion. They travel all over the country and the globe getting people to adopt these kids.

I think of a crew from our church that shows up every month to serve at the Loaves and Fishes Soup Line here in the cities.

There are all sorts of ways to show your light, whether you’re at work, at home, or in your neighborhood. All the while, these folks are speaking up for Jesus. That’s what Jesus had in mind Ð to bring a clear, uncompromising message of the Gospel with their actions as they point to Jesus and what he has done for all of us.

Lorne Sanny, a former president of the Navigators, used to also work with the Billy Graham Association. He said, “Years ago, when I was with the Billy Graham team at a crusade, a businessman came forward and received Christ as his Savior. The next Sunday he went to a church he sometimes attended. After the service he walked up to one of the leading elders in this church and said, ÔI was at the Billy Graham meeting last week out at the ballpark. I went forward and I received Christ.’

“ÔI heard about that,’ the elder replied, ÔI’m so delighted.’

“Then the businessman said, ÔBill, how long have you and I been associated in business?’

“ÔAbout twenty-three years, I think,’ the elder answered.

“ÔHave you known Christ as your Savior all that time?’ the businessman asked.

“ÔYes, I have,’ he answered.

“ÔWell, I don’t remember you ever speaking to me about Christ during those years.’ That businessman went on to say, ÔI’ve thought highly of you. In fact, I’ve thought so highly of you that I felt if anyone could be as fine a man as you and not be a Christian, then I didn’t need to be a Christian either.'”

Speak up! Show up! Speak up for Christ! That’s letting your light shine.

Why? As Jesus said, “So that others will see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” They’ll see, and they’ll give glory Ð not to you Ð but to your Father in heaven. God getting the glory from other people. Other people turning into God- praisers and worshipers, trusting Christ for their salvation. That, my dear friends, is our ultimate purpose as followers of Jesus Christ Ð giving God glory. God gets the glory.

If you’ve tasted his grace, then you have a significant calling upon your life to be a positive, God-pleasing influencer in the lives of the people God has placed around you, so that they may see your good works, hear the Good News, and give glory to your Father in heaven.

On June 5, 1910, American short-story writer, O. Henry, spoke his last words. And this is what he said, “Turn up the lights. I don’t want to go home in the dark.” As lights in the world, our mission is to make sure no one ever does. Let us commit ourselves to letting our light shine before others so that our heavenly Father gets the glory.