Paul and Timothy were great friends. Paul converted Timothy, counted him the son he never had (1 Timothy 1:2), and watched him follow in his footsteps to become a preacher and missionary. He said of his young pupil, “I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state” (Philippians 2:20). There was no one he counted on more.
Nonetheless, Paul noticed Timothy slipping in his walk with God. In his second letter to the young preacher, Paul shows concern about Timothy’s inactivity and lukewarm attitude. He felt Timothy needed a shot in the arm from the Great Physician, a pep talk from his spiritual coach, a vitamin supplement from the divine apothecary, or, more appropriately, a “father-son” talk. Paul offers the following advice.
STIR UP. Paul told Timothy, “I remind you to stir up the gift of God”(2 Timothy 1:6). The word translated “stir up”(anazopureo) is only found here in the New Testament. It means “rekindle, inflame one’s mind, strength, zeal.” The fires of Timothy’s enthusiasm for preaching were flickering. Paul tells him, “Get the poker out. Stir the fire. Add some wood. Make it burn brightly again.”
Timothy had not deliberately left God. Paul does not say, “Stop throwing water on your fire” (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:19). For fire to go out does not require water. Simply leave it alone. Timothy was not misusing his talents for sinful purposes. Some waste substance with riotous living, but by the Far Country’s swine trough is not the only place abilities are squandered. They can be wasted in church pews.
The heavenly fire that burns within us may wane (cf. Jeremiah 20:9). As Bezaleel, Aholiab, and the women who helped them with the tabernacle, we must stir our hearts to do more for God (Exodus 35:26; cf. 1 Peter 4:10).
CALL UP. Paul tells Timothy to remember. He wants him to consider the lessons he had heard Paul preach and recall the discussions they had. Often it is not some fact we do not know that we need to be faithful. Most know what needs to be done. We just need reminding. Paul told Timothy: “Remind them of these things” (2 Timothy 2:14). Peter said it was necessary as long as he lived “to stir you up by reminding you . . . Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease remembrance . . . Beloved, I now write to you this second(in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder)” (2 Peter 1:13, 15; 3:1). Jude said,“I want to remind you, though you once knew this” (1:5). Hebrews 10:32 says, “Recall the former days.” The Great Physician gave this prescription for a sick church:“Remember therefore from where you have fallen;repent and do the first works” (Revelation 2:5).
USE UP. Paul mentions the “gift” Timothy had been given. This refers to the miraculous gift of prophecy that aided his preaching since the New Testament was not yet written. Though we do not have miraculous gifts today (1 Corinthians 13:8–10), we possess natural gifts to use in God’s service (Romans 12:6–8). God’s question to us was His question to Moses: “What is that in your hand?” (Exodus 4:2). It is not necessary to sing with another’s voice or to preach with another’s power. Paul did not require Timothy to use gifts he did not have. Some muse, “If I were only as rich as so-and-so, I would give much. If I could only sing like her, how I would praise God!” Our duty is to serve with our hands, walk with our feet to help others, speak through our lips. If we are willing to use our gifts, we can do all God desires.
TOUGHEN UP. Timothy needed encouragement because he was in a hard situation. Christianity is never easy. Christ’s work has always been done amid struggle and conflict. Christians are sometimes scorned, hated, persecuted, imprisoned, and killed. Paul had preached in great cities, but his pulpit had at times been a whipping post and his auditorium a prison cell (2 Corinthians 11:23–33).
To make things worse, Timothy did not have a strong body. He had a stomach affliction (1 Timothy 5:23). Paul knew about pain. He has been thrust through with a thorn that no surgeon could remove (2 Corinthians 12:7). It jabbed him, but he to work (12:9–10).
Timothy had been discouraged. Think of the day the postman delivered this letter. Clovis Chappell imagines what happened next:
As he read it his thin, weak hands trembled. And his cheeks, usually pale, became flushed. And big tears ran down his face till he could hardly make out the words on the parchment:
“Dear Timothy: I have the sadness to inform you that all those in Asia have turned away from me. At present, I am in prison in Rome. Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world. I had a hearing before Caesar recently, but at the trial, no man stood with me. I was utterly alone. Come to me. Do your best to come before winter.”
And when Paul went to the block there were at least two friends with him. One was Luke; the other was Timothy.
Timothy did stir up, call up, use up, and toughen up. Paul could still write to him as he had written in earlier days: “He does the work of the Lord, as I also do” (1 Corinthians 16:10).