Chapel 10.09.2018 – Fear & the Assignment
Every year, in the Student Life department, we look for a verse that will capture the year, guide us in the year, a theme verse, that will have, and when they pick one it’s not haphazard; they want one that, they pray over this, they want one that will minister to us and so this year the verse is II Timothy 1:7.
And I would like to put it on the screen and also wanna read it to you. If you do have a Bible, I encourage you to open up your bibles up to II Timothy 1. The verse, you’ve heard it, it’s, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. What I’d like to do this morning is to just take some time to introduce the verse, explore it, meditate on it, begin living it. And it’s a real opportune time to think about this verse as here we are, we’re moving towards the middle of this semester, the pressure is mounting, assignments are building up, some of you are short of sleep, some of you are on the edge of getting sick, or you had been sick and you’re recovering. The challenge of college life is setting in for freshmen that, yes, it gets rigorous, deadlines loom, midterms, I guess they’ve started, right? Have they started? Kind of, yeah. But they’re coming, right? Midterms are coming, Jesus is coming. But midterms are probably coming. You’re preparing hopefully for both. The reality of living with your roommates, all the initial mystique is probably gone and you’re becoming known and the newness is wearing off and the reality is setting in of, oh, no, I have to live with them that kind of thing. So it’s easy to get overwhelmed and to get fearful maybe of our assignment. I was thinking back on my own student career, there were two times when I felt extremely fearful and stressed, I mean really stressed. One was when I was doing my defense for my PhD, that, as any faculty here know, is a stressful time when you’re going in to defend it. But I think what even tops that, I was a student at Oxford University in England and I was doing the BA/MA degree. It’s different from the United States. I was there for three years. And what was unique about Oxford is that the whole system is based on tutorials. So there are lectures in every subject and you can go to them but you don’t have to go to the lectures, believe it or not. But you have tutorials in every subject. So a class would literally be eight to 10 tutorials on your subject. And a tutorial would be something like this, you go to your tutor, his office or his house, and he said, here’s the question you’re gonna have to answer, and I want you to read these six or seven books, I want you to write an essay, read it to me next week, it’d be about a 10 page essay, and I’ll attack it and you’ll defend it. So a class consisted of about eight to 10 essays. And then at the end of the semester, you do maybe two or three of these at a time, and then at the end of the semester, you’d go home and they expected you at Christmas to be studying, preparing for exams that didn’t count because your college would examine you when you got back from Christmas after you’ve revised all your essays based on the tutor’s comments and then you just store it and then you go to your next class in your next semester. And then came the end of three years when you had all your exams. Get this, okay? So the exams that really count were given by the university at the end of three years. So even though you’ve done these tests that haven’t counted, now this really counts and they make a big occasion of it. You get dressed up in formal dress, your college marches you down, they have incarnations that they give to you and then you’re in this building called schools for about a week and you’re nothing but doing all the exams for all the tutorials and all the classes that you’ve had over those three years. So it all comes down to that last week. And so I was not only nervous, I was fearful, I was stressed, I started, I mean I had lumps on my body, I thought I was getting cancer, I thought I was gonna die. I mean all these thoughts. I kid you not. Ask my wife, she’ll tell you it was true. But I know fear as a student, is what I wanna say. So how do we approach this passage? Well, we cheat ourselves, you see, when we rip it out of its original context we isolate it and we just treat it like a happy quotation, a happy thought. This is God’s word, it came in the form of a letter II Timothy 1. So let me read it. Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 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. And I’m reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I’m sure, dwells in your as well. For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying of my hands, for God gave us as a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore, don’t 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, who 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, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I’m not ashamed, for I know whom I believed, and I’m convinced that he’s able to guard it until that Day which has been entrusted to me. So, Timothy, follow the pattern of the sound words that you’ve heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. You’re aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived at Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me. May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day. And you know well all the service that he rendered at Ephesus. So you then, my child, be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
Okay, let me just stop right there. That takes us to the end of chapter one. So what do we know of Timothy? Let’s just pause and get our bearings. Some observations: Paul and Timothy were close. Timothy was a spiritual child to Paul. Paul was his mentor or spiritual father. Timothy was like a son. Paul prayed for him. Paul is writing now to inspire him, to encourage him, to strengthen him. Timothy had actually taken over a church that Paul started, the church of Ephesus, a rather significant church in the early church. And so Timothy was an apostolic appointee, he was a pastor and he had, thankfully, a great source of encouragement in his life. By the way, you can’t read this without saying, isn’t it wonderful when you have a mentor like that in your life who can guide you? I hope you have mentors like that. Timothy had one in Paul. Second thing about Timothy to know is Timothy had a godly heritage, not a perfect heritage, but a godly heritage. And you can read about it in verse five. So there were these two godly women, two strong women in his life, his grandmother and his mother. Now where is his dad? Nobody knows. His dad was a Greek, his mother was Jewish so his dad probably was not a believer. He was checked out spiritually. He may have checked out altogether. But he had these two powerful influences, strong women in his life, who taught him the Scriptures, the Old Testament, when he was young and Paul presents this to Timothy. And this is a good reminder for all of us. If you have a godly heritage like that, it is a great blessing and privilege. It’s such an advantage if you have parents who love you and who direct you in the way of the Lord. And so some time, while Paul was being raised by these two women, Timothy was being raised by them, Paul visited Listra, you can read about it in Acts 14, he preached the Gospel in their town, and Timothy and his mother and grandmother embraced the gospel, okay? So that’s a little bit of background. And Timothy not only embraced the Gospel, but he also came to own his faith. Paul says, I’m reminded of your sincere faith. So it’s not just his parents anymore, Timothy is a disciple of Jesus, a committed disciple. And it’s just a simple reminder for all of us too. There comes a point where, thank God for our parents, but it’s time to own our faith. And that’s what we hope and pray for you as you’re here at CCU. That you’ll own it, that you’ll go through the time of asking hard questions, exploring, you may go through a time of doubting that’s part of the process but you deal with one question at a time. Don’t let ’em all bombard you at one time. Put some on the shelf, deal with them one at a time, and own your faith like Timothy did. Timothy came to own his faith. And then he was installed as a pastor or an elder, but more than just an elder because he was, he had oversight of this church so he was like a senior pastor, an apostolic appointee, Paul’s replacement. And so that’s what Paul is writing, I and II Timothy, which happened to be the world’s all-time best-selling books on pastoral theology. And Paul says, remember when you were installed, remember when we laid hands on you and God came upon you in a new way and gave you gifts for ministry? Don’t forget that, don’t forget that. So now Timothy is leading this church and Paul is gone. And Paul is writing to him to say, step up, buddy, it’s time to step up. And Timothy is not sure that he can. He’s intimidated by the assignment. He appears to have been fearful, shy, not a powerful personality, kind of intimidated by the assignment, burdened really by the charge; and so as you read his letters Paul keeps coming back to, but you, Timothy, fulfill your ministry, keep going. And in verse six, right before our verse, he says, fan into flame the gift that God gave you. Let’s pause right there. That’s an interesting picture, isn’t it? Only used here in the New Testament. It’s a little wordmeans embers in which a flame has gone out, and ono, the prefix means, in front of it means rekindle those embers of the flame that’s gone out. So fan into flame, Timothy, what was there. It may be dying right now, it’s a picture we’re familiar with. If you go camping in the mountains you build fires in Colorado and you know that if you leave a fire to itself after a while you gotta do something, you gotta put more kindling on it, you have to stir it up. We know this language. We know this picture. But what we’re probably not familiar with is that there’s a spiritual principle here, there’s actually a physical principle that everything runs down in this world, in nature, everything runs down. Some refer to this as the law of entropy where things left to themselves kinda run down, they break down, they fizzle out. Your skin, in Colorado, it dries out. You don’t put moisture on it. At the end of the day after you’ve worked out on the basketball team, getting ready for this season, you kinda flop into bed, you’re out of energy. Things run down and that’s true of our spiritual life as well. The heart’s affections, after a while, they decline even if they’ve been stirred up. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this picture, the Energizer Bunny that you kinda winded up and it has symbols and together real fast and then after a while it starts losing its energy and then it slows and then it stops, right, runs down. Your cell phone does the same thing. You know how this works. But Paul is reminding him that this happens spiritually. Don’t be surprised if it happens. It’s just part of life. But when it happens do something about it. Pray to God for a new refreshing and get to work. You need to fan it into flame. He’s saying, Timothy, you actually have something to do. Now Paul doesn’t elaborate on this, but let me just take a moment and just say, when that happens to you, what do you do? What do you do with changes? Maybe you’ll have to rearrange some of your habits, your devotional life. Maybe your joy for Christ is cooled and you’re on autopilot of you’re just floating along or you’re drifting away. And you actually need to shake the ashes and get some new kindling or the flame goes out. And there’s a call to do something. God also gives us ordinary means by the way to fan the flame. Sometimes these are called ordinary tools of grace or ordinary means of grace to continue our spiritual growth. They would include the Word of God so we grow as we feed on the Word of God, we take it into ourselves, right? The ordinances or the sacraments of the church. We go to church and, especially Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we watch, we take them in, we are part of that drama that takes place at a church. Augustine called these sacraments visible words because they dramatically picture the message of salvation. And every time we see someone baptized they go down, we’re reminded of the death, that we die to ourselves, and we come alive in Christ and we’re raised up and the Gospel is pictured in that baptism. And the same with Lord’s Supper. Every time we take the Lord’s Supper in Communion we remember His body being broken and His blood being shed. Why? So that we could be forgiven and have new life and when we take it our souls are fed. So these are Gospel ordinances or sacraments that help us fan the flame. That’s why we need to be part of the church. And then there’s the ordinary tool of prayer, how prayer, like the word, and sacrament, or ordinance, prayer is vital, it’s our lifeline to the living God, it’s how we communicate to Him. And we pray to call for His strength when temptation comes or when our strength fails. So these are some of the ordinary tools that God has given to us to fan the flame of our faith. And I can’t help but ask you, are you fanning the flame of your faith while you’re here? Are you taking advantage of some of the ordinary means that God has given so that your faith will be stirred up and it will grow? It’s important to think about it.
Now there are extraordinary means that God uses. He can bring revival, He can bring surprises into our life, but don’t forget the ordinary means of fanning that flame. So what’s Timothy’s response to all this? Well, it’s fear. He’s saying, I can’t do it. Have you ever said that? Maybe you have this semester already. I don’t know if I can do it. And when you read I and II Timothy you see all the things that were working on him. So let me just list the things that were sources of fear, possible sources. He was young, he was inexperienced, he felt out of his depth. Secondly, he was opposed. You read through I and II Timothy and you read about certain persons that were just opposing his ministry. One named Alexander, the coppersmith. Paul said, he did me great harm. He strongly opposed my message. People like that were involved in Timothy’s church. Another source of fear might have been he’s dealing with some really difficult people. Hymenaeus and Alexander. Another source of fear is some believers are dropping out, they’re turning away. You read through I and II Timothy. Another source of fear is the culture was pushing in and causing Timothy to be, well, intimidated, ashamed, ashamed of the Gospel, ashamed of Paul, right? And then on top of all that the people wanted new teaching, novel teaching. They didn’t want the meat and potatoes kind of thing. And on top of all that ministry involves suffering and Paul said, don’t be surprised at suffering, share in the suffering of the Gospel. And with all that going on, this young inexperienced guy just said, I don’t know how I can do that. And I don’t doubt for a second that there were moments when he wanted to run away from this assignment. Now it’s important to know this because when we know about his fears it puts our fears in perspective. And I don’t know what you are dealing with right now but in many ways I think we’re like Timothy. We fear the task at hand. Maybe it’s an assignment or a class. Maybe it’s college itself. We don’t know if we can make it or get it all done. Or we fear dealing with a difficult personal situation, complicated relationships that are like mountains in front of us. Or maybe we fear being a Christian out in the open because we are so influenced by the world’s opinion. Or maybe we just fear people, we’re shy like Timothy. Will I be accepted? Will I fit in here? Maybe it’s fear of failure. I don’t know if I’m gonna make it in this particular paper or class. Maybe it’s fear of being away from home. Could be fear of being single. It could be fear of growing up. It could be fear of what comes after college. And maybe it makes you not just fearful and even passive. You see, that’s the environment that Paul wrote this letter in when he’s talking to Timothy. So what does he tell him? Now we come to our verse. Timothy, God has not given us a spirit of fear. God has given us resources. And just fear of these things is not one of them. He’s given us resources to help us go forward. He’s there to help you. And that’s a word we all need to hear. So like what resources has He given us and Timothy? Well, one that’s not mentioned in our passage but I can’t help but mention it is one of the biggest, best resources God has given to all of us, and biblically it’s the number one way of dealing with fear, is the fear of the Lord. You say, why, what do you mean the fear of the Lord helps us deal with fear? Well, you read in the Old Testament, Proverbs, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. But as you read through the Psalms, you realize the fear of the Lord is the beginning of courage and confidence. The fear of the Lord is a healthy respect for who God is, how great He is, how strong He is, how awesome He is. And what we find, as you read the Proverbs and the Psalms, is the fear of the Lord, when you fear this great, awesome God, it shrinks your other fears. It puts these other fears in their place. Oswald Chambers said, the remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else, whereas if you don’t fear God, you fear everything else. Think about that. The psalmist would say, the Lord is with me, I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? Psalm 56, in God I trust. I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? Psalm 34, fear the Lord, you his saints: for those who fear Him have no lack. I sought the Lord and He delivered me from all my fears. So when we think about dealing with our fears, first, come back to this idea that the fear of the Lord, when we truly fear reverence, appreciate, acknowledge Almighty God for who He is, it has the effect on us of shrinking our other fears. And that’s why we hope for you as you’re here at CCU that your view of God will get bigger and you’ll see He’s greater than you ever thought and it will bring confidence into your life no matter what you face and what you do. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of courage. But that’s not what Paul mentions here to Timothy. He does mention three other resources. Number one is a spirit of power. God has given you, Timothy, a spirit of power. He’s given you this spirit of power. It’s not powerful personality that He’s given you. Timothy didn’t have that. It’s a power that comes from Him, the Holy Spirit. God has given us a spirit of power to deal with the weaknesses and the fears that we have to get through them. He has power for you. And it comes by asking Him for His strength when you feel weak. He has this for you right now even if you approach the mountains that are before you.
A second resource that He gives you is not just the spirit of power, strength for your weakness, right? He gives you a spirit of love. You say, why spirit of love? Well, you gotta realize a pastor has to put up with a lot of junk, really does. And there are times where, I’m sure, that Timothy just wanted to let Him have it or walk away or say, take this job, and he needed divine resource to hang in there. By the way, I think this is true of every pastor, it was true of me. And thankfully God has given us a spirit of love, the Holy Spirit pours His love into our hearts so that we can deal with difficult people and undeserved criticism or insults and slander and unkindness. And instead of trying to preserve ourselves or defend ourselves it enables us to go forward and to help someone else. So that’s the second resource. He gives us the spirit of power, He gives us the spirit of love, and then the third one he mentions here is the spirit of self-control or self-discipline. Is this relevant to mid semester? I think so, I think so. Self-control, why self-control? Because life in ministry are hard. And in life in ministry the hardest thing to control is you. The hardest thing to control is me. Augustine said, it’s harder to master your own passions than to rule the greatest empire. So Timothy knew this. He knew that he needed self-control. ‘Cause if he didn’t have it, he could make a colossal mess of this church. He needed it as a pastor, as a leader. Now if Timothy doesn’t have this fruit of the spirit, self-control, I mean think what might happen. He might have panicked at a board meeting and just say, I’m outta here. He might be inclined to punch somebody out. Don’t put it past him. Or maybe to say something that he will regret forever. Or, God forbid, that he might be inclined to abuse the sheep. I mean, we’ve read in the news recently all this garbage happening in different churches where shepherds abuse the flock. It’s terrible, it’s horrible. What happened? They certainly aren’t drawing on the spirit of self-control. But if Timothy has this spirit of self-control, he won’t run but he’ll fulfill his ministry. He won’t strike back but he’ll love and bless them and not curse them. He won’t vomit all over social media about the difficult people he’s working with but he’ll measure his words and use them to help others. He won’t hurt a sheep but he’ll care for them. As we live through this Me Too era, this self-control is obviously greatly lacking in our culture, self-restraint. For some of us who are older, we’ve lived through this culture and we watched it kind of get rid of God’s commands, laugh at His commands, laugh at moral traditions and absolutes and eliminate boundaries and celebrate the sexual freedom, to do whatever you want for decades and then we’re surprised that this happens, that this level of abuse is going on, people are giving reign to their own simple impulses. The spirit of self-control is desperately needed in our time for students and faculty and staff and presidents and pastors and leaders and coaches and teachers. And Christ gives us this by His Holy Spirit. Friends, you see, these things, power, love and self-control, they come not through self-effort. You won’t get there by keeping calm and carrying on. You won’t. We need something else, we need something more, and God has offered it to us to help us deal with our anxieties and our fears. He’s given us Himself, through Christ, His Holy Spirit. He’s bestowed this divinely wonderful gifts. He gives them. That’s the beauty of this verse. God gave us, that’s the emphasis. Not a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control. In one verse he reminds us of resources He has for you right now in the middle of this semester no matter what your assignment is. So let me end by just saying, what are you dealing with right now? You got a tough one? I’m sure you do. I have a tough one. Right after this chapel I get on an airplane. I fly to Washington, DC. And I have a meeting tomorrow with the Secretary of Education of the United States. And I’m leading a delegation of presidents and educators into express some concerns and I’m nervous. I don’t do this all the time. It’s intimidating. I deal with this, this verse is for me. But I suspect that this verse is for you, that this is God’s word for you right now. And like Timothy, maybe you say it’s too big or you say I’m not strong enough, but God says, I have power for you right now, CCU student, in the middle of this semester. When you’re tempted to say, I don’t like these people, God says to you, I have love for you to help you deal with them, to love them in my strength. You may be tempted to run and God says, I have strength to help you fulfill your assignment. When you’re tempted to maybe live for yourself, He says, I have self-control, discipline to help you get to the very end. Isn’t it wonderful? God says, fear the Lord, you His saints: those who fear Him lack nothing. May God give you strength to excel, to thrive, but draw your strength from the one who gives.