Preaching the Word
As a teenager a song that I remember singing was “Stir Up The Gift”. I think that song may have had 2 Timothy 1:6 as its inspiration. In this passage, Paul wrote, “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.”
This verse, accompanied by its surrounding passages, set the theme of this short letter from Paul. These are some of his last words. He is in prison by this time and awaiting execution. He is being killed for preaching the word. His last letter then is written to his young protégé, Timothy with that context in mind, we would expect these last words to be of the utmost importance. And they certainly are.
I think that we could summarize this letter with verse 4:2 when Paul wrote, “Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season.” Throughout the epistle a small variety of topics are discussed, but each topic tends to relate to this final call to action. Thus it makes sense to convey that because “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (3:16-17) Timothy would receive from the wiser Paul the admonition to preach that “profitable word” all the more.
That being said, I would think that Timothy’s gift (mentioned in verse 1:6) is the gift of preaching (or communicating God’s word). For this is the very reason that so many passages that follow bring him back to that call.
But not everyone seems to arrive at that same conclusion. Many have said that Timothy’s gift was not preaching but speaking in other tongues. They conclude that stirring up is synonymous with self edification as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:4, but this is stretching the meaning of both terms. To edify is to instruct. To stir up is to keep blazing. One can stir up something that is previously understood. Timothy understood that he was gifted; he just needed to keep blazing the fire.
The truth of the matter is that the gift seems to be most clearly defined by the immediate context of the letter. And in Biblical interpretation a good rule to remember is “context is king”.
The spiritual gift of tongues (or anything other than preaching) is never mentioned in this text. but rather we find a continuous and consistent calling to proclaim the truth of God’s word. Besides the context of the text, the context of history tells us the same. Paul was imprisoned for preaching the word and now he seeks to encourage Timothy to take up the call to preach which was the gift already placed in him by the Lord.
Defining Timothy’s Gift
The Greek word Paul used here is “charisma” which might have caused the association with the gift of tongues. It is the same word used in 1 Corinthians 12-14 where Paul explains spiritual gifts and their functions. It is also used in many other passages of the Bible predominantly noted as Romans 12:4-8 and Ephesians 4:7-16. All of which will teach the same about gifts.
From Scripture, we learn these three core teachings about the gifts:
(1) Divinely Given
We tend to call them spiritual gifts because they are given by God. This is to imply that they are not discovered, purchased, or created by man. They are solely and freely given by God. Thus, Paul called Timothy’s gift a “gift from God.”
This truth teaches us some great things:
God gives with discretion. He decides who will get which gift and who will another. The choice is entirely His. Paul wrote, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11). We cannot manipulate God nor acquire any gift on our own.
God gives with pleasure. We can be sure that whatever gift we have, it is what God desired that we have. God intended on giving the gift because it pleased Him to do so (Psalm 135:6).
God gives with purpose. We can be sure that the gift we have is for the reason of working for the kingdom. We can be positive that we must use the gifts for God’s glory (Ephesians 4:12).
God gives with freedom. Not only is He free to give, but we are free to receive. All gifts from God are free for there is no way for us to earn or purchase them. They are not for auction or sale.
(2) Spiritual Endowments
Spiritual gifts are spiritual endowments. That is to say that they are special abilities that our flesh cannot produce or reproduce. They are not just given by God, they are also worked by God (1 Corinthians 12:11).
This truth teaches us some more great things:
God works with discretion. Since He was discrete in His giving, we can be confident that He is also discrete in His working. Gifts given by God, while operated by men, are worked by God. This is to say that the working of the gift is fruit of the Spirit. God will not work a gift when it is not useful and used properly.
God works with pleasure. Since what He does is always within His pleasure, then we can be confident that when this gift is active in our lives by building up the kingdom of God, we are bringing wonderful pleasure to the Lord.
God works with purpose. Since God always has purpose in the things that He does, we can be sure that when this gift is utilized it is for a reason. When the Spirit of God works, there are results.
God works with freedom. Since the gift is free, then we are free to use it. Truly, God works the gift in us, but He does not restrict us from its usage. We do not have to confirm the time and place. Rather, we use the gift freely.
(3) Religious Qualifications
The Bible teaches about church leaders affirming young disciples for ministry. Notice that Timothy’s gift was affirmed by Paul when he laid his hands on him (2 Timothy 1:6). This is also noted in 1 Timothy 4:14 (also in 6:12; cf: 5:22). Pastors and elders of the church do not take place in the giving process, only the recognition process as priests of God. As seen above, God is the only one who gives spiritual gifts. However, God gave the duty of affirming these gifts to church leaders.
This truth teaches us even more great things:
God affirms with discretion. If we are all divinely given a gift, but require that a leader in the church affirm that gift, then we can safely assume that the timing at which point we discover the gift in us, is by God’s discretion as well.
God affirms with pleasure. Again, God does nothing that does not first please Him. Our affirmation should be a momentous occasion where the church gathers and bears witness to this affirmation much like we do ordination.
God affirms with purpose. In addition, God has purpose in all that He does and says. Our affirmation should give us a great deal of purpose. We should be sure of the path that lies ahead.
God affirms with freedom. Likewise, freely given and freely worked gifts, imply free affirmation. While God is sovereign, we cannot ignore that He has granted us will. We must take responsibility for all of our actions. Therefore, the gifted believers should be aware that he is responsible for discovering, developing, and seeking affirmation for the gift. (Notice that Paul is concerned that Timothy was lacking in the cultivation of his gift.) The leaders of the church should also know that they are responsible to affirm the gift in the believer. All of which will happen in God’s timing.
From the beginning to the end, spiritual gifts are just another way God brings glory to Himself. Sure, believers must take some responsibility in the discovery, development, and exercising of these wonderful gifts. Timothy was gifted with preaching. He was a pastor and teacher. Thus Paul first exhorts Timothy to “stir up the gift” from its lax state and finally, to “Preach the word!” If Paul was writing you a letter, what would he be telling you?