#FEARLESS365 is a yearlong study of God’s commandment to us to live without fear. For 365 days, we will focus on one scripture and volunteers from all over the world will share their personal thoughts and what God has shared with them on the specific verse. For more info… go here.
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7
I struggle with fear, and fear often wins! I have Asperger’s Syndrome, so I have made my share of social faux pas. I have social anxiety, as I am afraid of making social mistakes and being rejected by other people. If I cannot be accepted by other people, my mind runs, will I be able to make the social contacts that I need to support myself? Will I die alone?
Timothy himself was probably afraid, otherwise Paul would not have written to him about fear. The reason for Timothy’s fear is implied in 2 Timothy 1:8: “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God” (KJV). Paul was a prisoner of Rome, and a lot of public shame was attached to that. Timothy was afraid that he would be rejected on account of his association with Paul and Paul’s controversial Gospel. Other professing believers had already turned away from Paul (2 Timothy 1:15), presumably out of fear and shame.
Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” When I first heard this verse as a student at high school, I was baffled. I had probably read the verse before, but the first time that it stood out to me was when I was talking with a Christian student in the school library. She and I were talking about witnessing, and I told her that I was afraid to witness to others about my faith, on account of the social awkwardness that accompanied it. She responded by quoting to me 2 Timothy 1:7. I thought to myself: “Well, that solves a lot! Thank you very much! God may not have given me a spirit of fear, but I am still afraid!”
What is 2 Timothy 1:7 saying? Is it saying that people who have God’s Holy Spirit inside of them are never afraid? If you are afraid, is that an indicator that you do not have God’s Holy Spirit and thus are not a true Christian? I doubt that the verse means that, and the reason goes back to what I said in the first paragraph: Timothy himself was probably afraid, otherwise why would Paul go to all that effort to talk to Timothy about fear and to try to encourage him? Christians are human, like everyone else, so they will find themselves afraid, either occasionally or more often than that.
But Christians have the resources to counter their fear. God has given them the Holy Spirit. Somewhere inside of them are power, love, and a sound mind. There is a strength inside of them that is a response to God’s unconditional love. There is a belief within them that God is good and sovereign, a desire for other people’s well-being, and positive, wholesome thoughts as opposed to unhealthy, self-destructive thoughts. I can say that about myself, with all of my negativity and anxiety!
But Paul tells Timothy that he needs to cultivate that spirit within him. To quote 2 Timothy 1:6: “Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands” (KJV). Timothy is afraid, but Timothy has within himself a spirit running contrary to fear. Timothy needs to stir that spirit up.
How can Timothy do this? Throughout 2 Timothy, Paul offers Timothy insights and exhortations. The insights can assist Timothy in replacing his negative mental repertoire with a positive mental repertoire, or, more accurately, they can enable Timothy to feed the positive repertoire that is already a part of him, through the Holy Spirit. What Paul is sharing with Timothy are the insights that can feed Timothy’s soul. To quote 2 Timothy 1:13: “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (KJV). Paul also provides exhortations, concrete things that Timothy can do, or avoid doing.
The insights that Paul provides to Timothy are multiple. Paul reminds Timothy of Timothy’s heritage of faith, as Timothy’s mother and grandmother were both Christians and taught Timothy the Scriptures (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15). He tells Timothy that Onesiphorus refreshed Paul, without being ashamed of Paul’s chains (2 Timothy 1:16). Knowing about others who do the right thing can inspire and strengthen a person to do the right thing.
More importantly, Paul reminds Timothy of the bigger picture of what God is doing, as well as Timothy’s role in that. God showed people grace and abolished death through Jesus Christ, and Paul is a teacher, telling the Gentiles what God has done and is doing (2 Timothy 1:9-11). What encourages Paul is that, amidst all of his suffering, his mission is worth the effort, for it is for a cause that is worth the effort. God is accomplishing good through Paul, and God, being faithful, will reward Paul in the end (2 Timothy 1:12; 2:10-12). Paul exhorts Timothy to act in light of this: to be focused on his mission (2 Timothy 2:3-4), to study God’s word (2 Timothy 2:15-16), to cultivate righteous attributes (2 Timothy 2:22), and to exhort others gently (2 Timothy 2:24). Focusing on what is right and true, our identity and purpose, and God’s manifestation of love in our own lives and in the broader world can counter-balance fear.
Many of us try to counter-balance fear by telling ourselves that what we fear will not actually happen. Things will go better for us than we think! That social encounter will not be as horrible as I am expecting! There may be some wisdom to that, but what is interesting is that Paul tells Timothy the exact opposite: that bad things will happen! People do bad things in the world, and that will get worse (2 Timothy 3:1-7, 13). Christians are persecuted (II Timothy 3:12). Timothy will suffer, especially if he does the right thing (2 Timothy 1:8) rather than taking the easier, softer way (2 Timothy 4:10).
Yet, Paul still holds on to God’s goodness and sovereignty, whatever happens, and he encourages Timothy to do likewise. Paul was wronged by Alexander the Coppersmith, but Paul resigns himself to God’s justice (2 Timothy 4:14). Paul was alone at his defense, yet Paul testifies that God strengthened him at that time (2 Timothy 1:16-17). Paul exhorts Timothy to avoid strife when exhorting people and instead to be gentle, for God may bring them to repentance (2 Timothy 2:24-26). Timothy is to do his part and leave the results in God’s hands.
A reason that many of us are afraid is that we want to run the show: we want things to turn out as we desire. Maybe they will not, though! But we can still have faith and hope that God is at work, inside of us and outside of us.
James Pate is a Graduate student on the History of Biblical Interpretation who lives in Oregon. He lives with the cutest, sweetest cats, Figaro and Dante.