The Rev. Canon Dr. Brett Cane, October 2, 2011St. Aidan’s Day; 8:30 and 10:00 a.m., Holy Communion
“A Christian Leader…Is Gifted by God”
2 Timothy 1:6-18 (Numbers 11:24-30)
Heavenly Father, by your Holy Spirit, you have gifted us in so many ways; help us now, to grasp what these gifts are and, as we move into discernment concerning new leadership for this parish, to ensure they are embraced by both pastors and people, to the glory of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Last week, I began my Fall series of sermons from Paul’s second letter to his young disciple Timothy. Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to oversee the Christian community there because it was in need of challenge and correction. His letters to him are full of admonition about the pastoral issues he faced in his church but also full of pastoral advice for him personally. Thus, these are known (along with the letter to Titus) as “The Pastoral Epistles.” I pointed out that they provide insights into the qualifications and characteristics of those called to Christian leadership in general and also give a window into the lives of the men who received them, as well as Paul himself as he writes of the stresses and burdens he was under. Thus, in the light of my retirement in a few months, I believe that the teaching in this second letter to Timothy is very relevant to our parish as it enters a time of transition and change in terms of leadership.
Last week, we saw that “A Christian Leader…Is Chosen by God.” This week, we will see that “A Christian Leader…Is Gifted by God.” We will look at this giftedness under three headings: the Gift of the Spirit; the Gift of the Gospel and the Gift of the Body. At the end of each section I am going to note, as I did last week, some points to ponder as you look towards new leadership – these are not only for those with the direct responsibility of making the selection (both interim and permanent) but to all members of the congregation because, as the letter shows us, you each have role in preparing for and receiving these leaders.
The Gift of the Spirit
We begin our affirmation that a Christian leader is gifted by God by looking at the gift of the Spirit. In this passage, Paul is not referring to the gift of the Holy Spirit as he brings us new birth and salvation but the special abilities – spiritual gifts – God gives us to carry out his work and the power and fruit of the Spirit within us to carry out that work.
1. Spiritual Gifts: We look first at spiritual gifts: “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” (2 Timothy 1:6). “For this reason…” refers back to the previous verse where Paul has spoken of Timothy’s “sincere faith.” Having a sincere faith is great – but it is just the beginning. Faith must lead to action. We need to work out what God has worked in! God has called us to be partners with him in building his Kingdom and has given every Christian at least one spiritual gift through which he can do this. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7) and goes on to list various gifts such as wisdom, healing, prophecy, teaching, administration, etc. We see the action of the Spirit’s gifting in the story of Moses and the elders of Israel which we heard read from Numbers.
Here, Paul refers to Timothy receiving a spiritual gift through the laying-on of his hands. In his first letter, Paul says a similar thing: “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the elders laid their hands on you” (1 Timothy 4:14) and earlier he refers to “keeping the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 1:18). Now these occasions could be one and the same or perhaps an initial commissioning or ordination from Timothy’s own church (see Acts 16:1-3) for his mission and then a subsequent commissioning from Paul for his work in Ephesus. Whatever the occasion, the result is clear: through word and action of the church, the Holy Spirit has gifted Timothy for that to which he has been called. Now it is interesting that we are never told what the gift is – possibly it was an ability to both teach and pastor.#1 The important thing to know is that God equipped Timothy spiritually for the work to which he had been called.
Now whatever the gift was or how it was given, the crucial point here is that Timothy was in danger of losing it! Paul says, “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Timothy 1:6) echoing the words of his previous letter: “Do not neglect your gift” (1 Timothy 4:14). The stunning revelation here is that it is possible to be gifted by God and yet allow that gift to deteriorate through under-use! Like under-employed muscles that are never exercised and shrivel up and loose their power so a gift of the Spirit can loose its potency. Therefore, Paul reminds Timothy to “fan it into flame” – like the dying embers of a fire, the forgotten gift needs to be rekindled. Without even drawing conclusions for ordained leadership – the challenge here is to all of you – have you been neglecting the gift or gifts God has given you? I know that life circumstances (such as being a young parent or the facing the challenges of old age) might mean a suspension or transformation of how your gift is used, but the call is clear: “fan it into flame”!
Points to Ponder:
Look for a pastor who is aware of his or her spiritual gifts – ask them what their gifts are and how they use them. Good pastors have a sober estimate of their gifts – they do not hide them behind false modesty and they are aware of where they are not gifted and need the complementary gifts of others, ordained and lay.
Discern what gifts you looking for in a pastor – this will come as you hear God’s word about where the parish is and where he wants it to go. What gift-mix in a pastor do you need in order to take you where God wants you to go?
2. The Power and Fruit of the Spirit: Now one of the reasons we let our gift or gifts fall into dis-use is fear. Paul continues, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). “Timid” or “timidity” here has a stronger meaning – it is more like fear, a disorienting and debilitating kind of fear. We see what could cause that fear as Paul continues, “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner” (2 Timothy 1:8). Here are two sources of fear that any of us might have to face; one is from within, in the church, and the other is from without, in the world. As we go through this letter we will see that the simple truths of the Gospel – the testimony of “our Lord” – were in danger from within the church by those who wanted to turn the faith back to a religion of hyper-legalism (the Judaizers) or twist it into a religion of hyper-spirituality (the Gnostics). Externally, there was fear of physical suffering from Roman authorities or social ostracism from pagan culture through association with Paul in prison. How easy it is today to go quiet when the truths of the Gospel are challenged or ridiculed when you are amongst friends, colleagues at work or school mates and even in church circles. The safer route is to draw back and lie low. John Stott summarizes, “When we are called to suffer for the gospel, we are tempted to trim it, to eliminate those elements which give offence and cause opposition, to mute the notes which jar sensitive contemporary ears.”#2 When it comes to taking a stand for the Gospel, do you suffer timidity and debilitating fear?
The remedy is to take to heart what Paul says next. He challenges Timothy (and us) not to be fearful but to acknowledge and embrace the power and fruit of the Spirit that God gives us – “a spirit of power, of love, of self-discipline” (NIV). The Holy Spirit within us provides a super-human power than can not be conjured up or manufactured by human effort or striving. Love and self-discipline are fruit that the Spirit grows within us, not something we have to create ourselves. What we have to do is to step out in faith to see a release God’s power and cultivate our hearts to provide good growing conditions for producing fruit. These three spiritual resources are worth examining in more detail:
Power: Bishop Tom Wright points out people today are suspicious of power with good reason because of its abuse all around us. But power is necessary to make decisions, protect the weak, and regulate common life and we need power to make things happen within the life of the church. Tom Wright continues, “It’s a matter of having the ability to do and say things which change situations, to give a lead which others find they want to follow, to speak words of wisdom which prove compelling, and to bring healing and hope where it is most needed.”#3 But in exercising power, we must rely on God’s power not our own human effort or organization; the power to make things happen God’s way comes from the Spirit.
Love: This is where love comes in; power divorced from love becomes destructive and legalistic. But love without power can degenerate into “wishy-washy sentimentality.”#4 A person who exercises power in a loving and self-giving way invites people to follow their lead. This power flows from the gospel pattern where God has given us his own Son for our sake.
Self-discipline: The same Spirit who gives us power and love also gives us self-discipline or self-control. This term can be expanded to include a sound mind and prudence – “to think clearly and shrewdly about what needs to be done and how best to do it.”#5 This applies to our personal lives as well as the life of the church. Fear is often fed by ignorance and this is counteracted by knowing the truth. Thus, having a “sound mind” which knows the truths of the Gospel counteracts fear. To this truth – the gift of the Gospel, Paul turns next.
Points to Ponder:
- Search for a leader who is not ashamed of the gospel – who is willing to stand up for the truth within the church and wider society.
- Search for a leader who is open to the Holy Spirit’s power – and does not turn first to their own resources or efforts.
- Search for a leader who unites power with love and prudence – who leads from a position of self-giving and wise discernment of what to do and when in both personal and church affairs.
The Gift of the Gospel
Paul now moves into an appeal to Timothy to counteract fear with the truth – the truth of the Gospel, the next gift God has given to the Christian leader. He speaks first about the nature of the Gospel and then the need to guard the Gospel.
1. The Nature of the Gospel: Paul begins by reminding Timothy of the nature of the gospel – which is grace:
- So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:8-10).
Philip Yancey recounts a story about C.S. Lewis during a British conference on comparative relig- ions. Experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith:
- They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods’ appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. ”What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”#6
Grace – God’s unlimited, unearned giving to us – is what is unique about the Christian faith.
Now, shame has to do with who we are; grace counteracts shame. When Paul affirms here that God “has saved us and called us not because of anything we have done” (verse 9), this gives us confidence that we are loved for who we. We don’t have to fear what others think or say about us. What’s more, “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” (verse 9) – this is an eternal gospel far superior to the legalism of the Judaizers or the spiritualizing of the Gnostics. In addition, “Christ Jesus…has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (verse 10) – this Jesus, shunned and shamed and hung on a cross, triumphed over all the secular power of Rome and the world through his resurrection. It is as if Paul is saying, “Therefore, what can religious and secular power do to you, Timothy? Don’t be ashamed – look to Jesus!” Paul triumphantly affirms: “This is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day” (verse 12). The grace of God has saved us and the grace of God will keep us – God will bring us through the challenges and trials we face.
2. The Need to Guard the Gospel: Therefore we need to guard this precious faith: “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (verses 13-14). Paul has already urged this on Timothy in his first letter: “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care” (1 Timothy 6:20). As Christian leaders and believers we have been given a deposit that is not something we can change – the Gospel is a sacred trust, and if the message of grace is twisted or muted, the Church – and the world – will lose the blessings of “life and immortality” that Jesus has brought us. Paul will expand on this throughout the remainder of the letter.
Points to Ponder:
Search for a leader who is absolutely committed to the gospel of grace – there are a lot of “other gospels” out there – some patently false, but others half true with something to offer. Ensure that your pastor is firmly grounded in the grace of Jesus Christ in his or her faith and life.
Look for a pastor who has a track-record of standing firmly for the truth and guarding the orthodox faith – who is not ashamed of the Gospel.
The Gift the Body
The final gift God has given to the Christian leader is the Body of Christ – the fellowship of believers. But first, Paul speaks about two who have broken fellowship: “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes” (2 Timothy 1:15). We don’t know who these two were but we do know that Paul was deeply hurt that at his trial “No one came to my support, but everyone deserted me” (2 Timothy 4:16). Paul needed others to stand by him. Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, took Peter, James and John aside to be with him in his time of agony – but they fell asleep and failed him, too. If Paul and even Jesus needed others to stand by him, then certainly so do we as well as those who lead us. I spoke last week about not being a “lone ranger” Christian. God has designed us to be part of his Body, the Church. The Church is not some optional extra that helps us in our personal pilgrimages when we need it, but a living organism, designed for mutual support and encouragement. The writer to the Hebrews urges: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
In the closing verses of our passage we catch a glimpse of what the gift of the Body looked like to Paul:
- May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus. (2 Timothy 1:16-18)
Bishop Tom Wright#7 notes three things Onesiphorus did for Paul:
He “was not ashamed” of Paul and his chains. He was loyal and willing to be identified with a “loser” in the eyes of the world or official religion. We need others who are not afraid to stick by us when we take unpopular or dangerous stands because of Christ.
He took the initiative: “he searched hard for me until he found me.” Onesiphorus made a deliberate decision to find Paul; supporting others in the body doesn’t happen by accident but by prayerful and thoughtful determination.
He was severely practical: “he has often refreshed me.” The sense here is quite literal – Onesiphorus brought Paul food and drink and money.
As a result, Paul is blessed and Onesiphorus rewarded – not that he earned his salvation but that he reaped the reward of becoming the person God designed him to be by investing in holy living and service.
Points to Ponder:
Your leader will need company, support, and encouragement – as Paul did; stand by your pastor especially in the difficult times when there is discouragement and betrayal.
Take the initiative in supporting your pastor – don’t hold back or wait for others to do something.
Offer practical help – when I arrived in Winnipeg as your new rector in 2002, I was overwhelmed by the love and support shown for me in practical ways. Not only did the men of the parish do some renovations in my home, other parishioners offered me welcome gifts such as a pass to the Winnipeg Art Gallery. I was deeply moved. You are a generous parish to your pastors and to each other. In this way you reflect the reality that God is gracious and that a Christian leader…is gifted by God.
Footnotes: 1. See Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: the Pastoral letters. (London: SPCK, 2003), pg. 84. 2. John Stott, 2 Timothy; Standing Firm in Truth. (Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 1998), pg. 19. 3. Tom Wright, ibid.. 4. I am grateful to Bishop Wright for this phrase and some of the thoughts in this paragraph; ibid.. 5. Tom Wright, ibid.. 6. Taken from Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), pg. 45. 7. Tom Wright, ibid., pg. 94-95