NOT A SPIRIT OF FEAR, BUT A SPIRIT OF POWER AND LOVE AND
2 Timothy 1:7
It began as a youth movement.
To be sure, older people possess greater wisdom, sounder
judgement, broader perspective. Our
Lord knew this. Nevertheless
he began with younger people. When
he stepped forth on his public ministry he was in his late 20s.
The twelve whom he called to him were likely no older.
Paul took Mark on Paul’s first missionary journey when Mark was
estimated to be 19. You know
what happened: Mark behaved like a 19 year old.
He couldn’t withstand the hardship of the venture, left Paul
and returned home. When Paul
and Barnabas were about to set off on another missionary journey Paul
said, “We can’t take Mark with us; we simply can’t afford to have
him let us down again”. Barnabas
disagreed. “He was only
19; give him another chance”. Paul
and Barnabas parted over Mark; they parted amicably, without grudge or
resentment, but they parted. Barnabas,
however, was vindicated, since Mark proved himself on the second
Why the emphasis on youth? Is
it not because along with the broader perspective and greater stability
of middle age there is also boredom, apathy, and more than a little
cynicism? Several older
clergymen have said to me with that bone-deep weariness born of
disillusionment, “Shepherd, wait until you have been in this game as
long as I have”.
There is another reason for our Lord’s beginning with younger
people: what we have to contend with in our youth we are going to have
contend with for the remainder of our lives.
I am always amused when an older adult pretends that his
adolescence has been put behind him forever.
Years ago (1970), in my final year of theology, I studied under
Dr. James Wilkes, a psychiatrist from whom I learned an immense amount.
He mentioned one day that emotionally our adolescence lurks just
below the surface of our adult psyche. The coping mechanisms, for
instance, that we developed as adolescents are the coping mechanisms we
shall have for a long time. Similarly,
what we had to contend with “back” when we were adolescents we shall
have to contend with throughout life.
Jesus began with younger people inasmuch as what they learned
from him at that time they would need and would have for the rest of
their lives. A sermon, then,
that has to do with younger people cannot fail to speak to older people
Paul writes to Timothy, who is only 19 or 20 himself, and says,
“Remember! God did not
give us a spirit of timidity, a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power
and love and self-control”. Plainly
the older apostle knows that young Timothy is afraid.
Are we afraid? (Does
the sun rise in the east?) There
are days when our fears are so slight as to be scarcely noticeable, and
other days when they muscle everything else out of our minds.
Some of our fears we readily understand.
The company we work for has merged with a larger company and not
all management and executive personnel are going to be retained.
Our child seems unwell and we have just enough medical knowledge
as not to be put off by our friends’ reassurances that there is
nothing wrong. We are afraid
that the psychological booby-trap which we have known of for years and
which we have disguised, stepped around or hidden; that situation where
we do not cope and where we appear so helpless, weak and silly – we
fear it’s going to become publicly evident and we shall be humiliated.
We are afraid that since we are not married yet we are never
going to be married. (I also
meet people who are afraid that since they are married now they are
never going to get unmarried.) And
then there is a different kind of fear, unattached to any specific
object or occurrence. “Existential
anxiety” is the term mental health experts use.
Existential anxiety is that niggling, lapping, semi-conscious
awareness of our fragility, our frailty, our ultimate powerlessness in
the face of life’s accidentality and our own mortality.
The preacher keeps reminding us that “Fear not” is the most
frequent command on the lips of Jesus.
His telling us to fear not, we feel nonetheless, has as much
effect on us as our going down to
and telling the waves to stop rolling in.
I shall never make light of that fear which is part of the human
condition. It is as
undeniable as toothache. Then
what do I do with respect to my own fears?
On those days when my fears seem nearly overwhelming I look to
two treasure-stores: the promises of God and my Christian friends.
The promises of God are glorious.
The simplest promise comes from the book of Joshua: “I will not
fail you or forsake you”. The
psalms are a goldmine: “This I know, that God is for me... what can
man do to me?” John tells
us that even if our hearts condemn us, the God of unfathomable mercy is
greater than our hearts. And
then there are those promises from the heart and pen of Paul: “If we
live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then
whether we live or whether we die we
are the Lord’s”; “If God is for us, who is against
us?”; “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love
him, who are called according to his purpose”.
And of course there is the climax of all of scripture, as far as
I am concerned, Romans 8:38: “Neither death nor life, nor things
present, nor things to come, nor anything else in all creation will be
able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
When Paul tells Timothy that we have not been given a spirit of
fear he doesn’t mean that we are never afraid.
Paul himself was often afraid; he speaks unashamedly of his own
fear. Our Lord was fearful
on occasion. To tell people
they should never fear is to send them in pursuit of the unrealistic and
the ridiculous; it’s also to plunge them into false guilt.
To have a “spirit of fear” is something different; it’s to
be so fear-saturated as to be deflected from our obedience to God. But
a spirit of fear is precisely what we haven’t been given; therefore we
mustn’t yield to it. We
must fling ourselves upon the promises of God.
Yet I must admit that there have been occasions in my life when
even the promises of God seemed to evaporate on me; occasions when fear
fell on me like a building collapsing or seeped into me like poison gas.
On these occasions the promises seemed ineffective, however true,
unable to stem the dread whose waves came upon me like nausea.
On these occasions I have leaned my full weight on Christian
friends, for they embody for us, incarnate for us, the truth of the
promises in those moments when we are floundering and the promises seem
to support us only as embodied in our friends.
If God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear, then what has he given
us? Paul reminds Timothy
once again: a spirit of power and love and self-control.
The one question which younger people always have concerning the
gospel is also the simplest question.
Their one question isn’t, “Is it true?”, because younger
people suspect it might be true but also be trite; true but also
pointless; true but too abstract, too remote to be of any earthly use.
Their one question concerning the gospel is, “Does it work?”
“Does it work?” means “Is it effective?”
Whether it is effective depends entirely on what end it is
supposed to effect. The
question, “Is a hammer effective?” depends on the end you have in
mind. If your purpose is to
drive nails the answer is plainly “yes”.
If you wish to crochet lace doilies the answer is plainly
“no”. If you want to
repair the nozzle of your garden hose the answer is “maybe”.
“Does the gospel work?” -- the answer here depends on what it
is we are looking to see happen. The
textbook-correct answer is that the gospel works, is effective, inasmuch
as it is the purpose of the gospel to reconcile us to God and render us
transparent before him; since the gospel does this (alone does this)
therefore the gospel works and should be embraced by every last person,
older and younger alike. But
the answer is too slick and too abstract by half.
What reconciliation to God and transparency to him means is something we older people must exemplify ourselves if
what we say about it is to have any weight.
For a long time I have felt that Maureen and I should are an
advertisement of the gospel for our grandchildren.
In other words, younger people (who are much less readily
deceived than older people) are going to conclude that the gospel works
only if they have seen something of its work in us.
One feature of younger people that always appeals to me is their
forthrightness. If you ask
them about last night’s rock concert they will reply without
hesitation, “It was a drag” or “It was out of sight”.
Older people are adept at verbal smokescreens; younger people
don’t bother with word-camouflages, for they are suspicious that much
talk is a cover-up covering up an embarrassing lack of substance.
There was an embarrassing lack of substance in the Christian
. The church-members there
yammered a lot, lined up behind different hero-figures in the
congregation, fancied themselves worldly-wise and talked up their
pseudo-wisdom; they rationalized the inexcusable even as they told each
other how truthful they were. Finally
Paul had had enough. He let
them know that their pretension to wisdom was nothing more than
arrogance. He let them know
that he would visit the congregation soon and deal with these
motor-mouths himself. His
conviction about the nature of the gospel and his resolve to hold the
congregation to the gospel are evident in his concluding line: “I will
find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power.
does not consist in talk but in power”.
Not a spirit of fear has God given us but a spirit of power.
And also a spirit of love. Everyone
has her own understanding of love; but it’s the gospel’s
understanding that matters for us. And
the gospel makes plain that God’s love is a self-giving which pours
itself self-forgetfully upon anyone at all without concern for
consequence or cost.
Young people have no difficulty understanding this:
self-forgetful self-giving without concern for consequence or cost.
It’s all so very lofty, even adventurous, that it appears as
attractive as it seems true.
But younger people do not remain younger.
As older age settles upon them little by little the cost seems
prohibitively high. At the
same time the consequence (the result) seems woefully meagre, given the
high cost. (The entire
scheme plainly isn’t “cost-effective”, as the economists say.)
What happens next? Self-giving
is shrivelled to thing-giving; self-forgetfulness is shrivelled to
calculation; the cost of love is simply deemed too high and the
consequences too scanty. Next
step, the last step: we settle down into that token-generosity whose
tokenism the world accepts because tokenism is all the world expects of
anyone with respect to anything. How
is such world-weary disillusionment to be avoided?
There are two ways of avoiding such disillusionment.
One is by returning constantly to our text: God has given us a spirit
of love; not a notion of love, but a spirit of love.
Plainly there is an allusion to the Holy Spirit, that power in
which God himself acts upon his people.
Then God himself must -- and will -- keep our hearts from
shrivelling up into that tokenism that is widely regarded as good
second way of avoiding the world-weary disillusionment that reduces love
to a mere artificiality which is socially acceptable; the second way is
to keep people dear to us. Writing
to the people in Thessalonica Paul says, “We were ready to share with
you not only the gospel of God but also our very selves (this is what
love is finally, sharing our very selves) so dear had you become to us.”
The longer I live the dearer people become to me.
When I was a younger minister I was so taken up with getting the
job-functions done -- writing the sermon, chairing the meeting,
conducting the funeral -- that my focus was on the function, with people
more or less on the periphery. In
my older age the function seems to perform itself, and people
have become the focus. One
reason that I have relished being a pastor is that people -- all kinds
and qualities -- have become dearer to me with every passing year.
As they do I find today’s text confirming itself to me with
greater force: God has given us a spirit of love, and this gift will
keep our love from shrivelling up to a pasted-on smile plus a
We have also been given a spirit of self-control.
Self-control appears to be the opposite of other-control.
Either we control ourselves or others control us; other people,
other ideologies, other things. When
this happens – i.e., when we are other-controlled – we are little
more than an empty tin can kicked around endlessly: empty to start with
and soon shapeless as well. This
is not good. What is the
alternative? A minute ago I
said that self-control appears to be the opposite of other-control;
“appears” because there is one glorious instance where self-control
and other-control are one and the same.
When Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 he is
listing the qualities of life which Jesus Christ effects in his people
by his Spirit. Included in
the list is self-control. Christ-control
is self-control. You see, to
be Christ-controlled is to know whose
we are: we are his and his only! And
to know whose we are (when we are Christ’s) is to know who
we are: we are our “self”. Since
Jesus Christ renders me who I am, to be Christ-controlled will always be
to be self-controlled.
For whether we are younger or older, whether we are newcomers to
the faith or oldtimers in the household and family of God, we were never
given a spirit of fear; we have all been given a spirit of power, of
love, and of self-control.