Paul’s letters to Timothy have to rank among my favorite New Testament writing.
Penned from a father in the faith to a young man who is still finding his way in ministry, Paul tenderly, carefully laid out advice to Timothy on how to handle the false teaching that had crept up in the Ephesian church. Throughout both letters, Paul sprinkled in counsel on not only how to lead in matters of faith, but how to walk in faith. He pointed to Timothy’s life as a shepherd in contrast to the wolves infiltrating the congregation. As Paul acknowledged the coming end to his own life and ministry, he encouraged Timothy to walk in the example and legacy he was leaving for him.
But a recent re-reading of the two letters began to connect some dots I’d never noticed before. Paul chose to continually go back to the gifts Timothy possessed as a believer. We don’t know specifically what those gifts were. One would assume preaching or teaching, but it’s never spelled out for us. What we do know about Timothy is what we know about all believers: he had received a gift from the Holy Spirit, and he was to use that gift to build the body of Christ (1 Peter 4:10). And it’s Paul’s counsel to Timothy that serves as good counsel to us, as well:
Do not neglect the gift that you have. (1 Timothy 4:14)
Paul made no assumption that Timothy’s giftings would be exercised. He didn’t think for a moment that Timothy would naturally develop what had been given to him. Like all of us, Timothy faced the danger of drifting into complacency. Just like unused muscles, unused gifts will atrophy. Their effectiveness will diminish if we don’t identify them, develop them, practice them (v 15), and exercise them. (Application: you have a gift. Use it.)
Guard the deposit entrusted to you. (1 Timothy 6:20, 2 Timothy 1:14)
Paul recognized the sacred trust that Timothy’s gift represented. He pointed to examples within the church of other believers who had started strong, but became distracted and “swerved from the faith.” The teacher didn’t want his student to suffer the same derailment, and so he charged him to take his gift and guard it, defend it, and avoid practices which would take his eyes off of it. (Application: you can lose your gift, or the effectiveness of it. Manage it as a faithful servant who has been entrusted with treasure.)
Fan into flame the gift of God. (2 Timothy 1:6)
It wasn’t enough to simply recognize his gift. Like a tiny ember gasping for oxygen at a campfire, Paul gently reminded his disciple that work would be required if he was to steward the gift well. In the same sentence, Paul inserts the words fear and power and love and self-control. In other words, it is not a reliance upon ourselves and our talents, but a bold dependence on the Spirit that allows us to develop the gifts of the Spirit. (Application: how are you developing your gift? What practical ways are you currently putting it into practice?)
Remember your gift. Guard your gift. Develop your gift. In his final instructions before death, those are three reminders that Paul passed to Timothy. And they’re still reminders that serve us as we use our gifts to serve his church.
Related post: Stop Discovering Your Spiritual Gift