The other day I heard a man say, “I owe it to Jesus Christ that I can walk down the street with my head held erect and my shoulders squared to the world. I owe it to Him that I can look a pure woman in the face and grip an honest man by the hand.”
—Robert A. Laidlaw (1885-1971)—
At the close of the Book of Acts, we see that Paul was under house arrest: He “dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him” (Acts 28:30-31). The year was approximately AD 61. Because of insufficient historical information, scholars have difficulty reconstructing events in Paul’s life beyond this point. Still, many believe the apostle subsequently was released from confinement, that he traveled and continued his preaching ministry, and that he later was rearrested and imprisoned once more in Rome. Between these separate Roman imprisonments, Paul wrote two of what we now know as the three Pastoral Epistles: 1 Timothy (written around AD 64) and Titus (around AD 65). He wrote the third, 2 Timothy around AD 67 during his second imprisonment, just before being executed under Nero.1,2,3
Timothy was a pastor in Ephesus (see 1 Tim. 1:3). In his first letter to Timothy, knowing the pressures his “true son in the faith” (v. 2) was facing as a young pastor (see 5:23), Paul encouraged his protégé with regard to several matters, including the critical importance of combatting false teachings (see vv. 1:3-11; 4:1-10), spiritual warfare (see 1:18-20), corporate worship (see 2:1-15), church leadership (see 3:1-16; 4:11-16; 6:1-21), and the treatment of the church’s widows and elders (see 5:1-25).
When he wrote 2 Timothy, Paul knew his time was short: “Because Paul was at the end of his life, he thought of the kingdom of God as a present heavenly reality, a destination at which he was about to arrive (4:18). Even so, he looked forward to the future glorious form of the kingdom that would be revealed in connection with Jesus’ ‘appearing’ on earth again (4:1).”4 Keep in mind the observation that for Paul, God’s kingdom is a “present heavenly reality.” We will recall it in just a few moments.
It is in 2 Timothy that we look today for a strong word of admonition and encouragement. Paul told Timothy right off the bat that he was praying for him, that he missed him, and that he was appreciative of the spiritual heritage that had set the stage for Timothy to genuinely commit his life to Christ:
2 Timothy 1:3 I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, 4 greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, 5 when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.
Then the apostle encouraged Timothy with these important words:
6 Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
What does stirring up or kindling one’s spiritual gift have to do with the confidence that comes through God’s powerful, loving, and discerning Spirit? Plenty—and to Timothy as well as the thousands upon thousands of pastors who have served in churches since the 1st century, the connection was—and is—self evident. Effective church leadership relies not only on a repudiation of fear, but also on all three of the qualities Paul highlighted in verse 7 as characteristic of the Spirit God gives. One writer observes that power “works,” love “cares,” and self-discipline (another meaning of the word translated “sound mind”), “controls.”5
This isn’t just about pastors, however. All believers need courage, power, love, and self-discipline to exercise their gifts. Even so, the next verses establish with bedrock certainty that Paul’s encouragement to Timothy has application for every Christian. Continuing, Timothy’s mentor and spiritual guide wrote,
8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, 10 but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. 12 For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.
13 Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 14 That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.
Are you ever tempted to be ashamed of the gospel of Christ? Are you ever tempted to shy away from defending life, marriage, and the principles and values that God ordained and graciously gave to humanity through His Word and affirmed through His Son? It’s true that these are difficult days for Christians. Evil surrounds us, and it seems to be multiplying exponentially. Yet, even in the midst of this darkness, the confidence we need to point people to the divine light of Christ comes from God. It’s this simple and straightforward: The Lord “has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (v. 7).
Just ask Corrie ten Boom. In the throes of German’s occupation of Holland during World War 2, Corrie and her family defied the German government to save hundreds of Jews from extermination. Eventually they were arrested. Many members of Corrie’s family, including her father Casper, her brother Willem, and her sister Betsy, died in confinement or as a result of the conditions of their imprisonment.
In the latter part of 1944, Corrie and Betsy were imprisoned at Ravensbruck, a German concentration camp. Ravensbruck’s horrors truly were unspeakable. Cruelty, hunger, sickness, and death were overwhelming—but despite the barbarism and brutality, Corrie and Betsy held out the light of God’s love and God’s truth to the women in their spheres of influence. God miraculously had arranged for the ten Boom sisters to have a Bible, and with it they pointed others to divine strength, courage, warmth, comfort, and love. I quote Corrie at length to convey as much as possible the full extent of her experience.
It grew harder and harder. Even within these four walls [of Barracks 8, where the women were assigned,] there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy. Will You carry this too, Lord Jesus?
Barracks at Ravensbruck
But as the rest of the world grew stranger, one thing became increasingly clear. And that was the reason the two of us were here. Why others should suffer we were not shown. As for us, from morning until lights-out, whenever we were not in ranks for roll call, our Bible was the center of and ever-widening circle of help and hope. Like waifs clustered around a blazing fire, we gathered about it, holding out our hearts to its warmth and light. The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the word of God. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”
I would look about us as Betsie read, watching the light leap from face to face. More than conquerors.…It was not a wish. It was a fact. We knew it, we experienced it minute by minute—poor, hated, hungry. We are more than conquerors. Not “we shall be.” We are! Life in Ravensbruck took place on two separate levels, mutually impossible. One, the observable, external life, grew every day more horrible, The other, the life we lived with God, grew daily better, truth upon truth, glory upon glory. 6
Now, recall at this point what we noted earlier about Paul’s perspective when he wrote 2 Timothy. The apostle, who was close to the end of his life, “thought of the kingdom of God as a present heavenly reality.”7 This was Corrie and Betsy’s experience as well. Betsy would enter God’s presence before year’s end, but Corrie would not pass from her earthly life until several decades later. She died in 1983 on her 91st birthday.8 Corrie and her sister were experiencing the reality of God’s kingdom in one of the worst places on earth. God’s Word had given them and the other women of Barracks 8 a window into His world. As they availed themselves to the Lord, they knew and experienced this world, despite the evil and darkness that surrounded them. Corrie continued,
Sometimes I would slip the Bible from its little sack with hands that shook, so mysterious had it become to me. It was new; it had just been written. I marveled sometimes that the ink was dry. I had believed the Bible always, but reading it now had nothing to do with belief. It was simply a description of the way things were—of hell and heaven, of how men act and how God acts.9
Corrie ten Boom
There is more. Although she didn’t speak of it directly in the above quoted statements, it is clear Corrie ten Boom and her sister knew the courage of which Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:7 (see also Rom. 8:12-15). They experienced the power, the love, and the discernment and discipline God’s Spirit supplies. You see, fear is incompatible with the kind of faith the ten Boom sisters exercised. Fear simply cannot coexist with God’s Spirit.
What does all this have to do with us? Well, as we have said, Paul’s admonition to Timothy wasn’t just for Timothy; it is for us as well. Are we letting God’s Spirit, along with His Word, remind us of heavenly realities? I am not trying to say that we in America necessarily will experience horrors like those that took place at Ravensbruck; yet it is becoming quite clear that even in this country, it is costing more every day to live as a faithful Christian. Despite the cost, we need not be ashamed of the gospel or of any of the values and principles the Bible upholds. We can face the future with confidence because God’s Spirit, who resides within us, is a Spirit “of power and of love and of a sound mind.” He will enable us to see and uphold the reality of God’s kingdom, even before we arrive!
Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1Holy Bible, ESV, Scofield Study System, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 1579, 1590, 1585.
3“Timothy, Second Letter to” in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2003), 1599.
4Kendall H. Easley, Holman QuickSourceTM Guide to Understanding the Bible, (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2002), 335.
5Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 1110.
6Corrie ten Boom with Elizabeth and John Sherrill, The Hiding Place, 35th Anniversary Edition, (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1971, 1984, 2006), 206.
8Guideposts magazine, source for Ten Boom Family Timeline, in Corrie ten Boom with Elizabeth and John Sherrill, The Hiding Place, 35th Anniversary Edition, (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1971, 1984, 2006), 267.
9Corrie ten Boom with Elizabeth and John Sherrill, 207.