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The Relevance of Acts


What did St. Luke intend when writing The Acts of the Apostles? What is the testimony of the early Church? Does Acts speak to the Church today? In an overview of Acts 1-10, we talk about some of the most famous events in church history and discuss why this historical book continues to guide the Church today.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Episode: 18

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Pentecost: Acts 2:1-21

While the Lord’s actions at Pentecost were new, the day of Pentecost was an old observance.  On the day following Passover, the Lord commanded a presentation of the firstfruits of the harvest (Leviticus 23:10-11).  Such a presentation reinforced the recognition of God’s Providence, especially since it happened within the promised land.  Seven weeks later, on the fiftieth day, the Feast of Weeks involved another presentation of new grain to the Lord along with a number of burnt animal offerings (Leviticus 23:15-21; see also Numbers 28:26-31).  Not only was it a day of the firstfruits of the harvest, but Pentecost was also one of the days upon which the men of Israel were to gather together before the Lord (Exodus 34:22-23; 23:14-17).  It was a time of rejoicing and a perpetual remembrance of the great deliverance from Egypt (Deuteronomy 16:10-12).

It was entirely fitting, then, on this harvest festival that the great harvest of the nations would begin.  Jesus Himself told His disciples to “lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35).  The firstfruits of the nations believed in the Lord on that day, and the great harvest continues until the coming of the end.  It is also the beginning of an abundance unlike anything previously.  The time of seeding and tending came in the days of the Law and of the prophets among the nation of Israel almost exclusively, but the fullness of the harvest goes out into all the world.  Had not Jesus Himself promised that “whoever believes in me will also dot he works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12)?

The disciples, obeying the orders of Christ, waited in Jerusalem between the period of His ascension and Pentecost (Acts 1:4).  Their mighty work about to begin there is not the work of men, as if their impressiveness would carry the Church out into the world.  They were shaped by a period of obedience to the will of God, taught to wait on His will and not their own.

The mighty baptism of the Holy Spirit manifested itself with visible signs:  a mighty wind and flames of fire.  These signs were not necessary for the Apostles, as if their wavering faith needed them.  They were meant to console us, because in the foundation of His Church, the Lord confirmed the gift of the Holy Spirit with an extraordinary miracle.  This is further shown by the unique character of this outpouring of the Spirit.  Jesus, after all, had promised that they would be baptized with the Spirit in Jerusalem (Acts 1:5), but this does not mean that it is a regular gift greater than baptism by water.  After all, Peter himself would connect the giving of the Spirit with Baptism explicitly in His Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:38).  Therefore, this baptism of the Spirit marks the beginning of the harvest, and these marvels were signs that the great day of the Lord had come.

Thus filled with the Holy Spirit, they could not help but speak as the Spirit moved them.  Eldad and Medad, filled with the Spirit, prophesied in the camp (Numbers 11:26-30).  Saul also prophesied under the inspiration of the Spirit, to the wonder of those around him (1 Samuel 10:10-13).  Yet in the Old Testament, this was a relatively rare experience, limited in number of people and times.  Now in the beginning of the last days, what was formerly restricted came to be the possession of all people, as testified by the prophecy of Joel which Peter cites (Acts 2:17-21 from Joel 2:28-32).  “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).  This explicit connection of knowledge to the last days clarifies that prophecy is not exclusively the act of preaching.  Rather, like Agabus in Acts 11:28, the hidden things of God were coming to light.  No longer would these things be heard in the dark (Luke 12:3).

Regarding the tongues they spoke, it is first worth noting that they were intelligible without an interpreter, making them ordinary human languages rather than heavenly ones in need of explanation.  “How is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language” (Acts 2:8)?  Yet the presence of such a sign is not a proof of the Holy Spirit all by itself.  Prophets had and could deceive others while calling on the name of God (Deuteronomy 18:22).  Satan himself can work great signs (Revelation 13:13-14).  Even Paul’s concern for interpreting tongues shows that a man could lovelessly exercise such a gift (1 Corinthians 14:26-33).  Rather, the solid proof of the presence of the Holy Spirit consisted in Peter’s proclamation of Christ and the corresponding reception of that Word unto faith (Acts 2:41).  Together with the Word, therefore, the languages of the Apostles were a tremendous confirmation of the work of God that day.

Finally, the long list of the nations at Pentecost points in every direction.  Parthia, Media, Elam, and Mesopotamia all lie east of Judea, and the Jews who dwelled there largely spoke Aramaic.  Not only was this the first place to which Israel was scattered in the Exile (2 Kings 17), but by the time of the Persian Empire, they dwelled among virtually all the provinces without a great concern for returning back to the promised land (Esther 3:8, among others).  Setting aside Judea, the areas of Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia fall largely to the north, likely speaking forms of Greek.  It is also largely in this area that Paul would later do most of his work.  Egypt and Lybia fall to the south.  Notably, however, Rome is also part of this picture, coming from the west.  It is a major indicator not only of the goal of the whole book of Acts, ending in Rome, but also of the mission of the Church.  It would go out to the Gentiles, even if Peter does not yet fully grasp this as he will in Acts 10.  Yet in this moment, the words of Christ find their fulfillment:  “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29).

Fifth Sunday of Easter: James 1:16-21

James admonishes the “twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (James 1:1), that is, the scattered Christians of Jewish descent.  Under the Babylonians and the Greeks, the Jews had come to be scattered throughout the ancient Near East, which the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost shows (Acts 2:5-13).  This letter, then, addresses a wide audience.  As such, James speaks to a wide variety of issues applicable to many situations, making the letter especially important for our own day as well.  Even if we are not the natural branches of Israel, we too may “count it all joy” when we meet various trials as Christians (James 1:2).

The structure of the letter is reminiscent of Proverbs, which approaches the question of the fear of the Lord from a multitude of angles.  James is guided by essentially the same question:  what does it mean to live as a Christian?  The one who fears the Lord will not be merely a “hearer,” but a “doer of the word” (James 1:22).  To regard oneself as religious without actually walking in the way of God in concrete ways is self-delusion.

James speaks directly against any idea that temptation comes from the Lord.  “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).  The “hearer of the Word” imagines that the disparity between his confession and his actions is inevitable.  In other words, he imagines that he is righteous despite his unrighteous anger, and the temptations which arise supposedly come from God because they seem unavoidable.  However, this would make God the author of evil, and the danger of temptation arises from wicked desire, that is, from within.

On the other hand, “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).  There is nothing good which we have that we have not received from the hand of the Lord (John 3:27).  Nor does the Lord give His own evil things (Matthew 7:7-11).  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).  Even the calamities which come from the Lord’s hand work for His good purposes (Amos 4).  Temptation, producing evil, sin, and death, therefore cannot come from the Lord’s hand, because even when He kills, He also makes alive (Deuteronomy 32:39).

A living faith is one such gift from the hand of God.  The sons of God are not such because of blood, flesh, or human will, but because of the will of God (John 1:13).  Our living hope comes through Christ’s resurrection (1 Peter 1:3), and the mighty and living Holy Spirit speaks the word of truth into our hearts so that we hear and believe (John 16:13-15).  This implanted Word bears fruit thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold even in this life, because it is the living Word profitable for training in righteousness.

Therefore, one should earnestly seek the spiritual gifts of God, being long-suffering in the same way as the Lord is patient with our infirmities.  The anger of man is frequently self-centered.  It imagines that it has been slighted in some way, and therefore it seeks vengeance.  But vengeance belongs to the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19).  Thus, this self-serving anger is a fruit of the flesh, part of the temptation born out of wicked desire.  However, the fruit of the Spirit includes patience and gentleness (Galatians 5:22-23), being “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

Second Sunday of Easter: 1 John 5:4–10

The apostle John writes to at least one congregation burdened with controversy. Separatists claiming to be perfect and sinless in some fashion gave way to every kind of sin, believing it to be of no consequence.  Worse still, they could not leave well enough alone, but continually assaulted their former brothers with accusations that they alone knew the real “truth.”  Had not Jesus forgiven all sins?  Why not, then, sin all the more, because self-effort meant nothing?  Salvation comes by grace, after all, and not by works.

John, unlike these separatists, did not engage in direct polemics. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.  But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).  Thus, John writes to the beleaguered congregations, who were anxious and likely wondering whether what their former brethren said was true.  There is no reason to fear, even though the spirit of Antichrist goes out into the world in these men, because God has not left His people without reassurance.

John emphasizes that one such proof of being in the Lord and not in the world is whether a man keeps the commandments of God.  While John, in his often repetitious fashion, highlights this point throughout the letter, he states this clearly immediately prior to the reading: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 John 5:3).  This is not a reversal of the Biblical order.  Good works do not produce faith, but good works are certainly the evidence of such faith, and a willful refusal to seek to keep the commandments of God is a clear sign of a lack of faith.  John even goes as far as to say that “I am writing these things to you so that you  may not sin” (1 John 2:1).  The one who is in Christ no longer “does sin,” to use a more literal translation of phrases like “make a practice of sinning.”  The Christian does not aim for fewer sins than yesterday; the Christian is called to aim for no sins whatsoever.  It is this desire for an actual sinlessness, even in the midst of sin and death, that distinguishes a Christian from the world.

Yet John also points to another comfort for these troubled Christians: faith. The one who believes in Jesus has a real victory over the world and over the desire to sin.  At this point, John seems to address other objections from the separatists, who may have argued that Jesus was not actually God (such as in 1 John 2:22 or 1 John 4:3) or that He was not actually a man (which explains his emphasis on Jesus coming “in the flesh” in 1 John 4:2). There may have been two separate groups, for that matter.  But his point is clear:  God Himself bears witness regarding His Son, and this testimony is greater than the testimony of men, orthodox or otherwise.

There is a real temptation to understand “water and blood” in 1 John 5:6 as referring to the Sacraments, but this needs to be resisted for a number of reasons. First of all, “he who came” is clearly in the past tense, referring to previous events.  Christ does indeed come, as He promised, in the Sacraments, but the wording here looks backwards.  Second, “blood” all by itself would be an odd way to refer to the Lord’s Supper, considering that even Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:26 refers to the two elements of that Sacrament separately.  Third, John’s emphasis that Christ did not come “by the water only” suggests that some had argued this way, and therefore not “by blood,” which could be a denial that He had come in the flesh.

Therefore, “water” here seems to be a reference to Christ’s own Baptism rather than Christian Baptism generally (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22).  Additionally, each of the passages cited include a clear reference to the Lord’s own testimony, quoting Psalm 2:7 regarding Jesus.  At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, therefore, the Father Himself bears testimony with the Spirit regarding Christ.  “Blood,” therefore, seems to refer to Christ’s death on the cross, when He shed His blood for the forgiveness of sins.  Taken together in this way, water and blood refer to the whole work of Christ, Immanuel in the flesh.  It was John, after all, who wrote concerning the purpose of his Gospel that “these [things] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

The Holy Spirit also bears witness to the truth, because He is the Spirit of Truth (John 15:26). As John emphasizes in his Gospel, the Holy Spirit dwells within those who are of God and bears testimony through His living voice about Jesus (John 14:17).  His testimony does not conflict with the testimony of the water and blood, because it is that very testimony that He has been sent to proclaim.  Speaking through His holy Word, the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit works faith according to His purposes and causes that faith to bear the fruit of good works. This, then, is why faith and good works ultimately go together, because both flow from God.

Third Sunday in Lent: Ephesians 5:1-9

Paul exhorts the Ephesians to “be imitators of God” and to “walk in love,” because that is fitting for those who are beloved children of the Lord.  Christ first loved us and offered Himself up on our behalf, “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).  Yet as Christ Himself is a pleasing odor, so also Christians, being in Christ, are called to be a pleasing aroma to God.  This seems to be the guiding thought behind the epistle lesson for today.

Following the flood, Noah offered up some of every clean animal which was with him on the ark, and “when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma,” He inwardly promises never to curse the ground again on account of sin (Genesis 8:21-22).  Yet the odor of sacrifice is not pleasing for its own sake.  “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.  Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them” (Amos 5:21-24).  “Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me” (Isaiah 1:11-15).  For the smell to be pleasing to the Lord, the one offering it must be acceptible in His sight, fit for His worship.  Christ alone is without any blemish or spot, the perfect lamb offered up to the Father for the sake of sinful men.  Christians, then, being in Christ, have been made fit for His worship, clean in His sight, through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The burnt offerings of Leviticus 1 waft up a pleasing aroma to the Lord, but the shedding of blood points to the sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 10).  Such an aroma properly belongs to Christ alone, since through Christ we have been reconciled to God.  The grain offerings of Leviticus 2, on the other hand, also waft up a pleasing aroma to the Lord, but for a different reason.  Grain offerings involve no shedding of blood, and therefore are not meant as forgiveness, but rather as thanksgiving.  Only one who has already been made fit for the worship of God, ceremonially clean, is able to offer such a sacrifice to Him.

Salt formed an important part of such sacrifices.  Leviticus 2:13 states that “you shall season all your grain offerings with salt.  You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.”  Within the context of the New Testament, therefore, salt shows the purpose of grain offerings within the Christian life.  Christ tells us to “have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50).  Paul also exhorts the Colossians to “let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6).  If our speech and conduct is to be salted, then they form our spiritual sacrifice to the Lord, which Pauls says in Romans 12:1 and Peter says in 1 Peter 2:5.

If our speech and conduct are the substance of our spiritual sacrifice to the Lord, then it also follows that such sacrifice, like the sacrifices of old, should be without blemish or spot.  Offering lame or blind or sick animals, for example, is offensive to God (Malachi 1:8).  More specifically with regard to grain offerings, leaven or honey rendered them unfit (Leviticus 2:11).  A little leaven, after all, leavens the whole lump (Galatians 5:9; see also 1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

Participating in sin blemishes the spiritual sacrifice and renders it unfit for God.  Yet Paul emphasizes that even speaking of such things are not fitting for a Christian for the same reason.  Paul rebukes such things, as is fitting, but to season our spiritual sacrifice with leaven is decidedly dangerous.  Leaven, having leavened the whole lump, renders one not only unfit for worship, but outside of the inheritance altogether.  To use a different metaphor, it is far better to resist sin being planted in the first place than to attempt to cut down the plant when it is in full bloom!

It must be remembered, of course, that even within the context of the old sacrificial system, only those who have been made fit for the worship of God were able to come into His presence.  Christ offered Himself up for us and made us to be His own through the shedding of His blood.  The Holy Spirit changes our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.  Only through the working of the Holy Spirit are we able to resist sin at all.  Yet seasoning our sacrifice with yeast rather than salt seems tantamount to tempting the Holy Spirit.  Paul says later in this chapter:  “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret” (Ephesians 5:11-12).  Speaking of such things in a way that does not rebuke them as darkness is akin to participating in them.  “For what fellowship has light with darkness” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16)?  Christians must resist the temptation of sin even in its earliest stages, because Christ has made us to be His own, even while we were still His enemies.

Biblical Piety, Part 4.2: The Practice of Prayer

Part 4.1 of this series.

Prayer takes many different forms. For simplicity’s sake, I will begin with secret prayer.

Secret, simply put, means praying alone. Jesus speaks about it directly: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6). Would you have your reward of men or of God? Prayer done for the purpose of being seen is not prayer at all.

Secret prayer takes place in a couple of ways. One may either pray at set times on a regular schedule or throughout the day. Both have their place in Biblical piety. Both should be done, and neither should be neglected. If we want to “pray without ceasing,” then we should not fear to pray at every possible moment. However, only praying at random runs the great risk of never praying at all. We will always find excuses to put off the things of God because of sin. Choosing a set schedule should be a matter of personal devotion. No law may be made about times. What matters is keeping the schedule. Time can always be found if you look for it. It is simply a matter of priorities.

Prayer throughout the day obviously occurs wherever one might be at the time, but there is a great benefit in choosing a physical location for prayer at set times. Setting apart a particular place can aid in devotion, because it prepares the mind and the soul for the task at hand. One may choose to decorate such a space with devotional reminders, especially Biblical verses, for the same purpose. A kneeler or a kneeling pad can also be appropriate in such a space if desired. Caution is needed, however, so that one is not distracted by such décor. There is much to be said for simplicity.

The posture of prayer is also not confined. The key with such posture is to aid focus and devotion. Kneeling with hands folded is a posture often associated with prayer, and therefore may be useful. Sitting or standing does not negate prayer, however, nor does praying with unfolded hands. It is also immaterial whether one’s hands are intertwined or palms together. None of them is a mark of orthodoxy or of faith, and one must beware of making any of them a means of being seen by men.

Do not feel a need to rush through prayer. If one is rushing, it is probably being treated as a chore, which calls for a prayer for repentance. Taking one’s time in prayer can be as simple as allowing for silence before, during, and after prayer. We should be mindful and attentive during prayer and not wandering off in our thoughts, our words, or our actions.

Prayer should be formed by and flow out of the Word. Therefore, it is highly appropriate, especially during set times, to incorporate some portion of Scripture. The Psalms are especially suitable for this purpose, since they are Biblical prayers. If you follow a schedule of reading smaller sections of Scripture regularly, they can be easily incorporated into set prayer times.

Devtional aids, such as prayer books, can be beneficial. Written prayers are not necessarily less sincere, since as will be shown below, being led in prayer is also a kind of prayer. Written prayers do run a great risk of being done mindlessly, however, and should be used thoughtfully. Extemporaneous prayers, also sometimes called ex corde prayers, meaning “from the heart,” are also good, especially since praying at all times often calls for prayers made up on the spot. They can be just as mindless, though, especially if they lapse into repetitiveness. Some things, however, are not beneficial. Beads, for example, encourage mindlessness in prayer, since they are meant to be used as a way of “keeping count” while the mind “meditates” on something else.

As for the content of prayer, there is nothing which is “too little” for God. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). It may be that we ask for the wrong things, asking for a serpent instead of a fish. As James says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3). We so often put so many parameters and qualifications on how we desire it to be answered that it may seem like He never answers us the way we want. However, God does answer prayer, and He desires that we bring everything to Him, because in prayer we recognize our need for God in all things. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:4-6).

If you find yourself at a loss for what to pray, make that a part of your prayers. The Holy Spirit Himself prays with us and guides His Church also in her prayers. Directly invoke the Holy Spirit as an initial prayer, perhaps saying something like “Come, Almighty God, the Holy Spirit, and teach me to pray.” He will not fail to answer such a prayer, just as Jesus taught His disciples to pray when they asked Him (Luke 11:1).

One may also lead or be led in prayer. Such should also be done reverently, following the same ideas which guide secret prayer. One must strive harder to avoid a Gentile desire of approval when not praying alone, of course, but we are Christ’s body, the Church. Husbands and fathers are called to lead such prayer in the family, since as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:3-4: “The head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.” But in the case of public prayer, the pastor leads the prayer of the Church as a whole. Following another in prayer is not demeaning, but it should not be used as an occasion for mindlessness.

The Spirit of the Ministry: Part 3

It is common when attending the ordinations or installations of a new minister to hear one of the fellow pastors urge the newly ordained or installed man to, “love your people.” Paul appears to be doing the same thing in 2 Timothy as he tells Timothy to fan into flame the gift of the Spirit, which is further defined as the Spirit of love.

One would expect Paul to spend some space then in the body of this epistle discussing how Timothy is to minister in love. Surprisingly though, the word, “love,” is seldom used. “Love,” is mentioned by name alongside righteousness, faith, and peace as something Timothy is to pursue. Paul’s own, “love,” is noted in a description of his own ministry along with his teaching, conduct, aim in life, faith, patience, steadfastness, persecutions and sufferings. These are hardly extended treatises on love. Three perversions of love are listed in the section on the difficulties of living in the last days. Among the vices of those without faith is that they are, “lovers of self, lovers of money…not loving good…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”

But to therefore conclude that love is an unimportant feature for the ministry of Timothy is to commit a word-concept fallacy, supposing that because the word love is not explicitly used that the concept is missing. While Paul doesn’t tell Timothy to, “love his people,” in those exact words, he shows what the minister’s love of the elect people of God consists in.

“Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” (2 Timothy 1:10) Paul’s initial exhortation to Timothy to, “share in suffering for the gospel,” is punctuated with this statement of purpose. He is willing to be bound in chains and to face all, even death, for the sake of the elect. That willingness to share in suffering for the sake of the Gospel’s proclamation and the salvation of those who believe is pastoral love in action. Paul returns to this willingness to bear suffering again when he contrasts his own ministry with that of the godlessness of the last days. And what Timothy has learned and seen in Paul he must continue in.

What does it mean for pastors to, “love their people”? It means that they will do all that they can, that they will endure many hardships and sufferings, so that they can share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with as many people as they can. It means not being ashamed of the Gospel, but putting oneself on the line for that message. Laying down self, financial gain, and pleasure that others may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.

This self-giving love is what is needed for the ministry. It is the true form of love as opposed to love of self, money, or pleasure. And this kind of love is that which the Spirit will work in those who have received Him. It is the cruciform love of the Savior, imitated by the apostle Paul, and continued to be displayed in Timothy and those after him. “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

The Spirit of the Ministry, part 1

Paul’s letters to Timothy are full of urgings, exhortations, and admonishments to pastors. In order to classify what we read we engage in dogmatic anachronism and label the bulk of what we find here, “third use of the law.” If we were to ask Paul though, he might call these letters something more along the lines of fatherly teaching. After all, the letters are addressed to Timothy, “true son,” (1 Timothy 1:2) and, “beloved son,” (2 Timothy 1:2) respectively. Perhaps this overt paternalism is an underlying factor as to why some find the third use of the law so difficult to hear or give. But any pastor who wishes to be a faithful son must listen closely to father Paul.

Especially in his second letter we find Paul’s fatherly advice to his tearful son (2 Timothy 1:4). The cause of Timothy’s tears is left unmentioned. It may be that he is saddened by Paul’s imprisonment, by some aspect of his ministry, by some personal issue, or some combination thereof. Whatever the case may be, Paul writes to strengthen Timothy, and through him, all pastors.

Rather than counseling Timothy on avoiding pastoral burnout, Paul advises the opposite. “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:6-7)

These two verses stand out as the purpose of the rest of Paul’s paternal exhortations to all of his spiritual sons. The gift of God, cha’risma, that is in Timothy must not become idle. Instead it must be rekindled, that is, fanned into flame. The imagery is of an ashen over or lowly burning fire being tended with a bellows or even human breath. From that fire will come the heat and light that warms and brightens Timothy for his ministry.

As pragmatists we may wish to rush on to the ever-important question of how such a rekindling is to be performed. But before we can answer that we must know what this gift of God is. Once this is answered we can explore the relation between the gift and its use. That will be the goal of future articles in this series.

Paul refers to his apostleship as a gift, cha’ris, from God (Romans 1:5). He also speaks of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors as gifts, do’mata, of the ascended Christ Jesus to the church (Ephesians 4:8-11). While it’s possible that he is appealing to Timothy’s inheritance of that same office, it’s unlikely, given that the gift Paul appeals to is later described as a spirit of power, love, and soundness of mind. While Timothy’s office might be appealed to for authority, it’s difficult to see how an office could be the source of power, love, and self-control.

A second option would be that the gift of God is a reference to a particular aptitude or ability that Timothy received. In the passages where Paul enumerates various gifts, chari’smata, he refers to them as services, activities, and manifestations of the Spirit (Romans 12:3-9, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11). But arguing against this interpretation of Timothy’s gift is the fact that Paul’s appeal to Timothy is of a more general sort. He doesn’t remind Timothy to use a particular ability, but rather a gift that touches Timothy’s entire ministry. Also arguing against a specific gift to Timothy is that Paul says it is a gift that God gave, “to us.”

The passage that stands most directly parallel is 1 Timothy 4:14. There Paul first reminded Timothy of a gift that he received at the time of his ordination. Whereas in the second epistle the urging is to rekindle the gift, here Paul couches his admonition to use the gift in a negative command, “Don’t neglect…” Once again the gift is not specified.  But as in 2 Timothy, the appeal to this gift is in context of Timothy’s entire ministry. That the gift is said to be given through prophecy rather than through the laying on of Paul’s hands doesn’t imply a different gift, or even a different occasion, but a fuller view of what occurred at Timothy’s ordination. While this is a direct parallel, it doesn’t bring us any closer to defining the gift.

The closest we get to a definition is that the gift is not a spirit, pneuma, of fear, but rather one (a spirit) of power, love, and soundness of mind (2 Timothy 1:7). Left unsaid is whether this is an endowment of the Holy Spirit or the emboldening of Timothy’s human spirit. Perhaps this is a false dichotomy. After all, the Spirit certainly effects the human spirit.

A final passage that illuminates the whole matter can be found without even having to leave the second epistle to Timothy. Some 7 verses after mentioning this gift Paul writes, “By the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:14) Here is a clear passage describing an indwelling, common gift, which is to be, “used,” throughout Timothy’s ministry of guarding that which he has been entrusted with, the church.

The gift is one that was received upon Timothy’s ordination. It is a gift that applies to his entire ministry. This gift can be neglected or can be stirred up. It is a gift that is, “in Timothy,” but that he shares in common with Paul at least, and more likely all who’ve been ordained. The gift is a spirit of power, love, and soundness of mind. The gift is the Holy Spirit.