God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. – 2 Timothy 1:7
It seems many professing Christians live in fear of the world’s disapproval. This fear not only appears to be true of many churchgoers, but it also seems true of many church leaders. This is one reason why, in today’s cultural climate, many churches seem to have little to offer. They have set their focus more on growing their organization than fulfilling their holy calling. They are called to honor God and preach the word, but instead, they measure their success by the fickle approval of man. This causes them to flinch when the world is displeased. It will also cause them to back down from the word of God when it does not help them meet their goals.
This tendency to shrink back is why Paul reminds Timothy that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power (2 Timothy 1:7). Paul was nearing the end of his ministry, he was in jail, and he was about to face the death penalty. Timothy knew this, and he was tempted to shrink back from his calling. Being able to stand for the gospel against cultural pressure is not something we can do in our strength. It requires a spirit of power that can only come from God.
American Evangelicalism is ill. As the secularization of our nation grows more potent, it appears fewer and fewer professing Christians are up for the challenge. This loss of courage is why we need to hear Paul’s words afresh. God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power.
You can imagine what Timothy may have heard as he went out to preach. “Oh, you are Paul’s protégé’, he is locked up and facing death, and if you keep it up, we will do the same to you.” How do you stand at a time like that? Only in the power of God. If you believe your mission as a Christian is to gain the approval of the world, you will immediately crumble. However, if you know your calling is to proclaim the light of Christ to dying people by the power of God, as their darkened hearts become more evident, you will become more diligent.
Before we run out to confront the world, there is more to this verse we need to consider. It says, “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a self-control.” John Calvin asks, “Why did Paul add ‘love’ and ‘self-control’ after ‘power.’” He went on to answer, “In my opinion, it was the purpose of distinguishing that power of the Spirit from the fury and rage of fanatics, who, while they rush forward with reckless impulse, fiercely boast of having the Spirit of God.”
Some people believe their belligerence and constant engagement in ignorant quarrels is proof of a God-given spirit of power, but it is not. It is a counterfeit. It is worldliness in Christian garb. The strength our Lord gives us to defy the demands of the world, and, if necessary, even specific civil laws that may result in our imprisonment, must be regulated by love and self-control. For what does it matter if we withstand the world but have not love.
We must defy a spiritually dead culture and not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord: not because we hate the world, but because we love our God, and we love them. Do we love them enough to suffer for them? Even if we are chained up like criminals, the word of God is not bound (2 Timothy 2:9) A.W. Tozer once said, “A fearful world needs a fearless church.” The more the world hates the gospel, the more it needs us to preach it.