Not a Spirit of Fear

Not a Spirit of Fear

Years ago, in a social psychology class in college, our professor lectured us on the power of societal norms. Performing a public act that might elicit scorn or ridicule invariably causes most people to feel anxiety. We have a natural aversion to looking weird.

Our assignment that day was to do something to break a social norm and write a paper detailing the physiological reactions we experienced. From the list of possible tasks we could perform, I chose the following assignment: “Purchase an item in a store and insist on paying more for it than the retailer is asking.”

As a poor college student, I did not have much money to spare on stuff I didn’t need. Yet I found myself going from store to store unable to complete the assignment. As I walked into the shop, I would mentally rehearse the line I planned to tell the cashier: “I really don’t think you are asking enough for this item. I would like to pay you fifty cents more for it.” But when I finally got to the front of the checkout line, I would chicken out. The idea of drawing attention to myself by saying something unexpected filled me with fear. Finally, I visited a campus snack shop where a friend of mine was working the counter and offered to overpay for a soda. But even pulling this stunt with someone I knew made me feel anxious inside.

I am not nearly as cowardly today as I was in college, but I can still be pretty wimpy at times. I can relate to Timothy, the early church leader who was the recipient of two of the Apostle Paul’s epistles. Timothy, it seems, struggled with timidity. Like many of us today, he found it terrifying to take a public stand for Christ in a culture that viewed his faith with disdain.

In 2 Timothy 1:1-14, we see evidence of Timothy’s struggle with fear. Apparently, Timothy was neglecting to employ his gifts for ministry, so Paul urged him to “fan into flame the gift of God” that was in him (v. 6). He reminded Timothy that “the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (v. 7). He exhorted Timothy “not [to] be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner” and told him to “join with me in suffering for the gospel” (v. 8). Paul also reminded his young friend that to suffer for the sake of Christ, as Paul was doing, “is not cause for shame” (v. 12). He called Timothy to hold onto “sound teaching” and to “guard the good deposit that was entrusted to [him]” (vv. 13-14), perhaps out of concern that Timothy was ready to give up. 

But simply telling someone who is frightened not to be afraid never really helps them. So, in this passage, Paul also reminded Timothy of some powerful gospel truths that could help him overcome his fear. He reminded Timothy of “the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus” (v. 1) and of the fact that “Christ Jesus … has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light” (v. 10). He reassured Timothy that he prayed for him constantly (v. 3), and reminded him of the testimony of Timothy’s godly mother and grandmother, expressing confidence that the faith those women possessed now lived in Timothy (v. 4). He also assured Timothy that “[God] is able to guard what [we] have entrusted to him until [the final] day”, reminding him of “the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (vv. 13-14).

The gospel truths Paul recited to Timothy are important for us to hear today. Like this early church leader, we too live in a culture that scorns many aspects of our faith. To stand out as different, to speak up for Christ, is not easy to do.

We also need to be reminded that Jesus has conquered death and has promised us eternal life. We need to hear that the day is coming when God will reward our faithfulness and that he is with us right now safeguarding the gift of salvation we have received. We also need to pray for each other, as Paul did for Timothy. We need the examples and encouragement of other believers, as Timothy received from his mother and grandmother. And we need to be reminded that the Holy Spirit lives within us, empowering us to overcome our fear. He has not given us a spirit of fear. We have received a spirit of power, and of love, and of self-control.