In his second letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul says,
“For this reason I remind you to fan into the flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim 1:7).
There are three issues in this verse that relate to the theme of achievement. First, there is the “gift of God” and what that is. Second, what does it mean to “fan into flame” the gift of God? And third, what does this say about achievement in Christian ministry? We will look at the first two questions this week, and the third next week.
The Gift of God
First, the “gift of God.” There are various hints in the immediate context that suggest that the “gift” Timothy possesses is the gift of preaching and teaching. Timothy should not be ashamed of the testimony about his Lord (v. 8); he is to suffer for the gospel with Paul (v. 8); and Timothy is to “keep the pattern of sound teaching” that he heard from Paul (v. 13). Timothy is to endure with boldness in the task of gospel proclamation and teaching—the “gift of God” should be understood in relation to that task.
Confirmation of this reading can be found in 1 Timothy 4:13–14:
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.
Here we see mention of Timothy’s “gift,” which was somehow given to him through the laying on of hands—a feature also mentioned in 2 Timothy 1:6. What it means that this gift somehow came through the ordination of Timothy by the Ephesians elders (apparently including Paul) is not the concern here. The point is that the gift of 2 Timothy 1:6 is the same as that mentioned in 1 Timothy 4:14.
It is clearer in 1 Timothy 4:13–14 what the gift is about. Timothy is to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Timothy’s gift is the public proclamation and teaching of God’s word.
Fanning into flame the gift
Second, what does it mean that Timothy is to “fan into flame” his gift of preaching and teaching? Some scholars think it means that Timothy is to reignite his ministry, since the Greek word ἀναζωπυρεῖν (here translated “fan into flame”) can mean “rekindle,” drawing on the prefix ἀνα as meaning “again.” However, the prefix also means “up” (more naturally so, in fact), which means that ἀναζωπυρεῖν can also mean “kindle into flame,” or “fire it up.” I think the latter sense is best here. Paul is not telling Timothy to rekindle something that has died down in his ministry. He is telling him to take the gift God has given him and set it on fire (in a good way).
Putting this together, we see that one of Paul’s key instructions to Timothy is that he is to ignite the gift God has given him. He is to preach and teach like a man on fire.
In other words, Timothy is to develop his giftedness for ministry. Or, to put it another way, Timothy is to seek growing achievement in the use of his gift of preaching and teaching.
Next week we will explore some of the implications of this for achievement in Christian ministry.