“Fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago, from the first chapter of Paul’s second letter to Saint Timothy. Dear friends in Christ: we eagerly spring into action when a person is in physical danger, even if that person is a stranger. We stop for car accidents, we don’t walk by on the other side of the street if someone collapses; if we see a robbery or fire, we don’t ignore it, but instead we call the authorities. Some of you even do this officially as part of a volunteer fire department. Of course, this desire to help is heightened when the person threatened is a good friend or a member of our family. We drive them to the hospital, we check on them, we make sure they are getting the help that they need. If we saw even our neighbor’s cat or dog trapped or in danger, we would do our best to help. When the occasion arises, we are quick to help and protect our neighbor’s body and possessions.
But when the soul of our neighbor is threatened by unbelief and ensnaring sin, we are silent. We pass by on the other side, as if they were of less value than a cat or a dog. If they are trapped in a fire, we risk our lives to save them; if they are in danger of the fires of hell through unbelief, we do nothing. If they are in a car accident, we stop and do what we can; if they have shipwrecked their faith by falling away from the church, we do nothing. If they are sick, we bring them to the hospital; if they are sickened by falling into a sinful habit, we do nothing. Jesus gives us clear instructions on how to deal with sin in the lives of our neighbors in our Gospel lesson: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” If a stranger, much less a friend or family member, or even a cat or dog is in physical danger, we speak up, we try to help. But when our neighbor is trapped in sin, we don’t rebuke, and so we don’t give an opportunity for forgiveness.
Why don’t we speak, why don’t we act? When we see sin, why don’t we rebuke and forgive? When we see unbelief, why don’t we proclaim Christ? The answer is one word: fear. Our actions are motivated by fear, fear of what others might say, fear of what they might do. Fear paralyzes us, it keeps us from doing what is right. Fear of ridicule keeps us from calling our unbelieving neighbor to faith in Christ. Fear of driving people away from the church keeps us from calling a couple living together to repentance. Fear of losing our family keeps us from speaking to them about coming back to worship. Fear of retaliation keeps us from rebuking the gossiper. Fear drives us, it controls us, it keeps us from doing what we know is the right thing to do.
Saint Paul calls on young Timothy and on us to extinguish that fear: “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Do not fear! Christ has not given you the gift of faith, along with many and various other gifts, that you should let them smolder and finally burn out through fear. Those gifts are unique to each and every one of you, and they are gifts that can be used to rebuke sin and proclaim Christ in every relationship you have, every vocation you have been placed into. Do not fear! Fan those gifts back into flame, use them for the sake of the Gospel. Do not let your faith become a dead, inactive gift, but a gift in full flame, living in service of the Kingdom of God. Live in faith, not fear!
Do not fear! Know that right thing to say and to do, and do it, regardless of the consequences that come. “God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control.” Christ has not called on us to be cowards, afraid to challenge this world’s sin and unbelief. Christ has not called on us to be timid, avoiding controversy and offense at all costs. He has not given us a spirit of fear! He has given us a spirit of power: the power of the Law and the Gospel, the two words from God that convict humanity of sin and proclaim Christ’s gracious remedy, two words that change the world. He has given us a spirit of love: the love that speaks God’s Word not as a hammer, to put someone in their place, but in loving concern for our neighbor’s salvation. He has given us a spirit of self-control: the kind of self-control that exercises good judgment in determining how to speak God’s Law and Gospel to individual situations, but then acts without hesitation, doing the right thing no matter what consequences come.
Do not fear those consequences; do not fear what comes from doing what Christ has called on you to do. “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share in suffering for the Gospel by the power of God.” Do not be ashamed of suffering, do not fear! Yes, you will suffer for calling sinners to repentance and faith, you will suffer many of those things that you fear. But do not be ashamed, do not take offense at suffering. God has not given to you a spirit of timidity. Paul suffered the affliction of chains and eventually death for his proclamation of the Gospel. He did not abandon Christ, but instead boldly declared, “I am not ashamed, for I know in whom I have believed.” The One in whom He believed, Jesus Christ, suffered the scourge and cross for His proclamation of the Gospel. Our Lord was not ashamed of His sufferings. And if Jesus wasn’t ashamed of the cross, if Paul wasn’t ashamed of his chains, then we should not be ashamed of our sufferings in this world for His sake. Do not be ashamed of suffering—neither yours, not Paul’s, nor Christ’s—because it was through suffering that salvation came to this world, the end to all fear. Through suffering life was brought to this world, through suffering heaven and earth were reconciled, through suffering death lost its hold upon us.
Do not fear! You have the very treasures of heaven, all the gifts won by suffering and death. Do not fear! You were chosen from before the world began by the One who would take your human flesh, suffer and die for you. Your God is the One “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” Before you did anything, before you acted in fear or in faith, before you served your neighbor in love or sinned, God called you to a holy calling. The Creator of the universe ordered all things in all of history toward your salvation. Everything He does in this world has your salvation as its goal. He elected you in Christ, in view of His cross, the fulcrum on which all history turns, the moment that defines all eternity. Do not fear! You were in the mind of God even before this world began, and He sent forth Christ to shed His blood in fulfillment of those promises, to save you from all that your enemies threaten.
It is this blood-bought salvation that Paul speaks of, “which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immorality to light through the Gospel.” Do not fear! Christ died for you, to promise you an end to all suffering, to drive away your fear. He has abolished death itself through His death, He has revealed life to the entire world. His empty tomb is the promise that your tomb will be empty one day, that you will be raised up bodily to live before Him forever. Do not fear! Death has been abolished, crushed, destroyed; it has no more power, it is an empty shell.
Do not fear anything that this world threatens you with! You have certainty that this world can do nothing to you. The reason why Paul could suffer his chains, even death, was because He held to the one who conquered death. “I am not ashamed, for I know in whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” You belong to the One who has abolished death; what can this world do to you? Jesus guards your deposit, the deposit of your faith, the treasure you have been given by His death and resurrection: forgiveness, life, and salvation. You cannot guard this deposit of faith on your own, as Paul reminds Timothy: “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” Hold onto the faith which has been given to you, but only through the power of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within you. Do not fear! Your certainty is not in yourself, but only in Christ. Because the Triune God guards your deposit, the world cannot take it, no one else can have it, no matter what suffering they inflict upon you. Do not fear! The world cannot touch the deposit given to you, and on the Last Day, the world will pass away, with all sin, and that deposit, kept safe by Christ, will be opened in glory everlasting.
Therefore we live our lives motivated by faith, not fear. In our Old Testament lesson, Habakkuk utters some of the most important words in all of Scripture: “The righteous shall live by His faith.” Those made righteous by the blood of Christ live by faith, faith in the promised redemption, faith in the defeat of death, faith that gives us boldness and confidence as we live out our lives in this world of sin. In faith, we speak when we are called on to speak, condemning sin and proclaiming Christ. In faith, we spring into action when our loved ones, or even a stranger, is threatened by the assaults of Satan, speaking to others the words that brought us salvation. By faith we know that we need not fear the consequences of speaking the truth of God’s word, for Christ has given us victory even over death, and He Himself guards that deposit. No one in this world can take away our salvation. By faith, we are not ashamed of suffering, for it was through suffering that we were given the victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil. The righteous, the baptized, live only by faith, and this faith gives us boldness and confidence in a world that wants us to fear. Only through faith can we confess with Saint Paul: “I am not ashamed, for I know in whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” In the name of Jesus, who has destroyed fear by abolishing death and bringing life and immortality to light, Amen.