Fan the Flame

2 Timothy 1:3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.  4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. (NIV)


The Apostle Paul is writing his second letter to Timothy. Paul wrote his first letter after his first imprisonment in Rome, when he was under house arrest. Paul’s second imprisonment in Rome was much more severe. Paul was held at Mamertime Prison in Rome, where he was beheaded by Nero probably shortly before Nero’s death on June 8, 68. We know that Nero was still alive when Paul was executed. This letter was likely written in the fall of 67 A.D., since Paul urges Timothy to arrive prior to the winter (2 Timothy 4:21). 

At the time of this writing, Timothy is working with the house churches of Ephesus, and is still contending with false teaching in the church. The purpose of this letter is to call Timothy back to his side for his final days. 

It is my opinion that Paul also “penned” the Book of Hebrews. If true, the Book of Hebrews was probably Paul’s last writing. Since it refers to Timothy being released from prison, it is likely that Timothy was imprisoned for a short time after arriving in Rome, but was released prior to Paul’s execution. We know that Hebrews was written in the 60’s A.D. and prior to the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. Paul likely wrote it in 68 A.D., just prior to his beheading, as a last summary to his people, the Hebrews. 

Paul begins this passage by thanking God, “whom I serve, as my forefathers did” (v.3a). Paul recognizes Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, whom his forefathers served, which was the emphasis of the Book of Hebrews, his next writing. He writes that he has “a clear conscience” and that he prays for Timothy “night and day” (v. 3b). Paul’s “clear conscience” could be the clear conscience that we all have when we are committed to Christ. Or it could be his way of proclaiming his innocence, that he was imprisoned wrongfully. 

He then recalls Timothy’s tears from their last parting and looks forward to the joy that would come from their reuniting (v. 4). Paul and Timothy had a father-son relationship. Paul is then reminded of Timothy’s “sincere faith” (v. 5a). He attributes Timothy’s faith to his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (v. 5b). Timothy’s mother was a Jewish Christian and his dad was a Gentile. His dad did not appear to be an influence on Timothy’s discipleship. 

The literal Greek translation of verse 6a is “For which cause I remind you to fan the flame of the gift of God.” This “gift of God” is the spiritual gift of ministry which was given to Timothy by God, and was recognized by the laying on of hands by Paul, and other elders (v. 6b). Paul is urging Timothy to “fan the flame”, a metaphor for rekindling a waning fire. He is to increase his devotion to the Lord. 

 So why should Timothy “fan the flame”? Because “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (v. 7). The word translated “timidity” is the Greek word “deilia” which also means “cowardice”. It is good to be respectful of your elders, but, in this case, Timothy could not shrink from his duty to confront false teaching by some of the elders. Paul wants him to be bolder in dealing with the false teachers, to “fan the flame”. 

The literal Greek for verse 7b is “but of power and of love and of self control”. The word “spirit” is not in this second half of the verse, like it was in the first half. The word “spirit” was wrongly added to this second half by the NIV translators. The small “s” translation denotes a spirit, while capital “S” translation denotes the Holy Spirit. “Timidity” is a “spirit”, but power, love, and self control come from the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is our “power” (Acts 2:8). Love and self control are fruit of the Spirit. The Greek word for spirit is “pneuma” and it can be translated either “a spirit” or “the Holy Spirit” depending on usage. In this verse both usages apply. 

In the world today, Christians are faced with false teaching and persecution at every turn. The persecution of Kim Davis is a prime example. Accommodations are regularly made, in all vocations, so that people can abide by their religious beliefs in the workplace. In this case, Kim’s request to remove her name from same sex marriage licenses was denied. She had to serve time in jail, like Paul, for her religious beliefs. We are relieved that accommodation was finally made, but the persecution had already occurred. 

The teaching of this passage applies as much today as at any time in history. As Christians, we must remain strong and confront false teaching and persecution, as Kim did. We have the power, the love, and the self control to do so. We must rekindle the waning fire. We must “fan the flame”. 

Art Toombs Ministries 

Online Bible Commentary