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Read 2 Timothy 1:3–7

Fear is an epidemic in our time. So many people go through their lives held captive by their fears. Anxiety-related mental illnesses affect millions. Some are so dominated by their fears that they become paralyzed, unable to move forward with their lives. In such cases, professional care is necessary and appropriate.

But many of us allow ourselves to be affected by garden-variety fears that would not have power over us unless we gave it to them. In various and sundry ways we choose to live in fear. We worry unnecessarily. We listen to news stories that tell us the world is a dangerous and uncertain place, and we give credence to those stories that confirm or further provoke our fears. We let the chaos of current events unsettle our minds. We give control to those who have a vested interest in making and keeping us afraid.

This is not the way a disciple of Jesus is meant to live; the testimony of Scripture bears this out. Consider the many times throughout both Testaments of the Bible that God or Jesus or an angel says, “Do not be afraid.” Consider Isaiah’s instructions: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears, or be in dread” (Isa 8:12). Consider Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear” (Matt 6:25), because what is worry if not irrational fear? Consider 1 John 4:18, which says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”

And consider the words of 2 Timothy 3:7: “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” The writer of the letter, probably someone writing in Paul’s name a few decades after the original Paul’s death, is encouraging his young protégé to be courageous in his living out the gospel; he wants him to “rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim 3:6).

It is instructive, especially in this season of Lent, to read on to find out for what purpose “Paul” wants “Timothy” to have a spirit of power and love and self-discipline. We find it in 3:8: “Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel” (emphasis added). Not just in sharing the gospel, not just in recommending the gospel as a guide for moral living, but in suffering for the gospel. This would seem to indicate that there is something dangerous, something off-putting, something that requires courage about that gospel, or good news. And there is. The good news of Jesus is bad news to the powers that be, because it is all about demolishing hierarchies and promoting power-with and in many ways turning the world on its head. That takes courage, because the powers are not content to let such a dynamic and challenging proclamation go unanswered. If the gospel was only about the salvation of individual souls after death, it would threaten nobody and would require no special courage. But the true gospel of Jesus—the good news of the reign of God—will almost always occasion conflict and suffering. A spirit of cowardice just won’t cut it.

In what ways have you suffered for the gospel? In what ways are you prepared to proclaim the radical, earth-shattering good news in these days of Lent? Are you ready and able to face conflict without fear? To forgo cowardice in favor of power, love, and self-discipline? To give your all for the way of Jesus?

Grace and peace,