Here is the manuscript of John Piper’s message given yesterday at the Gospel Coalition Conference. I’ll add the audio/video links when they become available.
Unashamed Courage in the Gospel
The Gospel Coalition 2009 National Conference
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus, 2 To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 3 I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. 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 gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 8 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, 9 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, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.
I’ll begin by trying to put in my own words the main point of this passage—that is, the point that everything else in this passage supports or explains. I’ll say it as though I were Paul and you were Timothy. In fact, I will deliver almost all of this message as though I were Paul and you were Timothy. The main point of this passage goes like this:
Timothy, keep feeding the white-hot flame of God’s gift—of unashamed courage to speak openly of Christ and to suffer for the gospel.
Feed the Flame!
Feed it, Timothy. Feed it. Feed this flame! Because if you don’t, it will go out. Don’t quench this spirit, Timothy. It is a gift from God. Fan it till it is white-hot. Feed it till it is all ablaze. Everything else in this passage serves to explain and empower that feeding, that gift, that courage, that speaking and suffering for that gospel. Timothy, keep feeding the white-hot flame of God’s gift—of unashamed courage to speak openly of Christ and to suffer for the gospel.
Here’s where we’re going with this main point. First, we will see where it comes from in the text. Second, we will see that it’s the burden of the whole book, not just this paragraph. Third, we will see how Paul intends for this feeding the flame of God’s gift to happen. And fourth, we will do it, that is, I will take Paul’s fuel and, by the Spirit, try to feed the flame of God’s gift in your life.
1. The Main Point in This Text
The text’s main point is found in verses 6-8.
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, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 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.
Timothy, keep feeding the white hot-flame . . . . This comes from verse 6: “I remind you to fan into flame . . .” The imagery of fire and flame is not mine. It’s Paul’s. He says, “Fan into flame. . .”
All I add to this is a few words, like “white-hot,” to bring out two things. First, fire is hot. Really hot. There is hot, and then there is hot. You might say, “I’ve got a fever. I’m really hot.” Well, you’re not really hot. I can touch your forehead, and it doesn’t burn me. But if you light a bonfire, and I stick my hand in it—that’s hot. It’s white-hot.
This is the way Paul talks in Romans 12:11—“Do not be slothful in zeal, boil in spirit.” Paul wants Timothy boiling. He wants him aflame. Not fever-hot, but fire-hot—white-hot. Jesus spits lukewarm ministers out of his mouth (Rev. 3:16). So I use the words “white-hot flame” to make that clear.
Second, I add the phrase “keep feeding.” Timothy, keep feeding the white-hot flame. The reason for this is that Paul’s point is not that Timothy has grown cool and needs one good hot fix. That is not the point. The present tense (verse 6, anazopurein) for the verb “fan into flame” is continuous, ongoing action.
So Timothy, keep feeding the white-hot flame . . . . Feed it. Feed it. Flames go out without continuous fuel.
The Gift of God
Now, what is it that is supposed to be burning? What is aflame? What is to be kept burning? Verse 6 gives the answer. It’s the gift that God has given Timothy. “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God.” Timothy, keep feeding the white-hot flame of God’s gift . . . .
God gave a gift to Timothy. That gift includes fire. The ongoing existence of that fire is dependent on Timothy’s obedience to verse 6: Feed it, Timothy. Fan it into flame over and over again. It will go out if you don’t—even though it’s the gift of God.
And lest you think at this point that God is held hostage to Timothy’s weakness, and can’t make the gifts he gave him successful in blessing his church and reaching the lost, remember, Timothy’s fanning this gift into flame is also God’s gift. God makes the flame of his gifts dependent on our feeding, and then makes our feeding dependent on his grace. We will see this very shortly in the text.
Timothy, keep feeding the white-hot flame of God’s gift—of unashamed courage to speak openly of Christ and to suffer for the gospel. I get the words “unashamed courage” from verses 7-8. Start in the middle of verse 6: “. . . the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 8 Therefore do not be ashamed . . .”
Courage to Suffer for the Gospel
God gave—that’s a gift—a spirit not of fear but the opposite, courage. To be sure, powerful courage and loving courage and self-controlled courage—but the note falls on courage because verse 8 continues, “Therefore, do not be ashamed . . .” That’s what courage is: It is not ashamed.
And specifically this unashamed courage is for what? Verse 8: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel.” Don’t be ashamed of speaking openly about Christ, and don’t be ashamed of the shameful circumstances of those who do—like my imprisonment. And don’t be ashamed to suffer for the gospel.
On the contrary, verse 8 says, “Share in suffering for the gospel.” Embrace this. God has given you this gift, Timothy—to burn with the courage to speak and to suffer. Feed that flame, Timothy. Feed it.
By the Power of God
And notice the last phrase of verse 8: “. . . by the power of God.” When all your feeding and fanning is done, and your flame burns brightly, and you speak boldly, and you suffer valiantly—who did it, Timothy? Where did this come from? God did it. You did it “by God’s power.” You acted; but his power was the decisive cause.
Unashamed speaking for Christ, courageous suffering with Christ, is by the power of God in Christ. Just like the disciples in Acts 4:31—“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.” No one can even say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3)—let alone say it in the Coliseum, or in Afghanistan, or the university classroom.
Through the Laying On of My Hands
How did Timothy get this gift of unashamed courage to speak openly of Christ and to suffer for the gospel? Paul says in verse 6 that he got it “through the laying on of my hands.” “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.” In 1 Timothy 4:14, Paul says, “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.” I think Paul is referring to the same occasion.
So I picture it like this: As Timothy was being set apart for the ministry of the gospel, Paul and the elders were laying their hands on him and praying, and the Holy Spirit moved Paul to say this prophetic word: “Timothy, in answer to our prayers, God is going to give you a flaming unashamed courage for Christ beyond anything you’ve known.”
And at that moment, I imagine Timothy breaking down in tears and weeping. The reason I picture this is verse 4. It says, “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy.” Most commentators, it seems, think that these were tears of farewell, when Paul parted with Timothy. Nobody knows for sure. But why would we guess farewell tears when the main event of Timothy’s life in this paragraph is the enormously powerful moment of the laying on of hands, and having God Almighty, through one of the most authoritative people on the planet, speak over your life: “Young man, against all your predilections and all your weaknesses and all your timidity, you will speak for me unashamedly and courageously, and you will suffer for my gospel.”
I have prayed that perhaps God would do this for some of you right now. That God would take away the spirit of fear and give a spirit of unashamed courage to speak and suffer for Christ. In the name of Jesus, Father, do it.
So there it is. That’s the main point of the paragraph and where I get it: Timothy, keep feeding the white-hot flame of God’s gift—of unashamed courage to speak openly of Christ and to suffer for the gospel.
2. The Burden of the Whole Book—Not Just This Paragraph
Now let the weight of this point sink in as you hear Paul underline it 14 times in this little letter. It is not marginal. It is central. Paul wrote this letter for Timothy—and for you—because the flame of unashamed courage in us is always being smothered by the deadly, seemingly innocent pleasures of this world. May the Lord make this litany of unashamed courage in suffering feed the flame of courage in you:
- 1:16: “Onesiphorus . . . was not ashamed of my chains.”
- 2:3: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”
- 2:9: “I am suffering [for the gospel], bound with chains as a criminal.”
- 2:10: “I endure everything for the sake of the elect.”
- 2:12: “If we endure, we will also reign with him.”
- 2:15: “Do your best to present yourself . . . a worker who has no need to be ashamed.”
- 2:24: “And the Lord’s servant must . . . patiently endure evil.”
- 3:1: “In the last days there will come times of difficulty.”
- 3:10: “You . . . have followed my . . . persecutions and sufferings.”
- 3:12: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
- 4:5: “As for you . . . endure suffering.”
- 4:6: “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.”
- 4:7: “I have fought the good fight.”
- 4:16: “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me.”
If you want an easy life, secure, esteemed, untroubled, comfortable, safe, then get out of the ministry of Christ. And if you are single, don’t marry a woman who wants that. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). The Calvary Road is a hard road. And the most joyful road of all—in the power of God.
3. How to Feed the Flame
Timothy, keep feeding the white-hot flame of God’s gift—of unashamed courage to speak openly of Christ and to suffer for the gospel.
So, how does Paul mean for Timothy to feed this flame? He tells him to do it. Does he show him how? We have already seen part of the answer: The last phrase of verse 8 is “by the power of God.” The flame of your unashamed courage to speak and suffer for Christ is sustained “by the power of God.” You are given a spirit of power, love, and self-control.
So the question is, How does Timothy go on feeding the flame with this power? It’s God’s power. What do we do to experience the fullness of God’s power for courage to suffer? Here is one of the normative ways it works. Make a connection between 2 Timothy 2:1 and 1:2. This is a key.
The Grace That Is in Jesus
In 2:1, Paul answers our question: “You then, my child, be strengthened [be empowered] by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” So the power of verse 8 that sustains the fire of unashamed courage is “by the grace that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So we trace the flame of unashamed courage back to the power of God in verse 8 and then back to the grace of God in 2:1: “Be strengthened—that is, feed the flaming power of God for courage—by the grace of God that is in Christ Jesus.”
So how do you do that? How does Paul do that for Timothy? Now make the connection with 1:2. Watch for the word grace and how it functions: “To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” Timothy, grace to you. Grace to you!
Grace to You—Grace Be With You
To get the force of this, it helps to notice something: Every single letter that Paul writes, without exception—all thirteen of them—begins with some form of the words “grace to you.” And every single one of them ends with some form of the words “grace be with you.” There are no exceptions, including 2 Timothy 4:22—“The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”
Why is it always “grace to you” at the beginning of the letters and “grace be with you” at the end of the letters? Here’s my answer: Because, as the letters begin, Paul believes that God’s grace is being mediated to the readers by the words—the truth—of each letter. And as the letter ends, and people have been receiving grace through reading or hearing these truths, he knows that the readers will now leave and return to the troubles of the world, and he prays that this grace, which they have now received through the word of God, will go with them as they return to the world.
Through the Word of God
In other words, if you ask Paul, “How do I feed the white-hot flame of God’s gift of unashamed courage to speak openly of Christ and to suffer for the gospel?” he answers, By the power of God (verse 8)—the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. And if you ask, “How do I express the fullness of this power?” he answers in 2:1, Be empowered by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And if you ask him, “How do I receive this ongoing grace?” he answers, Timothy, this grace is coming to you right now through the word of God. God’s grace is coming to you in my words. “I have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that I might understand the things freely given me by God. And I impart them in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit” (adapted from 1 Corinthians 2:12-13).
These aren’t ordinary words, Timothy. They are God’s words. You were with me on the beach in Miletus. Do you remember what I said as I left? I said, “I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is powerful to build you up [in courage!] and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).
The answer, Timothy, is that you feed the white-hot flame of unashamed courage to suffer for the gospel by preaching to yourself the foundational truths of this letter. And you feed the courage of your people the same way. God has ordained that his sovereign grace comes to you with power for unashamed courage through my God-given words.
The Promise of Life in Jesus
That was the point of verse 1, Timothy. I am “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus.” I am Christ’s authorized spokesman. I was called to this by the will of God. I did not put myself in this position.
And my authority to speak on his behalf does not have a random focus. It focuses on “the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus.” You have this life—this new eternal life—and you maintain this life by giving heed to what I say. The grace of life, the grace of power, the grace of white-hot unashamed courage comes through my words. Feed the white-hot flame of God’s gift with God’s word.
Which brings us now to the fourth point in the outline. If the flame of God’s gift of courage in suffering is fed by the grace-giving, power-imparting words of Paul, what did he say for the sake of Timothy’s fire?
4. Paul Spoke to Feed the Flame
I see three kinds of things Paul said. I will touch on them only briefly and move from the most intimate to the most eternal.
4.1. First, he thanked God for Timothy’s authentic faith, as a father loving his son (2 Timothy 1:3-5).
I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors [literally: from my parents, 1 Timothy 5:4], with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.
Here’s my paraphrase: Timothy, I believe with all my heart, that your faith, even though it’s rooted in your mother’s and your grandmother’s faith, is “sincere” (anupokritou)—authentic, really yours. You are your own man. You are not mama’s boy. You are not gamma’s boy. Your faith is yours, even though it was first your mother’s and grandmother’s.
Don’t feel less authentic because of that lineage. My ministry, my service to God, is also “from my parents” (verse 3). I too have been deeply shaped by my lineage. Don’t begrudge this family influence, Timothy. Glory in it.
My Beloved Child
And if you are wounded, or sorrowful, or timid, because your father was so absent or so passive in your spiritual upbringing, remember: I am your father. I don’t call you “my beloved child” (1:2) for sentimental reasons, or merely because God awakened you under my preaching. I call you my beloved child, because I am right now being a father to you.
The grace that I am delivering to you right now is coming from your heavenly Father (1:2) and flowing through the words of your spiritual earthly father. That is what I am, and love to be. That is why I long to see you that my joy may be full. I love you. I never had a son. You never had a father who connected spiritually. That is who we are. This is a grace for us, son. Be strong in it (2:1). That’s the first thing Paul says to deliver grace and power and courage to Timothy.
4.2. Paul gives himself as a pattern of courageous suffering with confidence in God’s sustaining grace (2 Timothy 1:11-12).
[For the gospel] I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.
Timothy, when you speak on behalf of the gospel—as preacher or teacher—you will suffer. Consider my life. It has not been easy. But I am not ashamed of the gospel. I am not ashamed of sitting here in prison. And I don’t want you to be ashamed either, son.
And the reason we don’t have to be ashamed is that the one who entrusted us with the gospel is powerful (dunatos estin—he is able, he is powerful, verse 12). He will guard it until we stand before him in judgment. The greatness of his power and the freedom of his grace and his jealousy for the gospel guarantee he will fight for us. He will guard this deposit. He will cause us to feed the white-hot flame of his own gift, until he calls or until he comes. He makes the flame of his gift depend on our feeding and makes our feeding depend on his grace. Don’t be ashamed, Timothy. Be courageous for the gospel
4.3 Finally, Paul takes Timothy back into eternity to show that this empowering, sustaining, flame-feeding grace is absolutely free and sovereign and not dependent on anything we do (2 Timothy 1:9-10).
We’re ending where we began. Paul does call Timothy to act. Timothy, keep feeding the white-hot flame of God’s gift—of unashamed courage to speak openly of Christ and to suffer for the gospel. Feed it, Timothy. Do that. Fan that flame. Feed that fire. And every time you preach the word of grace to yourself, and strengthen your heart with blood-bought promises of life and help, look deep into eternity to see why you are doing this. Verses 9–10:
[He] 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, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
Timothy, my son, listen carefully. The grace of God that awakened you and sustains you and strengthens you and feeds the white-hot flame of God’s gift in you—that grace was given to you “in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”
Before the Ages Began
Timothy, your “name [was] . . . written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Rev. 13:8). Before the creation of the world, God planned creation, fall, redemption, Christ’s coming and the cross. He planned it all. And he planned you in it.
Why did he do it that way? He did it that way so that you would know beyond the shadow of a doubt your salvation, your calling, your triumph over death, your everlasting life is not because of your works—not your legalistic works, and not your works done in righteousness (Titus 3:5). Not anything that you will or feel or think or do.
His Own Purpose and Grace
It is because of “his own purpose and grace” (verse 9). The contrast, Timothy, is not between your works, on one side, and your faith, on the other. The contrast is between your works and your faith and your everything, on one side, and God’s purpose and grace before the world every existed, on the other side.
When Christ died for you, Timothy, to be your punishment and your perfection, and then rose again to abolish death and open everlasting life, what he manifested in that gospel was the eternal purpose of God to be gracious to you. God, for all eternity, has planned to be gracious to you. To awaken you and give you faith and power and unashamed courage and suffering and keeping and eternal glory.
Keep Feeding the Flame!
Therefore, one more time, Timothy, keep feeding the white-hot flame of God’s gift—the unashamed courage to speak openly of Christ and to suffer for the gospel.
Don’t be afraid. I am sure that he will do for you what he has done for me: He will “rescue you from every evil deed and bring you safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Timothy 4:18).
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By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org