God’s Gifts to the Faithful

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” —II Timothy 1:7

EVERY precious text of the Bible is like a rare jewel, which by itself is brilliantly beautiful, yet the more glorious when viewed in the light of its setting. This is certainly true of the text which heads this article. As students of God’s Word we know that God has not given his people the spirit of fear, and we know that he has given them the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. But these blessed assurances take on an added depth of meaning when examined in the light of the subject matter of which they are a part, and the background of the epistle in which they appear.

What is that background? The epistle was written by Paul during the last days of his imprisonment in Rome, and shortly before he was executed—.at a time when he knew that he was to be put to death. It is, therefore, in the nature of a farewell message to Timothy and to the church. “I am now ready to be offered,” he wrote, “and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”—II Timothy 4:6-8

The epistle indicates that Timothy was planning to visit Paul before he was executed, and the apostle encouraged him to carry out his plan. Paul knew, and so did Timothy, that there was a certain amount of risk attached to an undertaking of this kind, but apparently Timothy was willing to risk his life in order to encourage Paul in this great time of need. And Paul was quite willing to have him do so—indeed, he urged him to come.

There would seem to be a connection between this contemplated visit and the words of the apostle in the verse following our text, where he writes, “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the Gospel according to the power of God.” These words are not outlining a mere theory, for they were written from the heart, and reveal the true attitude of Paul and the experience of his entire Christian life. That life had been one of suffering, of privation, of weariness, of imprisonment; and now it was to be climaxed by violent death at the hands of pagan executioners. Yes, Paul had truly experienced the afflictions of the Gospel, but in so doing he had also experienced the power of God to sustain him in his every time of need. God had given him the spirit of power.

And now he was assuring Timothy that God would also strengthen him, that the divine spirit of power would be his ready helper, no matter how severe the afflictions of the Gospel might become—and they are severe for all those who are truly faithful to the Gospel. No follower of the Master has known that better than did the Apostle Paul. Indeed, he was told about it right at the beginning of his walk in the narrow way. Concerning Paul, the Lord said to Ananias, “For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”—Acts 9:16

This statement was verified throughout Paul’s entire Christian life, for it was almost continuously marked by suffering. Nor did he ever try to sidestep the opportunity of suffering with Christ. That which directed every decision of his life was not how it would affect him, but what the will of the Lord might be, and oftentimes the will of the Lord directed him to do things and to go to places which the apostle knew in advance would lead to suffering.

A notable example of this was when he was journeying to Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit testified that bonds and imprisonment awaited him there. The brethren who had less spiritual discernment than did the apostle interpreted these testimonies of the Holy Spirit to be warnings from the Lord, a definite indication that he should not go to Jerusalem. But Paul disagreed. He decided, and properly so, that the Lord was merely testing him by giving him this further opportunity to suffer for his name’s sake, so he said to his advisers, “What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”—Acts 21:13

Paul went to Jerusalem, was imprisoned, and by his own choice appealed his case to Rome, knowing that it would prolong his bondage and perhaps lead to his death. Truly, Paul was a partaker of the afflictions of the Gospel, not because he was unable to escape persecution, but because his faithfulness to his covenant led him to the forefront of the battle against the powers of darkness. In this he followed the example of Jesus, who voluntarily laid down his life for the sins of the people and to the glory of God.

Sustained by God’s Power

Paul, like every other follower of the Master, could not have walked the Christian way alone. He struggled and suffered and endured only because God gave him the spirit of power. And the apostle could rely on the everlasting arms always being underneath and around him to sustain and to comfort, for God had promised that it would be so, and each day of his life of faithful service this promise was verified over and over again.

Not once, merely, had God promised to give Paul, and all of his people, power and strength, but hundreds of times, and in many meaningful ways. “They that wait upon the Lord,” wrote the prophet, “shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”—Isa. 40:31

It was because Paul had experienced the fulfillment of this and the many other promises of help in time of need, that he could write so confidently to Timothy—even when facing the executioner’s axe—that God gives his people the spirit of power. God does not give the spirit of fear, he wrote. It was this spirit of fear that had caused some to forsake Paul in his hour of need. (II Tim. 1:15; 4:10,16,17) But not all had thus succumbed to the spirit of fear. Onesiphorus was one who had remained loyal in the face of danger, and concerning him the apostle wrote, “He oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: but, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me.”

What a beautiful compliment to Brother Onesiphorus! This humble brother in the Lord could not be an apostle, but he shared in the apostle’s ministry by his willingness, at the risk of his life, to stand by Paul and encourage him. This was doubtless one of the ways that the Lord gave Paul the spirit of power, for he uses his consecrated people to strengthen one another. Those who are fearful, however, cannot thus be used by the Lord.

There is, of course, a proper fear for a Christian to possess. Paul speaks of it, saying, “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” (Heb. 4:1) Here the word fear is used to describe an alertness which we should all exercise in connection with the carrying out of every detail of our covenant of sacrifice. We should have a genuine concern lest, by carelessness, or for some other reason, we come short of doing the whole will of God. But fear in the sense of being afraid of what the consequences of faithfulness might be to the flesh, does not come from the Lord. It comes from Satan.

Knowing that God had given him the spirit of power, Paul also knew that he would do the same for Timothy, hence urged him to carry out his good intention of coming to see him in his prison home. In the apostle’s own heart and mind there was not a shadow of doubt about the Lord’s willingness and ability to sustain him all the way to the end. “I am persuaded,” he wrote, “that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” (II Tim. 1:12) Being persuaded of this for himself, he was also persuaded of it for Timothy; for he knew that if Timothy was faithful to his covenant, God would also give him the spirit of power which would enable him to endure whatever experiences might come to him as a result. What a blessed assurance!

The Spirit of Love

The Lord also gives his people the spirit of love. In this connection the apostle seems to be speaking of the spirit of love particularly from the standpoint of its being the motive which induces the Christian to choose a path of sacrifice and suffering. Love is a godly motive, exhibited by the Creator’s own sacrifice on behalf of humanity when he gave his dearly beloved Son to die for the sins of the people. Concerning this we read that “God so loved the world that he gave.” (John 3:16) The natural desire of fallen man is to protect his own interests, and to acquire that which he thinks will give him security and happiness. If one voluntarily takes a course in life which means giving and sacrificing and suffering and finally death, there must be a strong motive for so doing.

There can be various motives to inspire one to sacrifice. Patriotism leads some to lay down their lives. In other cases, the supposed glory of martyrdom has been the motive. Paul indicates the possibility of one’s giving all his goods to feed the poor, and even of giving his body to be burned, yet not having love as the motive. But in such a case, the apostle writes, “It profiteth me nothing.”—I Cor. 13:3

Paul knew that one of the conditions of the narrow way was that of giving all one’s goods to feed the poor, for Jesus had so stated it to the rich young ruler. (Luke 18:18-30) He knew also that, symbolically speaking, a Christian must give his body to be burned. (Heb. 13:11-13) Paul was not one to set aside these terms of Christian discipleship, and he is not doing it in this Corinthian epistle. He is merely pointing out the importance of being prompted by the proper motive when we lay down our lives in the Lord’s service.

A service rendered to another from a wrong motive might conceivably be a benefit to the one served. It was evidently this that Paul had in mind when he wrote to the Philippians, saying, “Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: the one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: but the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the Gospel. What then? Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.”—Phil. 1:14-18

The true endeavor of a Christian should be to become godlike, and God is love; and because God is love, he gave. So with us, if, through the divine plan of the ages, God has given us a vision of himself and of his love, and we are inspired by that vision to give as he gave, then our work of sacrifice will not only bless others, but will result in laying up treasures in heaven for ourselves—it will profit us much, even “glory and honor and immortality.” (Rom. 2:7) How glad we should be, then, that God has given us the spirit of love, and thereby has inspired us to lay down our lives in his service. Paul rejoiced in this even though it had resulted in his imprisonment, which would lead to his death.

The Spirit of a Sound Mind

It is through the instructions of his Word that God gives us the spirit of a sound mind. The psalmist sums up this thought for us very beautifully, saying, “Thou through thy commandments host made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts.” (Ps. 119:98-100) How true this is! And even in the material things of life the Lord’s people should be able to exercise better judgment than those who are not blessed by the guiding principles of the Word of God.

Soundness of mind, of judgment, was manifested by Jesus, and we should have the mind of Christ. It was evidently the example set for us by Jesus that the apostle had in mind when he wrote to Timothy that the Lord gives his people the spirit of a sound mind. However, the apostle’s viewpoint on the subject seems to be quite different from that of many of the Lord’s people when they speak of exercising the spirit of a sound mind.

Let us, by way of contrast, note that difference. At times we may be inclined to say that we will not attend the prayer meeting this week because we are a little tired and it wouldn’t be the spirit of a sound mind thus to overtax ourselves. Or we may offer excuses for not doing other things which clearly come within our privileges in carrying out the terms of our covenant of sacrifice with the Lord. Is this offering of excuses for unfaithfulness what the apostle meant by exercising the spirit of a sound mind?

Evidently not, for had it been, he would have advised Timothy not to undertake the hazardous effort to come and visit him in prison. Rather, he would have written to him that taking such a risk would not be exercising the spirit of a sound mind. Just the reverse of this is apparently what the apostle was urging Timothy to do, and assuring him that by so doing he would be exercising the spirit of a sound mind! This brings us face to face with the question of what soundness of mind really is from the divine standpoint.

Again we observe that Jesus exercised soundness of mind in carrying out the terms of his covenant with the Heavenly Father, and certainly there is no way for us to manifest the spirit of a sound mind other than faithfully to follow his example. Let us, then, explore the mind of Christ as we see it operating in connection with some of the experiences of his life. Let us note, for example, what he said to the man who expressed a desire to become a disciple, but asked the Master to wait until he buried his father.

We, of course, do not understand all the customs of that day, and we know that other scriptures reveal clearly that every Christian has a certain responsibility toward those dependent upon him according to the ties of the flesh. But aside from this, there is a straightforwardness about Jesus’ reply to this man which is worthy of consideration. He said to him, “Let the dead bury their dead.” (Matt. 8:22) It is your privilege to become a follower of me without delay. Perhaps some of us might have said to this man that what he suggested doing would be but the exercise of the spirit of a sound mind, but Jesus didn’t say this. From the standpoint of worldly wisdom, Jesus’ reply might seem unsound—radical, in fact—but because it was Jesus who said it, we accept it as a manifestation of true soundness, and therefore as an example which should serve for our guidance.

Another occasion in the Master’s life furnishes us with an even more striking example of the manner in which his mind viewed the privilege of sacrifice. It was when Peter advised him not to go to Jerusalem, where he would fall into the hands of his enemies and be put to death. “Be it far from thee, Lord,” is what Peter said to the Master, and the thought he had in mind when offering this advice is what we, too, might have told Jesus. This would not be exercising the spirit of a sound mind.

But Jesus did not agree. “Get thee behind me, Satan,” was his rebuking reply to Peter. (Matt. 16:22,23) Then Jesus explained to this well-intentioned but misguided disciple that his advice was simply a human viewpoint—“Thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Soundness of mind from the human standpoint would certainly have dictated that Jesus would be doing wrong—making a terrible mistake—to go to Jerusalem under the circumstances. But such is human wisdom, which is based upon self-interest and self-preservation.

Soundness of mind from God’s standpoint is expressed in the Master’s words—also spoken on this occasion—“Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matt. 16:25) From the human standpoint a philosophy of this kind seems very unsound, but it is expressive of a principle which we as Christians are to follow. It is a divine principle, and the Master’s expression of it, as well as the manner in which he applied it, are among the means by which our Heavenly Father has given us the spirit of a sound mind. For us to plan our lives contrary to this principle of sacrifice would mean that we were not exercising the spirit of a sound mind.

As we noted earlier, the Apostle Paul was confronted with a similar situation to the one which tested the Master’s willingness to lose his life sacrificially, when the Holy Spirit testified that bonds and imprisonment awaited him at Jerusalem. Paul accepted this opportunity of sacrifice in the same manner as Jesus. He expressed himself as being willing to die at Jerusalem if this should be the Lord’s will. His advisers, even as did Peter in the case of Jesus, urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem. These were brethren in the truth, but not having advanced far in the Christian way, they were still influenced by the viewpoint of worldly wisdom, to the effect that one’s first consideration should be to take care of oneself.

Your Reasonable Service

Turning from the examples of Jesus and Paul, let us note a well-known statement by the apostle in Romans 12:1. In this scripture he speaks of a reasonable service—or a reasonable worship, as some translations put it. What the apostle speaks of as reasonable must of necessity be expressive of a sound mind, for when one is no longer able to reason he is said to be unsound of mind. Obviously, therefore, what the apostle here speaks of as reasonable would manifest what he describes in our text to be the spirit of a sound mind. And what is it?

“I beseech you therefore, brethren,” he writes, “that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” In other words, soundness of mind on the part of a Christian can be manifested only in the presenting of himself and all that he has in sacrifice—the losing of his life, as Jesus explained it. The mind that leads us to do this is the mind of Christ, for Paul wrote, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who … humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8) And the mind of Christ was a sound mind.

Just as the Lord assures us of his sustaining power to strengthen us in our every time of need; and just as through his Word he inspires us with his love, so also through his Word he gives us the spirit of a sound mind. He has done this through the types, by precept, and by examples—the examples of Jesus, and Paul, and others who sacrificed their all in his service.

And in Paul’s farewell letter to Timothy, we find him urging this faithful disciple not to fear the results of faithfulness, but to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, to endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. “It is a faithful saying,” wrote Paul, “for if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him.” (II Tim. 2:1,3,11) Thus does the apostle verify the words of Jesus that if we lose our life in sacrifice with him, we will save it, and live with him and reign with him

“All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” wrote Paul. (II Tim. 3:12) We would be manifesting the spirit of an unsound mind were we to chart a course in life with the object of avoiding persecution and suffering, yet the mind of the flesh would have us so do. But let us strive to keep the body under and be guided by the mind of Christ. This doesn’t mean that we are to search for trouble, but it does mean that we should be faithful to the Lord, to the truth, and to the brethren, regardless of what the consequences to the flesh might be. This we will do if the Lord has given us the spirit of love. And we can be assured of the necessary strength to perform our covenant of sacrifice, for the Lord has also given us the spirit of power—strength for every time of need.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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