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The Gift of the Spirit – Pentecost Sunday

May 27, 2012
 Sermon:  The Gift of the Spirit – Pentecost Sunday
Text:  II Timothy 1:7


Our Scripture today is just one verse, one that I would encourage you to memorize.  Toward that end I am going to ask you to repeat II Timothy 1:7 after me.  “God has not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

The various translations are a little different, but that verse was my mother’s favorite passage of Scripture.  She marked it in every Bible she owned.  You remember that she asked her children to memorize a passage of Scripture at the beginning of every summer.  She had all of us to memorize II Timothy 1:7 at some point.  It was so important to her because at one time in her life, she apparently had many fears.  The truth is that all of us have fears, but the Bible repeatedly gives us the admonition to fear not.  The Bible faces life just as it is. 

Fear can absolutely immobilize us.  One of my great aunts was so afraid of thunderstorms that when thunder and lightning started, she closed every shutter, blind, and curtain in the house, turned out all the lights, and huddled together with everyone in a room until the storm had passed.

My reaction is just the opposite.  When a thunderstorm approaches, I like to sit on the screened porch and enjoy the fireworks, especially if I am at the mountains or the beach.  Those magnificent storms show us something of the majesty of God.

All kinds of phobias can enter our lives.  The fear of spiders, snakes, heights, water, and even food, for example, can absolutely immobilize and disable us.  The fear of failure and difficulty keeps some people from trying anything new.  They stay locked into routine patterns, never exploring beyond what they already know.  Fear is a malady that can make life miserable.  Fear also causes us to act in ways that we know are not the best.  One striking example is prejudice.  All prejudice stems from a fear of people who are different from us, people who think differently or who act differently.

Paul says that God has not given us a spirit of fear but a spirit of power that helps us overcome fear.  Paul is not addressing tyrannical power, which is motivated by fear.  He is addressing the power to overcome weakness, the power to accomplish something important.  Paul himself could say in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who gives me the strength, through him who gives me the power.”  This passage means that we can do whatever God asks us to do, not because we are so capable, but because God gives us the power.  This gift of the Spirit can lead to joy, to a deeper kind of love, to peace, and certainly to a life of hope.  Paul writes in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  God’s power enables us to endure trials.

I just discovered a quote from John Wayne this week that I want to share with you:  “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.”  I really like that idea.  General Norman Schwarzkopf has a similar passage in his book It Does Not Take a Hero.  Schwarzkopf claims that a fine line exists in battle between those who are deemed a coward and those deemed a hero.  He says that both individuals are afraid, but one responds by doing something noble while the other engages in self-protection.

God’s power enables us to endure difficulty and hardship in a way that we could not on our own.  You remember that Paul prayed that God would take away his painful thorn in the flesh.  God said no but then gave this assurance:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.”  Paul offered, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest upon me” (II Corinthians 12:9).  God has not given us a spirit of fear.  He has given us a spirit of power, power to face difficulties, power to face circumstances under which we would normally fold.  God enables us to endure.

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but He has given us a spirit of love.  Contrast that to a spirit of hate.  Fear will promote hate.  It is the nature of prejudice.  John writes, “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear…” (I John 4:18).  We must rely on God’s love.  It relieves our fears.  Because God loves us, we can face almost any circumstance.  We cannot do it on our own.

God gives us confidence to trust in Him.  Paul writes, “We know that in everything God works together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).  No matter our circumstance, God has a way of using it for good.  Even our deepest griefs can be used for some good purpose.  The truth is that when we start loving other people the way God loves, we start praying for them and loving them with the perfect love of God.  We may not like them so much, but they do cease to be our enemies.  Jesus taught that the more we love others, the less we fear.  Love, not fear, motivates EMS works, ambulance drivers, firefighters, parents running back into a fire to rescue a child, and soldiers braving a hail of bullets to rescue a wounded friend.  When we love other people, fear does not rule.

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of self-discipline, or as the translation of the Bible my mother preferred, a spirit of a sound mind.  Either word is fine.  We get the words discipline and discipleship from the same root word.  A disciplined person is a disciple.  When we have no fear and follow Christ, we develop self-discipline because we are his disciples.  That sound mind means that we think clearly, that we do not panic when the chips are down.  It means that we have confidence that God is in control, that we can rely on Him and His strength.  This is the depth of Jesus’ promise to his disciples.  He promised that he would give them the gift of the Holy Spirit.  He would give them a way to face the world.

We must remember that this one short verse of II Timothy 1:7, written in the Apostle Paul’s final letter, offers the last words of a dying man who is in a Roman prison.  Paul specifically mentioned his chains in II Timothy 1:16 when he said to young Timothy, “Listen.  I am a prisoner of Rome, facing a death sentence.”  Timothy wrote the message of Verse 7 “God has not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” in very much the same vein in which he wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, make your requests known to God.  The peace of God, beyond human understanding, will keep your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

 In his first letter Paul encouraged Timothy – a young pastor serving a church in Ephesus – not to be intimidated.  He said, “Let no man despise you because of your youth” (I Timothy 4:12).  I do not know if Timothy lacked self confidence, but here Paul encouraged him to rekindle the flame of his ministry.

Why would Paul make such a statement?  The persecution of Christians was intense.  In the year A.D. 64, Nero set Rome on fire but blamed the destruction on the Christians.  Burning down the slums of Rome was Nero’s idea of urban renewal.  A wave of intense persecution then swept across the empire.  Tradition says that Paul was beheaded by Nero in the year A.D. 66.  Peter, too, was executed, crucified, according to tradition, upside down.  Paul saw this persecution coming and said to Timothy, “You must stand firm, persevere.  God has not given you a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

The same sense of fear was present on the night Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples gathered in an Upper Room.  According to John’s Gospel, Jesus told the men, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Neither let them be afraid” (John 14:1).  Jesus continued that he was going to send them a comforter, an advocate, who would encourage them.  This encourager was the Holy Spirit.  Jesus added, “My peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you.  Not as the world gives do I give unto you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). Why would he make such a comment to those disciples?  They were afraid.  When Jesus died on the cross, they were afraid.  It was not until the day of resurrection that they saw the truth of what Jesus had told them.

On the Day of Pentecost, Jesus’ promise came true.  Acts 1:8 puts it this way, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Could those men really accomplish that mission?  Jesus said they could, not because they were so competent but because his power would come upon them in the form of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus would enable them to be witnesses throughout the world.

We come to this Lord’s Supper Table and celebrate here not only what Jesus has done for us but also the gift of His Spirit.  “God did not give us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

Any person who acknowledges Christ Jesus as his or her Savior is invited to be a part of this meal.  This is not Morningside’s table.  This is not a Baptist table.  This is the table of the Lord.  Let’s celebrate together.

On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread.  He blessed it and broke it.  He said, “This is my body, broken for you.”

Prayer of Blessing for the Bread:  Thank you, Jesus, for your sacrificial death on the cross that we might know the ultimate love and peace that you alone can bring.  May this bread, representing your body, renew our commitment to pursue your will.  Amen.

Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me;
Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me
With power, with love, with a sound mind.

Jesus said, “This bread is my body, given for you.”  Eat it as often as you eat it, in remembrance of him.  Eat all of it.

Prayer of Blessing for the Cup:  Our Father, we are grateful for the power and the presence of Your Holy Spirit.  We pray that You restore our soul in the midst of a troubled world.  We thank You as we partake of the cup.  For we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

            Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me;
            Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me
            With power, with love, with a sound mind.

Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”  Drink it as often as you drink it in remembrance of him.  Drink all of it.

We want to invite any person here who does not know Christ, who has not accepted Christ, to acknowledge him as Savior. This is a day for all of us to make a decision.  In your heart of hearts, I want you to pray that God really will enter your life and your heart through His Holy Spirit, that He will help you overcome the fears in your life, and that you will discover the power, and the love, and the sound mind that only God can offer.  That decision is one that every single one of us needs to make.  You respond as God leads.

Kirk H. Neely
© May 2012

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