What was Timothy's gift? (2Tim 1:6)

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Daniel Wee
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What was Timothy's gift? (2Tim 1:6)

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In the last installment, we studied Rom 1:11 to see what Paul meant by the gift that he wanted to impart to the Romans. In that instnace, it was plain that this wasn't a reference to what we understand to be charismatic gifts, but was a reference to the gospel of Christ. We learnt that good exegesis needs to go beyond lexical studies, and that we needed to look to the context for correct interpretation of scripture. We also learnt that the context can sometimes be quite extensive, and include the entire book. In the case of Romans, the matching of the opening and closing salutations gave sufficient clues as to the meaning of the "spiritual gifts."

Now we want to follow this line of thinking further by looking at another very popularly quoted verse - 2Tim 1:6. This verse is usually understood to be an exhortation to Timothy to "activate" his charismatic gifts, which he received through the laying on of hands. The scenario may be that in his timidity, he failed to exercise what might have been a prophetic gift, or a gift of healing, and now he was being encouraged to get on with it. Today's question is whether this was in fact the gift that Paul had in mind when writing to Timothy. What does the text tell us?

To begin with, the typical English translations do a pretty good job with this verse and there is little ambiguity as to the meaning of the sentence. The contextual flow of the preceding and subsequent verses is as follows:-

2Tim 1:5 - your grandmother and your mother had a genuine faith
2Tim 1:5 - I am convinced that you (Timothy) too have this genuined faith
2Tim 1:6 - THEREFORE stir up this gift (singular)
2Tim 1:6 - which is in you through the laying of my (Paul's) hands
2Tim 1:7 - God has given us a spirit of power (also translated strength, authority)
2Tim 1:7 - a spirit of love and a sound mind
2Tim 1:8 - THEREFORE (knowing the above) don't be ashamed of the Lord, or of me (Paul)
2Tim 1:8-11 - for God has done so much for us through Christ (simplified)
2Tim 1:12 - this is why I (Paul) also am not ashamed
2Tim 1:13 - so hold fast to the pattern of sound words
2Tim 1:14 - this good thing which has been commited to you, keep by the Spirit
2Tim 2:1 - You be strong in the grace (Greek: karis)
2Tim 2:2 - the sound words you've heard from me, commit to faithful men
2Tim 2:15 - Be diligent, present yourself as rightly dividing the word of truth
2Tim 1:16 - don't be like those who have strayed concerning the truth
2Tim 2:22-23 - stay clear of fruitless pursuits
2Tim 2:24 - you must be able to teach, in patience and humility
2Tim 2:25 - correct those who are wrong
2Tim 3:1 - for a time is coming when people won't put up with good doctrine
2Tim 3:5 - they may look religious, but their religion has no power
2Tim 3:10 - you, on the other hand, have followed my doctrine and example
2Tim 3:13 - things are going to get worse though
2Tim 3:14 - therefore continue in what you have learnt from me (Paul)
2Tim 3:15 - and from Holy Scriptures
2Tim 3:16 - Scripture is God-breathed, and effective
2Tim 4:1 - So, having said ALL of that, I charge you, "Preach the word!"

That pretty much sums up the flow of Paul's message to Timothy. I've skipped over some bits to try to keep clarity in this flow. It doesn't take too much to see what the theme of 2Timothy is - the teachings of Paul. Even at this stage, some of you, if you can follow the train of thought presented here, will see that this "gift" is since Paul reiterates his charge in 2Tim 4:1 - "Preach the gospel!" It is a recurring theme throughout the espitle. In contrast, the other charismatic gifts such as the gift of healing, prophecy, words of knowledge, and so on, is not even mentioned at all.

At this point, some of you may be wondering - do we have any other corroborating evidence? Well, as a matter of fact - yes. When we read 2Tim 1:6, we can see that there is a background story to this - where Paul had previously charged Timothy with a gift. Where else can we this story but in 1Timothy. In 1Tim 1:3 Paul had charged Timothy to remain in Ephesus to correct those who are wrong, and basically to teach and to preach. In 1Tim 1:18 Paul makes a few interesting points:-

1Tim 1:18 this charge (to preach, teach, correct, rebuke) I (Paul) commit to you (Timothy)
1Tim 1:18 this charge was made according to prophecie

In 1Tim 4:6 Paul reminds Timothy again to instruct the community in the things he had learnt from Paul. He is then told in 1Tim 4:12 not to let anyone despise him because of his age, but to be exemplary. And then, once again Paul goes back to where he left off in 1Tim 1:18, he now picks it up again in 1Tim 4:14:-

1Tim 4:14 - don't neglect the gift (singular)
1Tim 4:14 - that came to you by way of prophecy
1Tim 4:14 - with the laying on of hands by the elders

So, piecing all of this together now - the picture begins to emerge concerning what happened with Timothy. There had been a prophecy (or prophecies) concerning Timothy's calling to the ministry of preaching and teaching of the word of God. Paul had then charged this young man to this specific task, and the elders of the church had together laid their hands upon Timothy to charge him with the authority to carry out that task. You could say that they ordained him through the laying on of hands. This was the gift that came by way of prophecy and the laying on of hands. This was young Reverend Timothy's gift - to preach the word, in and out of season.
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