What does it mean to stir up the gift (2 Timothy 1:6)?
Paul wrote this exhortation to "stir up the gift" to Timothy at the beginning of 2 Timothy: "Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands" (2 Timothy 1:6, NKJV). Other translations say, "fan into flame the gift" (ESV, NIV), "rekindle the gift" (CSB, NRSV), and "keep ablaze the gift" (HCSB).
Timothy was a sort of spiritual protégé of Paul's, and Paul loved him like a son. Second Timothy is a very personal letter from Paul to Timothy, his younger disciple in the faith. Paul knew he was going to be executed soon and that this was likely the final letter he would be sending. He penned an encouraging letter to Timothy that would help him to continue on the work of leading in the church and furthering the message of the gospel, even after Paul's death.
As Christians, when we are saved, we are filled with the Holy Spirit and He gives us spiritual gifts to use in His kingdom, not only for own sake but for the sake of others (Ephesians 1:13–14; 1 Corinthians 12:7; Romans 12:3–8). The gifts the Holy Spirit gives us are not fully developed; they must be cultivated as we continue to grow and mature in our walk with God. So, when Paul said to "stir up the gift," he was telling Timothy to use the gifts he had been given by God, so that he would continue to grow in them.
When a fire is starting to die out, you stoke the embers and add more logs to get it burning again.
In a similar fashion, we need to use the gifts that God has given us so they do not lie dormant within us — for who can they be of use to then? The gifts of the Holy Spirit, along with His indwelling presence, help us to walk boldly into all God has called us to. This is probably why Paul continues on by saying, "for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control" (2 Timothy 1:7).
The Holy Spirit provides the support and wisdom we need to navigate every situation we find ourselves in (Luke 12:11–12; Acts 1:8; Romans 8:26). For our part, we need to do our best to surrender to and partner with Him, so that we may be willing vessels, filled by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16; Colossians 3:10, 12–17; 2 Peter 1:5–8). When we are weak, God shows Himself strong (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).
In short, the best way to stir up the gift that has been given is to use it. By practicing godly habits and growing in our discipline, we begin to see evidence of God in us by the fruit of the Spirit at work: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:22–23).
We must not become lukewarm in our faith (Revelation 3:15–16), but we must persistently continue on and keep the faith, becoming dead to sin and alive in Christ: "And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit" (Galatians 5:24—25). It's important that we keep in step with the Spirit and do not neglect or quench the work He is trying to do in and through us (1 Thessalonians 5:19; 1 Timothy 4:14).
For we have a purpose. God "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" (2 Timothy 1:9).
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