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. (2 Timothy 1:5-8, ESV)

What is the “gift of God” that Paul enjoined Timothy to fan into flame? Many interpreters, including Pentecostals, tend to view this gift as the gift of the Holy Spirit that we see in the book of Acts. I’ve heard a number of messages about stirring up the Holy Spirit inside of me, based on this verse. It’s not hard to see the connection. The laying on of hands is associated with receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 8:17-18 and 19:6, and this experience is intimately connected with “power” being given to the believer (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; 4:33; 6:8; 10:38).

While this is a plausible interpretation, I do not think it is the best. Let’s consider other possibilities.

Faith

One such possibility is that the gift of God is faith. This idea is supported by the fact that Paul was specifically talking about faith in verse five. Indeed, Paul specifically said that this faith “dwells in” Timothy (5), so it’s no stretch of the imagination to think that the gift of God that is said to be “in” Timothy in verse six is also faith.

As attractive as this interpretation is, I think it ultimately fails. Notice that Paul says this gift was given to Timothy “through the laying on of my hands.” It would be quite odd to think that saving faith could be given to somebody through the laying on of hands. In every Biblical example, and as a matter of sound reasoning, a person would not have hands laid on them until after they came to faith. The death knell for this proposal, however, is the fact that Acts 16:1 makes it clear that Timothy was a believer before Paul met him. As such, Paul could not have transmitted faith to Timothy by laying hands on him.

Healing

Another possibility is to identify the gift of God as healing. To be honest, this is only a possibility in the sense that there is Biblical justification for associating the laying on of hands with physical healing (Acts 9:17-18; 28:8). However, it clearly does not fit the context here. What would it mean for Timothy to fan into flame his past healing?

Ordination

The final possibility we will consider is ordination to ministry. We see elders laying hands on those they seek to ordain in Acts 6:6. Paul speaks of the laying on of hands in the context of ordination in 1 Timothy 5:22 as well. But does ordination fit the context of 1 Timothy 1:5-8? Yes, and it does so better than the traditional “Holy Spirit” interpretation.

I am persuaded that the “gift of God” refers to Timothy’s ministry. Contextually, we know Paul was discussing ministry. He spoke of a “holy calling” in verse 9. The “us” Paul refers to who have this holy calling appears to refer specifically to Paul and Timothy, not all Christians in general. As such, it is reasonable to assume that Paul is referring to their mutual call to ministry. Paul continued to speak of ministry (his own) in verse 11 when he said that he was appointed as a preacher, apostle, and teacher of the gospel. Finally, in verse 14, Paul told Timothy to “guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” Arguably, the “good deposit” is synonymous with the “gift of God…in you” of verse six.

Understanding the gift of God as referring to Timothy’s ministry makes good sense of 1:7 as well. Timothy clearly had some trepidation in his ministry, which is why Paul wrote to him. He encouraged Timothy to get over the fears that were inhibiting him from fulfilling his calling. To do so, Timothy needed to stir up his calling and exercise it with power, love, and self-control rather than fear.

The capstone for this interpretation of 2 Timothy 1:5-8 comes from a parallel passage in 1 Timothy 4:14:

“Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.”

This verse is very similar in wording and structure to 2 Timothy 1:6:

“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

In the former verse, it’s clear that Paul is referring to Timothy’s ministry since he had previously spoken of Timothy teaching/commanding (v. 11), being an example to the believers despite his youth (v. 12), reading Scripture, teaching, and exhorting (v. 13). Even after the verse in question, Paul continued to speak of Timothy’s leadership (“all may see” [v.15], “you will save…your hearers” [v. 16]).

If these two passages are parallel, and if the 1 Timothy passage refers to Timothy’s ministry, then it makes it highly probable that the 2 Timothy passage does as well. By using very similar terminology in 2 Timothy, Paul was hearkening back to what he had said in his previous letter to Timothy.

The only reason I can think of to doubt the conceptual connection between 1 and 2 Timothy is the fact that attributes the giving of the gift to a group of elders in 1 Timothy but to Paul himself in 2 Timothy. If two different groups are in view, then it would follow that two different events are in view, and thus two different gifts are in view as well. While this objection has merit, I do not find it persuasive because the two statements are not contradictory. Both could refer to the same event and both be true from different perspectives. Paul could have been among the group of elders that laid hands on Timothy, but felt no need to call out his presence when recounting the event in 2 Timothy. Likewise, in 1 Timothy, Paul could have been focusing on his presence to the exclusion of the other elders to personalize the matter in the highly personal letter between the two men.

In conclusion, while identifying the “gift of God” in 2 Timothy 1:6 as the gift of the Holy Spirit is a legitimate and justified interpretation, interpreting the “gift of God” as a reference to Timothy’s calling/ministry makes better sense given the context of the passage, as well as the parallel passage in 1 Timothy.

Keep it in context….