Hidden Treasures: New Testament Word Studies — FAN INTO FLAMES

Beach Bonfire before moonset at Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Oregon

This past week, the people of Cannon Beach Community Church read Paul’s second letter to Timothy, including these verses found in 2 Timothy 1:6-7.

This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

The phrase “fan into flames,” is another hidden treasure, waiting to be unearthed in this letter and better understood and put into into our daily lives.

In Greek, the phrase “fan into flames,” is a singe word, ἀναζωπυρεῖν, anazōpyrein, a present active infinitive verb. The only time this word is used in the whole New Testament is by Paul in his second letter to Timothy, in our verse. In this single word, Paul reminds the young pastor, Timothy of what he’s told him before, likely having told him earlier, face to face to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave Timothy. Now, in this letter, he reminds Timothy to kindle afresh, or to go on fanning the flames of the spiritual gift God has given him.

Let’s look together at this hidden treasure of a word. Anazopyrein is a collection of three Greek words: ANA + ZOE + PYRE. ANA is the Greek prefix for again, or up, or anew. ZOE is a Greek word for life or a living creature, as in our English word, “Zoo.” PRYE is the Greek word for fire, in this case, a metaphor for spiritual fire. Put these three words together, and the single word becomes “to kindle anew into a living fire.”

If you’ve ever built a campfire, or a beachfire, as we love to do, you know how easy it is for a fire, once lit to go out. A month ago, Cannon Beach Community Church gathered at the beach for a Beach Bonfire Worship Service. I brought a car trunk load of firewood, including kindling, some paper and a box of matches. Pastor Nathan and I built the large pile of wood, lit the fire, and fanned the flames. Very soon, the flames died out and the wood did not catch fire. We hurried back to our cars to gather more paper to help ignite the fire. With a little fanning, along with breezes off the ocean, the paper ignited, the small pieces of wood kindling caught fire, and the whole teepee of the bonfire caught fire, and burned well for the next few hours while we gathered around for a sweet time of outdoor worship and sharing of life together as followers of Jesus.

The spiritual gift Timothy received from Paul was given by the laying on of hands, an act of worship or liturgy found frequently in the New Testament in which a church leader or group of leaders lays hands on an individual, commissioning them or setting them apart for special service, such as Timothy’s service as pastor of the church in Ephesus.

When I was first ordained in September 1984, the church gathered for a special worship service which included laying their hands upon me as I knelt to be ordained as Minister of Word and Sacrament. That time was very special and empowering to me, like kindling a fire for the unique gift of serving as pastor over the past 36 years.

Notice the very next verse, how this fire that has been kindled in Timothy’s life ignites and grows.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

Fire, including spiritual fire has a power, an intensity, an inner energy. Paul recognizes the twin dangers regarding the use of spiritual gifts: 1) hide our gift out of a spirit of fear; 2) misuse our gift out a spirit of pride. Paul tells Timothy that God gives spiritual gifts to be used wisely, like wisely building and tending a fire.

With all the wildfires that have been burning on the west coast, including here in our beloved Oregon, it is risky to write about the gift of fire. While some of the wildfires were ignited by lightning strikes, some of them were also started because a group of people let their campfire get out of control.

Paul warns us about the power of fire. God has given us a spiritual fire, and we need not be afraid or timid about this fire. There is beautiful, life-giving power to the spiritual fire of God, including the spiritual fire of living fully by God’s spiritual giftedness. You are made uniquely, and gifted by God with unique spiritual gifts.

Think of your spiritual gifts as a stack of firewood next to your home, your life. We have several cords of newly chopped and stacked firewood waiting to be burned this winter. We have more than enough firewood for the winter ahead. In our home, we enjoy the use of our wood stove. This past weekend, I spend time cleaning out our wood stove, using a chimney sweep wire brush to clean out the flue, and shoveling out all the old ashes from previous fires.

I like to think of spiritual gifts used wisely as building a fire in a wood stove. God has given us a spirit of power, the power of fire to ignite and bring light and warmth to a whole house. God has given us a spirit of love, the love to use our spiritual gifts for building others up in love rather than misuse our gift in unloving ways. God has given us a spirit of self-discipline, to guard the flame we’ve fanned and brought to life, by containing this flame as though in a well-designed wood stove, where it can bring warmth to the whole home.

Self-discipline is easily overlooked in a self-centered, self-driven world in which we live. Self-discipline is best discovered through loving accountability, where we put ourselves under the mentorship of a wiser person, such as Timothy with Paul. Who is mentoring you and holding you accountable for the ways you are using your spiritual gifts. The ninth fruit of the Spirit found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, in chapter 5 is self-control, a similar quality Paul writes to Timothy in our verses today.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. May you continue to fan into flames, to kindle anew the spiritual gifts God has given to you. May you gather your spiritual gifts like gathering firewood, building a fire, allowing God to ignite the fire of your life by God’s powerful and loving Holy Spirit, and blowing on your fire, fanning the flames in such a way that your whole life will be caught up and ignited by God’s power and love and self-discipline. May your life be like a well-tended fire in a wood stove or a beautiful beach bonfire, where others may gather, be warmed by God’s love through Jesus Christ.