In a story that echoes the adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” U.S. News & World Report related the following story a few years ago:
For most of the last decade, Chicagoans who worked in the Loop, the booming downtown business district, could easily ignore the city’s budget crisis; Washington’s cutback of aid to cities didn’t seem to hurt business. Last week, they learned one price of neglecting the underpinnings of all that economic growth. A quarter billion gallons of murky Chicago River water gushed into a 60-mile network of turn-of-the-century freight tunnels under the Loop and brought nearly all businesses to a soggy halt. It turned out that a top city official had known about the leak, but, acting for a cash-strapped government, had delayed repairs costing only about $50,000. The final cost of the damage could run higher than $1 billion.
That is how accidents and failure often happen — inattention to detail. And so it is also in the spiritual life. We fail because we become inattentive to the gifting God has given us to succeed within the church body. Thus these words from a mentor (Paul) to his disciple (Timothy) are particularly significant: “For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” (2 Timothy 1:6; NASB)
When Timothy trusted Christ, like every believer, he received a gift from the Holy Spirit who indwelt him. But unlike every believer, that gift was made evident at his ordination (1 Tim. 4:14). Yet that gift was not something Timothy, or Paul, or the elders in Ephesus created and bestowed, but it was the direct provision of God. Paul did not give him the gift, God did. And the gift was not temporary, but like the Holy Spirit from which it came, it was the permanent provision of God for Timothy to use to build up Christ’s church.
So Timothy had exactly what he needed to function in Christ’s church in general and to lead and shepherd the Ephesian church as its pastor in particular.
But notice also that the force of Paul’s instruction is not, “start using your gift…” but, “continue rekindling that gift.” Timothy had demonstrated proficiency and giftedness. Now he was being encouraged to continue to exercise that God-given gift and faithfulness. Timothy had become the pastor of the Ephesian church and not only faced persecution from without, but also pressures from within the church (remember Christ’s words to the Ephesians in Rev. 2:1-7). So these verses constitute a preventative measure for Timothy. Adherence to this simple instruction would prevent catastrophic personal failure later.
Timothy had not failed, but there was still the possibility that he would become lax and lazy. So the exhortation from Paul is fitting both for him — and us. It is a reminder that while failure may not have occurred, there are plenty of temptations lurking that will lead to failure. And the preventative for failure is to keep doing the first things. Act like you did when you first received your spiritual gift. Behave like one who is freshly in love with God. Specifically, love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mk 12:30; Rev. 2:5a). And no matter how much spiritual “success” you experience, continue to rely on the resources He has given you to fulfill the function and task He has given you.
Here is our hope and confidence as we serve Christ today: God never calls men to service without equipping them sufficiently for the task.