Powered by the Spirit
Scripture: 2 Timothy 1: 3-14.
I’d like to start by having you imagine some powerful and loud sounds. The sound of a thunderclap, a jumbo jet taking off, an electric chainsaw, a diesel train, a sports car revving up, the smack of a golf ball being hit soundly. A loud and powerful sound, especially a sudden loud and powerful sound, can make you jump. It can trigger your fight or flight response, your brain firing up your metabolism instantly, so that your body is primed to attack or run away.
Power can be good. We need electrical power in our homes. It’s good to have a power hitter on your baseball team. If you have to harvest several hundred acres, you want a powerful combine. I’m sure you’ve have heard of Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor. He was the home improvement guy on TV who always wanted more power for his tools. And why not? You can get the job done quicker and more efficiently with powerful tools. There’s even something called a “power suit” in fashion. It’s a tailored suit, sharply pressed, designed to give you a polished and professional look so people will have confidence in you and your decisions.
But power can be harmful too. Hurricanes and twisters are powerful storms that cause tremendous damage and even take people’s lives. Think about the recent tornado in Oklahoma, one of the most powerful and devastating on record. In Alberta, a wet spring and heavy rains caused rivers to surge powerfully, causing widespread flooding and the loss of life and property. It’s not just nature that can show the harmful side of power. We human beings have created missiles and nuclear weapons with almost inconceivable power and destructive capability.
I wonder if you ever realized that Christians are supposed to be powerful? Maybe it’s not something that immediately strikes you as a Christian quality, not one we talk about frequently, not one of the fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5: 22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. But 2 Timothy 1 talks about Christians being powered by the Spirit: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”
Have you ever thought about being a powerful Christian? I usually don’t see myself as powerful. Especially as we get older and our bodies don’t always work as well as they used to, it can seem almost rude for me, or, really St. Paul, to suggest that we should have a spirit of power.
Well, what does a powerful Christian do? Let me just read the next few verses again: “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life, – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. There are three verbs in those verses that tell us what we have to do as powerful, unafraid Christians. And they’re surprising.
The first verb is testify. We have to testify. It sounds like a legal word but it simply means tell. We have to tell others about Jesus. We have to share our faith. We have to talk! Talking doesn’t take power, does it? Sometimes it does. Sometimes you’re the only voice in a crowd that wants to speak the name of Jesus. That takes a certain kind of power. The power to stand up against peer pressure.
Sometimes we just feel disinclined to talk about Jesus. We don’t have the energy or we feel insecure. It will take some willpower to overcome that laziness or rise above those inhibitions. Paul seems to be aware that testifying isn’t always easy. He says, “Don’t be ashamed to testify about our Lord!” Don’t be ashamed to talk about your faith. That doesn’t mean, however, that you have to go around forcefully accosting your friends and neighbours, pigeon-holing them into listening to a sermon. It means that in your everyday conversations, you will include references to your faith life. You might mention your church, what you’ve been reading in the Bible lately, what you’ve heard on the news that impacts your Christian outlook. It means people will know, just by knowing you, that you are a Christian. And when the Lord opens the right door or window, it means you’ll talk about the time when Jesus entered your life and it made a difference.
The second verb is suffer. That doesn’t sound very powerful, does it? We have to suffer for the gospel. But it does take power, the power to endure ridicule or misunderstanding and sometimes alienation and estrangement from those who want nothing to do with Jesus. Sometimes suffering for the gospel means having to bear another’s burdens, carrying a hurting friend through a difficult time. When we belong to the Body of Christ, we rejoice with those who rejoice, but we also mourn with those who mourn. It can be difficult and wearying, sometimes, to open ourselves up to the hurt and pain of others. Compassion takes a special kind of power, the power of selflessness and generosity of spirit.
The third verb is “called.” A Christian is called to a holy life. What does a holy life look like? Does it require power? The holy life is one of obeying God’s law out of thankfulness for the salvation, mercy and love he bestows on us in Christ Jesus. That obedience shows itself in grateful service, acts and deeds designed to advance the kingdom of Jesus. The holy life surely does require power! The holy life begins when you wake up in the morning and lasts all day. That reminds me of something humorous I read recently. It’s an honest Christian’s morning prayer: “I want to thank you, Lord, for being close to me so far this day. With your help I haven’t been impatient, lost my temper, been grumpy, judgmental, or envious of anyone. But I’ll be getting out of bed in a minute, and I will really need your help then. Amen.” Every moment belongs to Jesus and it takes a powerful energy to devote your whole day to him, much less your whole life!
So maybe by now you’re thinking that being a powerful Christian is a little out of your league. I feel like that way often, too. I want to say to St. Paul, “Paul, that’s really good advice for Timothy, but I’m more of a wimpy kind of Christian. I’m not really up to all this strong arm stuff.” But Paul wouldn’t accept that. He’d probably interrupt me in the middle of my excuses and say, “But you don’t have to produce this power all on your own. Listen to verse 14: ‘Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.’”
We can be powerful Christians because we have the Holy Spirit in us, says Paul. And the Holy Spirit is powerful! According to the church calendar, we are in the season of Pentecost. We’ve celebrated Lent, Good Friday and Easter. And Ascension Day, when Jesus was lifted up into the clouds and returned to heaven. And then came Pentecost, what some call the birthday of the church. Pentecost was announced by a really loud sound … the sound of a mighty rushing wind. Tongues of fire descended upon the heads of the disciples – symbols of powerful energy. When the disciples received the Holy Spirit, wow, they were changed people! They began preaching powerfully to the people of Jerusalem. 3000 listeners were baptized in one day after Peter’s powerful sermon.
Listen to these words from Acts 2: “They (the new converts) devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” This is visible evidence of changed hearts. The new believers began to lead holy lives, supporting the church, reaching out to widows and those in poverty, sharing meals. In Acts 4 we read, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and much grace was upon them all.”
Take the time to read Romans 16 sometime, maybe later today. The first 16 verses refer to all kinds of ordinary people God used to get the word of salvation out: Priscilla and Aquila, Epenetus, the first convert to Christ in Asia, Mary, who worked very hard, says Paul, Paul’s relatives Andronicus and Junias, Rufus and his mother, who acted as a mother to Paul, too, and many more. Ordinary folks.
The Holy Spirit was their power. In fact, Jesus was anxious to go to his Father so that he could send the Spirit to his disciples. “I’m telling you the truth,” he said, “it is for your own good that I’m going.” “Do not leave Jerusalem,” he told them, “but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.” He assured them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses.” Jesus was going to heaven to represent humanity at the right hand of the Father, but he wasn’t abandoning his friends on earth. He was sending them his Spirit, a Counselor and Companion for their every moment, hour, day and lifetime.
Sometimes Christians stumble a bit over the person of the Holy Spirit, not quite sure about his role in the Trinity. Here’s a simple image I find helpful. Imagine that you’ve received a heart transplant. You’re still you, but you’ve got a new heart. It works way better than the old one. You’re full of joy. It’s a new lease on life. Fear and despair have been replaced by hopefulness and trust that you can go on. Your life has been saved!
Spiritually speaking, that’s what happens as you accept Christ and become a Christian. The heart of Jesus gets transplanted into you. And it’s the work of the Holy Spirit to do supervise and execute the transplant. Like a skillful surgeon, a wonderfully qualified heart doctor, the Holy Spirit transplants the heart of Jesus within you, a procedure that’s going to save your life, and the Holy Spirit is going to stay right there to monitor your recuperation and recovery. He’s going to move right into your hospital room to make sure the new heart keeps on beating well. He’s going to monitor your new Jesus heart for the rest of your life. That’s why the Holy Spirit is called the Comforter. It’s comforting to know that the heart of Jesus is in you and that it’s being tended and cared for the Holy Spirit.
Here’s the most important thing to keep in mind. The power of the Christian is not the power of the world. It’s not a power suit, it’s not the powerful technology of one of Tim Taylor’s Binford tools. It’s a surprising power, an upside-down, topsy-turvy power, the power of a God who was willing to become weak, a God willing to become a baby, a God willing to accept humiliation, flogging, and an excruciating death on a cross. That’s a mystical and astonishing power. It achieves a strange victory where the poor in spirit end up being winners, the last become first and the meek inherit the earth.
I challenge myself and I challenge you to be powerful Christians. It’s not about age, it’s not about ability, it’s not about gender, wealth, status or health. It’s about accepting the Holy Spirit’s powerful intervention in our lives, planting a new heart within us, reinvigorating us, making us unafraid to tell the good news, unafraid to suffer for the gospel and unafraid to lead holy lives filled with love, service and obedience to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Even if our physical eyes don’t see so well, or our physical ears don’t hear so well, our new spiritual heart pumps the blood of Jesus and so we have the strength to flex our faith muscles. In prayer. In a smile. In a kind word. In forgiving a wrong that was done to us. In attending church. In writing a note of encouragement. Powered by the Spirit, even the smallest acts of faithfulness are mighty in the kingdom of God.