Question: "What does it mean to stir up the gift (2 Timothy 1:6)?"
Answer: Stir up the gift is a phrase written by the apostle Paul to Timothy, his young disciple in the faith: “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). Stir up the gift also appears in the King James Version of this verse, but other translations read “fan into flames the gift” (ESV, NIV, NLT), “keep ablaze the gift” (HCSB), and “rekindle the gift” (CSB, NRSV).
Paul wrote 2 Timothy from prison while awaiting his execution. He only had a short time left before his death, so he penned this profoundly personal letter full of intense affection and concern for his beloved companion and protégé. Paul knew that Timothy faced an enormous responsibility in leading the church, and he wanted to encourage the young man to stand firm in safeguarding the gospel and spreading the message of salvation in Jesus Christ.
The Greek word translated “stir up” denotes the kindling of a fire, as by bellows. Anyone who has ever tended a campfire knows that stirring up the glowing embers of a dying fire can cause those embers to flame up again and burn more brightly. Timothy was to see to it that his spiritual gift did not grow cold through disuse; he was to “stir it up” and keep the fire going.
All believers receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at salvation. The Holy Spirit brings other gifts with Him, and Timothy had received certain spiritual gifts to enable him to be an effective minister. The gift had come to Timothy through the “laying on” of Paul’s hands—that is, the apostle had imparted this gift at the younger man’s ordination, when Timothy was being appointed to the ministry (cf. 1 Timothy 4:14).
Paul was keenly interested in the life and ministry of Timothy, and he wanted to make sure that Timothy used the gift he had been given effectively, for the glory of God. It’s not that Paul thought Timothy’s faith was weak or dying out, but that he wanted Timothy to experience the fullness of God’s gift. The gifts we receive from the Lord through the filling of the Holy Spirit are not given to us fully developed but need to be strengthened and matured through use.
The gift that Timothy was to stir up was most likely the gift of pastoral administration or the gift of preaching, needed for the bold proclamation of the gospel. Paul links his charge to stir up the gift with Timothy’s timid personality. Right after he reminds Timothy to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave him, Paul says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT). The Holy Spirit won’t necessarily transform a shy person into an extrovert, but He will provide the resources the person needs for every situation (Luke 12:11–12; Acts 1:8; Romans 8:26). God gives us His power when we are weak, His love to deal with those who seem unlovable, and His discipline for the times we lack self-control.
Also, Paul was not suggesting that Timothy keep the Spirit’s flame ablaze by his own human effort. Instead, Paul knew that the Holy Spirit requires our willing cooperation to fill and enable us (Colossians 3:10, 12–15; 2 Peter 1:5–8).
How do we cooperate with the Holy Spirit to stir up the gift?
We stir up the gift by using the gift we’ve been given. We stir up the gift through godly discipline, which produces the fruit of God’s nature in our lives: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22–23). We keep the gift ablaze by not letting our spiritual selves grow cold or, worse, lukewarm, as the church in Laodicea had become (Revelation 3:15–16). We fan the flames of faith by continuing to “keep in step with the Spirit,” following the Holy Spirit’s direction and guidance in every part of our lives (Galatians 5:25). We stir up the gift by not quenching or neglecting the Spirit of God, but allowing Him to thrive in us like a living, blazing fire (1 Thessalonians 5:19; 1 Timothy 4:14).