Question: "What does it mean that God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7)?"

Answer: Before Paul’s death, Paul writes a letter of encouragement and exhortation to Timothy, his beloved protégé. Timothy has a shy personality and feels uneasy about his weighty responsibilities. Paul does not want fear to stifle Timothy’s ministry or his gift from God, so he addresses Timothy’s spirit of fear.

Paul says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7, NKJV). The Greek word for “fear” in this verse does not refer to reverential fear that is often associated with fear of the Lord. Rather, the word refers to cowardice or timidity. Matthew 25:14–30 provides an example of this type of fear. A master entrusts three servants with gold before embarking on a journey, and only two of the servants increase the master’s wealth during his absence. The third servant fears the master and buries his gold. The master responds to the servant’s cowardice by taking back the gold and giving it to the servant with the most gold. The servant’s fearful spirit hindered his full devotion to the master and his ability to make wise decisions.

In the context of 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul speaks of fear in sharing the gospel amidst persecution. The frightening circumstances surrounding Timothy’s calling to share the gospel add additional anxiety to his already timid personality. Paul encourages Timothy by reminding him of his heritage of faith. His grandmother Lois and mother Eunice provided an example of devout faithfulness to God throughout Timothy’s life. They likely taught him the Jewish Scriptures and showed him how to be an honorable man of God. Paul writes that Lois and Eunice’s sincere faith lives inside Timothy. Paul’s motivation in addressing Timothy’s spirit of fear is not that he doubts Timothy’s sincerity of faith. Rather, he desires to restore Timothy’s courage. Paul goes on to exhort Timothy to fan into flame his God-given gift. Gifts flourish when surrendered to God, and they decay when we allow fear to paralyze us. Fear can hinder a gift’s effectiveness, and Paul says that power, love, and a sound mind will aid Timothy’s flourishing and work toward God’s glory.

As Paul reminds Timothy that God has not given us a spirit of fear, he focuses on the Spirit who gives us “power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT). The spirit of power produces bravery and the resolution necessary to face and endure danger and difficulty. The spirit of love fuels sacrificial service toward God and mankind. Lastly, a sound mind cultivates self-control, alertness, and truth. Paul does not want fear of man or fear of death to keep Timothy from sharing the gospel. For the rest of 2 Timothy, Paul continues to prepare Timothy for a bold, gospel-focused life.

We should not give in to a spirit of fear. When we focus on our anxiety or on our own ability to obey and follow Christ, fear and timidity are the result. Yielding to the Spirit who gives us power, love, and alertness refocuses and calms us. It is only through God’s strength that we can boldly, lovingly, and accurately share the gospel. May we never allow fear to hinder us from sharing the gospel, but instead rely on God to give us courage!