For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7
This verse is often quoted in isolation as a method of encouraging believers to step up and be bold or to not be afraid. But the For with which this verse begins ties it in with the preceding thoughts and it is poor practice to take a verse in isolation when it is clearly connected with those that precede it.
This is one of several thoughts tracing back to Paul saying that he is thankful to God as he remembers Timothy in his prayers and the cause of that thankfulness is being mindful of the sincere faith that is in Timothy (v5). Paul’s mindfulness of Timothy’s faith and his thankfulness for it lead into the next thought, which is Paul urging Timothy – in light of his sincere faith and Paul’s thankfulness for that faith – to rekindle the gift of God that is in Timothy (v6). All of that background is pulled into v7 by the first word: For.
The whole context seems to indicate that Timothy might have needed some encouragement; that his faith – while sincere – was taking a beating and that he was not using the gift God had given him.
Paul encourages Timothy that God has not given us a spirit of timidity. God has not called any believer to be afraid of living out our faith or of using the gifts He has given us. God wants us to be secure in Him, and being timid or afraid shows a lack of security.
Paul then tells Timothy what manner of spirit God has given us: power and love and discipline. The power in question is derived from the same word as the English dynamite. It is power to change things dramatically. The love used is derived from that singular agape (ἀγάπη). This is an unconditional love; a love that does not concern itself with the worthiness (or lack of worthiness) of the beloved, but chooses to love. The last is discipline, which is often a dirty word in modern America. The term used could also be rendered as self-control or moderation – both of which are also often considered dirty words in modern America.
So, can I use the verse – as it is often used – as an encouragement to be bold in living out my faith and using the gifts of God within me? Yes. There needs to be an understanding, however, that the Holy Spirit – the Spirit given me by God – brings with Him power to change that includes changing me; love that includes those who are unlovable; and self-control, which means I am unlikely to be barking in the Spirit or any other such undisciplined behavior. The Holy Spirit does not want me to be afraid to live for Christ and He also does not want me powerless, loveless, or without self-control. The Holy Spirit wants me to live my life with God, secure in the faith.