The apostle is talking about a spirit that has been “given [to] us.” It is identified here as a “gift of God” that can be “stir[red] up.” It is bestowed through the laying on of hands, as we see throughout Scripture. Paul says that God's Spirit is not about human fear. Later in this letter, he reproaches Timothy for being ashamed of the gospel message and of Paul. The younger man seems to have been in some danger of letting down and needed to be admonished to be strong and to endure hardship. All of this is part of the fear to which Timothy was apparently inclined.
Paul contrasts the frame of mind—the spirit—that would curtail Timothy's effectiveness with the Spirit given by God. Paul calls the latter “a spirit . . . of power and of love and of a sound mind.” As in I Corinthians 2:12-16, God's Spirit is linked with mind. If we are yielding to His Spirit, then our minds will be sound; they will be disciplined and self-controlled. Our minds will be sensible, sober, balanced, and restrained, and we will have wisdom, discretion, and solid judgment. Through the guidance of God's Spirit, our minds will operate in a way different from, and often incomprehensible to, those in the world, because we are being impelled by the essence of God's own mind, which is the absolute epitome of sound-mindedness and the opposite of the course of this world.
The Spirit of God is also a spirit of love. We can combine this with Romans 5:5: “. . . the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” Along with that, the first element of the fruit of God's Spirit is love (Galatians 5:22). Godly love is an action—doing the right thing toward God or another person, regardless of the personal cost involved. Its foundational definition is in the commandments of God. A fear of sacrifice—a fear of giving up what is valuable to us—comes from the spirit of the world, but God's Spirit enables us to love through doing what is right and trusting that God will work things out.
The remaining attribute listed here is power. It is the Greek word dunamis, which can also be translated as “ability,” “strength,” or “mighty works.” Dunamis is the capacity for achieving or accomplishing. The Holy Spirit gives a person the capacity for God's will and work to be done through him. But this is not a personal power. Even the miracles with which Jesus Himself is associated were actually performed by the Father (John 5:19; 8:28; 12:49; 14:10). Thus, the power of the Holy Spirit is the outworking of God the Father, rather than something we can use for our own ends.
It is critical to understand that the power of God's Spirit is under the constraint of the love and sound-mindedness of God's Spirit. In other words, it is not simply power for the sake of power, nor is it for self-gratification or self-glorification. The evident power in the Acts 2 account of Pentecost has given rise to churches that seek after similar supernatural displays, yet those displays are entirely divorced from the love and sound-mindedness of God.
People can seek this power for the wrong reasons, and it can be misused. Simon Magus tried to buy the power of God to use for his own ends (Acts 8:9-24), and even the congregation at Corinth had to be admonished because they were not using their spiritual gifts for the benefit of the Body (I Corinthians 12). In the midst of his discussion of God's various gifts, which are simply the outworking of God's power, Paul spends a whole chapter explaining godly love (I Corinthians 13), implying that the Corinthians' approach to those gifts did not include enough love or sound judgment.
He spells out that anything they received—such as spiritual wisdom or the ability to heal or do other miracles, to prophesy, to discern spirits, to speak in tongues, or to fulfill the office of apostle, prophet, or teacher—whatever the spiritual ability, God's Spirit is the source of it all, so there is no ground for boasting. The use of the power of God has to be constrained by the love and sobriety befitting the Most High God, so that He is the focus, not the individual.
David C. Grabbe
What Is the Holy Spirit?
Once regenerated by the Holy Spirit from the Father, we must continually be led by it, bearing spiritual fruit throughout our lives. If we are producing the fruit of the Spirit, which exhibit a sound mind, we know it is working in us. The Spirit is the mind and essence of the divine nature, and through it God carries out His will. It empowers the mind to comprehend spiritual matters, producing conversion. It gives us the strength, will and faith to overcome our sins.
Martin G. Collins
The Holy Spirit
God's Holy Spirit imparts to us His love, giving us the power to obey His laws in their full spiritual intent. The repentant sinner is then a changed person - his whole outlook and purpose is changed as he is led by the Spirit.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Basic Doctrines: Salvation
It takes the Spirit of God to produce a truly sound mind. This verse also implies that, as long as the mind is devoid of God's Spirit, it cannot be considered to be truly healthy. Any mind that lacks the Holy Spirit will, like Esau's, be limited in its outlook, unstable to some degree, and focused on itself. It may be very sharp regarding material things, but it will be deficient in the ability to cope with life in a godly manner because it cannot see things in a proper, righteous-or-unrighteous context. Instead, it will have a strong tendency to twist situations toward its own self-centered perspective. This does not make for good relationships.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Three)
According to Strong's Concordance, the final word of verse 7 is a noun meaning "discipline" or "self-control." Most modern translations render it as "self-control," but "sensible," "sobriety," "self-discipline," "self-restraint," "wise discretion," and "sound judgment" are also used.
God gives His Spirit to us to begin the spiritual creation that will bring us into His very image. Here, Paul ranks self-control right beside seemingly more "important" attributes of our Creator, such as courage, power, and love. Remember, however, that the "fruit" of God's Spirit is written in the singular; it is one fruit, a balanced package needed to make a son of God whole.
These verses tell us what kind of men God is creating. Men of courage, power, and love - and men who are self-governing, sensible, sober, restrained, and disciplined in their manner of life. These qualities are products of God's Spirit in us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control
The Holy Spirit is the power of God—not a personage, entity, consciousness, or part of the Godhead or a trinity. The Bible speaks of the Spirit as the power or mind of God, the power of love and of a sound mind. It emanates from Him and thus can be said to be "poured out" (Titus 3:5-6), "breathed" (John 20:22), and used to "fill" (Acts 2:4) and "anoint" (Acts 10:38).
Martin G. Collins
The Holy Spirit
Remembering that Timothy was a minister of the church of God, the gift was the power and authority to fulfill his responsibility within it. Though this book was originally just written to Timothy, it has application for all Christians. The principles in it involve every one who has the Spirit of God. Each has been given gifts by God to carry out his portion of God's work within the body.
Salvation is more than mere forgiveness of sin. Another part of God's salvation is that He gives gifts—abilities, talents, powers, authority—to do jobs within the church. Salvation requires a journey to the end of God's purpose. It is a way of life that leads to a goal. God gives every one of us the powers to succeed in reaching the end of the journey: gifts of the Spirit given to carry out our functions within the body.
Just as the apostle Paul used the human body in an analogous way, showing that every portion of the body has its function, so has every portion of the human body been given the power to carry out that function in behalf of the body. So with God's church: No matter how scattered it is, or how unified it is, God has given each Christian the power to carry out his function within the body. So Paul prodded Timothy to make good use of those gifts to help the church.
There is no indication within the context that Timothy was falling short in any way. It is clear from the verbal forms that Paul uses here that these were things that Timothy had done in the past and was continuing to do in the present. It could really be written more accurately in the English, "keep fanning the flame." He was stirring the gift, and Paul was saying, "Keep on stirring it!" Timothy was cultivating the doctrine, the major means by which one keeps or guards what has been given.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!
Special spiritual gifts are given through the laying on of hands. Usually, the Holy Spirit was given by the laying on of an elder's hands, confirming baptism. However, Acts 8:14-17 says that the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit after baptism, while Acts 10:44-48 says that it fell upon Cornelius' household before baptism. Sometimes God makes exceptions to work out His own will and plan.
Timothy received special spiritual gifts from the hands of the elders, including the gifts of wisdom and teaching. Paul reminded him that ordination bestowed such gifts upon him and that he needed to stir up God's Spirit to use them.
Martin G. Collins
Basic Doctrines: The Laying On of Hands
When Paul admonishes us to "stir up the gift" in us, he is really telling us to discipline ourselves to put what we say we believe into action. He speaks most specifically about the gift of the Holy Spirit, but the intent of his admonition includes all of the truths we have received as a result of God giving us His Spirit.
Because of grace, the elect are responsible to God to act in agreement with these truths. To act contrary to them is to quench the Spirit. Resisting the truth stifles and smothers good results; it inhibits growth into God's image. Proverbs 25:28 says, "Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls." Such a person is defenseless against destructive forces that pressure him to submit. To do the right requires discipline, the self-control to act in agreement with truth, because virtually everything in life - including Satan, the world's enticements, and our appetites - works against our fervent submission to God. Thus, Paul charges us to exercise the control to stir up the gift.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Five)