On Fire

I remember growing up and my family had a grill for cooking meat outdoors. Steaks, hotdogs, hamburgers and the like. It was not often that we did so, but when we did, we also sometimes roasted marshmellows. Back then we used charcoal grills, not gas nor electric grills. Much more recently, my wife and I enjoy eating S’mores made by first roasting marshmellows over a camp wood fire. In both circumstances, with charcoal or with wood fires, we would have to “stir up” embers made from burning charcoal or wood which would “fan into flames” so as to “rekindle” the fire and “keep ablaze” the fire in order to continue roasting marshmellows. Without a good fire we could not easily roast our marshmellows.

All of these terms I used, “stir up”, “fan into flames”, “rekindle” and “keep ablaze” are part and parcel of the simple process of maintaining a hot fire for cooking. The Apostle Paul used this simple cooking metaphor in his letter to Timothy. During those days of the Early Church and the Roman Empire, charcoal was made and sold as a better fuel for making fires. Paul does not say which it was, charcoal or wood, but his metaphor holds true with either fuel. HCSB says:

2 Timothy 1:6 “Therefore, I remind you to keep ablaze the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands.” (HCSB)

This verse first caught my eye when I read it in the HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible) translation of the Bible. Let’s do a deep dive.

Notice that HCSB uses the word, “ablaze”. What does that mean? In today’s dictionary, ablaze is an adjective with three different meanings in English: (1) burning fiercely, (2) very brightly colored, and (3) filled with anger. Clearly, the first meaning, “burning fiercely” is the one meant to be used. Looking up synonyms for “ablaze” we see other possible adjectives such as “flaming”, “burning”, “fiery” and my favorite, “on fire”. So in my mind Paul is tellling Timothy to keep his gift burning fiercely and to always be “on fire” with his gift of serving the church. Speaking for myself, I want a preacher who is not tepid in delivery, but always “on fire” with the message! Timothy was a young leader who some saw as too young to be a leader, but Paul is encouraging Timothy to persevere because he had the spiritual gift to serve the church as a leader. He is to work hard to serve, to keep studying and applying himself to leading the Church at Ephesus.

Now, here is where it gets interesting in knowing that other English translations of the Bible use one of the other terms I listed above. HCSB is unique in being the only translation I know of that used “keep ablaze”. It was important to me because “ablaze” is not in ASL (American Sign Language), and as a word describing a fire that is burning fiercely, probably not easily understood by Deaf. Other translations such as CSB, NET, DARBY, and LEB all use “rekindle”. KJV , WEB and ASV use “stir up” in their translation. Translations such as ESV and NLT use “fan into flames” while “grow more and more, like a small flame grows into a fire” is used by NCV and ERV translations. They are all trying to translate the same Greek “anazōpureō” word into English. Which is correct? For example ERV says:

2 Timothy 1:6 “That is why I want you to remember the gift God gave you. God gave you that gift when I laid my hands on you. Now I want you to use that gift and let it grow more and more, like a small flame grows into a fire.” (ERV)

They all are! This is a case where a literal word-for-word translation from Greek to English cannot be made without using multiple English words. Using Strong’s Greek Dictionary, I see a mishmash of meanings from Greek root words including “repetition”, “fire”, “life” and “intensity”. Hence, for Deaf I think ERV is the best translation for helping to understand Paul’s metaphor. ERV helps us to add additional understanding that is otherwise only available from Bible commentaries on this verse. Just like when we try to make our camp fire hotter and then keep it hot to roast marshmellows we want to keep our spiritual gifts “on fire” for Kingdom work. It takes work on our part. Patience, study and a desire to use our gift for God. If we stop “stirring up” our gift, it will die out and cool off. Only by a constant effort to use and grow in our spiritual gift can we keep it burning fiercely. Sometimes, studying and comparing other Bible translations can give us a deeper understanding, and this was one such case.

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