For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 2 Timothy 1:6-8
Finally the final post, yet not nearly the final word, on Paul’s antidote for timidity. I’ve spoken about such things as slaying lions in snowy pits, about how God doesn’t give a pass to the more “naturally” timid among us, about the difference between fear and fearfulness, that we should be ashamed to be ashamed of Jesus and his friends, how the Holy Spirit infuses us with courage to charge forward, and finally, how power and love specifically counter the fearful disposition. Now let’s conclude with how “self-discipline” has a deleterious effect on a spirit of fearfulness.
“Self-discipline” is, to me, the least obvious piece of Paul’s prescription in the treatment of timidity. What’s the connection here? How does having self-discipline counter my fears about doing God’s will? Remember that the context here isn’t so much about our phobias (heights, small places, flying machines, puppies…) as much as it is about our reticence to follow God in his eternal undertakings and to use our gifts in order to bring glory to the Giver. So, how does self-discipline help us do that?
Though I’m no Greek expert, a simple look at the term that Paul used here might be helpful; especially since the word “self-discipline” is, in my opinion, not the best translation. Neither “self” nor “discipline” are included or even implied in the Greek term (sophron). “Self-discipline” sounds more like it’s about my ability to discipline myself to force fears out of my mind – a “mind over matter” sort of thing. While there is a time and place for that, this just doesn’t fit the context of the passage or the true meaning of the term here.
Other versions translate it — “a sound mind, good judgment, wise judgment, sobriety, discipline, self-control.” I don’t usually do this, but let me quote some of the Greek experts’ definitions of the term (sophron), and then consolidate them and try to make some applications that make biblical sense to me.
Sophron is — “acting in God’s definition of balance … it makes someone genuinely temperate, i.e. well-balanced from God’s perspective… biblical moderation… the root of the word means “soundness” and reflects living in God-defined balance… a safe and sound inner outlook which regulates outward behavior… radically balanced, combining the legitimate extremities of truth from both sides of a matter…”
Surprisingly to me, the old King James Version of this seems like the best rendition – “sound mind.” The predominant concept here is a balanced and healthy way of thinking and acting. It’s a quality of keeping one’s life off the edges, not so we can be safe or comfortable, but so we avoid the extremes that cause trouble and impede the progress of God’s kingdom. When my self-talk sounds like, “What if this happens or what if that…?” the sound mind helps me fight my fears, corral my renegade thoughts and reel them in from the extreme places they like to go.
While this “sound mind” might direct us down the middle of the road, away from precipitous shoulders, in no way does it imply any sort of mediocre middle. The balance produced by the “sound mind” is a radical balance. It helps us remain on the road that will actually get us to God’s intended kingdom-advancing destination, but not necessarily with comfort and safety. Paul himself (along with many of his brave but balanced friends) lived the adventure with anything but ease and security. His sound mind wasn’t the least bit mediocre.
Don’t forget, it’s the Holy Spirit working in our spirit to produce a “spirit of a sound mind.” All of these prescriptions to treat timidity are insinuated by the Spirit and given to us gratis. It’s the Spirit who helps us to “cast down imaginations and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5
I can only imagine that receiving Paul’s apostolic mantle, staying the course of protecting the gospel from heresy, and doing his part to advance the message around the known world in Paul’s absence, mortified young and skittish Timothy! While you may not have been commissioned to such a daunting assignment, you absolutely do have intimidating kingdom responsibilities, impossible to carry out in our own strength and which, to some degree, probably terrify you. You’re scared – he gets that. In fact, if you weren’t, you probably do not realize how ridiculous is the task. But as an antidote for our timidity, the Spirit gives us all the power we need to advance, more than sufficient love to care enough to proceed, and a sound mind to help us stay on track. God’s adventure should frighten us – if it never does, then we’re not on the right ride.
Well known to be a terrifying blast, there’s a popular ride at a local theme park called “The Fire Fall.” Here’s the park’s description of it: “Fall head-over-heels! This thrill ride will take 40 brave riders to a height of 60 feet, then subject them to 360 degree vertical arcs as they twist, turn and spin through both fire and water effects.” Honestly, not being the daredevil that many of you are, this is not the least bit attractive to me. But that’s just me.
Imagine that you go to the park, expecting the thrill of a lifetime. After your tense anticipation during an aggravatingly long wait in line, boarding the ride, getting strapped in, and then taking off, you find the actual ride much less than thrilling than advertised. In fact, it was downright boring. You didn’t experience any vertical arcs or any twisting, turning, or spinning through water or fire. “Why would anyone pay for such a ride?” When you disembark, you realize you had embarked on the wrong ride! This wasn’t the one that you’d heard so much about, the one that your friends dared you to chance. You had gotten in the wrong line to ride on the wrong ride. This one was designed not for adults, but for children! The fear factor is deliberately aimed to a child’s level, and only bores the thrill-seeking adult.
So many believers in Jesus have boarded the wrong ride, one made for kids – a little entertaining, but not the least bit breathtaking. Instead of the adult version, they’re on a children’s ride with other children, experiencing only children’s fears (phobias of lesser dragons and imposter monsters). I use the term “believers” instead of “followers,” because if they were actually following him they’d be experiencing the chilling ride of their lives, screaming with delight and desperation to God for the power, the love, and the sound mind that it takes to experience and endure the entire ride until it comes to a full and final stop. Not until then will they unbuckle their safety belt, disembark this ride, and be ushered to the next awe-inspiring trip and embark on another indescribable adventure – the one that never ends.