“For God did not give us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
II Timothy 1:7
The day I was born a calf was also born on our farm, prompting my grandmother to jokingly dub the calf “I Timothy”, and to dub me “II Timothy”. Needless to say, I have been drawn to the book of II Timothy for most of my life. The character of Timothy never ceases to enthrall me. I believe that it would require the greatest of the English character actors to portray this complex and nuanced man. He remains for me an example of a rather timid and retiring man who stood firm in the face of great opposition.
We are able to piece together a composite picture of Timothy from the New Testament. We know that he was raised by a single mother and a grandmother; he was a shy, introverted, and sensitive young man. We see him sometimes holding back in ministry because of timidity, and allowing others to look down on his youthfulness. But he was among the Apostle Paul’s most trusted companions, and spent more time in ministry with Paul than any other person. Paul mentions him in almost every letter, and commends him to the Corinthians as “my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord” (I Corinthians 4:17).
Paul reminds the Philippians of Timothy’s exceptional character: “I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare…Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel” (Philippians 2:20, 22).
But in today’s Scripture text Paul is writing to Timothy at a time when a shy, retiring young man will have to take up the torch from Paul. It is a time that “Christianity…humanly speaking, trembled on the verge of annihilation” (Hadley Moule, Studies in II Timothy). Nero has begun his intense persecution of Christians, false teachers are multiplying, and all the churches in Asia have turned away from Paul (II Timothy 1:15).
As Paul writes to Timothy he knows that he will soon be executed by Nero, and that most everyone close to him has abandoned him (II Timothy 1:15; 4:9-12, 16). But in the face of great opposition Paul reminds Timothy: “God did not give us the spirit of fear…”
Timothy can know that anytime he is afraid of persecution or afraid of the uncertainty of the future, his fear does not come from God. God’s perfect love casts out fear (I John 4:18). Rather than giving us fear, God has given us a spirit “of power, and of love, and of a sound mind”.
It’s a fascinating Greek word that is translated as “sound mind”. It is the word sophronismos, which is a combination of two words:
soos (salvation) + phren (mind)
Soos is the Greek word for salvation, and phren is the Greek word for mind. We do not have to live like people who have lost their minds! Rather we are people whose minds have been saved by God. We are not disoriented in the face of opposition or trial, because God has saved our minds. He gives us healthy minds that will be able to take things in and figure them out.
Neither shy, retiring Timothy, or you and I, need be disoriented by any difficult times ahead. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of minds saved and sound by His grace. We can “keep our heads when all around us people are losing theirs” (Rudyad Kipling).
Grace and peace,
photo by edmenendez