For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7
Discipline – What makes a sound mind? Did you think it was education, logical thinking or encyclopedic knowledge? If you grew up with a Western world mentality, then you most likely view a sound mind as self-disciplined, astute and logically correct. That’s why the King James translates this verse as “love and of a sound mind.” “Discipline” is closer to the real thought here, but not quite close enough. Discipline can still mean a lot of mental gymnastics for us. That may not be what Paul is thinking when he uses the word sophronismos. Knowing exactly what Paul means from a Hebrew perspective is going to be difficult because this is the only place in the entire Bible that sophronismos is used. So, what can we do? Well, first we can see how the Greek word is constructed. It comes from soos (sound) and phren (understanding). Suddenly, we get a clue. Phren is literally the diaphragm; but figuratively in the Greek world, it is the seat of mental and emotional activity. Did you notice that the Greeks connected steady breathing with self-control? Emotions and thoughts which are outwardly exhibited by calm breathing are considered disciplined. So, it’s not just about the mind, is it? It’s about stabilizing my whole inner world.
Now we know where to look in Hebrew. Proverbs tells us that wisdom, understanding and instruction all go together to bring us into alignment with the character of God. But it’s not simply mental activity. Wisdom (hokma) is about right action. Understanding (bine) is about distinguishing good from evil (and making the right choices) and instruction (musar) is about correction and chastisement when necessary. All of these ideas are present in the Hebrew view of a sound mind. None of them are primarily about thinking.
When Paul says that God has given us a spirit of discipline, he does not mean that God enables us to study better or to eat less or to exercise more. Paul is speaking as a Hebrew. God gives us a spirit that reveals right behavior, correct moral discernment and necessary chastisement. God shapes how we live and what we do, not just what we think. God’s gift is behavioral alignment and correction. A sound mind is seen in the hands and feet of obedience.
Why do I need this spirit-empowered “discipline”? Because without it, I’m a coward. I might know what the right thing is, but I shrink back from doing it. Knowledge is not my problem. Acting is my problem. So many times we know exactly what we should do. We just don’t do it. God gifts us with sophronismos so that we will be able to execute obedience. He gives us a revelation of the correct action, the discernment to know the difference between obedience and disobedience and, when necessary, a kick in the butt to get moving. God will not abide cowards. He expects unsung heroes and heroines. And He gives us everything we need to become just that!
The next time you find yourself shrinking back from doing the right thing, remember who gave you the opportunity to become heroic.
Topical Index: Sound Mind