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Power, Love, and a Sound Mind

 

Old Testament Reading: Psalm 40:1-17

New Testament Reading: 1 John 4:16-19

Text: 2 Timothy 1:7 "God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power and love and a sound mind."

This sentence is surely one of the brightest of the many precious jewels that glint and glimmer throughout the text of the Pastoral Epistles. First a word about these epistles, then on to the implications of this verse.

1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus are all the work of a single author, but that author was not the Apostle Paul. Many people took pen in hand in the decades after the death of the great Apostle to the Gentiles to say what they imagined he would have said to the church in their own later day. These three were written probably about 150 AD, fully 90 years after the death of Paul. They have been called the Pastoral Epistles since the last century when, I believe, Schleiermacher gave them that tag.

These letters reflect a Christianity that is more at home in the world than was the enthusiastic church of Paul himself. They partake of a more conventional kind of Christianity, and thus they are sometimes more readily applicable for us denominational Christians today. To be sure they contain their share of ossified ecclesiastical nonsense, such as the ban on women teaching in church, but they have more than their share of theological and liturgical riches as well, and it is one of these riches I want to explore with you this morning.

The writer assumes that Christians have received a spirit, and he probably means the Holy Spirit, at baptism or confirmation. He paused to remind the reader, as Jesus says in some texts of Luke, just "what sort of spirit you are of."

It is most certainly not, he says, a spirit imparting fear, timidity. Not that there is such a spirit, you understand, and he's just saying we received another one rather than that one.  No, his words are ironic. He means that it would be absurd to think of God imparting to us a spirit that would make us hesitant and indecisive, afraid to engage the tasks and challenges of life.

Yes, it would be ridiculous, all right! Can you imagine Jesus saying to the disciples in the Upper Room on that last night together, "I will send you a Spirit of fear, and he will make you afraid to pursue my work. Thanks to him, none of you will have the courage to testify to me. I bequeath you tribulation, not peace." Absurd! Comical!

Yet it almost might be said that some Christians believe they have received such a spirit, such a poor timid ghost. Look at the way they live their lives! For these poor souls the Christian life has degenerated into a long and pitiful process of introspection, in which one's chief duty is never to take any chances, to do nothing that might mar one's perfect testimony. To allow no passion to flare up and disturb one's saintly stoic equilibrium. They can take no stand on any issue for fear of being wrong. They will undertake no endeavor lest it prove not to have been the will of God after all! But they have received only the spirit of fear and they blaspheme the Spirit God really wanted to give them, by attributing these cringings to him.                   

Did you come to Christ because you thought roasting in Hell was the alternative? Then I suggest you received the spirit of fear and no part of your Christian life will escape its baleful taint. For you, is Christianity a question of being for Jesus Christ -- or is it a matter of being against everything else? Evolution, the Occult, secular humanism, Satan. Are you the Christian knight errant tilting against these windmills? Some of you have known such a religion of fear. Thank God you are free from it, that he has not given us such a spirit!

This week in my office I had the chance to talk with a young mother who had begun attending a new church where the members told her that her mother was involved with witchcraft, so she would no longer let grandma see her young son. I happen to know a bit about this particular church, and I know that the accusations of witchcraft fly fast and thick through the air! What prevails there is not the Spirit of Jesus Christ, certainly not the Spirit of a sound mind!, but rather the spirit of fear!

You may indeed have the spirit of fear, but it is not God who gave it to you! That's the point I'm trying to make. Now what of the spirit that God ≠did≠ give?  The writer of the Pastorals characterizes it as having three prominent features. It is first the spirit of power. What sort of power? The power to venture great things for God, I dare say!

But what great things? Not necessarily the great things that others might see or even be served by, not necessarily the things done by Albert Schweitzer, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King. Let's just talk about your own moral renewal. Let's just think about your actually making some motion toward doing that thing you know deep down you were put on earth to do. If it's something that would make a difference in the course and shape of your life, and that for the better, it would be a great thing, whether anyone else would ever even be aware of it!

Secondly, it is a spirit of love. What other kind of spirit can God, who is love, dispense? It is a spirit not necessarily making you feel a sentimental emotion of love, not a biblical version of Cupid, but rather that Christlike disposition that enables every act of yours to be done in  consideration of the welfare of others. There can be punishment with love. There can be discipline with love. There can be refusal with love. In fact, it is in such actions that love is most needed, lest they become cruelty in the name of righteousness.

Thirdly, it is the spirit of soundness, or as it might be better translated, a spirit of self-control. A sound mind is a healthy mind, a mind, a life, that makes sense, that has a hold on reality. And that is precisely what we for the moment lack when we let ourselves get carried away by desires heedless of consequences.

The sentence we are discussing, you notice, is antithetical in form. It opposes a spirit of fear to that of power, love, and a sound mind, in such a way as to suggest that not only are the two different from each other, but that they are opposites. They are mirror images of each other. If one is a disease of the soul, the other is an antibody specific to that disease. If one is a healthy organ, the other is a sickness attacking that organ. The two are like fire and water. They cannot coexist. One nullifies the other. Why should this be so?

Simply because fear is the failure of nerve that saps the strength for decisive action, for the venture of love and commitment, and for the peace and soundness of mind. It is the terrible cancerous doubt that bids you never try, never risk. Fear whispers : "But I might fail! I might be rejected!" Fear tells you that you could not stand such outcomes. But it deceives you! Because by persuading you never to dare, the result is a sure lack of what you might have gained. True, you might have failed, but never to try is to have failed from the start! Such is the crippling spirit of fear, a demon that plagues till one lies in a habit of fear and phobia, of neurosis, of expecting everything to go wrong. And thus the battering ram of fear has sapped the strength of a once-sound mind. Why can't you see that the truth is that you might have succeeded! Fear blinds you to that obvious truth.

Do you lack self-confidence? Are you sure you are unlovable? Are you the prey to never-ceasing anxieties? Then again you have received the spirit of fear from someplace, but you didn't get it from God!

But the spirit you might get from God is equally the antithesis, the adversary of the ill-spirit of timidity. Equally does it undermine and banish the work of its opposite. Let me briefly indicate how it does this. The spirit of power, love, and a sound mind is quite simply the spirit of faith. As Paul says of his apostolic task, as he explains his overweening boldness despite his many weaknesses, "our sufficiency comes from God." Why? Because Christ told him "My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness."

You see, faith is learning to focus on a power not your own, the deep-dwelling power of God that is stored away in the subconscious, where deep calleth unto deep. Faith is glad to admit its own inadequacy, its own insufficiency, its own likelihood to fail. Because it looks for success to a greater power. Confidence is henceforth based not on an estimate of my own abilities, but rather on the sufficiency of another, God, the Risen Christ, the Spirit of Power. Thus the spirit of faith is precisely the spirit of power.

And just as surely, the spirit of faith is the spirit of love. If, as John says, we come to rest in the love the Father has given us -- if, I say, we come to rest in it and not simply take it for granted as a doctrine we are supposed to believe in Ė we will sooner or later achieve a deep integration within ourselves. Our hearts will become rooted and established. It will be a firm oak with words engraved on its trunk like a message of love, saying "You are accepted." And having that strength, we can afford to open ourselves to vulnerability and risk loving another.

You know that any kind of love is a risk. Romantic love, which may easily blow cold as soon as hot. Friendship, which a sudden move or change of interest can cut off. Christian love of the brothers and sisters, which may put one at a disadvantage, for now one is forced to go the second mile in accepting the eccentricities of someone you could otherwise just avoid!

But these risks and a thousand others simply must be taken, unless we want to return to the dark tutelage of fear. And then we will no longer have to fear love's candle snuffing out in a sudden gust -- we won't have to worry about it, because we will be sitting alone in the chilly dark.

But if we are grounded in the deep love of God, none of the disappointments of love will be so devastating. The love of God, which underlies all other loves, cannot disappoint you. It is that love which is stronger than death.

And if fear is the unbalancing of a sound mind, the soundness of the mind can banish fear. How often it happens that modern psychological theories are simply summations of ancient wisdom known from the foundation of the world. I think that Paul anticipated Rational-Emotive Therapy. Paul often says the solution to living under the dominion of sin and death is simply to consider, to reckon yourself dead to what once bound you, because you wouldn't be pretending! Itís not like reckoning yourself able to fly and then jumping out the window! All the reckoning in the world isn't going to stop you from falling to your death, because you just can't fly!

But you are really dead to sin! Freed from death! Christ has set you free! Now if only you could get that through your head! If only you could really begin believing that you have the spirit of power, love, and a sound mind!

How will you do it? If you want to go the lone wolf route, there is a way. It is the way of prayer and meditation. I do believe that if you take Paul's advice to "Think on these things," you will find yourself transformed by them. Colossians says, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." Romans says, "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind."

You are like a computer, and what you need to do is to delete the old program of fear and program in power, love, and a sound mind. Repeat those biblical mantras; pray for the realization of the things the Bible writers promise from their own experience. I think it will work. What does James say? "Ye have not, because ye ask not."

But there is another way that is not the solitary way. There is the way of Love's Body, the body of Christ -- the Church. Schleiermacher had Paul just right when he called the Holy Spirit "the Spirit of the Christian Community."

Imagine a place where certain assumptions about you and about God hold sway. Imagine a place where it is commonly believed that nothing is impossible with God. A place where they don't hold to the superficial standards of the consumer-conformer society, and they don't accept just the beautiful people, the Barbie dolls, the politically correct, the orthodox, the conventional. Imagine, in other words, a collection of folks who try to look upon the heart as Jesus did, to accept the outcast and, if need be, to play the role of the outcast as Jesus did. Imagine a place where the spirit that animated and informed him is alive and at work.

Your soul could breathe easier there, though it would take a while to get used to the heady mix of that atmosphere. What the Jesus says is true would seem true there, because all there would be living examples of it, and the game would be played there by his rules. It would be simpler there to reckon yourself dead to sin. It would be easier there to spurn the fading voices of your fears there, because you would be of a different spirit, that of power, love, and soundness. May God grant that we grow more and more to be such a church.


 

 

 

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