“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

There is a stark difference between the “power of positive thinking” and authentic spiritual thinking. Positive thinking tends to undervalue the benefit of engaging reality, to look within for strength instead of drawing sustaining strength from God’s revelation concerning trials, and to deemphasize eternal verities and values. Positive thinking often runs from reality, while spiritual thinking pursues reality and engages it in the context of God’s grace. Optimism is fine as far as it goes, but you are far better served to base your optimism on the black and white promises of God’s word and the solid revelation of His character.

Our text is an exhortation to Pastor Timothy from his mentor, the Apostle Paul. Timothy, despite his healthy faith genuinely modeled by his mother and grandmother, tended to dwell on the fearful side of things. The word translated as fear could better be translated timidity, reticence, cowardly, fainthearted. The MacArthur Study Bible note adds, “shameful fear caused by a weak, selfish character.” To be sure, there was a lot to give pause to Timothy in his thoughts: growing Roman persecution, the physical price Paul has paid for his faithful service, and opposition within and without the church there in Ephesus.

Paul wants Timothy to know that his “stinkin’ thinkin’” was defeating his eternal usefulness and so he admonished Timothy with the fact that God had gifted him with a whole new way of thinking. Perhaps you can see clearly from your experience since you were born again that God has made you to think differently than you used to think, and differently than your unsaved friends think even today. God changes the way a believer thinks. It is not merely optimism about life, though a believer naturally embraces an optimistic approach (because he sees that the all-powerful, sovereign God loves him and promises His presence in both the good and the bad times).

There are three indicators of spiritual thinking that Paul shares with Timothy in order to know if he is thinking straight. The indicators are power, love, and soundness of mind. The empowering of the mind is certainly not anything like “the power of positive thinking.” It is thinking molded and motivated by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit uses the Bible’s instruction in the thinking of the believer that is energized by the Spirit’s prompting, encouraging, admonishing, and comforting. This approach to problems, calculations, and evaluations is a powerful antidote to timidity.

Paul quickly follows up verse 7 with these words: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me, His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the Gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.” What soaring words to tease a person away from the search for inner strength and to align him with the higher calling and eternal purpose of God the Father! Spiritual thinking demands a healthy view of God’s power tirelessly working in the believer’s life (Ephesians 1:18ff, 3:16ff; Colossians 1:11).

The second indicator of spiritual thinking is love. John expounds on this subject in 1 John 4:17ff, “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love cast out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.” The mind focused on the over-arching, personal love of God will find fears banished. Paul was as human as the next man, but the courage he displayed, even here at the end of his earthly work, found a deep resource of strength in the love of God (agape love which holds the interest of the person loved foremost in the heart).

In 2 Timothy 1:10–11, Paul himself explains what he means by the spiritual thinking of love: “But has now been revealed by the appearing or our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.” The self-sacrificial, effectual love of God, our Savior, is what teaches the believer to emulate the spirit of love rather than the spirit of fear.

The third indicator of spiritual thinking is a sound mind. Spiritual thinking is healthy thinking. The word translated as sound means discipline, discretion, self-control and prudence. Sound thinking is straight thinking, priorities are in order, and personal passions are suppressed while promoting the passions of God. Fear is bridled when things are viewed through God’s eyes (2 Timothy 1:12).

The words of Peter serve to illustrate sound thinking of the disciplined, spiritual mind. In 2 Peter 3:1-9, Peter describes the spiritual mind as one that is a stirred up, pure mind (verse 1), an instructed mind steeped in Scripture (verse 2), a mind that does not trifle with God’s truth (verse 3f), a mind that knows there is more to reality than what the eye sees (verse 5f), a mind that knows that all that appears permanent to the eye will pass away (verse 7), a mind that knows the nature of God (verse 8), and a mind that knows the heart of God (verse 9).

The next time you are fearful in the midst of decision and action, ask God to assist you toward spiritual thinking marked by power, love and soundness of mind! Trust and obey.