Maintaining a good thought life can be a challenge at any time, but during times such as these it can be even more difficult. However, it is encouraging to discover that the Bible has quite lot to say about keeping mentally healthy. One verse that is so often quoted is 2 Timothy 1:7, which the KJV translates as; ‘For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.’ However, in the NIV the same verse reads; ‘For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.’ The two ideas, a ‘sound mind’ and ‘self-discipline’, seem far apart and we are left wondering: has God given us a sound mind or not?
The difference in translation, in fact, reveals something interesting about the original meaning of the word. The word in question is σωφρονισμοῦ (sophronismou) and only appears once in the New Testament. The word is made up from two well known Greek words, namely, soos – which means ‘sound, or safe’ (from the same root as sozo for salvation!) and phren which means ‘inner outlook, heart, mind or thought’. The full meaning of the Greek word, however, goes further than its constituent parts, and means something like, having an inner outlook that is able to keep a whole person in a place of strength and balance. Once we grasp this meaning the difference in translation mentioned above seems forgivable. Moreover, once understood, the verse comes to life and reassures us that God has not only given us the Spirit of love and power, but that he has also given us what is necessary to maintain a healthy inner outlook - the results of which will be seen in how we live our lives!
Of course, we are human beings before we are believers and our inner outlook can be far from what it could be. As we navigate through challenge and uncertainty our thought life is so often shaped by our fears and our doubts (amongst a long list of other things), rather than God’s truth. It is in such moments, when our thinking feels out of control, that we must employ the discipline of choosing truth, reminding ourselves of God’s word and refocussing on God’s ways. To do so will restore us to a place of balance and strength;
‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.’ (Philippians 4:8-9)