Fear. This is one of the most prevalent words in conversations leading up to and following Tuesday’s Presidential election. My hope is that people who do not share the same fears will not belittle or disparage the fears of others. Fear is one of God’s great gifts to humanity. And that idea may be foreign to too many Christians.
Some of you are already quoting 2 Timothy1:7. That’s not prophetic…just predictable! Let’s talk about this wonderful verse. I like to start with the last word in the verse, a wonderful Greek word, “sophronismos.” I like this word because there is only one appearance in all of Scripture and this is the solo performance in 2 Timothy! Some translations choose sound mind, others use discipline, while another is sound judgment. The best would be to combine them all. My spirit when renewed by the Holy Spirit should transform my mind in a way that is Biblically sound leading to self-discipline and good judgment. I should be characterized by this description as a devoted follower of Jesus. Now, let’s read the verse. Paul says to Timothy “spirit” not “emotion.” Too many people misuse this verse to demean an emotion that should be present in us all. While I should not be characterized as a fearful person, fear as an emotion must be present in an emotionally healthy Christian at proper times. When “sophronismos” is a word that best describes me, I am able to experience the emotion of fear without emotions taking control of my life and becoming the shaping force and influence on my spirit.
So if someone talks about their fears related to this election, spend time listening before you bludgeon them with a verse that was given to us to inspire…not wound. Especially if you are the one needing some correction, in regards to how we should cherish fear.
Might I share some examples? We readily acknowledge the importance of the fear of the Lord (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 15:33, Revelation 15:4). My capacity for fear was created by God and is vital; take for example Jesus admonition in Luke 12:4-5. People like to restate “fear” in these texts as “respect” but that is not what the Holy Spirit chose. Don’t edit the Holy Spirit! Is respect a component of healthy fear? Most certainly, but that does not change the essence of fear…it is to be afraid! And as long as that feeling of being afraid remains a healthy emotion, it will not displace the virtues of courage and faith. My capacity for diverse emotions is evidence of emotional health. And my strength of character (that “sophronismos life”) becomes the boundary that keeps those emotions from becoming spiritual traits.
So if fear is necessary in my relationship with God, are there other applications where fear should be embraced? Yes! Fear saves lives. When I am unsafe, the emotion of fear is an alarm that prompts protective action. I would like to suggest to you that fear is also an indispensable facet of choosing political leaders. If you suppress healthy fear in others, you are a dealer in shame. And if you are devoted follower of Christ, you should be ashamed of your shaming!
This is a time for people to talk about their fears. Last night I met with a new friend to talk about our fears. His fears are different than my fears. And my fears are not more important than his fears, neither his relative to mine. I must seek to understand the fears of others if I expect others to value mine. If you can’t accept that Christians were legitimately divided at the polls on Tuesday, then you are part of the problem that divides this nation. You are a person that is belittling the fears of others. You are a person that is a shame dealer. My fears are always going to be more present in my life than your fears. That is the nature of fear. We are not able to manufacture emotion. But, as you have heard me say many times, right feelings follow right actions (Matthew 6:21). If you don’t understand the fears of others, put in the time to talk with them, hear their story, ask questions, reflect, ponder, contemplate their feelings!
The progress we need in this nation should start with The Church. And that progress will begin when people who have divergent fears begin to feel the fears of others because their right actions led to shared feelings. So do me a favor, don’t reach for 2 Timothy 1:7 prematurely. Let Romans12:15 reach you. I believe this verse in not just limited to the emotions of joy and sorrow. I believe this is a fill in the blank text. I believe this verse is about emotions. In fact, when I look back to the beginning of this chapter, I find a command that my mind should be renewed! That sounds like a “sophronismos life” to me! Paul, in one of the most celebrated doctrinal books of the New Testament, is making a demand of all Christians that emotional empathy is the minimum! Emotional empathy expects me to have an appropriate, gracious, understanding response to the feelings of others. Romans 12 tells us we should actually share in their emotion, regardless of whether or not we share in their circumstance.
So this is my question to you…if you voted for Donald Trump, have you found some people who did not that you can sit with and ask them about the fears that helped to motivate their decision? If you voted for Hillary Clinton, have you found some people who did not that you can sit with and ask them about the fears that helped to motivate their decision? If you don’t know anyone who voted differently than yourself, you are intellectually and emotionally isolated! Next, here comes your prayer. Ask God to help you experience Romans 12:15. We need to feel one another’s fears.
Be all about that “sophronismos life!”