“For God has not given you a fearful spirit, rather a spirit of power, love, and disciplined thinking.” 2 Timothy 1:7
Too much fear. That is my overarching critique of many Christians and Christian leaders I hear and read today. The fear is not new. It arises with a fresh urgency with every major story. The examples are endless, but let me lightly detail one that is now ten years old: Y2K.
You may have forgotten all about Y2K, but it was a major topic throughout the late 90’s and the main topic in 1999. What would happen to the world’s computers when the calendar turned to 2000? One strain of predictions is that they would become hopelessly confused and overwrought, financial markets would collapse, social mayhem would ensue, and we would all be reduced to recording important documents with quill and papyrus. None of this happened.
My concern is that some well-known Christian leaders were at the forefront of the dire predictions, some even using the Bible to backup their positions. Again, I can duplicate this one example to exhaustion: 1988, the first Gulf War, the second Gulf War, the new millennium, the bursting tech bubble, the bursting housing bubble, the oil spill in the gulf, SARS, swine flu, the national debt, etc. ad nauseum. Each new crisis has the most overused religious word appended to it: apocalypse. We are told that sex sells. I say fear is in second place.
A young minister named Timothy was overwhelmed by his responsibilities as a leader in the Ephesian church. With words all Christians need to hear, Paul wrote that this spirit of fear does not come from God. He then provided three adjectives describing the real God-given spirit.
Power. We derive the English word dynamite from this Greek word. Christian faith is not a recipe for resignation and despair. The very presence of the Holy Spirit means that He who abides in you is greater than anything in the world (1 John 4:4). John, the author of this verse, wrote it near the end of the first century when conditions genuinely could not have been worse for Christians. Remember, John wrote the original apocalypse as a political prisoner on Patmos. He did not consider his circumstances apocalyptic and would chuckle at our fear of a stock market decline today.
Also please remember, Paul wrote that we should think on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8). He wrote that while in prison. He also wrote, though not in prison, “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). Now are you still cringing because a Democrat is in the White House? Please.
Love. We are taught to love even our enemies. The world teaches tolerance, but we are to practice love which is much more difficult by far. Sometimes Christians are so exceedingly harsh with the other side, that love is lost. While we certainly must be ready to make a strong defense of our faith, we ignore the latter half of that verse: with gentleness and reverence (1 Pet. 3:15). To see the image of God in your worst enemy brings grace into the equation. You are probably disappointed to be reminded, but that person you loathe is a divine work of art. Chesterton wrote that while it is bad to make false idols, it is equally bad to make false devils. I’ve had enough of the psychological “splitting” by which we idealize people we agree with and demonize those we don’t like. Love really does mute fear, and in fact, casts it out.
Disciplined thinking. This word literally means wise thinking and means that we are to have moderation in our assessments and not respond with emotion. I’ve known and heard many Christians who proudly and seamlessly move from pontificating to fulminating to bloviating. That may get attention but it provides no real light. Our culture is increasingly shrill. Frankly, we need Christians to be voices of disciplined thinking, not distraught doom.
Even in writing this kind of article, I risk being characterized as naïve and too nice. So be it. Long ago I realized that God made me to be a kind of prophet of hope. Please put that on my tombstone. I simply refuse to believe that every bump in the stock market portends a financial apocalypse, and not every nutty world leader presages the arrival of the antichrist. I prefer faith to fear. As odd as it may sound in these breathless days, as a Christian, I still believe it is a great time to be alive.
Dr. Terry Ellis