When we’re facing something intimidating, God hasn’t given us a spirit that panics and runs away; rather, he gives us a set of gifts that empower us to do the opposite: to move confidently ahead to take on the challenge. The first of those gifts is strength, or power; why panic if you can take the guy? The second is love, which frees you from fearing the personal consequences of the outcome: what happens to others is of more consequence to you than what happens to you.
The third and final gift is “a sound mind” (KJV), or “sound judgment” (CSB), “discipline” (NASB), “self discipline” (NIV), “self-control” (ESV). Admittedly, those alleged “synonyms” cover a lot of territory; we’re looking at a lot of possible nuances.
We should probably start with the underlying Greek word and work our way out. The word is sophronismos, a noun apparently derived from sophos, “wise,” and phren, “understanding.” It occurs only here in the New Testament, but the related verb, sophroneo, occurs 6 times, of which 3 speak of mental health or sanity (twice of the maniac of Gadara [Mk 5.15; Lk 8.35] and once of Paul as a self-reference [2Co 5.13]), and 3 (Ro 12.3; Ti 2.6; 1P 4.7) speak of wisdom, or “self-control over one’s passions and desires,” as one lexicon puts it. Not long after Paul wrote 2 Timothy, Clement, the bishop of Rome, wrote in an epistle to the Corinthian church that the Corinthian women were managing “the affairs of their household in seemliness, with all discretion” (1Clement 1.3), and Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, wrote to the Philippian church that “our widows must be sober-minded concerning the faith of the Lord” (PPhil 4.3).
So this has to do with clear thinking—not so much raw intelligence, but the ability to analyze a problem and to come up with a practical solution.
I had an uncle like that. His name was Clarence, but everybody called him Red, and family called him Hooligan. As a boy I actually thought that was his name, until a teacher looked at me oddly when I referred to “my Uncle Hooligan.” Red dropped out of school after the third grade, I think it was, and went to work doing whatever he could that was reasonably age appropriate. He spent most of his adult life in construction and excelled at it. My Dad spoke almost reverently of his ability to look at a construction problem and just know, apparently intuitively, what the solution was. When he worked with trusses, it appeared to Dad that Red, the third-grade dropout, was doing trigonometry in his head.
I suspect that his skill was a combination of natural ability and lots of experience.
But we have something far more powerful—a divine gift, designed to enable us to see an intimidating problem through to a successful solution. Even beyond that, this is self-discipline; it’s good judgment; it’s moderation. It’s what a drug addict or an alcoholic doesn’t have. In short, it’s the ability to direct your own behavior, the ability to not be out of control.
You are not at the mercy of your own temperament, or your own personality, or your own weaknesses.
Maybe you’re “not a people person”; maybe you’ve always been shy.
Maybe you’re not intellectually gifted and can’t engage in witty repartee. Maybe, like me, you don’t have a natural sense of compassion that spurs you to take a genuine interest in the lives and difficulties of others.
These characteristics do not control you; God has given you the ability to do what He asks, even if you can’t—even if you have no natural ability.
God has given you the ability to choose to do His will.
And when you put all these gifts together, intimidation loses its greatest power. It can make you afraid, but it cannot make you flee the field; it cannot make you collapse in spiritual exhaustion; it cannot make you escape by turning within yourself; it cannot leave you without workable answers.
Exercising these gifts well may take practice and thus time. But the gifts are there.
We ought to use them.