A Question on 2 Timothy 1:7

A friend and sister in Christ wrote me. “2 Timothy 1:7 says: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity but of power and love and discipline” in the McArthur bible. Then I found sound judgment  somewhere else. Is the connection that sound judgement derives from self discipline which comes from keeping to God’s word? Or is it God’s Holy Spirit in us that leads us? I am studying and reflecting on how to be led by the Holy Spirit in the way I pray and want to grow.”

The NET (New English Translation) Bible translates 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control” and then adds the following note. “Or ‘a spirit,’ denoting the human personality under the Spirit’s influence as in 1 Cor 4:21; Gal 6:1; 1 Pet 3:4. But the reference to the Holy Spirit at the end of this section (1:14) makes it likely that it begins this way also, so that the Holy Spirit is the referent.”

The ESV (English Standard Version) translates: “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control”, then adds the following note (in Grudem’s excellent Study Bible version, link in this post). “Probably the Holy Spirit.”

When good commentators use words like “likely” and “probably” it means that we probably can’t make a categorical choice here between the Holy Spirit or the “human personality under the Spirit’s influence”. If Romans 8:15 is a valid analogy, it would push us in the direction of the Holy Spirit: “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” But for the reasons mentioned above, I’d prefer not to be dogmatic.

The Greek word that constitutes the third element, variously translated “discipline”, “self-control”, “sound judgment” etc. is found only here in the New Testament. Thus, here too it would be tough to give a dogmatic answer as to which is the best translation. At any rate, they all communicate similar if not identical ideas (here’s a few more English translations at the Bible Hub).

You asked: “Is the connection that sound judgment derives from self discipline which comes from keeping to God’s word?” And “Or is it God’s Holy Spirit in us that leads us?” Then you explain: “I am studying and reflecting on how to be led by the Holy Spirit in the way I pray and want to grow.”

I don’t think this verses’s function is to help us understand how to pray. What you write is certainly true generally: “sound judgment derives from self discipline which comes from keeping to God’s word”. The more we exercise self discipline in the choices we make, for example in how to use our time and energy, the more sound our judgment will be. If we merely fill our minds with non-biblical content (because of not choosing to be self-disciplined in setting time aside to study the Word), we won’t have an arsenal of biblical information available in our head to make good decisions that please God (nor to use such information in our praying). This is why the Bible talks about the renewal of the mind, on which Romans 12:2 is a key verse, as is Ephesians 4:23.

What about your question as to whether God’s Spirit leads us to pray? I prefer to word the question in this way (you formulated the question slightly differently), even though of course the Holy Spirit dwells in every true believer (for example Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 6:19). According to Romans 8:26-27 the Holy Spirit certainly is in some way involved in helping us pray: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

Of course, we should be aware of this wonderful fact, but at the same time we should seek to formulate our prayers based on our knowledge of the Bible. The more we know the Bible, and the more we put it into practice, the more we’ll know how to pray biblically and have biblical priorities in our prayers.

What if something comes into our mind, something we feel we want to pray for? Did this come “directly” from the Holy Spirit? Maybe. But the more important question is: Is this prayer request biblical? Here’s why I say this. The Holy Spirit inspired the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16) and, thus, we know for certain that the Bible is “the Spirit’s will”. On the other hand, what comes into our minds could potentially come from a variety of sources (things we’ve been reflecting on, what we’ve seen on the news and so on).

We need not get paranoid about whether or not we are praying according to God’s will. But it is right that we seek to conform our prayers (conceptually) more and more to what God’s Word says about who God is, what he wants for us, the world and so on.

One of the best ways to “improve” our praying is to pray according to the models of Biblical prayers. There are great prayers in Daniel (from 9:3 onward) and Ezra (from 9:5 onward), for example. The prayer of prayers is surely the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4). But there are also prayers found in other parts of the Bible. Most of the Psalms, if not all of them, are prayers of one sort or another. Thus one way to pray biblically is to pray a psalm back to the Lord.

Paul’s prayers are also exceedingly important. In this regard I highly recommend Don Carson’s book A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. It’s also available in Italian with the title Un appello per una riforma spiritual. In this book Carson explains how we can pray using Paul’s prayers as “models”.

It is surely God’s will for us to pray, and to pray often.

Paul writes: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; un sermone su questo testo).

If you have a question, perhaps I’ll be able to address it in a post. You can ask it here at Contatti.

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