We encounter the expression sound mind in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (KJV). The original Greek word translated “sound mind” here is sophronismos, and it appears in the Bible only this one time.
In other Bible translations, the word sophronismos is rendered “self-control” (ESV), “self-discipline” (NIV, NLT), “discipline” (NASB), “good judgment” (GW), and “sound judgment” (CSB). These various interpretations seem to convey different meanings. What exactly does sophronismos mean? And what is Paul referring to when he tells Timothy that God has given us the spirit of a sound mind?
Paul is writing to Timothy from prison. Knowing the time of his execution is drawing near, Paul pens Timothy this profoundly intimate letter filled with love, concern, and encouragement. Timothy would need courage and determination to carry on the enormous responsibility of his calling to lead the church in spreading the gospel. In the preceding verse, Paul reminds Timothy of the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit and encourages him to “fan that gift into flames” (2 Timothy 1:6).
Paul knows Timothy will need to counter his natural tendency toward quiet timidity by remembering that the Spirit of God lives within him. That Spirit will empower Timothy with boldness rather than fear, and with love and a sound mind. Timothy will rely on God’s Spirit to enable him to do whatever God requires. Timothy, being filled with God’s Spirit of love—the defining characteristic of Christians—will be capable of loving God and loving others. And Timothy will possess God’s Spirit of a sound mind.
The influence of the Spirit of God is required to produce a genuinely sound mind. The sound mind Paul speaks of is a mind under the control of God’s Holy Spirit. In the sense of self-discipline, the word sophronismos denotes careful, rational, sensible thinking. Having a sound mind requires a thought process based on the wisdom and clarity that God imparts rather than being manipulated by fear.
Today, as in Timothy’s day, fear is a driving force in the world. Fear inspires the news headlines, motivates advertising campaigns, and stirs up social media frenzies. Fear is one of Satan’s favorite devices to confuse our minds, cause irrational thoughts, misunderstandings, and derail us from the will of God. For this reason, the Word of God encourages us to cultivate a healthy, renewed mind that can process right-thinking based on God’s truth: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
A sound mind is a stable, healthy mind. A healthy mind is linked to our attitude and outlook as believers. A sound mind is not overly concerned with the cares and problems of this life but is set on God and His Kingdom (Colossians 1:1–2). A sound mind is alert and sober, focused on the eternal hope we have in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13). A sound mind recognizes who we are in Christ, and does not depend on human wisdom and strength (2 Corinthians 10:3–5). A sound mind is guarded through prayer and purity: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 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” (Philippians 4:6–8).
A sound mind stabilizes our entire inner world. When Paul says God has given us the spirit of a sound mind (or self-control, discipline, and sound judgment), he doesn’t mean we’ll be able to train harder, eat better, or study more. Paul recognizes that God’s Spirit yields obedience, right living, and moral judgment. From the inside out, the Holy Spirit reshapes and transforms not just how we think, but who we are.