The Fear of God
by Robert Leroe
I was sitting around with a few other chaplains, and our conversation focused on war–ministry in a combat environment. One of our small group was a chaplain who had served in Viet Nam. We asked him, among other things, “Were you afraid?” He said what I’ve heard from many combat veterans, “Of course–only the foolish were not afraid.”
Fear serves as an important alarm system, warning or preparing us for impending danger. Yet fear can also paralyze us, causing us to freeze when we should fight or flee. There are 2 categories of fear-beneficial and harmful. In other words, fear can be friend or foe!
There is one kind of fear God wants us to have. In Deuteronomy 5:29 the Lord exclaims:
“O that their hearts would be inclined to fear Me and keep all my commandments”.
The fear of God has been grossly misunderstood by many…
Before his conversion, Martin Luther was so petrified by God, he nearly grew to hate Him. Luther had a picture of God that was distorted–he could only envision God as the wrathful Judge; he later saw God as the loving, merciful Father as well.
Jonathan Edwards’ famous fire & brimstone sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” had his congregation trembling, grasping the pews lest they tumble into the very pit of hell itself. Some appraise Edwards solely on the basis of this sermon and fail to see that he also preached on God’s grace.
To say we “fear” God does not mean we’re afraid of Him…
II Timothy 1:7 clarifies this, explaining that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline”.
Definition: The fear of God is an awesome respect or reverence growing out of the greatness and power of God. To revere God as we ought, it is critical that we understand His nature.
In Job 37 we learn a basic reason why God is held in reverence–because of Who He is:
“God is clothed with awesome splendor and majesty. The Almighty–we cannot imagine His power. He is great in justice and abundant righteousness in His dealings with men. No wonder men everywhere fear Him!”
I’ve had the occasion to drive through southern Germany and northern Austria, taking in the inexpressible beauty of the mountains and lakes, feeling a sense of reverence and awe for our Creator.
Perhaps no one has captured the character of God better than C. S. Lewis in his Chronicles of Narnia, a series of 7 fantasy novels in which he portrays the Lord Jesus Christ as a lion, as John does in Revelation chapter 5. The lion is a figure fierce and powerful, yet tender. His splendor is dazzling. His wrath is terrible, yet His love and tenderness are infinite. To be in His presence was awesome. Quoting Lewis:
“As the Lion passed by they were terribly afraid He would turn and look at them, yet in some queer way they wished He would.” Naturally one would be nervous meeting a lion! The question was asked to one who knew this Lion well, “Is He safe?” I find the answer both wise and startling: “Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course He isn’t safe. But He’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
This is a message we need to hear today. How irreverently we treat God! The third commandment tells us not to take God’s name in vain. This means lightly, loosely, irreverently. There’s a difference between saying God is our friend and our “Good Buddy”. I’m comfortable with my Brigade commander, but I when I go in his office I don’t put my feet on his coffee table and call him by his first name!
Our motivation for fear grows out of an understanding of Who God is, because an understanding of the character and attributes of God motivates respect and reverence. This Godly fear also shows itself in several areas:
a) Salvation–many people who turn to Christ are fearful of hell. Hopefully that isn’t the only reason, though it’s not a bad one. We tend to picture God as a kindly old grandfather who’d never send anyone to hell. This is the 20th Century God of sentimental love and not the God of the Old and New Testaments.
Hebrews 10:31 tells us that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel, “Fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.” (10:28)
The fear of God converted the shipmates of the prophet Jonah and later the inhabitants of Ninevah.
Paul discloses to the church at Corinth, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (II Cor. 5:10).
When I was a teenager I attended a class on the book of Revelation. I soon realized how little I knew about the Bible, and I learned that the wrath of God bringing tribulation to a wicked earth was frightening! My concern/fear led me to search the Bible to learn about God and His divine plan, which led me to ask Christ to be my Savior.
b) The fear of God is commanded. Sometime take a Topical Bible and just read over the verses regarding the “fear of God”. It is amazing how many times it is mentioned, and even encouraged! Let me read just a few:
Deut 10:12, “What does the Lord require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord.”
Eccl 12:13, “Fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.”
Psalm 33:8, “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.”
c) Wisdom comes by way of fear, which brings us to perhaps the most well-known verse regarding the fear of God, Proverbs 1:7: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Why do people scorn wisdom? Vs 29, “because they hate knowledge and do not choose the fear of the Lord.”
If we reject God, we cut ourselves off from our only source of wisdom. We may be wise in our own eyes, but we are foolish, trusting a twisted perspective, if we do not fear the Lord.
d) Sin–When we revere the Lord we keep ourselves from sin. Proverbs 16:6 instructs us, “By the fear of the Lord one avoids evil. ”
Annanias and Sapphira were members of the early Christian church. They behaved in a deceitful way, and were struck down by God. According to Acts 5:11, “great fear came upon the whole church.” Whenever we see God chastening someone in His church, it should move us to Godly fear.
Hebrews 12:29 urges us, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” This is a reference to Deuteronomy 4:24 where God is warning Israel about their idolatry.
What keeps you from sinning? Fear of hellfire? If you’ve received Christ, His cleansing blood covers your past, present, even future sins, but that is no license to sin. Paul exclaims, “Should we then continue in sin, taking advantage of God’s grace? May it never be!” (Rom. 6:1-2).
My dad recently turned 79. I respect and love him, not out of fear that he will stop loving me, but simply because of who he is. That respect causes me to want to please him. When my doctoral work was completed, my dad was the first person I called. Does your relationship with Your heavenly Father motivate you?
e) The fear of God gets us through hard times. Job was asked, “Is not the fear of God your confidence?” God, who has limitless might, welcomes our prayers, and cares about our hurts. We need not fear the future, for we know the One who holds the future. The awesomeness of God is our confidence.
f) The fear of God affects life itself! In Proverbs we’re told that “The fear of the Lord prolongs life” (10:27); is a “fountain of life” (14:27); and “leads to life” (22:4). David sings in Psalm 34:7, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them.”
g) The fear of God is essential for leaders. In Exodus 18 Moses gives a prerequisite for leaders that they should fear God. Those entrusted with governmental authority are warned in Psalm 2:
“O kings, be wise; show discernment; and be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, with trembling. Do homage to the Son, lest He becomes angry, and you perish in the way” (2:10-12).
God appraises our service. If you have been given a position of leadership, remember the counsel of Jesus, “To whom much has been given, much will be required” (Lk 12:48).
h) Finally, the fear of God results in answered prayer. Psalm 145:19, “He fulfills the desire of all who fear Him.” Are your prayers characterized by reverence for the Almighty? If ever fear was beneficial, this one is!
Conclusion: The fear of God is the one fear that removes all others. As we cast our cares upon Him, we can become fearless. David wrote while his life was being threatened, “I fear no evil, for Thou art with me” (Ps 23:4). The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the fearsome Lord of Lord has this to say to us: “Fear not, for I am with you. I will never leave you nor forsake .let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (Jn 14)
Prayer: “O mighty and awesome Lord, may Your splendor inspire our reverence. Free us from our anxieties and may Who you are produce in us a desire to serve You with our heart and soul, our mind and strength. This we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.”