Hundreds of times the Bible instructs others and us to NOT FEAR: don’t fear circumstances, don’t fear people, don’t fear the unknown, don’t fear difficult things, etc. But the one singular consistent thing that we are to fear… is GOD!
Psalm 33:8 — Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!
We’ve all heard it said: godly fear is a great awe or reverence. Like watching a very large storm with raging winds, lightning, and thunder. But I believe that to be a very simple, incomplete answer. It’s so vitally important that we get this one right. Let’s look into it a bit further.
Proverbs 1:7 — The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
There is no real foundation for understanding and knowledge apart from a proper fear of the Lord. Without it all knowledge and understanding is fatally flawed:
- origin sciences
- How to Make Disciples
- How to Plant Churches
- Preaching and Teaching
- Blogging 😉
Proverbs 23:17 — Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day.
To envy the ungodly means that you don’t trust the Lord; His plan, His purpose, His will. In order to truly trust the Lord you must properly fear Him.
Matthew 10:28 — And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
To fear anything or anyone else other than God is to not understand Him and trust Him. God alone is the ultimate authority and nothing will happen without His sovereign permission or decree. He alone should be feared, not any person or circumstance.
Matthew 28:8 — So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
Here we see “fear” and “great joy” in the same context! What kind of “fear” is compatible with “great joy”? The kind that recognises the awesome power of a God-man who can resurrect to life and is overjoyed by this reality. Proper fear of God doesn’t reduce our ability to experience the joy of the Lord… it heightens it. It both primes it and catalyses it. A proper fear of the Lord is like oxygen to joy’s flame.
Mark 4:35-41 — On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Fear of everything else but God is lack of faith in God because you don’t really know Him (“who then is this”). Conversely, to truly know Him and His character, and therefore truly trust Him, a proper fear of God is required. More than required, it is a natural antecedent to faith.
Mark 5:35-36 — While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”
Again we see the dual opposites: fearing man/circumstances/world is the opposite of fearing God. To fear man/circumstances/world is to think only carnally and put your faith in the things of this world which fail, rot, lie, hurt, and die. To fear God is to put your faith in Him and His perfection, sovereignty, power, love, grace, mercy, and will.
Luke 1:46-55 — And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Here we see the relationship between fear and humility which leads to God’s mercy. We cannot properly fear God unless we are humble. It’s interesting that the Bible does not list humility as a gift of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t talk about asking for humility. It only speaks of doing it:
- “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Pet 5:6)
- “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5)
- “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”. (James 4:6-7)
- “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:10)
- “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Pet 3:8)
Luke 7:12-16 — As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”
Their reaction to witnessing the power and majesty and authority of God was a fear which lead them to glorify God! Proper fear of God leads to proper worship of God.
Luke 8:37 — Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned.
There is an opposite reaction to witnessing the power and majesty and authority of God. In this case the people were not humble and therefore they didn’t express proper godly fear and submit to the power and majesty and authority of God. So instead of proper fear which leads to proper worship, they were fearing the wrong things (a fear of how God might ruin or interrupt or change their lives), which lead to the opposite of worship… rejection.
Luke 23:39-43 — One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Here again we see the dichotomy of proper and improper fear. One criminal fears death. He is thinking only of self and carnal things. He lacks the humility to admit his sin and fear God. The other criminal humbles himself, fears God, and asks for forgiveness. This man has a proper fear of God, based in the humility of knowing that he is a criminal and Jesus is the Judge; he is a vile sinner, and Jesus is a pure and holy Saviour; he deserves death and wrath, but Jesus does not, though He suffers it anyway.
Acts 9:31 — So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
Here we see the connection between a proper fear of the Lord and the growth of the Church. Just as proper fear requires humility and leads to faith, God’s mercy and salvation, and encourages proper worship and joy for the individual believer, so it does the same for the corporate body of believers, the Church. The health and growth of the church was and is directly related to the proper fear of the Lord.
Acts 10 – This chapter tells the story of the Centurion who, along with his entire family, FEARED GOD.
Peter says that “in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.” Cornelius and his family have a proper fear of God which leads to salvtion and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them.
Romans 8:12-17 — So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Those who walk in the flesh are slaves, seized with fear. Those who are sons and heirs of God are not seized with fear and do not walk in the flesh because the Almighty, powerful, majestic, awesome, glorious, merciful, gracious, loving, holy God of heaven and earth is their “Abba”! And yet they do fear Him.
So it seems clear to me that there is a kind of fear, truly fear, that is not only good, but a natural antecedent to salvation and true faith. In my next post I want to look at an example that may help us regain the ability to recognise this “good” fear, and embrace it fully in our faith and practice.