By Roger Penney
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” —Proverbs 1:7 KJV
The more we learn, the more we grow; and the more we grow, the more we learn. This applies to the Christian life for the more we learn about God and His plans for us as seen in His Word, the more we are in awe of Him, respect Him and fear Him. This healthy and godly fear has a very profound effect on our lives for good, saving us from foolish behavior that leads to danger. Not to fear God is folly. It is a sign of ignorance and leads to prejudice, disobedience, unbelief and anarchy.
Fear As A Process
When the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, we fear the wrath of God and turn to Him in repentance. As we grow spiritually we learn more of this healthy fear which persuades us to walk in His paths. This is a learning process. “Gather the people together,” God commanded Moses, “… that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the LORD your God, and observe to do all the words of this law” (Dt. 31:12). God instructed Moses to explain the importance of this to succeeding generations. The effect of one generation’s living in godly fear would be a very powerful influence: “And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it” (v.13).
Knowing that God is love we may wonder why we should fear Him. It is natural to question difficult matters. Clear teaching by elders and more experienced Christians can be helpful for our understanding. For this purpose the writer to the Hebrews drew an analogy between the heavenly and the fleshly, and the spiritual and the natural. He wrote: “We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness” (Heb. 12:9-10).
Through the weakness of our flesh and the subtlety of Satan we are prone to mislead ourselves. To fear God and submit to correction is wise. To do so is clearly for our good even when we are not fully aware what that “good” is in God’s eyes. Only God knows the future and the dangers surrounding us.
Fear With Trembling
The word “reverence” as used by the writer of Hebrews is one aspect of fear. In the Dictionary of New Testament Words, W. E. Vine explains that the original term has a variety of meanings in English, such as respect, deference and regard. In the Old Testament we find the word for reverence also translated “fear,” with related words of “trembling” and “terror.” Such a connection is perfectly proper.
We may come face to face with God in a variety of ways. My own experience as a young man was of being in grave danger one day through my own folly. Later a dear, elderly Christian lady to whom I used to give a ride to the assembly meetings, asked me if I had been in danger at a certain time. It came as a severe shock that God would move this dear old lady to pray at any time of the day or night for me or for any of His dear saints. I was truly filled with fear that God was watching me so closely. This experience has never left my thoughts for very long.
We see this aspect of fear displayed when the apostle John had his vision of the risen Lord about to judge His churches, Israel and the world. John wrote, presumably with fear and trembling: “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the First and the Last” (Rev. 1:17). Moses too, when God called to Him out of the burning bush, “hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God” (Ex. 3:6).
We can perceive some of the emotions felt by the participants in these graphic accounts of God’s people. This is one of the wonders of the Bible: It is written not only so we may simply go by the words; but we also see emotions and sense the feelings of those portrayed.
Godly Fear And Obedience
At this point we can observe how godly fear may motivate obedience in the most trying situations. Abraham was “the friend of God” (Jas. 2:23), yet God put him through some very serious and challenging trials and testings. One example of this is when God instructed him to take Isaac, his only son, to Mount Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering. When the Angel of the Lord stayed his hand and directed him to the ram caught in a thicket, He said to Abraham, “For now I know that thou fearest God” (Gen. 22:12).
In this story of Abraham and Isaac we see the discipline and testing which God will put us through that we might grow to be like His Son, the Lord Jesus. As we grow we are given more responsibility, and then we are tested. We go on knowing that true wisdom is to follow God’s directions – walking by faith and not by sight, for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). So we come to a clearer understanding of the awesome and terrifying greatness of God’s power, justice, judgment and righteousness.
As our understanding grows we are challenged to put what we have learned into practice. Indeed we cannot learn unless we already possess a willingness of mind. “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine” (Jn. 7:17). True wisdom is found when we find the courage and have the motivation to put God’s will for us into practice. Often we fail in this, but God is gracious and patiently bears with us, granting us repentance and more opportunities to serve Him.
The question is: “Whom do we fear – God or the world?” Certainly “the fear of man bringeth a snare” (Prov. 29:25). Isaiah gave us sound advice when he wrote: “Sanctify the Lord of hosts Himself; and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread” (Isa. 8:13).
Fear Of The Lord And The World
We have thought about the fear of the Lord mainly in the Christian context. There is a much wider field to observe how this can work to the benefit of the world. Also, the lack of the fear of the Lord works to the detriment of the world, ultimately to the very destruction of this world system over which Satan rules.
The whole world lies in the wicked one (see 1 John 5:19). This being so, it is more likely that the inhabitants of this world and world system will hate God rather than fear Him. The Lord Jesus said to His brethren, “The world cannot hate you; but Me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil” (Jn. 7:7). Abraham saw this after the sordid incident when he denied that Sarah was his wife. He excused himself, saying, “Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife’s sake” (Gen. 20:11). We can see from the Bible account of the time of Abraham that the Middle East was in an anarchic and lawless state. Frequent wars between the nations are well documented in Scripture and secular accounts.
We may argue with conviction that the fear of the Lord makes for a settled and peaceful society. The lack of it leads to disruption, anarchy and lawlessness – precisely the world situation at this present time, with only the expectation that conditions will get worse. The personification of wisdom warned that “the fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” He then went on to declare, “By me kings reign, and princes decree justice” (Prov. 8:13,15). Here we see again that wisdom is associated with the fear of the Lord.
Showing how the fear of God can be corrective in a society, we see that Nehemiah rebuked the nobles and others for taking usury from the people and otherwise exploiting them. When the people complained to him of the injustice by the rich and powerful, he recorded: “And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words. Then I consulted with myself, and I rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, Ye exact usury, every one of his brother. And I set a great assembly against them … Also I said, It is not good that ye do: ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God … but so did not I, because of the fear of God” (Neh. 5:6-9,15).
Clearly what was required was a strong governor and popular support for just legislation, with the law being strictly enforced. Lawlessness will flourish, but when people are motivated by the fear of the Lord, things may change. The fear of the Lord is a powerful corrective against anarchy and prevents evil from flourishing – whether in our hearts, gatherings or nations.