The fear of the Lord
I would like to start this article with a different way than usual and instead of saying anything else to give some of the multitude of the Scriptures that refer to the fear of the Lord and the promises of God that are connected with it. Please read carefully:
"Oh fear the Lord, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him"
"Angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them"
"Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who delights greatly in His commandments. His descendants will be mighty on earth;"
"Who is the man that fears the Lord? Him shall He teach in the way that he should choose.
"The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, and He will show them His covenant"
"Oh, how great is your goodness, which you have laid up for those who fear you, which you have prepared for those who trust in you in the presence of the sons of men!"
"Behold the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, On those who hope in His mercy"
"Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land"
"For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;"
"As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him"
"But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children's children."
"He has made His wonderful works to be remembered; The Lord is gracious and full of compassion. He has given food to those who fear Him; He will ever be mindful of His covenant."
"He will bless those who fear the Lord, both small and great"
"Blessed is every one who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways. When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house; Your children like olive plants all around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord."
"He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them."
"The fear of the Lord prolongs days"
"In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence, and His children will have a place of refuge"
"The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to turn one away from the snares of death."
"The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom, and before honor is humility."
"In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity; and by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil."
"The fear of the Lord leads to life, and he who has it will abide in satisfaction; He will not be visited with evil."
"By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life."
"Be in the fear of the Lord all the day"
"Though a sinner does evil a hundred times, and his days are prolonged, yet I surely know that it will be well with those who fear God, who fear before Him. But it will not be well with the wicked; nor will he prolong his days, which are as a shadow, because he does not fear before God."
"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man's all."
I believe it is obvious from the above that we are dealing here with a very important subject. What is the fear of the Lord that all that have it are subject of the so many promises we read? What does it mean “fear the Lord”? Does it mean to be afraid, terrorized, in the idea of God? Could it be that this subject of the “fear of the Lord” is a kind of not valid today as today we are children of God? Furthermore doesn’t I John tell us that there is no fear in love? Could it be then that this “fear of the Lord” is something for the Old Testament only? The purpose of this article is to answer these questions.
1. The fear of the Lord: it is not a simple respect but it is not a terror either
Depending on somebody’s background, there are those who understand the fear of the Lord as a kind of terror, of being afraid of God. Others again they understand it like a simple respect, like the respect for example they show to their colleagues or… they do not understand it at all as they consider it not relevant for the present age of grace. I don’t think that any of these views is correct. Starting with the simple respect: the respect that may exist between equals is not the same with the respect towards the Most High One. In a kingdom a subject does not respect his king the same way he respects his colleagues. Even if he has full boldness before the throne, as we, through the blood of Christ, have before the throne of God, even if he is a child of the King, as we are through faith, he continues to also be a subject before the King. And as to every King, let alone to the King of kings, deep respect is due. In other words, the fact that we are children of the King does not annul the fear, the deep respect that is due to the King, to the Most High One, nor does it convert it to a simple respect, like the respect due to co-equals.
On the other hand, a son of the king would indeed not approach the king the same way a stranger would approach him. A son would approach the king not with terror but with boldness and confidence, knowing that the one he is speaking to is His loving Father. At the same time and as we already said above he would also approach Him with deep respect recognizing that he does not approach a colleague but His Father, who at the same time is the Most High, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. In other words, the fact that we are children of King it also means that the fear of the Lord should not be understood like a terror, like being afraid, of the King. Instead it should rather be understood like the very deep, the highest respect that is due from kids to the most loving Father, who at the same time is the Creator of everything, the Most High One.
Having clarified the above let’s see some passages that show the majesty of God and are associated with the fear of God. I use these passages as an indication of the majesty and highness of God and not to say that Christians should be afraid, terrified, of God. As we already said and as we will see later fearing God does not mean being afraid of God. I believe in our age, where Jesus Christ has bridged the gap between God and man, fearing God means approaching Him both as a Father (with boldness and without being afraid of Him) and as the Most High One (with the deepest respect). Turning now to the passages we mentioned, let’s start with Jeremiah 10:6-7:
"Inasmuch as there is none like You, O Lord. You are great, and Your name is great in might. Who would not fear You, O King of the nations?"
and Revelation 15:4
"Who shall not fear You, O Lord and glorify Your name?"
and Jeremiah 5:22-24
"Do you not fear Me? Says the Lord. Will you not tremble at My presence, who have placed the sand as the bound of the sea, by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass beyond it? And though its waves toss to and fro, yet they cannot prevail; Though they roar, yet they cannot pass over it. But this people has a defiant and rebellious heart; They have revolted and departed. They do not say in their heart, Let us now fear the Lord our God, who gives rain, both the former and the latter, in its season. He reserves for us the appointed weeks of the harvest."
"By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deep in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast."
GOD MADE US AND THE WHOLE UNIVERSE. EVERYTHING, SEEN OR UNSEEN, WAS MADE BY HIS OWN HAND. He is our Father and our Lord. He is the Most High One. Knowledge of the Scriptures without fear, deep respect of the majesty of God is just head knowledge that will definitely lead to pride (I Corinthians 8:1). As Proverbs tells us:
"My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; THEN you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God."
Only if the Word of God is stored within us, only if it becomes part of our heart will we understand the fear of the Lord. If we therefore don’t have deep respect for the Most High, then any knowledge of the Scripture that we may have is just head knowledge which, unless we store it in our hearts instead of our heads, will not give fruit and will eventually lead to pride.
2. Boldness and the fear of the Lord in the New Testament
A view that some, implicitly or explicitly, hold about the fear of God is that it has somehow been ceased by the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. But I don’t think that this is correct. Here are some New Testament passages that speak about the fear of God:
"Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the holy spirit, they were multiplied."
I Peter 2:17
"Honor all. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. "
II Corinthians 7:1
"Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord."
"Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, FEARING GOD."
Cornelious, the first Gentile at whose home the gospel was preached, was a man that feared God. As Acts 10:1-2 tells us:
"There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one WHO FEARED GOD with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always."
and as Peter said in Acts 10:34-35
"Then Peter opened his mouth and said: "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. BUT IN EVERY NATION WHOEVER FEARS HIM AND WORKS RIGHTEOUSNESS IS ACCEPTED BY HIM""
As we see the fear of the Lord is present in the New Testament too. At the same time I do think - and I have already mentioned it - that there is a vast difference between Old Testament and New Testament. This is due to the fact that there is now available, due to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, a very different kind of relationship with God. This different kind of relationship should also be taken into consideration when we try to understand what fearing God means. Using the example mentioned before, there is a vast difference between citizens of a kingdom that are just outsiders and citizens that are children of the King. The outsiders and the children do not approach the king in the same way. The outsiders are approaching the king perhaps in terror due to His majesty and due to lack of any relationship with Him other than that of a subject. But this is not valid for the children. The children approach the Father with boldness, without being afraid of Him, like kids approach their loving Father. This is also how the Scripture tells us to approach the throne:
„Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast [our] profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as [we are, yet] without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.“
To the throne of grace we come boldly. This is not because of us but because of the Lord Jesus Christ, who bridged the gap between us and God and made it possible to those who believe that He is the Son of God to become children of God (I John 5:1). As also I John 4:17-19 tells us:
„There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us.“
If we love God we will not be afraid of Him for fear and love do not go together. At the same time I repeat this does not mean that it is right to approach God the same way we are approaching equals, with some perhaps simple respect and without realizing the Highness of the one we are approaching. But again this is not a terror nor are we to be afraid of Him. If it is a terror then we don’t really love Him as we should, as there is no fear in love. Instead, as we said: fearing God means approaching Him both as a Father (with boldness and without being afraid of Him) and as the Most High One (with the deepest respect).
3. Fearing God: doing His will
Taking the above one step further, I really don’t see how can somebody walk in the will of the Lord if He does not have this fear of God and how can somebody fear God if He does not do the will of God. Fearing God means then doing His will. It means to take a step of faith on what God has told us even if we don’t understand how everything is going to work and have not seen the whole picture. Those who fear God will want to do the will of God. Whatever the Father says has for them the greatest value and it is non-negotiable for it came out of the mouth of the Father. The fear of the Lord, the deep respect for the Lord and His will, and obedience to the Lord and His will go then hand by hand. For really imagine kids that are disobedient. Would you say that these kids respect their father? Perhaps they approach the Father to get things from Him but they do not really love Him or respect Him. Had they loved Him they would treasure His will in their hearts and they would do this will. Unfortunately there are some Christians that are like this: they go to God only when they have a great need and the remaining time they live exactly like the world. This will obviously have to change. Instead of approaching God like this we should deepen our relationship, seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and everything else will be added to us (Matthew 6:33). As Philippians 2:5-11 says about our example, the Lord Jesus Christ:
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of [things] in heaven, and [things] in earth, and [things] under the earth; And [that] every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ [is] Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Let the same mind be in us, says the Scripture, that was in the Lord Jesus Christ. What was this mind? It was the mind of obedience, even unto death. It was the mind of “not mine will but thine be done” (Luke 22:42).
What I want to say with the above is that we cannot really say that we fear the Lord if we don’t do His will. It is in fact the same as with loving the Lord. As He said:
“If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me.”
We cannot say that we love the Lord if we don’t do what He says. Similarly, I believe we cannot say that we fear the Lord if we don’t do what we know it is His will.
To conclude therefore this section, fear of the Lord means also obedience to the Lord. It means treasuring God and His will no matter what. It means in one phrase: holding God and His will to the highest esteem.
We started this article showing the source of blessings the fear of the Lord is. Really it is difficult to find another subject in the Scripture that contains so many promises: long-liveness, prosperity, deliverance and many other promises accompany those who fear the Lord.
We then tried to define the fear of the Lord making clear that this is neither a simple respect, like the respect equals show to each other, nor does this mean to be afraid of God or in terror of Him. In contrast the fear of the Lord is the very deep respect that is due to the Father, to GOD, to the LORD, to the CREATOR OF EVERYTHING.
Finally we made clear that there is no fear of God without doing the will of God. In other words whoever fears the Lord does also His will and whoever does not fear Him, but want to satisfy his flesh, does not do it or he does it whenever he likes it, depending on the circumstances.
Closing this article let us listen carefully this instruction from Ecclesiastes:
"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man's all."