The Fear of the Lord is… Proverbs 9:7-12
We live in fearful times. There are rioting and looting in the cities. People are shooting other people. The country deals with an invisible virus that has killed many. Powerful people are using the Big Lie to get their way. Many are filled with fear. We don’t know what the future will bring for the Nation. What can we do to deal with the trials of this age and live as God’s people? Do we give into the evil around us? Do we stand boldly trusting in the Lord?
The Bible speaks about a special kind of fear. It speaks about fearing the Lord. Actually, fear of the Lord is a major teaching in Scripture. As you deal with the Scriptures, you will find several hundred verses with the words, fear of the Lord. Recently, I read through the Book of Proverbs. It is in the category of wisdom literature and is a compilation of the wise sayings and teachings of King Solomon. Throughout Proverbs one will learn the importance of fearing the Lord or having the fear of the Lord. I don’t think I’ve ever preached or taught about the fear of the Lord. Have you ever heard a sermon or teaching on the fear of the Lord? It is not a popular subject in contemporary American pulpits. One will find plenty of teachings in trusting the Lord, having confidence in him, or loving him but there is not a lot of teaching about fearing God.
We consider fear as a negative emotion or feeling. We fear the violence in the cities. We fear cancer. We fear all kinds of things that can come our way and harm us. And some have been raised in a church that taught that God is up there looking down at us seeking to punish us for disobeying him. God for some is a God who above all wants to punish. Of course, that’s poor theology and a not Orthodox Christian teaching. It goes against the teachings of Jesus. However, some still associate fear of God as a very negative and scary thing. When I speak about the fear of the Lord, I am not speaking about the kind of fear that makes one want to run for safety.
We live in an era where few people have the fear of the Lord. All one has to do is watch the news and one can clearly see that people are in rebellion against God and have no fear of him. Disobedience to authority is a prevalent message of those who are rioting and looting. They violate the laws of the land with impunity. People who are in authority do not take serious action against rioters and looters. People who do not have the fear of the Lord do not have respect for those in authority. They live in total disregard to the Commands of God. They have no concept of sin and its consequences. Those without the fear of God are completely self-focused, arrogant, and see themselves as accountable to nobody but themselves. Jesus taught a parable about an unjust judge and a widow. He describes the unjust judge as “neither fearing God nor caring for man.” We are seeing the results of not teaching the younger generation a healthy fear of the Lord. They are literally doing what they want to do with no regard for others or even themselves.
To have a healthy understanding of the fear of the Lord, we must have a healthy understanding of who God is. Have you ever heard anyone referring to the Lord as “the man upstairs”? The Lord God is not “the man upstairs.” He is infinitely greater than that. To understand the fear of the Lord means one understands the attributes of God. This is Christianity 101. God is infinite—he is self-existing without origin. He is immutable—never changes. He is omnipotent—all powerful. He is omniscient—all knowing. He is omnipresent—he is always everywhere. He is wise—full of perfect wisdom. He is good. He is just. He is loving. He is merciful—infinitely unchangeably compassionate and kind. He is the creator and sustainer of all that is. And the list goes on infinitely. God is totally other when compared to his creation. Full understanding of God is beyond our understanding. Decades ago J. B. Phillips wrote a popular book entitled, Your God is too Small. He challenged his readers to have a God-sized understanding of God. We do well to have a God-sized understanding of who God is and who we are as his creation. It helps us stay focused on God’s reality and not exaggerate our own importance and strength. Those who have a godly understanding of God’s characteristics have little problem with fear of the Lord.
Let’s look at some definitions of “fear of the Lord” to get a better understanding of the topic. Pope Francis writes that, “The fear of the Lord, the gift of the Holy Spirit, doesn’t mean being afraid of God, since we know that God is our Father that always loves and forgives us…it is no servile fear, but rather a joyful awareness of God’s grandeur and a grateful realization that only in him do our hearts find true peace.” It’s not the fear one has when one happens on a snake or bear in the wilderness. It’s the recognition of God’s grandeur, the recognition of who God really is. Fear of the Lord is the feeling of awe we have in his presence. Isaiah found himself in the presence of God. He wrote, “…I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.” How did Isaiah react? “And I said, ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” In modern terms, Isaiah was blown away. It was an awe-some experience of the holiness of God. Fear of the Lord is standing in awe in recognition of his holiness. It is recognizing God for who he is—merciful, gracious, holy—deserving of our respect, reverence and obedience.
Another writer defines the fear of the Lord as “standing in awe of his majesty, power, wisdom, justice and mercy, especially in Christ—in his life, death and resurrection—that is, to have an exalted view of God.” Fear of the Lord is at base standing in awe of his power, might and holiness. It is recognizing who we are in the face of an all-powerful Lord God. When we fear the Lord, we make a conscious effort to please him, obey him, and avoid sin. We respect him and his laws. Therefore, we think before we act or speak. Fearing the Lord is being obedient to him, not rebelling against him.
There are certain benefits to fearing the Lord. While there are many benefits to fearing the Lord, I will only highlight a few as good examples. (1) The writer of Proverbs (14:27) tells us that “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life that one may turn away from the snares of death.” Fearing the Lord is about godly living whereas having no fear of the Lord leads one into the snares of death. Fear of the Lord leads to life eternal whereas rebellion against the Lord leads to death. Those who fear the Lord have life, not death.
(2) Fearing the Lord opens the way to God’s mercy. Luke tells us that “God’s mercy is reserved for those who fear him from generation to generation (Luke 1:50).” While Justice is means we get what we deserve, mercy means that God pardons us and we receive what we don’t deserve. Those who fear the Lord have mercy and as they pass on the fear of the Lord to the next generation their descendants have God’s mercy. The Psalmist recognizes this benefit as he writes, “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him (Psalm 103:11).” Mercy, not getting what we deserve, is certainly an important benefit to fearing the Lord.
(3) The fear of the Lord opens us to friendship with God. In Christ Jesus, we have friendship with God. The Psalmist writes, “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.” It is wonderful to have the Lord’s friendship rather than being at odds with him. It is grand to have his friendship rather than his enmity. Friendship with the Lord is one of the great benefits of fearing the Lord.
(4) The fear of the Lord increases our days. In him, we have long life. The writer of Proverbs tells us that “The fear of the Lord prolongs one’s days (Proverbs 10:27).” Having a long and fruitful life is better than getting caught up in one of the snares of death. It’s awful that many choose to rebel against God and get caught up in a lifestyle that leads to an early death. The Lord promises us that as we fear him we will have a long and fruitful life.
(5) The fear of the Lord leads to healing and refreshment. Here again, we go to the writer of Proverbs to see another benefit of the fear of the Lord. “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be a healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones (Proverbs 3:7-8).” If anything, the people of this era need healing and refreshment. It will come as we fear the Lord. It is certainly better to fear God and enjoy his benefits than to live in rebellion that leads to death.
One of the key understandings of fear of the Lord is that in his presence we stand in awe. C. S. Lewis wrote a Christian allegory called The Chronicles of Narnia. In it two girls, Susan and Lucy, are getting ready to meet Aslan the lion who represents Christ Jesus. Two talking animals, Mr. & Mrs. Beaver, prepare the children for the encounter. “Ooh,” said Susan, “I thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” Mrs. Beaver replies, “That you will, dearie. And make no mistake, if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” “Then isn’t he safe?” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you!” God in Christ Jesus is not safe by our human notions but he is good. He is the King of kings and Lord of Lords, and we do well to fear him.
Having a Godly fear of the Lord leads us to recognizing that he is God and we are his creation. He is in charge and we are his followers who are obedient to his commands. I’ll end with these words from the Psalmist: “How blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways (Psalm 128:1).”