The Good Fear
September 24, 2023
Last month when I preached, I looked at Psalm 23. In it we have assurance that as the Lord is our Shepherd we need not fear anything. Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we do not have to fear anything. Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection strongly show us that we do not even have to fear death itself. God is in charge and we do not have to fear anything.
There are a couple of kinds of fear. The first is the usual kind we all deal with. It is those times when our anxiety levels go up. We have fear when we get difficult information from our physician. We have fear when we are dealing with disease. We have fear as we see the social values of the Nation disintegrating. We have fear when our life seems to be out of our control. Most of us have been in fearful situations. Jesus told us that in this life we will have tribulation. We will have grief, heartache, misery, and we will deal with adversity. Times of tribulation do come, and with God’s help we will move through those difficult situations.
Today I am going to preach on a different kind of fear. It is the good kind of fear. What? Is there a good kind of fear? Yes, the fear of the Lord is a good kind of fear. As I read through the Bible every year, I am impressed at the number of times that the phrase, “the fear of the Lord,” is found in it. Throughout the Bible there are many verses about the fear of the Lord. It is found in the Old Testament and it is found in the New Testament. It is a prominent theme in the Bible. Given the number of times “the fear of the Lord” is found in Scripture, it is an important concept that we do well to pursue and understand.
What is the fear of the Lord? It is not an unhealthy fear of God. It is not a persistent, irrational fear of God. It is not worrying that God is up there watching you and wanting to send a bolt of lightning in your direction. Some people have that unhealthy understanding of God. That is not about the God we know through Scripture.
What is the fear of the Lord? The first understanding is that the fear of the Lord is about our response of awe in His presence. One writer wrote: “Fearing the Lord means to be in reverent awe of His holiness, to give Him complete reverence and to honor Him as the God of great glory, majesty, purity and power.” Fear of the Lord is about awe. Imagine suddenly being in the presence of the Lord. I don’t think we would walk up to him saying, “Hello Buddy,” and shake His hand. That is something a novelist might make up. It is far from reality.
The prophet Isaiah is one of the main prophets of God in the Old Testament. He had a close, personal experience of the presence of God. He writes, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple (Isaiah 6:1).” He describes what he sees in the throne room of God. How does he react to this vision of the Lord God? He says, “’Woe is me!’ I cried, ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty (Isaiah 6:5).” Isaiah had a powerful experience of the awe of being in the presence of the Lord. He saw himself contrasted with the holiness of God and recognized his own unholiness and the unholiness of the people of Israel. That was a humbling experience for a man who was a priest of the Lord God in Jerusalem. It was a fearful experience of awe in the presence of God. He saw the glory, majesty, purity and power of the Lord God and saw his own fragile humanness. He experienced the fear of the Lord as he had never experienced before. God sought him to be a prophet to God’s people who were in rebellion to Him. Isaiah spoke and wrote the words of the Lord God to a people who were courting disaster as they turned their backs on the Lord and served the pagan gods of the land.
The Book of Proverbs has at least 14 verses that deal with the fear of the Lord. Proverbs is categorized as wisdom literature. It is written to help people live as God wants them to live. In the Bible wisdom means God’s wisdom. It answers the question of how to live the truly good life, how to live in harmony with others and how to live as a godly person. In today’s world there is little wisdom. People and leaders tend to do whatever they like regardless of God or others. Let’s look at the fear of the Lord as found in Proverbs and other books.
Of course, the first thing is that the fear of the Lord is wisdom. True wisdom is inseparable from the fear of the Lord. Proverbs 15:33a tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom…” When one has the fear of the Lord, one is open to wise instruction rather than rejecting God’s wisdom. If you want to know how to live wisely, seek the fear of the Lord and wisdom from God.
One finds two verses about the centrality of godly wisdom. Proverbs 9:10 tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” When one has the fear of the Lord, one is on the path of godly wisdom. It is interesting too that in Psalm 111:10 we find the same statement: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Wisdom’s starting gate is the fear of the Lord. Without the fear of the Lord, people ramble unguided through life.
The Scriptures tell us that the fear of the Lord is learned. It does not just happen nor was it implanted in our DNA. Children and adults have to be taught the fear of the Lord. One of the important activities that go on in a Bible-based church is learning the fear of the Lord. The Psalmist tells us, “Come you children [that means everyone, not just kids] listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord (Psalm 34:11).” It is important to know that we learn the fear of the Lord and the wisdom and knowledge of God. It does not come naturally. It comes when we intentionally seek God in Scripture and as we live as godly people.
In the Book of Proverbs we also learn that the fear of the Lord strengthens life and leads us into the good life. The writer of Proverbs shows great confidence in God as he writes, “The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.” Life in a godly sense is more than just having all the functions of the body working in harmony. It means living the life God intends for us and not being deceived by worldliness. Jesus once said about himself: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).” He also said, “I am the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6a).” Our wise Savior is the way to genuine life.
People today are in some ways more conscious about healthy living. We like to avoid circumstances that lead us to the hospital or an early death. Does the fear of the Lord have any effect on our living long lives? The writer of Proverbs zeroes in on that question. He writes, “The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be shortened (Proverbs 10:27).” I know you have read about very old people who ascribe their longevity to smoking a cigar or drinking a glass of whiskey every day. Some people may have beaten the odds. However, when one does not live wisely, one is likely to have a shortened life. Living the godly way leads to a long life. And the writer of Proverbs again speaks to the fear of the Lord and life. He says, “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may avoid the snares of death (Proverbs 14:27).” Those who place their trust in Christ Jesus rather than wandering through life aimlessly find life eternal. When people place their trust in Jesus for their salvation, they enter into eternal life.
There is a strong correlation between the fear of the Lord and dealing with evil. Only naïve people do not recognize that in this world we are in a battle with evil. I don’t have to highlight the events of the past week but people continue to live as evil ones. Some older people tell me that the people of this country are living in a more ungodly way than people fifty or more years ago. You be the judge of that. In Proverbs 8:13a we learn that, “To fear the Lord is to hate evil…” Those are strong words: “hate evil.” People who have the fear of the Lord indeed hate evil. How do we keep from evil? The writer of Proverbs states clearly: “By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord one keeps from evil (Proverbs 16:6).” There are many more teachings about the fear of the Lord in Scripture. I have highlighted a few. Perhaps you can seek out other Bible verses that teach about the fear of the Lord.
One of the books of the Bible that has perplexed me is the Book of Ecclesiastes. All through the book Solomon laments the vanity of life. He cries out: “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.” He complains that life is meaningless. Somehow I missed his summary at the end of the book: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind (Ecclesiastes 12:13).” We find meaning in life as we have the fear of the Lord.
A Baptist pastor once wrote about the fear of the Lord with these words, “It is a continual awareness of the presence of God, and your accountability to Him, which affects every attitude and action in your life.” If you are questioning whether you have the fear of the Lord, you are in good company. None of us will always walk perfectly in the fear of the Lord. We need a Savior. We cannot do it on our own. We don’t measure up. But don’t get discouraged. That is why God sent us Jesus. Those who have the fear of the Lord don’t run from the Lord but run to Him. Run to Jesus, your Savior, every day. Always trust Him.
A sermon Preached at Veterans Memorial Chapel on September 24, 2023
by CH (COL) Michael W. Malone, AUS RET