Many of our contemporary world might congratulate themselves because they don’t fear the Lord. Thinking themselves quite “evolved” and grown-up enough to either no longer need fear as a motivation for doing the right thing or (much worse) thinking that God is “all bark and no bite”. Yet, the Bible gives us a much different teaching…
Proverbs 1:7 tells us, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
Proverbs 10:27 “The fear of the LORD prolongs life, But the years of the wicked will be shortened.”
Ecclesiastes 12:13 “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.”
The fear of the Lord is apparently quite important, even for “evolved”, grown-up, advanced people like us modern folks.
“Wait a minute,” someone says, “ I thought that He was our friend!” And indeed you are correct; Jesus said, John 15:14, 15 “You are My friends if you do what I command you. “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” So you might rightfully wonder how we might both fear Him and call Him our friend.
An unbalanced view of anything in the Bible leads to a distorted picture of God and false doctrine. For example, an unbalanced view of faith and works has produced both “faith only” and “salvation by merit” heresies — neither of them are biblical. So it is with the concept of fear or love for God: some see God as dangling men over the flames of Hell looking for a chance to condemn us, while others see God as a doting grandfather who would hurt a fly, doesn’t intend to punish sin and who really only suggests things, never commands. Neither of these views are biblical. The truth is that we should both love and fear the Lord.
Of the two opposite points of view — 1) dangling men over the flames of Hell and 2) wouldn’t hurt a fly — the most prevalent one today seems to be “wouldn’t hurt a fly” view. The world doesn’t want a God to be feared, it wants a cooperative buddy-God. And it is the cause of much irreverence, disrespectfulness, “freshness”, and disobedience toward God. It is the origin of a number of other false doctrines, too: “It doesn’t matter what you believe,” “Everyone’s going to Heaven,” and “The new morality”. It is a viewpoint, therefore, that Christians need to be very careful of.
To understand the biblical point of view about the proper balance of fear and love, it’s probably important to begin with a good definition of fear. Although we can sometimes see men in the Bible truly afraid (raw fear), when they found themselves in the presence of God; the key issue is really about respect and reverence. The reality of Hell and the just nature of God who will not let sin go unpunished is plenty of good reason to rightly be terrified of God, if we are not saved; and it is even a very appropriate and biblical motivation for initially becoming a Christian (see, for example, Acts 2:37 or 2 Cor. 5:11). Even after salvation, respect and reverence need to continue in the heart of the disciple.
First of all He is our Creator and the Ruler of the Universe!
The very first line of the Bible is…Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Notice, it doesn’t refer to Him a the builder or manufacturer, as if He took some already existing materials and put the universe together. Instead, God took nothing — not time, not space, not material, not energy, not dimensionality (zip, zero, zilch) — and created everything, seen and unseen. And this creation is not exactly the size or blandness of a bread box; it’s — well, words fail me on the size, complexity, beauty, power, and strangeness of just the Newtonian universe that we know about, let alone the quantum universe that we’re just starting to learn something about, let alone the spiritual universe that we are given just a bare keyhole in Scripture to look into! Such power, such creativity, such complexity! The mind and the power to bring it out of nothing — and to do so in a way that it works so beautifully! Wow!! It boggles and super-surpasses the ability of man’s mind to even begin to comprehend it. As we start to meditate on WHO God is it renders all the superlative words that we know weak, insipid and useless. And just think about it — when you pray, you speak to the KING of the universe. When you read the Bible, you read His words! How can we not reverence, respect, and fear such a being, our Creator?
He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent!
Do you fear a nuclear war? Then fear Him who made the sun and star which are trillions upon trillions of nuclear explosions for our benefit. Can the one who created the sun, stars, and more be to weak or unable to punish the wicked? God is indeed the Almighty! Do you respect knowledgeable men? Then let’s respect the fountain of all knowledge and wisdom down even to the secrets of men’s hearts, the omniscient One; and also the omnipresent One, from whose presence we can never hide. We may be able to hide from the eyes of men, but how will you hope to lie to Him about your life, when He knows your life better than you?
God is holy, the ultimate “other-ness”.
He is perfect, flawless, and revulsed by sin. He is extreme in purity, truth, love, justice, and goodness. Although Isaiah was a good man, he felt unclean in the presence of God (Isaiah 6). Even the world admires the virtues that God possesses, though they might be loathe to admit it. Such soaring goodness should be respected and reverenced.
And the Father, in His Son Jesus, will judge us.
If we are guilty of the violation of a law, do we fear a judge in this world? Then we should fear God. Jesus told us, (Matthew 10:28) “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
And it is this fear that truly is the beginning of wisdom, that causes us “sit up straight and listen” to the eternal and always applicable wisdom of God. It is this respect that gets us to take the proper things seriously. It is the awe we have toward our Creator God that appropriately humbles us and saves us from our own human folly.
“So,” you might further wonder, “now that I am conscious of these things about God, how can I do anything but be fearful of Him? How can I love such a high powerful, holy, and all knowing God who will judge me?” It’s much easier than you might think. Many of us easily balance it with our own earthly fathers, who we both love and respect and at times fear. And if you had no such father, perhaps a coach or mentor. The point is that these things are not mutually exclusive; it is possible to feel deep awe-respect-fear and at the same time deep love and loyalty.
It is the fear that makes His love for me such an honor! That He would give His Son for me, would be willing to forgive me over and over again, would be willing to call me friend, would give me ready access, would speak to me (through the Bible) with the best advise and counsel ever, and would make absolutely sure that no wrong done to me will go “un-righted”.
No wonder, then, that the many spiritual heroes of the Bible worshipped the Lord with both love and awe (Psa. 40) and lived for the Lord compelled both by love and fear (2 Cor. 5). It is the perfect and natural balance for a disciple’s life.