The concept of “the fear of the Lord” has been misunderstood, misinterpreted and very often ignored by many; it has even been rejected as “fear-mongering”.
Churches seem to prefer to teach and preach only about God’s love, grace, mercy and avoid subjects that may make people uncomfortable, such as sin, holiness, faithfulness, and the fear of God.
The Bible very clearly speaks of God’s righteousness and His righteous indignation, holiness, anger and justice. The Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth: “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”(2 Corinthians 7:1)
In Psalm 89:7 we read: “God is greatly feared in the assembly of the saints.” The word fear in Hebrew is “Yir ‘Ah” and it means:
a. Fear, terror or terrifying.
b. In reference to the fear of God, reverence, piety, respect.
In Greek the word fear is: “Fovos” or “Fovo”, which describes fear, terror, dread. For example, in 2 Corinthians 7:1 the verse ends with the words ” me jobo qeou “—”in the fear of God.”
But what does it mean to fear the Lord? Does it mean to be afraid of an unforgiving, terrorizing and spiteful God? Doesn’t the Bible say that God is love? In 1 John 4:16-17 we read: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him.”
“The fear of the Lord” is not associated with terror or evil. On the contrary, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7) and “The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honour.” (Proverbs 15:33)
“The fear of the Lord” is a loving reverence for God that includes submission to His lordship and to the commands of His word. This loving reverence for God is what makes a person please God. To fear the Lord implies that a person believes in God and has started knowing Him better.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7) Without the fear of God, we cannot please God! King Solomon said: “The fear of the Lord leads to life.” (Proverbs 19:23) He also said: “Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honour and life.” (Proverbs 22:4)
In Psalm 103:17, King David said: “From everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children’s children.” In Psalm 34:11 we read: “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”
After God gave the Ten Commandments through Moses to the people of Israel, “they trembled with fear.” (Exodus 20:8) Moses said to them, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” (Exodus 20:20)
King Solomon, after examining and searching life and God’s will, declared: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment… whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13,14)
The warning is repeated in Hebrews 10:26, 27, as follows: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left. But only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.”
Many Christians and churches today have lost the concept of “fearing the Lord”. Attitudes such as: “God is love! Why should I fear Him, let alone tremble?” and “I am secure; nothing can separate me from His love” and “He is a forgiving God; He knows I am only human” have paralyzed the church, and many have lost their faith and walked away from God.
Sin has become a way of life and many “Christians” have been indulging in a sinful life with impunity—with no fear of the consequences of disobeying God and His laws. This is like holding a grenade with its safety pin pulled out. It will explode in seconds with terrible consequences!
Apathy and neglect for spiritual things has weakened Christian families and churches. Let me repeat that we are not told to be afraid of God, but rather to honour Him, to respect Him and His Word, to love Him with all our heart and mind and body. That is what it means to “fear God”.
Let’s look at what God said in Deuteronomy 5:29— “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands, always so that it might go well with them and their children forever.” God is clear, and there is no room for discussion or debate.
The believers of the early church knew what “the fear of Lord” meant. In Acts 9:31 we read: “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.”
From the beginning to the end, the Bible speaks of God’s holiness and justice and the need for His followers to obey and fear Him. In Revelation 15:4 we read: “Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
You may ask, “Why should I fear God? He loves me He saved me and He will keep me safe and secure for the rest of my life.” Let’s remember what the Bible says: “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it… Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:1,11)
In closing, let me remind you that those who follow and focus on Jesus and have the proper “fear of the Lord” also have the promises of God and the assurance of their salvation.
And so, “since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)