The Good News - Home
The Fear of the Lord
By David A. DePra
"The fear of the Lord" is an often misunderstood term in the Bible. To most people, it means, "to be afraid of God." But the real meaning and intent behind the phrase is far from that misconception.
"The fear of the Lord" is REVERENCE for Him. It is to ascribe to Him VALUE. It is certainly the outcome of knowing Him. Once I know God, I won’t be afraid of Him. I revere Him and love Him.
John the apostle wrote, "God is love." (I John 4:16) A few sentences later he wrote, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." (I John 4:18) Obviously, John is here referring to "being afraid," when he uses the term fear. Ok. So now do the math. What is John saying about God? God is love. There is no fear in love. Therefore, there is no fear in God. Indeed, since perfect love casts out fear, then God Himself casts out fear. Could anything be more clear?
According to the apostle John, there is nothing about God which could possibly make us afraid of Him. In fact, in the presence of God, all that negative, "being afraid," is not only absent, but CAST OUT. John, in effect, shows God to be the very antithesis of the wrong kind of fear.
Sure. If someone loves you, and you know it, you aren’t going to be afraid of them. Why? Because you know they are FOR you. The revelation of the Bible is that it is not possible for God to be MORE FOR US. Paul writes, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31)
Yet people are afraid of God. They don’t believe God is FOR them. Why? One word: Deception. Not only don’t we know God, we are deceived about Him. From this darkness, God wants to set us free.
There is, of course, another reason why people are afraid of God. It also is deception, but it is deception of the WILLFUL kind. Some people are afraid of God because they are wrong with Him and know it. But they won’t come to Christ and get right with Him. In short, they aren’t believing. The result is a perpetual, unresolved fear.
In summary, the wrong kind of fear of God – being afraid of God – makes us want to run and hide from Him. But reverence – the right kind of fear of God – makes us want to run TO Him. The question is: Which governs US in our walk with Christ?
The Beginning of Wisdom
Obviously, this Truth about the fear of the Lord applies on one level to the unsaved, in that they ought to seek God. It applies to another level to the saved, as to their attitude and faith in Christ for walking with Him. But the bottom line is: Revere God right where you are. That is the only way to move on.
One question, of course, is as to how a person born in darkness and sin can begin to see that God loves them, and how can they see that, "being afraid of God" is based in a big lie? How can a person come to have some of the real "fear of the Lord?"
Actually, everyone is born with some. It is a residual of what God originally created in Adam. Everyone on this planet who has reached moral maturity has some sense of accountability to God. They may not know God, or even have the right God. But man was MADE FOR GOD. He cannot escape the fact that he knows there is something more than himself – to which he is accountable.
Now, I do realize that people deny this. But even the most hardened atheists usually evidence their recognition of God by fighting so willfully against Him. They are NOT neutral on the subject. They are continually defending a position against God.
I would never suggest that man has in himself what is necessary to find Jesus Christ, or come to Christ. Jesus said no to that thought. (John 6:44) But I am saying that man is built in such a way that he has a consciousness of God and a sense of morality which takes him back, again and again, to God has his Creator. Man was built for God and made for God, and he knows it. He may have developed many philosophical arguments to dismiss this reality, but it is there. It always has been, and always will be.
Now the fact that man is built for God is one thing. But add to that the fact that God has taken the initiative to save man, and to reveal Himself to us, and our accountability becomes clear. The fear of the Lord then becomes possible. God has given all of us something to work with – a place to start.
The Bible says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (Ps. 111:10, Proverbs 1:7. and Proverbs 9:10) So if you want to know how to come to know God, let alone interpret life the way He does, it starts with reverence for God. The moment I begin to revere God – on whatever level I am capable – my understanding begins to open up.
Note that the fear of the Lord is the BEGINNING of wisdom. According to scripture, you cannot even so much as begin to see things the way God sees them without reverence for Him. This is not a matter of brains or intelligence. People can be quite smart without God. But in order to see things from God’s perspective – which is to see them the way they really are – your vision has to be framed with reverence for God.
Sure. For without reverence for God, I will see things from only MY perspective. And what do I have to work with? My brains, and my understanding, and my bias, and my nonsense. In the end, without reverence for God, I will interpret reality with only reverence for my own interests. I will create God in my image.
The statement, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," is a Truth all through the Bible. I have to honor God and open myself to Him. Then I begin to see. Hebrews says, "By faith we understand." It is the same Truth. I cannot understand God, or how He works UNTIL I trust Him. Hebrews doesn’t say, "By understanding, I believe." No. It is "by faith, I understand." The moment I turn to God in faith – which is reverence – I have opened myself to understanding. Sure. God is Light and God is Truth.
What we see in this is that understanding and wisdom are not things which are independent of God. I find them when I find HIM. And I find Him when I turn to Him. "The fear of Lord is the beginning of wisdom," and "by faith in God, we understand."
We need to warm up to the concept that when our understanding of God, this life, and even ourselves, disagrees with the Word of God, we are wrong. Period. It doesn’t not matter whether we can see how or why. It does not matter how iron clan our understanding seems. There is ALWAYS more to God than our perception of Him. The way that we can come into the Truth is by continuing to fear the Lord. Walk with Christ by faith and obedience.
In contrast to people who, "fear of the Lord," God talks about those who don’t. There are a number characteristics of such people.
The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts. (Ps. 10:4)
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. (Ps. 14:1)
If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me. (Ps. 66:18)
What we see here is IRREVERENCE for God. First, we see a person who shuts God out of their thoughts – of their intentions and motives. They do what they do INDEPENDENT of God. Secondly, we have a person who says, not necessarily with his mouth, but in his heart, "there is no God." This is again living independent of God – as if He doesn’t exist. Third, we have a person who "makes room" in his heart for sin. This is nothing more than another way of saying that this person makes what is wrong be right – through moral rationalization. He gives the wrong a home – embraces it. The reason is not ignorance. The reason is that they lack reverence for God.
These examples give us a contrast to the RIGHT. For example, we should have God in all our thoughts. In other words, we should never be having, in our heart or mind, a conversation with ourselves to which God is not invited. No. Open up and let Him in. Don’t shut Him out. You would be surprised at how much God might have to contribute! Wisdom and Truth, for instance!
In addition, we should never say, in our heart, that "there is no God." In other words, we should never live in a way, or make a choice, as if we are not accountable to God for that choice. We should realize that we are accountable.
Thirdly, we should never make a home for sin, unbelief, and wrong in our hearts. Those things may come knocking on our door, and try to get in through deception. But this is much different than inviting them in and setting a table for them. It is one thing to be tempted to think or feel a certain way. It is another to entertain and embrace these things.
Reverence for God will motivate us to obey God. Obedience is the outcome of being rightly related to God. Reverence is that right relationship. If I revere God, I am going to WANT to obey Him. And when I fail, I will obey Him by repenting and turning.
Disobedience, if it is deliberate, is the result of NOT revering God, and thus, of not being rightly related to Him at present. It all goes back to my faith and my reverence for God. In the end, this will govern my conduct and attitude towards others, and towards life itself.
He That Fears
What man is he that fears the LORD? him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose. His soul shall dwell at ease; and his seed shall inherit the earth. The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant. (Ps. 25:12-15)
Here we see the results and benefits of having a reverence for God. First, we see that if we let God choose for us, he will show us His will. Sure. Jesus said the same thing. He said, "If any man is willing to do my will, he shall know…." (John 7:17)
Now note: Again we see that all we need to understand in order to fear the Lord is that we must fear Him. That’s it. All we are told to do is open ourselves to God – because we know He is God and we are accountable to Him. If we will simply do that, God will have enough to begin to teach us His will.
The second result of fearing God is that, "his soul shall dwell at ease." The principle is that if I fear God, I will not fear anyone or anything else. We saw this earlier. Perfect love casts OUT fear. God is perfect love. Thus, the more I surrender to God in reverence, the less I will fear those things over which He already has victory. This is progressive.
Thirdly, there is a promise to a person who fears God that, "his seed shall inherit the earth." This reminds us of Jesus statement, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." The two statements are the same Truth. The "meek" are those who put God first. That is what it means to "fear God."
People think that to be "meek" means to be unassertive or even afraid. They think it means to be shy. Or they think it means to put yourself down. None of these things is real meekness, and none of them makes anyone meek. Meekness is the result of seeing how great Jesus Christ is. It is the result of reverence for God. Once I see how great Jesus is, I will automatically seen how small I am. I will put God first, and honor Him in all I do. All of it will be restorative and life-giving. The meek are those who revere God!
The meek inherit the earth because they have allowed God to give them the earth. You cannot inherit the earth by grabbing it for yourself. You have to lose in order to win. Revere God and you will provide Him with a heart attitude to which He can entrust true riches.
Finally, "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him." What is this secret? The Truth which is hidden in Christ. You cannot discover even the beginning things of God without the fear of the Lord. But if you revere God, you will grow to be able to discover the deep things.
If there is one thing this world needs, indeed, which the church needs, it is the fear of God. We need to have a reverence for God, and for the things of God. We need to understand that we do not belong to ourselves, and learn to value the price paid for us. These are, of course, elementary issues. But how far even the people of God have strayed from fearing God, revering Him, and putting Him first!
The Good News - Home