We don’t like to be afraid.
We find comfort in the Bible with the verses that teach us to be brave, such as: “The Lord is my helper, I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6, Psalms 118:6 NASB) Over and over, we read scripture and find God telling people not to be scared.
God tells us not to be afraid, so why are we are also told to “fear the Lord”?
A great example of this is found when the people are trembling before the might of the Lord. They are scared of God. Moses comforts them:
“Do not be afraid, for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” (Exodus 20:20 NASB, emphasis mine.)
“Don’t be afraid”, and “fear the Lord” must to be two different sorts of commands.
Let’s take a look at what it means to fear the Lord.
First, we need to clear out our emotional baggage. This idea of “fearing” God can bring up unhappy memories of being afraid of a harsh authority figure in our lives. We can start to think of God as coldly distant and hard to please, desiring trembling worship just to stroke His ego.
The idea of fearing God can seem out of place when we read verses on God’s mercy, love and patience. We like the image of God as a proud papa with a twinkle in his eye. Jesus encourages us to think of God as our father. (Matthew 6:8-9) So why would someone who loves us want us to fear them?
It may surprise you to know that we are told to fear God for our own good. (Deuteronomy 6:24)
There are many verses that dwell on the benefits of fearing the Lord, but I’ve summarized the main themes with these verses:
Goodness is stored up for those who fear the Lord. (Psalm 31:19)
Fear of God leads to life. (Proverbs 19:23)
The Lord watches over those who fear Him. (Psalm 33:18-19)
Those that fear trust in the Lord. (Psalm 115:11)
Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Psalm 111:10)
“Fearing the Lord” is part of New Testament language too.
To be God-fearing is a compliment. (Acts 10:22 and 13:16)
Jesus teaches us to fear God. (Matt 10:28)
We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)
We perfect holiness in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1)
The most important reason to fear God is this: He is to be feared because He is great. (Psalm 96:4)
There are translations that say “revere” instead of fear, because of our difficulty in understanding the nuances of the word. When you read the verses in context, we learn that fearing God is about respecting, honoring, esteeming and revering His awesome might and overwhelming holiness, which leads to holy living.
Whether you prefer the word “fear” or “revere”, we shouldn’t pull back from the idea of being knock-kneed and dry-mouthed before God. There should be trembling when we come before our Creator! When we think of who He is, what He has done, and what He will do, we should feel small. This is the one who placed the very stars, raised the mountains and set the bird on wing. Job 38-41 gives a passionate look at the might of God as seen in His creation.
I think this is where fearing the Lord brings us wisdom and life.
When we are overwhelmed by who God is, we are even more amazed by His love for us. God is intimately interested in His creation, even down to sparrows. (Matthew 10:29) He loves us enough to make a way for us to live eternally with Him. (John 3:16) While life today may be difficult, God is busy preparing rooms and a feast for us. (John 14:2 and Isaiah 25:6-9).
We can’t forget though, that part of fearing God is knowing what He thinks of evil.
He hates it! He promises to uphold the righteous, but will break the wicked. (Psalm 37:17) God will not let evil run wild forever. All who are wicked will be judged, and should be worried. When He comes to judge, we want to be ready. (Matthew 24:42-44) Yet, we need to be careful here.
The people of Exodus 20:20 were afraid of God’s wrath, and that isn’t what God wanted.
He didn’t want His people to be scared of Him, He wanted them to understand who He is – for their own good. We need a proper fear of God to be in our hearts, but we should not obey Him simply to avoid punishment. Those who believe are called sons of God, and heirs of the kingdom. We are not mud under his boots. We are treasured children of the King. (Galatians 4:4-7) As believers, we don’t live holy lives because we are afraid; we live holy lives as a symptom of who we are now. (1 Peter 1:14-16)
Fearing God is about understanding who He is and what He has done and will do.
He is to be feared, yet we cannot forget how He loves us. Though He is powerful and holy, He has made a way for us to approach His throne with confidence – by accepting Jesus. (Hebrews 4:15-16).
We Fear God because He is worthy!
Fearing God will make you brave in the face of enemies or disease or hardship, because you know who exactly stands for us.
Fearing God is the beginning of wisdom, because you know who reigns, and so you know what truly matters.
Fearing God brings life, because if you understand who God is, you will turn to Him for everlasting life, and become an heir of the kingdom He is bringing
Guest post by: Katrina Hamel
Katrina is a wife, mom of four, and a Bible History enthusiast. When she’s not writing she’s surviving Canadian winters with copious amounts of coffee, books, and board games.
Visit her website here.