I was once caught in a dreadful thunderstorm. The storm was powerful. I saw so many lightning strikes around me that it felt like being caught in an artillery barrage. I felt fear, but it was more the fear that tends towards awe, because I felt safe. I was sheltered from the storm, but I also wasn’t going to run out into the storm with lightening rod in hand to challenge it. In some small way, it teaches me about the fear of God.
For many, the fear of God is a difficult subject to grasp, and yet it is inescapable in the Bible. God is even called “the Fear of Isaac” (Genesis 31:42). Fear is obviously a word with a range of meanings. On one end of the range are meanings like awe and reverence. At the other end of the range is terror and dread. Terror and dread are appropriate responses if our relationship with God is not right. But if our relationship with God is good, reverence and awe are still fitting. God even speaks of desiring people who “tremble at my words” (Isaiah 66:2).
My reverence and awe are fitting because God’s power, glory and majesty are so much beyond me. God is other, and I am his creation. Love for God can co-exist with such feelings, because God is good. He loves and keeps covenants. He is not capricious. God is not only an almighty creator, but a wondrous redeemer. But there are some lessons that the fear of God teaches that we must learn.
- It leads to wisdom and understanding. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7 ESV) See also Proverbs 9:10.
- It teaches us to avoid evil. “By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil.” (Proverbs 16:6 ESV)
- It prolongs life and brings blessings. “The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life.” (Proverbs 22:4 ESV) See also Proverbs 10:27, 14:27, 19:23.
- It encourages growth in holiness. “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV)
- It is a motive for evangelism. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” (2 Corinthians 5:10–11a ESV)
- It leads to acceptable worship. “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28–29 ESV)
- It is one of the conditions in which the church grows. “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” (Acts 9:31 ESV)