A couple of days ago I found a site on YouTube that arrested my attention. SermonIndex.net contained portions from the sermons of six preachers whose ministry together spanned more than half a century in different locations.
Whatever their geographic locations, their sermons had a common theme. With one voice, they contended that there was a lack of genuine “fear of God” among Christians in their era and they pled for repentance.
What does it mean to fear the Lord? It is an unusual and even perplexing expression. Is not our God the very essence of love? Why then not speak of loving the Lord or trusting Him? Why fear him?
The answer begins by noting that the word “fear” used in this sense does not mean to be terrified of God; it means to respect God deeply and humbly so as not to offend him. But is this definition adequate?
Let’s test its adequacy against the words of instruction spoken to Israel by Moses before the Israelites entered the Promised Land at the crossing of the Jordan:
And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the LORD Your God; to walk in obedience to him; to love him; to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul; and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).
Nothing here suggests the need to be in terror or to cower. The lead command in this exhortation — fear the Lord your God — calls for our respect, reverence, awe, love and obedience.
We might have twinges of human apprehension if introduced to a world-renowned person such as the queen of England. But the kind of fear Moses called his people to exercise was not fear toward a mere human, however elevated, but toward God who is our Creator.
This kind of fear, as you can see from Moses’ exhortation, has deeply felt love at its core but unshakeable respect, honor, and commitment to God as its sheath.
For true believers, such fear of the Lord may be tested in life’s desperate moments. For example, when the pagan king of Egypt ordered the Israelite midwives to kill male babies at birth as a form of controlling Israel’s male population the midwives refused to obey at the peril of their lives. Why did they refuse so bravely?
The account in Exodus 1:17 tells us: The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Today there are many Christians in jail or worse in other lands for no other reason than that they fear God more than they fear the godless rulers who have put them there.
The God we are called upon to fear is more than a human potentate. He is the Almighty, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, the Creator and Sustainer of all things.
As humans, “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). That is, he is the source of each moment of our mortal existence. It is with his power, majesty and holiness before us that we bow down to love and fear him with joy.
Some may respond that this is really just Old Testament talk and we need to get into the love and grace moods of the New Testament. Quite to the contrary; while being assured of God’s love and grace in the New Testament we are called several times to fear the Lord as followers of Jesus Christ.
To believers who had been ejected from their homes and scattered for their faith, St. Peter exhorted …live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear (1 Peter 1:17). The Apostle Paul called the Christians in Philippi to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).
How then can we disregard the Apostle Paul when he exhorts the Corinthians and us as follows: Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord (2 Corinthians 7:1).
Photo credit: PlusLexia.com (via flickr.com)