Reclaiming the Fear of God

by Ted Kyle

In the eyes of many, the fear of God is an obsolete concept: Is not our God a God of love? Is it not His love that draws us to Him? Indeed it is. "We love him because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

But dwelling only on His love can create a lopsided image of God in our hearts, and especially in the hearts of our children and those whom we seek to bring near to Him-who could come to picture him as a "heavenly Santa Claus," whose only-or at least, chief-function is to pass out good gifts to all.

The church needs, as we need, the whole counsel of God. We need to be ever aware of the many sides of our Creator-for He is both a loving Father to His flock and an awesome Judge before whom every unbelieving soul must ultimately stand.

Therefore, let us explore this much-neglected aspect of God: the fear of the Lord:

First, let us note that the Bible in our hands has a very great deal to say about fearing God-and perhaps to the surprise of some, this is expressed in the New Testament as well as the Old. And always it is presented as a good thing.

So: what does it mean to fear God?

Linguistically, when the Bible says "fear," it means "fear." In the Old Testament, the Hebrew yare means "fear" or "reverence." In the New Testament, the Greek is phobos-"alarm" or "fright": to be afraid. Both are basic words for a basic emotion. There are no religious twists which can be applied to soften or ward off the intent: God is to be feared.

Yet at the same time, He is to be loved. "Behold the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him" (Ps. 33:18), and "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them" (Ps. 34:7).

That this dualism is hard to grasp is declared by the Bible. Proverbs 2:1-5 says it is only found by those who hunger for wisdom. "Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God" (v. 5).

As with other truths that are brought home to our hearts as we mature in faith, understanding of the many benefits of fearing God must be studied and taught.

Let us list some of these wonderful benefits. The fear of God is:

Wisdom (Job 28:28).

The beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10).

The instruction of Wisdom (Prov. 15:33).

A fountain of life (Prov. 14:27).

The avenue of godly prosperity (Prov. 22:4)

The perfecter of holiness in us (2 Cor. 7:1).

The builder and edifier of the church (Acts 9:31).

The bringer of God's mercy to us (Luke 1:50).

A powerful reason for evangelism: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror (phobos) of the Lord, we persuade men" (2 Cor. 5:10-11).

But still we can ask what "the fear of God" means. In part, it means:

To truly hate evil (Prov. 8:13).

To cast out all fear of man and what man can do (Luke 12:4-5).

To be totally obedient to God (cf. the story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22, culminating with God's approval in verse 12: "Now I know that thou fearest God.")

To be blessed as Abraham was blessed for his obedience (Gen. 22:16-18).

Personally, it means grateful awareness that I owe to Him every breath I draw; that of myself I am nothing and have nothing, without Him.

Ted Kyle is managing editor of Pulpit Helps.

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