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The subject once again came up in a conversation recently in which it was suggested to me that the “Fear of the Lord” was only an Old Testament concept that really doesn’t belong in the church today.
As I thought about that, it occurred to me that my friend either did not know that there was more than one way to define “fear,” or he was simply using the word in a way that I was not.
In the New Testament, the word often translated as “fear” is the Greek word “phobos,” which means not just “fear” (as in terror or phobia), but it also means “reverence” and “awe.” Therefore, if someone says that they do not believe that the “Fear of the Lord” has any place in the church today, are they suggesting that they do not believe that our God is worthy of our reverence? Are they saying that there is nothing about our Lord that brings them into a state of awe? I hope not. Likely, though, they’ve simply misunderstood the word.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Pr.9:10)
We all like to think of ourselves as being wise, and perhaps especially so when it comes to matters of faith. Assuming the opposite of wisdom is foolishness, have some inadvertently chosen to be counted as fools by their rejection of the fear of the Lord in their own lives? Ouch. Do we want to be counted among the wise? Of course we do! True wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord.
Jesus spoke of the necessity for his followers to be in a state of awe at the power and majesty of God. This is not to be taken lightly. He said,
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has the power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” (Luke 12: 4-5)
This in no way diminishes the love of God, as some might suggest, for obviously God is a God of love. It simply reinforces that He is also sovereign and all-powerful, and ultimately, controls everything. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33). At the end of the day, God gets the last word, regardless of our doctrines and opinions. The Lord God is the Almighty God, and as such, reverence is due Him. This is what it means to “Fear the Lord.”
I would argue that any proper Christian response to the love of God must also include a fear and reverence of God. In other words, it must include a fear of the Lord. There are several New Testament scriptures that support this. Let’s briefly consider a few of them.
“Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord” (Acts 9:31).
“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13).
“Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear” (1 Peter 1:17).
“Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17).
“The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name” (Revelation 11:18).
It is true that in the Old Testament, mostly because of the law’s legal requirements and sanctions, true religion was often viewed as synonymous with the fear of the Lord. However, by the time of the New Testament, the concept of the fear of the Lord didn’t suddenly disappear; reverent fear remained. Why? Because the awesomeness of God has not changed, and one day there will be a day of judgment to be met by all.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience” (2 Corinthians 5:10-11).
Worship and the fear of the Lord are intertwined
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This begs a couple important questions for which I do not have an answer. If the church today still hasn’t learned to obey God’s commandments (see Jesus’ Greatest Commandment in Matthew 22:37-39), if we continue to embrace an ungodly and worldly lifestyle (as evidenced by the fact that often Christians look just like the world), does that mean that we then do not have a proper and holy fear of the Lord? Secondly, if worship and the fear of the Lord are as intertwined as I suspect they are, can someone who does not fear the Lord even worship Him at all? I wonder sometimes.
Do fear, reverence and awe have a place in the church today? Based upon the preceding verses, and the many examples from the early church, I believe it does have a place. Strange, though, that such an important concept seems to be less and less accepted by many today. Now I’m not interested in judging anyone’s faith profession, for God alone will do that. However, if someone cannot fear the Lord and still believes that they worship Him, then at the very least I will sit up and say, “Hmm.”
Anyway, that’s the way I see it.