“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10 (NKJ)
Jerry Bridges in his book, The Joy of Fearing God, notes “there was a time when committed Christians were known as God-fearing people. This was a badge of honor.” So what does “God-fearing” look like in a postmodern age? Unfortunately the shifting values and norms of the 21st century see little value in fearing God. This fear, which is biblically connected to wisdom, is unfortunately viewed as obsolete and irrelevant.
The Fear of the Lord
Fear is a complex quality, swirling with emotions and pointing to both real and imagined terrors. Fear is also a source of human motivation. It can include fear of other’s opinions or anticipation of what might happen. For example, there were many who wanted to follow Jesus but feared rejection and persecution by the Jews (John 7:12-13).
The definition of fear is further complicated in Scripture by its use as an attitude toward God. Fear (yir’ah–YIR-AW’) as found in today’s Proverb generally means to respect and reverence. No single English word conveys every aspect of the word “fear” in this phrase. The meaning includes worshipful submission, reverential awe, and obedient respect to the covenant-keeping God of Israel. It has even been defined as “hyper-respect based on a realization of how awesome God is and how insignificant we are in comparison.”
We as believers fear the Lord because of who He is AND in acknowledgement that we live continually in the reality of His power, His purpose, and His presence.
God’s power is expressed in both His goodness and His greatness. God is omnipotent. He is righteous and holy. He alone is worthy to reign and rule over mankind (Exo. 15:11; Rev. 5:11-14).
God’s purpose is demonstrated in His sovereignty and His directive providence. “According to His good pleasure” God orchestrates the affairs of men and nations, time and eternity, and there is no one or nothing that can “hold back” His hand (Job 38-41).
God’s presence is realized in the fact that He sees and He knows everything we do. He is omniscient and omnipresent. We are never out of His presence and His protective reach. He alone can claim, “I am with you always even to the end of the world (Matt. 28:20).
Connecting fear and wisdom
Wisdom (chokmah—KHOK-MAW’) speaks to prudent and ethical behavior. In Paul’s citing of spiritual blessings in Christ, he acknowledges God’s provision of “abundance wisdom and prudence” for those who accept His offer of salvation (Ep. 1:8).
Simply put, wisdom is seeing life from God’s perspective and responding accordingly. To fear God means that, as believers, we acknowledge God’s power and authority in our lives. Those who fear God adopt a godly lifestyle out of respect for Him and make moral choices that reflect the character of God. We live with the knowledge that the God of Creation is ultimately involved in our every move and every decision we make. Based on His power and authority we make choices that reflect His wisdom.
Our fear of God is not much different than that of others who initially experienced Him—the Old Testament Patriarchs, the Prophets, and those in the first Church. Their opening response may have been emotional fear but it quickly changed to admiration and awe. Ultimately their fear of God gave way to worship and devotion. Let us daily draw near to God, not out of fear of punishment but to elicit His eternal wisdom. May our fear of God give way to greater love, deeper faith, and tireless service.
SELAH: What motivates your behavior? Fear of God or fear of the world?