I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the fear of the Lord.
The immediate impetus for my reflections has been the recent spectacle of Canada’s political leaders playing games with each other, one threatening to bring down the government, another offering to prop it up, a third saying that disaster will strike our economy if the government falls. The stated message is “we are doing this for the good of the country”, but all too often the truth is more like “we are doing this because we want to be in power”. I wrote in a previous post that it is important for Christians to honour and respect our leaders as well as pray for them. I still believe this, but sometimes honouring our leaders also means calling them to account. It is a sad spectacle to see politicians of all stripes saying one thing and meaning another. Sometimes honouring and respecting our leaders means saying “Come on folks, surely you can do better than this”.
But what does the fear of the Lord have to do with any of this? Isn’t it some outmoded Old Testament concept, that got thrown out when Jesus died on the cross? Well, no, it’s not. The fear of the Lord is actually a truth that we badly need to rediscover. The very fact that many North American Christians think it’s outmoded shows how much our Christianity has been watered down to accommodate popular culture. If we’re going to hold our political leaders to account, we’d better also hold ourselves to account for the calibre of our church life and our personal walk with God. A healthy understanding of the fear of the Lord can help us to do this.
Over and over, well over 200 times, the Scriptures instruct us to fear the Lord. Interestingly enough, despite the use of the word “fear”, which we usually think of as negative, most of the references I checked promised great blessing to those who fear the Lord.
The Biblical meaning of the fear of the Lord is far more than just being afraid of God. It is an attitude that stands in awe of God, that trembles at His power and holiness, but at the same time trusts in His goodness and mercy. The fear of the Lord is associated with a worshipful disposition and approach to life, including :
- awe and reverence toward God
- awareness of His power and judgements
- confidence, delight and trust in Him
- rejoicing in His goodness
- intimate knowledge of His secrets
The fear of the Lord is not just an Old Testament concept. The description of the first Jerusalem church, immediately after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, describes these believers as walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit ! True conversion will produce a heart that is in awe of God.
But doesn’t the Bible also say that perfect love drives out fear? Yes – but the fear that is driven out is the fear of punishment, not the fear of the Lord. When we know that God loves us and has accepted us in Christ, we have peace with God, but this doesn’t mean that our hearts are no longer in awe of Him. If anyone is inclined to doubt this, consider the example of the Apostle John. He knew Jesus on earth as intimately as anyone. Scripture calls him the disciple whom Jesus loved, indicating an especially close relationship. He is also the one who wrote the words that perfect love drives out fear. Yet in describing his vision of the risen and glorified Christ, he writes : I fell at his feet as though dead. Although he had known Jesus intimately on earth, when he saw him in his heavenly glory he was terrified and had to be reassured that he was not going to die. So apparently even apostles still have room for the fear of the Lord in their lives!
The Scriptures identify a number of excellent character qualities in the lives of those who fear the Lord – qualities such as hatred of evil, integrity, loyalty, humility, faithfulness, and wisdom. Contrary to most of our contemporary politicians – and some church leaders, sad to say – leaders who lead in the fear of the Lord will not make decisions based on popular opinion, which the Bible describes as the fear of man. They will not judge by outward appearances; instead they will make righteous decisions. The ultimate embodiment of one who fears the Lord is the Messiah, Jesus, who is coming to govern the earth at the renewal of all things.
I am longing for his government – for the day when Jesus reigns on earth as King! In the meantime I will continue to pray for my leaders – both in the church and in the world – that by God’s grace they would lead in the fear of God. All of us who have any leadership position – small group leaders, ministry leaders at any level, heads of families, business owners, team leaders in workplaces – need to recognize that the position we hold is a trust from the Lord, that the people entrusted to us are precious to Him, and that we are accountable to the Lord for our leadership. Whatever kind of work we are doing, we need to remember that we are doing it as unto the Lord, as people who are accountable to Him. Far from being oppressive, this kind of awareness is liberating. The fear of the Lord sets me free from the curse of meaningless – it invests everything I do with meaning and significance, because I am doing it in the light of eternity.