The Fear of God
Robert D. Pace
We don’t hear much talk about “the fear of God” these days, and I admit, at first glance, it doesn’t appear to be a “feel good” topic. But it doesn’t diminish the fact that the Bible commands Christians to be governed by a reverential fear of the Lord. Solomon said the fear of God is the “whole duty of man” (ECC 12:13). Coming from the world’s wisest man, it seems prudent for you and me to place an emphasis on it regardless of how others treat it. There is blessing awaiting those living under its influence and peril for those ignoring it.
(Transition) What does the Bible mean when it says for “every nation, tribe and tongue . . . [to] fear God, and give Him glory”?
I. The Fear of God Defined
When Scripture discusses fear it’s categorized two ways. It’s either commended or condemned. It’s either our friend or foe. Maybe that sounds ambiguous but let me explain.
On one hand, friendly fear furnishes us with a natural alarm system that instructs us when to resist, run, or relax. For example, a friendly fear tells us to run from the swarm of bees or stay away from the edge of the cliff. Friendly fear tells us to relax because the lions are caged.
Conversely, the fear that Scripture condemns is one that lacks trust in God. It’s tormenting. It doesn’t believe God’s grace is sufficient for us when we are overwhelmed.
(Example) Fear is aroused when we are confronted by anything that dwarfs us. It is only natural to fear when a tornado is a hundred yards away or we are swimming and realize sharks are circling us. Man fears things that overwhelm us. Since that’s the case, how much more should we fear God, infinitely greater than creation?
Think about the greatness of God. He created every part and particle of the universe; He knows everything that can possibly be known; and other than hell itself, His very presence fills every square foot of creation. Contrary to what 18th Century Deism suggested, God didn’t create the world, wind it like a clock, and then leisurely sit back and let it tick out its destiny. God created the world but He also interacts with His creation and manages it. God is not indifferent toward anything He created. And that helps explain why men owe a reverential fear to God.
There are two theological terms that help us understand why we should fear God: transcendence and immanence. As transcendent, God is altogether different from man. There is nothing in the universe by which you can compare Him. He is omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal, perfect, and holy—that’s God’s transcendence. But He is also immanent! And that means God is here and walks among men. We don’t see His physical manifestation but the omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal, perfect, and holy God is here, now! The prophet Zephaniah said: “The LORD your God in the midst of you is mighty” (3:17). Since God is transcendent and immanent—since He is powerful and present—nothing escapes His awareness. As the all-knowing Judge He reacts to our behavior and passes sentence upon men and nations at His discretion.
That’s what the” fear of God” is all about! God calls us to order our lives in such a way that we will “present us faultless in His presence.”
(Example) I have a confession. When I began studying the fear of God years ago I was shocked. I had assumed I served God because of my love for Him. But that is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible says “the fear of God” is the primary reason we serve God.
Psalm 85:9 says: “Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him.”
Philippians 2:12 says: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
Hebrews 2:3 says: “[if] every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation”?
(Illustration) A child may deeply love his parents, but in most cases his willingness to obey them is rooted deeper in a respectful fear than in tender love. For example, mom and dad prepare to run some errands while Junior stays home. His parents restrict him to the yard until they return. After they leave, Billy, the next-door neighbor, spots Junior and says, “Hey Junior, come over and let’s play basketball.” Junior says: “I can’t, my parents instructed me to stay home.” Billy responds, “Oh, come on, they’ll never know.” Can you imagine Junior’s explanation? He says, “Billy, because of my great love for my parents, I can’t come over.” No way! Billy’s obedience is rooted in the punishment that would occur. He realizes the repercussions of no X-box for a week; or a spanking; or restriction.
Fear is the primary reason Christians obey their Heavenly Father. That’s why Solomon said: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
God Expresses His Wrath
Listen to what David said in Psalm 7:11: “God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day. (12) If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword; He has bent His bow and made it ready. (13) He has also prepared for Himself deadly weapons; He makes His arrows fiery shafts.” You say, “Wait a minute, the Bible says, ‘God is loving, merciful, and kind,’” and you’re right. He isn’t a tyrant looking for somebody to zap. But as the holy Judge of the earth He cannot permit wickedness to proceed unchecked. Listen again to how Psalm 7 says God executes His wrath.
It begins by saying, “If a man does not repent.” And that’s the grace of God speaking. God isn’t talking to everybody here. He is speaking to those that continually ignore His voice and refuse to repent; those that continually repudiate His counsel. Then David says: “If a man does not repent . . .[God will] “sharpen His sword.” The words, “sharpen His sword,” form a picture phrase that indicates yet another merciful pause from God. It’s His final hesitation of sharpening His sword before He strikes. Have you ever strayed from God and during that time of disobedience God warned you by giving you a “close call”? That was God showing you He was “sharpening His sword” before striking the blow. And then David says: “If a man does not repent . . . [God will] “bend his bow.” And this represents a completed act. It’s too late, you have become the target, and He has to release the arrow.
God is wrathful; but His wrath is never issued without warning and patience and grace and space for repentance. But despite the warning of Scripture some people live like they’re exempt from being judged. Do you realize it would take only one word from God for His protective hedge around you to collapse and nothing would ever be the same?
(Illustration) Awhile back I counseled a middle-aged, “Christian couple” that was contemplating marriage. They were living together! My advice couldn’t have been more direct: “You need to find separate living quarters and prepare for marriage in accordance with Scripture!” Listen to what this Church-going, forty-five year-old said: “I know we’re sinning. But we will eventually marry and then ask God for forgiveness!”
The prophet said: “If you sow to the wind, you will reap the whirlwind”! Nobody can outwit God! Nobody can elude that inescapable law of sowing and reaping! We’d like to believe there’s nothing about God to fear. We want to hope He is passive toward our sins. But He isn’t! God said in Ezekiel 7:9: “I will repay you in accordance with your conduct and the detestable practices among you. Then you will know that it is I the LORD who strikes the blow.”
(Transition) Are you living with godly fear? Are your choices and lifestyle based on the fear of God? If not, God is calling you to change course right now. But if you are living in the fear of God then you can expect God’s blessing. And that’s what I want to talk about for a moment—the benefits of the fear of God.
II. The Benefits of Godly Fear
A. First, the Bible says the fear of God lengthens life. And if there’s anything modern man, with his pills and potions, strives for it’s the lengthening of days. Proverbs 10:27 says, “The fear of the LORD prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be shortened.”
(Illustration) I heard a ridiculous report awhile back on the radio. The Food and Drug Administration stated if Americans cut their beef consumption by 30% they could increase their life expectancy. Like most people, I am intrigued by any information promising to prolong life. But guess how long this meat repressing diet extends life? Two to three months! And get this, the FDA further reported it would only affect 2% of Americans!
Folks, I assessed the issue the instant the report hit the pit of my stomach. The FDA can have my two to three additional months; I’ll take the risk of not being part of the affected 2%, and eat beef! God didn’t say in Proverbs how long our days would be lengthened, but I guarantee it surpasses the FDA’s offer!
B. But the fear of God not only lengthens days, it also guards us. Psalm 33:18 says: “the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, (19) to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.”
How often did Christ’s enemies attempt to apprehend Him only to lose Him as He mysteriously slipped through their presence? They tried to stone Him or hurl Him from a cliff but couldn’t—and the reason they were unsuccessful is because of His perfect reverence for His Heavenly Father. Proverbs 16:7 says: “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.” That’s the promise of God’s Word. And Jesus Christ so perfectly pleased the Father that no one could assail Him. The only reason He suffered and died at Calvary is because He voluntarily surrendered Himself.
(Illustration) Friday, July 5th, 1991 was an interesting day. As I concluded my morning prayer I was constrained to remain until I prayed for a special hedge of protection. I was unsure of the consequences of ignoring the impulse so I obeyed. That afternoon I visited a hospitalized Church member. As I exited the hospital I walked under a steel awning, about ten feet wide by twenty feet long. As I passed a few yards from the entrance an ambulance approached, crashed into the awning, and flattened the structure. A delay of only a few seconds would have put me directly under that passageway. I couldn’t help but remember the Lord’s prompting to linger in prayer that morning.
Folks, pay attention to the Spirit’s prompting. It’s sent for protection and guidance.
C. But now notice that the fear of God brings special blessing.
Psalm 31:19 says: “How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you.”
And Proverbs 22:4 says “Humility and the fear of the LORD bring wealth and honor and life.”
You and I aren’t going to lose when we determine to live in the fear of the Lord. Quite the contrary, we are going to reap benefits.
(Transition) Is the fear of God the governing principle of your life? It should be! I began this message by quoting Solomon when he said the “fear of the Lord is the whole duty of man.” And it is!
III. Godly Fear Should be Life’s Governing Principle
Did you know that Jesus, our Example, personally demonstrated “the fear of God”? It literally governed His life in every word He spoke and everything He did. Listen to Isaiah’s prophecy of Christ in Isaiah 11:2‑-3: “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD— (3) and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.”
There is something special about this phrase, “He will delight in the fear of the LORD.” When you translate this from the Hebrew text it doesn’t use the word delight, even though that is a correct translation. It actually reads like this: “The Messiah will enjoy the fragrance of the fear of God.”
Here’s what that means. Think about the fragrances you enjoy—the aroma of coffee brewing or the scent of a garden. Maybe it’s a fresh mountain breeze or the cool ocean air. Pleasant fragrances satisfy your soul and make you want to abide in their presence. Those that live in the fear of the Lord become the recipients of His fragrance. The Lord actually satisfies those that fear Him by filling their soul with the sweet scent of Heaven and making them want to abide in His presence. It’s the scent that says to us: “You’re doing the right thing. Keep the fear of God before you.”
You see, the fear of God is not a topic to be shunned or quieted. The “fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” and that means we should make it part of our conversation whenever God directs us.
I’ve heard ministers use horror stories and scare tactics to warn people of God’s judgment. Many don’t like it. I’m not generally given to horror stories that warn of God’s fiery and eternal judgment against sin. But I’m honest enough to tell you it’s in the Bible. Hell exists and eternal punishment awaits the wicked!
(Example) The world is wonderfully adept at employing scare-tactics to influence people. For example, it warns us that careless, improper dietary habits bring an early death. It tells us that free radicals will destroy our immune system unless we take vitamins and antioxidants. If you don’t wear a safety belt a car crash could kill you. If you don’t have enough insurance your family could be left destitute. Advertisers know well how to employ scare tactics!
Today’s generation also needs a spiritual warning. And sometimes it takes frightening, graphic, pound-the-pulpit preaching to awaken people to truth. I’d rather be scared into Heaven than for someone to tickle my ears, pat my back, and “love” me into Hell! esus was shockingly graphic when He discussed Hell. His narrative of the Rich Man and Lazarus is filled with fright. He described it as a place of darkness, isolation, loneliness, despair, and unending torment. The apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:11: “Since . . . we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.”
(Example) There’s a graphic drama of Paul fearlessly “pounding the pulpit” in Acts 24. He was on trial for civil disobedience. Paul stood before the judgment seat of Governor Felix of Caesarea, the High Priest, and a prosecuting attorney. With the evidence presented, the Governor called for an adjournment of the proceedings. During the adjournment Paul somehow secured an audience with the Governor and his wife Drusilla. Here was the perfect opportunity for Paul to ingratiate himself to Felix and “win friends and influence people.” But with Paul’s life in jeopardy, what do you think he discussed behind the bench with the Governor? Rather than try to plea bargain and strike a deal, Luke says Paul “discoursed on righteousness, self‑control and the judgment to come, [and] Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave.”
Can you believe that? With his life in jeopardy Paul preached a “hell‑fire and brimstone sermon” and frightened Felix!
Let me tell you something about people that live without Christ in their heart. They are haunted by fear.
It torments their times of solitude.
They do their best to avoid contemplating death.
In their effort to expel God from their minds they’re consumed with thoughts of one day facing Him.
And the ungodly have every right to their fears. Proverbs 1:28-29 says, “they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me. (29) Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD.”
One day all humanity will gather before God’s Judgment Seat. That’s where man will receive the sentence of his earthly behavior—good or bad. And no one will be absent. No one will be AWOL. Some people rationalize: “I understand that, and just before death I plan to make things right with God.” Folks, nobody is guaranteed tomorrow. Peace with God can’t be claimed on your terms and it can’t always be claimed at the end of the way. The Bible says, “Today is the day of salvation.” David said in Psalm 33:8: “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world reverence him.”