The Fear of the Lord

Proverbs 1:7 states that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (knowledge)”. In almost all discussions in church classes about this verse it becomes clear that people have been taught that the word fear means “reverential respect.” I beg to disagree. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell”. If the people being addressed were believers, it might be appropriate to use the reverential respect meaning. For an unbeliever, a fear (terror) of a holy God who judges righteously would be the beginning of wisdom. If a person has no fear of ultimate judgment, why would they contemplate salvation? If hell is not a real option, a consequence of not allowing Jesus to be the Lord of one’s life, why worry about an afterlife? The Bible uses the word fear (with reference to God) over 300 times. In quite the majority of those uses, fear means “to be terrified.” The lack of fearing God (according to Romans 3:18) is one of mankind’s chief sins.

For believers, we are told in 1 John 4:18 that “perfect love casts out fear.” How many of us love perfectly? And if fear is just reverential respect, why would perfect love cast it out? William Eisenhower wrote an article for Christianity Today about fearing God. One sentence of his article stands out: “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but love from the Lord is its completion.” We are to fear God’s holiness. We get to experience His mercy and grace. I can go boldly into His presence and obtain mercy from Him, not punishment because of my relationship with His Son. I never presume upon it, though. There are times when He withholds complete mercy. Moses is not allowed into the Promised Land. Ananais and Sapphira are struck dead. So is Uzziah. Believers in Corinth also are put in the grave early. Some mercy is still granted – their soul’s security is still guaranteed. Grace is given in that they did not deserve to enter into His presence. I promise you, though, the early church and  the Israelites in the desert feared God with more than reverential respect.

It could be that in many churches our people have lost the fear of serving a holy God and that is why the church looks and feels just like the world. It could be the reason so many churches are powerless and have lost their witness. Without a wholesome fear of God, people will not repent of their sins, and repentance is necessary for the remission of sin. I fear God. I don’t serve Him out of fear, I do it out of gratitude for the salvation He has wrought in my heart, but I also fear Him. He is a God who expects holiness and who has high standards of conduct for His people. He also provides His Spirit to direct and guide and empower us to accomplish His will in His way. I believe that we need to teach that it is proper to fear a God who can destroy both body and soul in hell. It will wake up a lost and dying world and keep those awake from presumptuous sins.

Listening to Stories

Since working with hospice as a chaplain, my children have asked me what it is that I actually do. When I was the pastor of a church, my role was easy for them to see. As I speak at conferences and seminars, they often travel with me. Even on mission trips around the globe they have sometimes accompanied me and know what it is that I do while I am gone. As a chaplain, though, they weren’t sure what it was that I do all day.

My answer? I listen to stories. I listen to the stories of people. I listen to the stories of those who are actively, imminently dying. I listen to the stories of their spouses, children and grandchildren. I listen to the stories of those who know them best. And I pray with them. Every person has a story. Everyone’s life tells of who they are, what they dream of, what they value and whether they are ready to stand before God and have their life story read back from His books. People are fascinating. No two are alike. Everyone has a unique story, yet the end of the story is the same for everyone. It is appointed for man once to die, and then the judgement. The beginning may change, the characters may be different, the adventures unique — but the end is the same. We all must stand before God and give an account to Him of our lives and whether we have included His Son Jesus as the central character in our story.

How about you? Are you ready for your story to be read before the Almighty?