by Frank Mayfield
In our Philippians series last week we looked at (among other verses) Philippians 2:12 where Paul urges the Philippians to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
Whenever we encounter verses about the fear of the Lord on the pages of our Bibles we can be tempted to skate over them, moving on quickly, or attempting to explain them away out of our unease.
Jake Hess’s study notes which I used in the preparation of my sermon for last week (which incidentally I didn’t get to preach due to an eye injury) helped me to understand that when the Old Testament writers spoke about the “fear of the LORD” they weren’t stating that we should be afraid of God. Otherwise, they couldn’t say things like this from Psalm 130:4, “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared,” (ESV).
UK-based theology professor, Mike Reeves, points out the apparent contradiction in this verse. But with you there is forgiveness that you may be loved would make sense. So would, “but with you there is judgement, that you may be feared”, but that’s not what it says.
Reeves goes on; “stranger still is the fact that the psalmist just doesn’t look afraid of God. Quite the opposite. Straight after verse 4, he goes on to write of how “his soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning.” He fully embraces the fact that with the Lord there is faithful love and redemption in abundance (Psalm 130:7).
Paul, then, isn’t speaking of being AFRAID of God–quite the opposite. The right fear of God in the Bible is quite explicitly a blessing of the new covenant and the same fear Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would have for the Father in Isaiah 11:1-3. Here’s Reeves for one last time: “These verses tell us that it was Jesus’ DELIGHT to fear the Lord. Jesus’ fear is part of His pleasurable adoration of His Father; indeed, it is the very emotional extremity of that wonder.”
The VERY EMOTIONAL EXTREMITY OF THAT WONDER! WOWWW!
If you’ve been around good gospel preaching for any length of time you’ve probably heard someone quote North African Saint Augustine’s famous idea that we will only be able to truly flourish in the Christian life if we have “rightly ordered loves.” Get God on the throne of your heart and get everything else you love to revolve around Him–that’s the way to true joy and peace. Praise God for Augustine as this is of course right and true, and we all know from experience what can happen when our loves are disordered and the havoc that can wreak in our lives.
The Power of Fear to Shape Who We Become
I want to put it to you that fear, just like love, has immense power to define the people we become. I spoke recently with my brother about how he felt growing up in a gritty, working class, ex-industrial town in the North of England. He is a creative type and was forever drawing cartoons and coming up with new ideas for computer games that he could make (before it was cool).
At school, though, his peers sneered at his creativity and his quirky personality, and as a result, he shrank back from the person that God had made Him to be out of a fear that his peers would reject him for being different. He reflected on how he is no longer in touch with any of those people who he feared would reject him, and wondered out loud about why he willingly hid who he really was to win their affection.
The shaping affect of fear shows itself in a million ways:
- If you fear poverty, you’ll never be able to be truly generous
- If you fear loneliness, you won’t be able to have healthy relationships
- If you fear failure, you will never take any risks
Rightly Ordered Love and Fear
The Bible calls us to fear God because, unlike anything or anyone else in the universe, fearing Him makes us more and not less like the people we were created to be.
Proverbs 9:10 says “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Right, God-honoring fear, a fear that acknowledges that we are dealing with the Holy One who formed the universe by speaking a few words will lead us not into smaller, contorted versions of ourselves but into the beautiful and unique people that God so carefully created us to be.
Think of it another way, if we don’t fear God we will fear something else, and that something will only harm us. If we fear God, we don’t have to fear anything else because He has us under His wings (Psalm 91:4). Fear of God is actually incredibly freeing because it ushers us into a fearless life lived for His glory!
Frank Mayfield, Hallows Church elder | In addition to discipling and applying the gospel to everyday life and community, Frank enjoys the great outdoors, extreme sports, hosting friends and family with lovely wife Debs, and building gorgeous outdoor spaces and gardens.