What Does the “Fear” of God Mean? (Fourteen 3)

The word “fear” in English is generally the word we use when we are terrified. As a result, many readers of the Bible think it is appropriate to serve God because we are afraid of Him. But when the word fear is associated with God in the Bible, it has a much softer meaning. In the Old Testament, for example, the fear of God means to have reverence or awe for Him: it includes things like knowing God personally (Proverbs 9:10); doing His commandments (Psalm 111:10; Eccl 12:13) and avoiding evil (Proverbs 3:7 and 16:6). In the New Testament, it can mean awe and respectful excitement (Luke 7:16; Acts 2:43). The fear of God provides motivation for godly behavior (2 Cor. 7:1). It is parallel to the honor one would give to a king (1 Pet. 2:17) and the respect one would show toward a superior (1 Pet. 2:18).

In a recent book (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 2005), Eugene Peterson explains the ”Fear of the Lord” in this way: It is the comprehensive term in the Bible for the way we live the spiritual life, it has to do with our response to the way God is working in our lives, it has to do with our part of a walk with God. Fear of the Lord is what we do when we realize we are in the presence of God. People tend to respond to the presence of God in two ways. One is awed silence. Overwhelmed by the awareness of God’s presence we fall silent, all senses alert. The other response is to become noisy and celebrate God’s presence with great excitement. But too often the latter response is a subtle way to distract ourselves from the call and presence of God. Another response to the presence of God is to set up a code of conduct and apply ourselves to that. But this puts ourselves or someone else in charge of “knowing good and evil” in our lives and can distance us from the very God we are seeking to honor. Fear of God is not so much thinking about God or doing for God as it is living in reverence before God.

In modern terms, the fear of God means to take God seriously enough to enter into a relationship with Him, to follow His warnings to avoid evil, and to do His commandments, even the ones that may be inconvenient. It is a call to live and act as those who know that they will give account to God one day. According to Revelation 14:7, such a serious calling will be a part of the experience of God’s end-time people.

4 thoughts on “What Does the “Fear” of God Mean? (Fourteen 3)

  1. Robert Whiteman

    Concerning the “fear” of the Lord; for sinners, it is a vital posture to achieve. Notice the great goal of Prov 2:1-5. So whatever we want to define this fear as, it is important to understand it, keeping in mind that “none of the wicked will understand, but the wise will understand”.

    I like to look at the fear of the Lord from the perspective of Joseph, and his reply to his temptress when saying “how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God??!!”. It was the fear of offending a loving Father who had richly blessed him, and he shuddered at the thought of being so thoughtless and ungrateful. Just as we would not wish to offend our mother with the behavior she so faithfully taught us to shun. We do not wish to offend those we respect, reverence, and love to be close to. We might say that we “fear” to disappoint them.

    This is only one aspect. But the main idea of fearing the Lord results in leading us to “depart from evil”(Prov 3:7)

    Sinners must understand the Holiness of God, which will put a righteous fear of offending Him in the heart. Only knowing God as He truly is can give us the proper incentive to walk in His righteous ways. Also, “the fear of the Lord is strong confidence”, to look on a positive side of this question. Who wouldn’t want this confidence?

    The fear of the Lord keeps sinners from forgetting what is most important in this life, to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness”. The first angel’s message is summed up in this isn’t it?

    Reply
    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      Our God certainly accepts our response to Him, even if it is based on fear. But don’t you think He’d prefer a response of whole-hearted delight?

      Reply
      1. Robert Whiteman

        That’s exactly what Joseph’s “fear” was. It was his way of saying; “I delight to do thy will…”, for God’s law was within his heart.

        Keep in mind what temptation is. Rarely is anyone tempted by something they have no interest in or desire for. There are things for each of us that will never tempt us, while others must struggle against them. Yet, love for God and the desire to please Him will lead such a one to resist even the greatest temptation, because no matter how great the natural desire might be, they “fear” to offend God(yet not out of fear). I hope that is understood correctly. There is no fear in love. Right?

        Reply
  2. Linda Cruys

    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    A good understanding have all those who do His commandments.
    His praise endures forever.
    Amen
    Ps111: 10
    I thank you for the wonderful explanation study…. I’ve always been amazed at how some people think to “fear”the Lord to be the complete opposite than it actually means.

    Reply

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