"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.."
For those of us raised in Christian families we have heard it for most of our lives. For new believers, you are often told upon conversion that you must fear the Lord if you are to grow in faith. Tattoos abound, normally in the form of "Fear God" or "Fear no man, only God." Cute plaques of sorts are sold at southern boutiques alluding to fearing God in some form or another. There's one problem with this abundance of God fearing language that surrounds us: what does it mean? Have you ever considered what it means to fear the LORD? Have you wondered how to do it? What the reward is? Why you should? I do not personally recall ever hearing a sermon on fearing the Lord. Maybe this is because I am missing something. Perhaps this is such an understood topic that it never gets preached on. But, can the gospel ever be exhausted? It's always good to remind ourselves of the gospel. It is also edifying to remind ourselves what it means to fear the Lord and why we should consciously do this in every facet of life.
2 Types of Fear
As far as I'm concerned there are two types of distinguishable fears that are talked about in scripture. However, as I frequently state, I am no scholar. You could probably google "different types of fearing the Lord," and a guy with a PhD could give you six; but I don't have a PhD, and you get what you pay for... so buckle up.
The first type of fear is pious fear, or a reverent fear. This is the fear you would have of your father because of who he is, not because he spanks you hard. This is the most common type of fearing the Lord that is found in the Bible. Examples include, but are not limited to:
Deuteronomy 4:10 - Hearing the words of God brings about a fear of the Lord, namely reverence for His might works
Deuteronomy 17:18-19 - The words of God were put in a book so that they may be near to us, that we may fear Him
1 Samuel 12:24 - Fear that comes from considering the great things he has done for us.
Job 1:8 - An attribute of a man who turns away from evil
Proverbs 8:13 - Hatred of evil. I include this because hating evil is an attribute of the Christian man who overwhelmingly carries a pious fear of the Lord, not a fear fear which is laid out below.
The adjective I have chosen for the second type of fear is fear. This type of fear is exactly what it is. The fear of being mauled by a bear or crashing on an airplane. The fear of drowning or the fear of bridges. This type of fear produces undesirable consequences. You're scared of a bridge because it may fail, and you would be in the ocean. You're scared of flying because the plane may crash, and you're more than likely going to die. A healthy Christian can still fear the Lord in this manner so long as this fear does not overwhelm their pious fear described above. If your fear fear is more prominent than your pious fear, you only serve God selfishly, to "save your skin." Examples include, but are not limited to:
Israel feared the power of the LORD post red-sea. Although it says they believed in the Lord and his servant Moses which could make it probable that this was a pious fear, I believe it is a fear fear because they just watched an enormous body of water, which they just walked through as though it were dry land, swallow up the largest and most fearsome army in the known world. They were also infantile in their devotion to the Lord, having not even been given the law yet.
2 Chronicles 14:14 - The enemy nations of Israel were terrified of the power of the Lord.
2 Chronicles 17:10 - The enemy nations of Israel were terrified of the power of the Lord.
These people "served" God amongst other gods. In their eyes he was just another stone or wood edifice that they could make sacrifices to for blessing and prosperity. They fear feared Him because of what they had heard about Him but they did not piously fear Him because they were reliant on themselves. They had destroyed the nation that served Him so they didn't need to obey Him the way the Israelites did or their fate would be the same. However, just to appease him, they threw Him a bone every now and then so He would not smite them. This brief commentary is all speculation from reading Isaiah and 2 Kings. It could probably be deduced from the text, but the text does not forthright say this.
Sooooo What Is It?
Psalm 111:10 - The beginning of wisdom
Job 28:28 - Fear of the Lord IS wisdom
Proverbs 1:7 - The beginning of knowledge
Proverbs 8:13 - Hatred of evil
There's no need for a deep theological discussion on this point. The Bible is straight forward about what fearing the Lord is. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. All knowledge is founded on God, the one who knows all things, the one who created all things, and the one who gives all things. Wisdom is from the Lord. The fear of the Lord IS wisdom. Fearing the one who sustains all things by the word of His power is the very definition of wise. You'd be very unwise to neglect the one who formed you in your mother's womb, and who knows the number of hairs on your head right now. You'd be unwise to not fear the one who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28). Lastly the fear of the Lord is the hatred of evil. If you love evil, if you love indwelling sin, you have no fear of God.
How Can you Fear the Lord?
"Okay this makes sense, but how do I do it? Is it an action I do such as thinking or breathing?" Again, no need for a deep theological discussion on this. We have God Himself, speaking through those he providentially assigned, to tell us how to do this. Behold:
Deuteronomy 6:2 - Learning and keeping the statutes and rules of the LORD
Deuteronomy 4:10 - Hearing the words of God
Deuteronomy 17:19 - We put the words of God in a book so that they may be near to us
Job 1:8 - Turn away from evil
Proverbs 8:13 - Hate evil
Psalm 33:8-9 - Admiration of all he has done
1 Samuel 12:24 - Considering the great things he has done for us
I grouped the passages above into three categories that each build on one another: Consume, Apply, Savor.
The comprehensible knowledge and wisdom of God was crammed into a book for our sake. We have everything God intended for us to have in order that we may be complete in the Bible. Maybe you don't dwell on this thought much. I beg you to do so. God, infinitely wise, infinitely powerful, full of love, transcended time and space to record His words (on processed tree pulp) for our building up. God, leaps and bounds above leaps and bounds above us (yes I meant that twice), has given us life through His Son. The only way we know this life is through His written Word. Have you ever considered how incredible it is that the Bible was preserved NOT ONLY for more than 1,000 years through the Old Testament period, but for 2,000 more years (and counting) post-Christ? Jerusalem, where an overwhelming majority (not a scholar) of the scrolls of the Old Testament were kept, was leveled in 70AD. Everything destroyed. Yet the Word of God was not only preserved but flourished throughout the Mediterranean region. If that doesn't light your fire, your wood is wet. This alone should be enough of a reason for us to devour God's word daily, to seek His wisdom and apply it to what we do.
If you want to fear the Lord as the Bible describes it, you need to sit under expositional preaching, not feel good sermons. Find a church where the pastor(s) preach what the scripture says regardless of how it makes you feel. You also need to be in the Word everyday. Take time to be with God before you get caught up in your duties. If you don't know how to start, try here. This is not legalism. This is called giving to God what is God's. If you are in Christ, you belong to Him. You are not your own. Walk in obedience!
When you begin to consume the Word of God, you must begin to apply it. "Why do you say 'Lord, Lord' but do not do what I tell you?" Hate evil, do good, dwell in grace. Know that as you begin to live out what you read in the Bible, you will not be sinless. So long as we live in this body of flesh, we will live with sin (Romans 7). However, the Lord is gracious, merciful, and slow to anger. Seek to be obedient to His commandments, and He shall in no way cast you out.
One of my favorites. How do you savor Christ? Look around you. Look at everything. He did that. It is all upheld by the Word of His power (Hebrews 1:3). Allow me to share with you what John Piper talks about in this article:
I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.
If we would all just slow down from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and the constant pursuit of "the next thing," we may begin to understand the God-given, Christ-sustained beauty of everything around us. When we begin to see that everything points to Christ we will begin to truly cherish Him. Nature, animals, materials, processes, thoughts, relationships, cultures, everything. Take time this week to stare at a tree. Revel in the ant. Admire it's work and the community it builds. Meditate on how it contributes to the circle of life and thank God for it.
Those who fear the Lord by consuming, applying, and savoring, can expect to reap the following:
Good understanding - Psalm 111:10
Instruction - Psalm 25:12
A pleased God - Psalm 147:11
Love of knowledge - Proverbs 1:29 (not fearing the LORD is to hate knowledge)
Prolonged life - Proverbs 10:27
Satisfaction in rest - Proverbs 19:23
These are not exhaustive, but you get the picture. The Lord will bless you if you seek Him. The more you seek God, (remember that it is God who works in you) the more you will grow in knowledge of, love of, and zeal for Christ. We know this because His word tells us so.
I pray that if you have read this far you have learned something. Thanks for reading!
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 - 23