The Fear of the Lord
Come, my children, and listen to me, and I will teach you to fear the LORD. 12 Does anyone want to live a life that is long and prosperous? 13 Then keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies! 14 Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. 15 The eyes of the LORD watch over those who do right; his ears are open to their cries for help. 16 But the LORD turns his face against those who do evil; he will erase their memory from the earth.
Psalm 34:10-16 NLT
Many Christians struggle with the concept of “the fear of the Lord.” We think of a Scripture like 1 John 4:18 that tells us there is no fear in love, and we wonder if “the fear of the Lord” is really some outmoded Old Testament context. After all, God is love.
But no, the fear of the Lord is not just an Old Testament idea. Remember that it was Jesus who said, “Don’t fear him who can kill the body; fear him [God] who can cast both soul and body into hell” (Matt 10:28).
So what are we talking about? First of all it is not some nameless dread, that unclean terror of an arbitrary tyrant who is going to step on me if I get out of line. That is the kind of fear John is talking about. He is saying that if we have come to know the love of God living in us and shining out of us, we know we belong to God, and don’t have to live in dread that God is just waiting for a chance to “get us.”
Ok, we know what it isn’t, but what is it? The passage above is very helpful. The fear of the Lord is a way of living, a way that is shaped by wholesome awe of the One, Living God. It is to shape your life in the knowledge that the Creator has made us to live in certain ways, ways that if we follow will result in whole, productive, secure lives. By the same token it is to know that if we don’t live in those ways, we are headed straight for a brick wall – the brick wall of God’s unchanging truth. This is why Proverbs 1:7 says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” To live as if there was no God, and that you are not accountable for what you do with your life is really, really dumb.
So the fear of the Lord is a bit like looking up into a clear night sky. It is that awe-filled understanding that He is God and I am His creature, and that all that I do is finally judged in terms of the way he has made the world to function. The fear of the Lord is a way of life which takes into account the fact that He is God and it is he with whom I finally have to do.
Now, two more things. Before the verses printed above Psalm 34:4 says, “I sought the Lord, and he delivered me from all my fears.” Isn’t that great? Shape your life according to the fear of the Lord, and you need fear nothing else! Then Psalm 25:14 says something fascinating: “The friendship of the Lord is for them that fear Him.” If we will relate to him in the reality of our Creator/creature relationship, living as we were designed to live, he will take us into the secrets of his heart. To know Him rightly is to be ushered into His sanctuary.