Our God is One who is caring, lovely and forgiving. He also is One who is mighty and terrifying. Scripture indicates that no man could bear set his eyes on the countenance of the Lord and live [Exo. 33:20]. He is so holy and pure, and his physical image is so incredibly beautiful, that our imperfect and limited bodies and minds would not be able to withstand the beauty of that holiness. God is to be feared, but that does not only mean that He is to be respected. There is a terror which would overcome us if we were to enter his presence without the cushion of his grace. This fear of God we are to have should not intimidate us, but we should embrace it because it serves a necessary spiritual function in our lives. Our healthy fear of God is layered and multifaceted. Let us explore what that looks like in the life of a Christian and what we can expect as its fruit.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
I grew up in a household in which dad wanted to be feared. He was a traditional man and a religious man, and he expected respect from his children. I can recall that respect waxing and waning depending on the conditions of the time. As a child, my understanding was not the same as my father’s. He demanded that we view him in this light regardless of the circumstances, but I only wanted to respect him when I thought he had earned or deserved that respect. This was nothing more than defiance because I refused to recognize my position in relationship to my father. There were times in which I did not want to be under his authority, and those were times when I decided I would not fear him. In order for me to fear my father as he wanted, I had to exercise some measure of humility and acceptance of our relative positions.
There is a simple reason why fearing God leads to wisdom and why having a true knowledge of him leads to understanding. We cannot fear God without first submitting to him. This is the great stumbling block of redemption for mankind. Those who fear God not only out of respect but out of holy terror begin to understand the nature of our complex relationship with him. It is foolishness and not only sinful disobedience which would lead us to discount God’s power and authority and decide instead to follow our own path. Those who decide that they will not fear God ultimately have decided that they can stand against him, but we know that no person could. That is utter foolishness. Those who do not submit to his power and authority, those who do not recognize his holiness and his majesty, those who believe they could stand in his full presence and live, have not accepted that the knowledge and wisdom they can gain from God is infinitely greater than their own. Wisdom comes from the fear of God because it could not reach us otherwise.
Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him. The young lions lack and suffer hunger; but those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing.
The understanding which we gain from submitting to God and coming to know him in relationship is not simply a matter of knowing him or his ways in our minds. To fear God and obey him, to let him teach us, we must submit to him working in our lives. The wisdom we gain is a matter of experience with the Father. Ours is not a respect or allegiance pledged from afar. Yes, we submit to God before we know him, but our submission to him also is a regular practice over time. The initial submission is the beginning of wisdom and understanding, but those grow in us as we practice fearing the Lord. Although we should expect no reward for our respect, there are natural spiritual consequences to our submitting to God in holy fear. These experiences help us understand exactly who it is we serve and how He cares for his children.
Here we see that those who fear the Lord will have unlimited and unending provision. This might be difficult to reconcile with the fact that many of us are not wealthy and do not have a pantry stocked with food. If we read these words carefully, we see that we will not lack “any good thing.” We know that God works all things out for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose, and this provision indicates that we will lack nothing required for that to be fulfilled. There are many things in this world which we might never have, but God will make sure to provide everything we need. This is part of our experiential knowledge of God as we submit to him. Placing ourselves in a position to make him our provision then allows him to show that provision in our lives. It does not mean that we will be rich or that we will have more or better than our neighbors, but it does mean that we will have everything required to be content and fruitful according to the will of God in our lives.
Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways. When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.
Our Declaration of Independence states that we have certain inalienable rights, namely life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There is something inside the hearts of mankind which causes us to seek these things. We want life to be full and long. We want to know what freedom is. We want to seek those things which will bring us joy and to know that we are at liberty to do so. In this world, however, we encounter a system and an enemy which work against our achieving these things as God has designed. We might find man’s version of liberty here, but the freedom available through God is much different. No governmental document can provide that to us. It is no different with life and happiness, because those can be only a shadow of what is available to us when we do not include God in our pursuit of them.
If we want to know what it is to be truly free, we cannot have that without the fear of God. If we want to know what it is to truly live, we cannot have that without the fear of God. If we want to know what it is to experience genuine happiness and true joy, we cannot have that without the fear of God. These are all blessings which come when we respect God as He deserves and understand our position in relationship to him. These verses speak about a fruitful home with blessed family ties which add to the joys of life. They touch on the components of life which make it complete and fulfilling, the loving home and warm relationships. To fear God does not mean that He gives us a little blessing here and a little blessing there. The fruit of getting this right is a blessed life in all respects. That is what awaits those who fear him and submit to his ways, who respect the awesome power and wisdom of the Lord, who bow to his sovereignty and obey his command.
Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.”
There are many people in this world who are just trying to gain access to something coveted. This can be as simple and inane as trying to get into the right social club, the exclusive venue for those who carry clout within the community. Perhaps one desires above all to be accepted by the right group of friends or the influential people at work. Some even spend countless hours working hard to gain entry into intellectual groups to validate their genius. People are looking to be a part of something important, to be accepted by someone they see as great, but so many of these connections are temporary and simply not worthwhile. There is only one club worth pursuing, one group worth giving our all to join. There is only one connection to be made which provides eternal satisfaction.
God’s club is somewhat of a paradox. It is completely inclusive yet extremely exclusive. Those who desire to be a part of his kingdom are welcome to come to him without exception. Whether Jew or Gentile, whether man or woman, whether young or old, whether black or white, whether rich or poor, it makes no difference. However, entrance can be gained only by those who fear him. Some might think that this requirement is too high a barrier, that they just cannot commit to yielding to God in every area of life. The problem is that God does not desire those who fear him by some limited measure. We cannot kind of respect him yet still do our own thing and expect to join the club. What God requires is extreme, but what He offers in exchange is no less extreme. If we fear God the way He deserves, if we respect his holiness as He is entitled, He will allow us entry into an eternal kingdom of perfect love and security. There is no way to lose in that exchange, but we must be wise enough to yield these lives to him first.
1 Pet. 2:13-17
Therefore, submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
It is only sensible that our having a right holy fear of God would result in our being changed for others to see. There is a certain behavior that is expected of those who view him in this proper perspective. Peter understood this, and he gives us an illustration of what we can expect from those who fear the Lord. Some might think that it is only God who deserves our respect, and that we need not obey or respect the human authority in this world. They separate the kingdom of God from these kingdoms of man and decide that only one of them deserves their obedience, but these verses tell us something quite different. The fear of the Lord requires that we have a right respect for all authority which God places over us, and this is done so that we would bring him glory. Our submission to man’s rule of law is for the Lord’s sake.
I have struggled with this very concept myself, and I have discussed this with my fellow brothers and sisters often. It can be difficult to submit to the authority of man when we have chosen to become citizens of a much greater kingdom, and because we see how corrupt and unrighteous the world is, but I see only one reason to disobey the rule of man. If that rule of law requires that we disobey or disrespect the Lord, then we cannot submit to it. Otherwise, God requires our obedience as a testimony to who He is. Our obedience to God in such an overt way is a testimony to our fear of him, our allegiance to him, and that shows not only the world but also the Church his holiness and his worth. It glorifies God to all when we transparently fear the Lord and every other authority He places over us. In doing so, we are setting a righteous example of what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ.
To have a right and holy fear of the Lord requires submission without condition. He wants all of us, and He wants us to give ourselves willingly because He deserves it. When we consider the fruit of this submission, we see that this is not a lot to ask at all. There is no other way to get to know God. There is no other way to gain entrance to his kingdom. There is no other way to glorify him before others. This fear we are to have is not merely about respect. It would be truly terrifying to stand in his unfiltered presence. It also is terrifying to consider what awaits those who do not fear him, those who choose instead to live according to their own way. To fear God is to submit to him in private and before man, to live a life which is a testimony to his holiness and his worth, and to have a sincere desire to glorify him above all.