(This is Pt.3 of the “Rich towards God” series of posts)
There are areas of very deep poverty in the Church and in society. One such area is the fear of God. We are in need of being rich in our understanding and practice of biblical fear. Instead, we often succumb to a wrong fear, a type of timidity, a lacking of boldness or courage. The disciple who would be “rich toward God” will press on to grasp a godly kind of fear that is so clearly taught in the Scriptures.
“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words. When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill it. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple, messenger, ‘My vow was a mistake.’ Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7)
Just as a coin has 2 sides, so many biblical truths have 2 sides, each one perfectly balancing the other. Two such balancing truths are illustrated by these verses: “In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him.” (Psalm 89:7)
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)
How is it that we are to fear God and yet to know Him intimately? Doesn’t closeness bring familiarity rather than fear?
A BIBLICAL FEAR OF GOD
Biblical fear of God is: reverence, awe, respect, inner trembling, and a mixing together of anxiety and trust. Yet, we are to know God, to walk with Him, to love His ways, to experience an intimate fellowship with Him. These truths must somehow be balanced in a Christian’s life if there is to be proper growth and fruit.
We must never forget that the God who spoke personally to Abraham and expressed deep concern regarding his heir, is the same God Who burned with vengeance against Sodom and Gomorrah. The God Who revealed Himself intimately to Moses, also opened the ground and swallowed up Korah and the other rebels. The same Jesus Who tenderly touched the leper, Who wept at the death of a friend, also took a whip and drove the shysters out of the temple area.
God obviously wants us to know Him. This is why the Word has become flesh. This is why God has revealed Himself – He wants us to know Him. Yet, we must fear Him; i.e., stand before Him with an inner trembling.
One of the most wonderful messages that is so clearly proclaimed in the Scriptures is the message that God was willing to become flesh and to die upon a cross so that there could be a restoring of fellowship between redeemed humans and a risen Lord. God did all of this out of His love for us, His creation. It is grievous to God when there is distance between Himself and His people.
There are, however, many people who are satisfied with knowledge from a distance. For a time, the prodigal son was one of these types. He knew this father, but he was satisfied with knowledge from a distance until he saw the depth of his need. When he was reduced to eating pigs’ food, he returned to his father and was restored to intimate fellowship in the household.
For those believers who have truly seen the depths of their need and returned to enjoy the embrace of their Father, there is no longer any satisfaction with knowledge from a distance. There is only one way to this intimate knowledge. Merit and familiarity have no place in such a quest. We draw near to intimacy with the Father through Godly fear. Isaiah put it like this: “He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to knowledge.” (Isaiah 33:6)
Fearing God is the key to knowledge, wisdom and salvation. It is the key to our intimacy with God. There is no familiarity implied – it is clearly a matter of a superior being willing and desiring to have close fellowship with a subordinate.
THE TREASURE CHEST
God has a treasure chest, so to speak, full of wonderful things like salvation, wisdom, and knowledge. The key that opens that treasure chest is the fear of God. Those who fear Him biblically, know Him intimately.
Jesus certainly understood this concept of intimacy through fear, as evidence by Hebrews 5:7; “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” Even the son of God approached His Father with deep reverence and respect.
We have a biblical mandate to live in a healthy fear of God. For example, Peter, states it like this: “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.” (I Peter 2:17) God requires of His covenant people that we reverence His majesty, dread His wrath, stand in awe of His authority and power, and give Him the glory that He desires from His children.
Fearing God has a very wonderful benefit for us: it keeps us from turning away from God. Jeremiah stated it so clearly: “I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.” What a protection God has offered us for our own lives and for generations to follow!
Far more than protection is offered to those who fear, stand in awe of our holy God. “The Lord confides in those who fear him: he makes his covenant known to them.” (Psalm 25:14) God promises to make His mind and heart known to us if we walk in biblical fear, fully respecting and honoring Him with all that we have and are.
May God inspire us to fear Him, bringing His church once again to a place of being rich in the knowledge of Him Who is our Head.
Bob serves as the lead pastor on Lifegate’s pastoral team and is the primary preaching pastor. He received his BA from Asbury College and MDiv from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.