“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
Fear is not a comfortable term for us. We instinctively think of it as a negative term. The idea is to be afraid; to have an emotional dread of impending distress or misfortune. The Scripture certainly affirms that picture when individuals fear for their life or there is the fear of great danger.
But the Scripture is pretty clear that we should fear the Lord. Does that mean we ought to be afraid of him? The short answer is yes! While that does not seem right let me remind you that every person who had a glimpse of the unveiled presence of the Almighty, in any other terms a glimpse of the glory of God, they were terrified. Each person was afraid of the terrifying presence of a holy God. Ezekiel fell on his face when he saw the glory of God (Ezekiel 1:28). Isaiah was overwhelmed by the holiness of God (Isaiah 6:5). When Peter, James and John saw the transfiguration of Jesus with Moses and Elijah they were very afraid (Matthew 17:6-7). The apostle John fell down as a dead man because he was so overcome with fear when he saw Jesus in glory and power (Revelation 1:17). If any of us should have a true glimpse of the raw majesty and glory of God it would terrify us. We would see ourselves in light of his frightening justice and righteousness. We would be shocked by the magnitude of our sin, our sheer unworthiness before Him. Yes, we would perish in the scorching reality of the radiance of God.
At the same time we would be overwhelmed with His love, grace and mercy. In each case stated above we see God delivering and rescuing each man in their overwhelming vulnerability. God lifts them up, he calms their fear, and he comforts them in their fear. He gives them an immediate sense of His mercy, love and compassion. He gave Ezekiel and Isaiah a mission. He gave the disciples a future hope (Matthew 17:9). The problem for us is we struggle with truly grasping and appreciating God in all of his glory. This “lack of fear” deadens our sense of fear and reverence. God becomes commonplace, familiar and sometimes mundane. We take him for granted and even treat Him with a lack of respect. Some of this is a problem of our finiteness because we do not have the capacity to absorb the unveiled presence of God and live. But our “lack of fear” is due to our sinfulness. Humanity has “exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man” (Romans 1:23). Certainly that is the condition of unsaved humanity but even as believers we struggle to get past the distractions of this life and grasp with clarity the infinite God we now call Father.
Paul indicates one reason this is so important in 2 Corinthians 5:11 – Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.
Fearing the Lord is about having so much respect (fear) for God that His thoughts toward us are like precious gold compared to all the wealth in the world. His approval crushes every temptation to define success by any standard of the world. His thoughts toward us give us more peace than any circumstance we might cherish for safety. His opinion as to the way we live outweighs every other opinion; his approval demolishes even the need to define my value as a child of God by the opinion of any other person. Notice the missional result of fearing the Lord… Paul says when we truly fear the Lord we have no problem sharing the gospel or persuading men.
When we struggle with being perfectly at peace with fearing the Lord it often means we are seeking success, fulfillment, purpose, value and significance in all the wrong ways and in all the wrong place. When we do not fear the Lord we are in fact despising wisdom and instruction.
In His grace,