Fear God...or Not to Fear?

Fear God...or Not to Fear?

The fear of God is described in positive terms countless times in Scripture. For example, Solomon tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). David says, “How blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in His commandments” (Psalm 112:1).

But then, John tells us, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). Is this a contradiction?

There is no contradiction, but it does deserve a little exploration. First of all, know that this is not a matter of translation inconsistencies which we experts are going to straighten out. Rarely if ever do readers of Vine’s and Thayer’s have more expertise than the translators.

It’s all a matter of context. The Greek word phobos, just like the English word “fear,” has a broad range of meaning. It can mean different things in different contexts. It can refer to being scared of something terrifying, like a ghost (Matt. 14:26) or like a shining angel (Matt. 28:4, Luke 1:12) or an angry mob (John 7:13) or death (Heb. 2:15). Another word, deilos, is always used in a negative sense.

Phobos can also mean reverent fear of something holy or awe-inspiring, mainly God in Heaven. Many of the most memorable passages describing our relationship with God use “fear” in that sense. For example, Moses proclaimed, “What does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul...?” (Deuteronomy 10:12). A respect for God’s majesty motivates us to love and obey.

Is it possible to experience both kinds of fear toward one being? Yes, just think of your earthly father. When you, out of respectful fear, did what was right, the sound of Dad’s footsteps approaching was comforting. When you were doing wrong, the sound of Dad’s footsteps approaching was terrifying.

So, here’s how we might think of it—a healthy fear of God allows us to no longer fear Him in terror. When we love God and serve Him as His majesty deserves, we have no reason to be scared of His coming. We are on His side. We join those who “eagerly await His appearing” (Hebrews 10:28) and do not shrink back in fear.

In fact, a healthy fear of God allows us to no longer fear anything else!

We fear no created thing: “You are not to fear what they fear, or be in dread of it; it is the Lord of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread. Then He shall become a sanctuary” (Isaiah 8:12-14).

We fear no people: “I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, and of the son

of man who is made like grass?” (Isaiah 51:12).

We fear no anxious moments: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

We fear no lack: “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29-31).

We fear no persecution: “Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell” (Matt. 10:28, see Rev. 2:10).

We fear no hint of death: “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Rev. 1:17-18).

What a blessing to claim this courage in Christ! But take heed. Those even of God’s children who became careless or flippant in their approach to God sometimes experienced His wrath—think Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26) and Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10) and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). Test yourself. And if you’re frightened at the thought of God’s appearance, it’s a sure sign that you need to fix your relationship to your Father. Always “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). The passage about “the terrifying expectation of judgment” (Hebrews 10:26-31) was written to Christians!

“The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

--John Guzzetta