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This morning we begin a series called Fear Not. “Fear Not.” Those were the words the angel spoke to the shepherds on that very first Christmas Eve, “Fear not for I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all the people.” “Fear not” is the most repeated command in the Bible.
On our website we describe the series this way. The most repeated command in the Bible isn’t about money, or heaven, or hell, or sex, or hypocrisy, or even loving God and each other. The most repeated command in Scripture, the point God makes over and over again is ... “Fear not.” Huh? What? Really? Why is fear such a big deal? What are we so afraid of anyway? Is all fear bad? Join us this winter as we face our fears head on, step into our true identity, take our faith to another level, and discover what it means to Fear Not.
This series grew out of our Identity series this past fall. As I listened to some of the teachings from that series and talked with Matt and Kurt it seemed that the issue of fear kept surfacing, whether it was the fear of sharing our faith, or the fear of what God might want to do in our lives, or the fear of stepping out of slavery to some sin that we’ve grown quite comfortable with and into our true identity as beloved sons and daughters of God. Fear kept coming up ... a lot.
We all wrestle with fear to one degree or another. Let’s be honest. Sometimes it comes in the form of phobias or panic attacks or debilitating anxiety or just on going day to day stress.
Sometimes fear robs our sleep and keeps us up at night. Sometimes it sabotages our social life and prevents us from having meaningful relationships. Sometimes it weakens our immune system and makes us tired and depressed, susceptible to all kinds of diseases. Sometimes it puts us in the hospital. And sometimes it even puts us in an early grave.
This week I read a list of the Top 10 Fears of Americans. Here they are in descending order. Let me play Steve Harvey of Family Feud and see if you can relate. The survey said...
We all have fears, don’t we? And there are others, of course, like the fear of terrorism and the fear of running out of money. But God doesn’t want us living in fear. So over and over again he says “fear not, do not be afraid.” And in this series we’re going to look at some of those passages and hopefully start to overcome some of the fears that can cripple our faith.
But today we want to start with the one fear we all must have. It’s the fear that we really can’t live without. It’s a healthy fear. And that is the fear of God. If you go through every passage of Scripture that contains the word “fear,” and there are hundreds, you’ll discover that the one thing we all should fear in life is the Lord.
Psalm 111:10 says, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. All who follow his precepts have good understanding.
Proverbs 9:10 repeats that, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Ecclesiastes 12:13 says, Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of mankind.
Fear God. Fear the Lord. That’s a good fear.
One of the things that Jennifer and I did on our sabbatical was take a theology course together at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield. We talked about it on Wednesday night at our Community Conversation. I loved it because I got to sit with my arm around my wife for 5 hours every Tuesday night in September. It was great!
The course was actually “Theology 2” which was a bit weird because we hadn’t even taken “Theology 1.” But our Professor was very gracious and let us slide.
And in one of the early sessions he picked out a student and had him read Proverbs 9:10, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
And all throughout the course whenever the professor would say, “What’s the beginning of wisdom?” he would point to that student and the guy would recite, “The fear of the Lord!”
In that theology course we spent quite a bit of time contemplating what it means to fear the Lord. We don’t talk a lot about fearing the Lord or fearing God in our culture. We don’t talk a lot about it in our church. We talk much more about loving God and serving God and worshipping God, but not a whole lot about fearing God.
Yet the Scriptures talk about it a lot, especially in the Old Testament, but also in the New. In fact, it’s the starting point for living a life that really matters and counts for something.
Proverbs 19:23 says, The fear of the Lord leads to life.
So what does it mean to fear the Lord? Does God want us to be scared to death of him or so intimidated by him that we run away or at least keep a safe distance? Does he want us to live in terror and cower in dread over future judgment that’s coming? Is that the response that the fear of the Lord is intended to create?
The Hebrew word for fear is the word “yirah” and it has a wide sematic range of meaning from reverential awe and respect to downright “wet your pants” horror. So which is it? Or maybe it’s a combination of both.
Theologians have wrestled with this concept for centuries. Martin Luther, the great Reformer, back in the 1500’s made a distinction between what he called servile fear and filial fear.
Servile fear was the unhealthy fear a servant or a slave would have at the hands of a malicious master who would whip him and beat him and torment him. It was a debilitating fear. It was a wet your pants kind of fear.
Filial fear comes from the Latin word for family. It’s the healthy fear that a child has for a parent who sets boundaries for their behavior. The child loves and respects his parents and wants to please them. But the child also fears them. Not because they’re going to torture him if he crosses the boundaries, but because he’s afraid to displease them because his parents are his source of security and love. So Luther concluded that the fear of God is a filial fear. And I think that’s helpful.
Listen, I’m far from a perfect parent. Let me say that right up front. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way and over the years I’ve often asked God to protect our kids from my mistakes.
But I’ve also tried my best to love our three kids and set healthy boundaries for them. And sometimes they’ve crossed those boundaries and when they have, sometimes I’ve lost it and gone off on them. They’ve seen my anger and felt my wrath. I’m not proud of that. And at times I’ve had to go back and apologize to them for how I responded.
But those times have also produced in them what I think is a healthy fear of their father. Not a cowering, hide in the corner, wet your pants kind of fear. But what I hope is a level of respect and trust because they know where dad stands on certain things and how much he cares about them and loves them and wants them to do the things that lead to life.
That’s what the fear of the Lord is meant to produce in our lives, a level respect and trust because we know how much God cares about us and loves us and that there’s a limit to God’s patience. We don’t want to abuse his grace and mercy because he can go off too. And he wants us to do the things that lead to life.
But even beyond that, the fear of the Lord is meant to produce an overwhelming sense of awe and wonder and mystery and worship at the power and the glory and the beauty of God. Do you have that awe and reverence and respect for God? Do you? Do you know how much you matter to him and how much he loves you? That’s the beginning of wisdom. That leads to life.
In the Old Testament, the primary motivation for obeying God is the fear of the Lord probably best summed up in Deuteronomy 10:12-13, And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?
Fearing God for our own good is the primary motivation for obedience in the Old Testament, but it’s also a motivator in the New Testament. In fact, Jesus wasn’t afraid to put the fear of God in people.
One example is found in Matthew 10:28-31 (p. 682), Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
This is a puzzling passage that seems to contradict itself. First, Jesus says “don’t be afraid.” And then he says, “Be afraid.” And then he says again, “don’t be afraid.” So which is it? Should we be afraid or not?
Well in the context, Jesus is sending his disciples out like sheep among wolves he says in verse 16. And he doesn’t want them to be afraid of the Romans or anyone else who might kill their body, which eventually would happen to almost all of them.
Instead, Jesus wants them to be afraid of the one who can destroy both their soul and body in hell. And who is that? Is that God? Is that the Devil? Or is that someone else? Well, certainly God is capable of destroying someone in hell and we should fear him for that. That’s a healthy fear.
But in this passage, Jesus wants them and us not to be afraid because the Father cares for us more than he cares for sparrows that cost a penny or in our culture for chickens that sell for $1.99 a pound. God even knows how many hairs are on our head which means if you’re a blonde the experts say you’ve got about 145,000, if you have dark hair you have about 120,000, if you’re a red head you have about 90,000, and if you’re me you have about half that and we’re all losing about 100 strands a day!
Should we fear God? Absolutely. That’s the one fear we all must have. We should all have an awe and a reverential respect for God. But there’s also an element of God that should frighten us in a healthy way.
Hebrews 10:30-31 makes that clear, For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge, I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
As sinners, we have every reason to fear God’s judgment which is a strong motivation to be reconciled to God through faith alone in Christ alone. Do you have faith in Christ? Do you believe that God cares for you more than he cares for chickens and sparrows? He does. And he has provided a way for all of us to avoid hell and enter into his kingdom through faith alone in Christ alone and his finished work on the cross.
Hebrews 12:28-29, Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”
The fear of God, along with our love for God, are strong motivations to obey him and to enter into life that is really life.
In his book Future Grace, which was required reading for the theology course Jen and I took, John Piper shares this story in his section on fearing God. And I’ll close with this.
One day my son and I were visiting a family in our church. They had a huge German shepherd that stood eye to eye with my seven-year-old son. He was friendly and playful. But when I sent my son back to the car to get something, the dog chased him and growled as he began to run. Of course, this frightened my son. So the owner said, “Slow down. Just walk. The dog doesn’t like when people run away from him.” If my son hugged the dog, he was friendly and would even lick his face. But if he ran from the dog, the dog would growl and fill my boy with fear.
That’s a picture of what it means to fear the Lord. God’s power and holiness are not meant to drive us from him, but to drive us to him. His anger is against those who chose to run away. The safest place in the universe is with our arms around the neck of God. The most dangerous place is any path we choose to flee his presence.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The fear of God is the one fear we all must have. Do you have it?