Scripture makes it clear that the fear of the Lord is central to a believer's life and success. Listen to what a wide spectrum of writers of Scripture had to say about it.
Moses—Deut. 10:12;13:4; 6:13—"Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name."
David——Ps. 33:8; 34:9; 86:11. Ps. 33:8—"Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere him."
Solomon—Eccl. 5:7; 8:12; 12:13. Eccl. 5:7—"Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God. 8:12] Although a wicked man commits a hundred crimes and still lives a long time, I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God. 12:13] Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man."
Job—Job 28:28—"And he said to man, The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.'"
Malachi—Mal. 2:5; 3:16—"Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name."
Paul—2 Cor. 7:1—"Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God."
Peter—1 Pet. 1:17; 2:17—"Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king."
Angels—Rev. 14:7—"He said in a loud voice, 'Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.'"
Jesus—Matt. 10:28—"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."
It is easy to see the fear of the Lord is a consistent and major theme throughout Scripture.
In this study we intend to give an overview of the subject and show its necessity; as well as begin to answer some key questions regarding it. The questions we want to consider are:
How do we gain a fear of the Lord?
How do we know if we have it?
What will be the benefits for those who acquire it?
Definition of "Fear of the Lord"
"Fear of the Lord" means a reverential awe of God; a complete submission to His rulership and control—Ps. 33:8. Specifically:
It means to reject all other gods, and to serve the only true God with all your heart and soul—Job 1:1; Ps. 128:1; Deut. 10:12.
Job 1:1—"In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil."
Psalm 128:1—"Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways."
Duet. 10:12—"And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul."
It means to recognize Him as Creator and to know that His plans stand firm forever. Ps. 33:8-11—"Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him. 9] For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. 10] The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. 11] But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations."
"It means to have God's attitude toward sin, and to have a deep and healthy respect for His character and holiness"—Joy Dawson.
Relationship between wisdom and the fear of God—Proverbs 1:7
Wisdom begins with a fear of God.
- "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline." (See Prov. 9:10)
- There is no true wisdom without acquiring the fear of God. Job 28:2— "And he said to man, 'The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding;'"
- Prov. 9:10—"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding;"
- Ps. 111:10—"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise."
The priority of the fear of the Lord
Deut. 10:12—"And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." How many of us would have put the fear of the Lord as a top priority?
The value of the fear of God
Prov. 15:16—"Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil." (We'll come back to this.)
The description of the fear of God
Prov. 14:27—"The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death."
The commands concerning the fear of God
- Prov. 23:17—"Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord."
- I Pet. 1:17—"Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear."
- Ps. 33:8—"Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere him."
The connection between the fear of God and giving Him glory
Rev. 15:4—"Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed;" Heb. 12:28-29.
Principle: The revelation of God's holiness will be the greatest incentive to never touch that glory by taking it for ourselves or giving it to another. In other words, when we have a deep respect and understanding of God; we will want to give Him the glory.
The Necessity of the Fear of God
Why is it necessary for us today? It's the basis and motivation for all we do. Here are a few examples:
Ps. 5:7—"But I, by your great mercy, will come into your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple;" Heb. 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, 29] for our 'God is a consuming fire.'"
Service and Sacrifice
Ps. 2:11—"Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling."
Noah—Heb. 11:7—"By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith."
Nehemiah—Neh. 5:15—"Their assistants . . lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that."
Early church—Acts 5:11-16; 9:31. Acts 9:31—"Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord."
Slaves, workers—Col. 3:22—"Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord."
Israel—Duet. 10:20—"Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name."
Abraham—Gen. 22:11-12—"But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, 'Abraham! Abraham!' 'Here I am,' he replied. 12] 'Do not lay a hand on the boy,' he said. 'Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.'"
The Chief Questions Regarding the Fear of the Lord
How do we know if we have this fear?
It expresses itself in a hatred of evil. Prov. 8:13—"To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech" (see also Prov. 3:7; 14:16; 16:6; 23:17; Job. 1:1,8; ; II Cor. 7:1). This is just the opposite of the wicked (Eccl. 8:13—"Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow"). (see also Prov. 1:29; Ps. 36:1-4. ).
Fearing God means we hate the wrong things that by nature we want to do. People can have four levels of hatred toward sin. When we're through, you'll know what level you are. (God already knows what level you are, but He waits for you to discover what He knows.)
Level one: This is a person who doesn't sin because the consequences are too great. A person may lust after another, but doesn't commit the act because of the possible results—i.e., pregnancy, jail, sexually transmitted disease, addiction, etc. There's no fear of God, just a fear of the consequences.
Level two: These people live at the level of the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." They do good deeds for others, but have little hatred of sin—such as selfishness.
Level three: People who live at this level are sincere Christians who don't want to sin. They are sensitive to sin, and confess quickly when it is committed. They feel badly when they keep confessing the same sins, but often find they are in defeat and failure in some areas of their life.
Level four: This person has faced the reason for sin, and has done something about it.
Why do we sin?
- We love it. There must be a love in our heart for that sin. James 1:13-15—"When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14] but each on is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15] Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death."
- We choose to do it. We choose to do something we love. We don't choose to do something we hate to do, unless we are forced by an authority structure. When we have the fear of God, however, what will be our reaction to sin? We will choose not to do it, because we hate sin.
If someone said that we were going to have the greatest temptation we've ever had in our lives, and it would be the most subtle and fierce because Satan himself would come to tempt us; what would be our reaction? Would we be in fear, call an all-night prayer meeting for the entire church? Would that be a spiritual reaction? No, that kind of reaction would reveal the level of our sin, showing us fearful of an onslaught from Satan because we may have a love for some sin.
A person who has the fear of God will be able to say, "Anything Satan has to suggest to me, to the degree that I hate sin, will be a repulsive suggestion. I hate his suggestions. Nothing he brings to me has the slightest appeal. I bind and resist him in the mighty name of Jesus."
You are three-quarters of the way through victory if you hate sin. You can have knowledge of the weapons of warfare, but they will not work if you don't hate sin.
If on the other hand sin has any fascination to us, we do not yet fear the Lord as we should. The following illustration originated with Joy Dawson. It's very crude, but it makes the point.
If there was some cow manure before us, what would be our reaction? We would either want to get a bucket, a shovel, some disinfectant, and get the cow manure out of this place; or, we would want to get out of here. Cow manure stinks. We have a built-in hatred for the stuff.
But let's suppose I took someone aside and said: "I am very embarrassed, but I want you to know that I am in need of some special prayer because there is cow manure in front of me, and it is a terrific temptation to me. It really gives me a high. I want you to pray for me that I won't dive into it." We laugh at this ridiculous prospect, but this is what is happening all over the world in the Body of Christ. That which should turn us off and repulse us, in some cases is an attraction to us. We can hardly stay away from it, and we're praying year after year for deliverance from the same sins:
- "Lord, help me with my lust."
- "Pray for me, because I'm struggling with having a desire for a quiet time with God."
- "Pray for me, because I have a hate for my boss."
A proper response would be that we have a hatred for the sins we are committing—a loathing of the sins we love. Take some time now to tell God where you are with regard to your love for sin. If you have a love for certain sins, are you willing to confess that and ask God for a holy hatred for them? If you are, do that right now!
Most who hear the first question are ready to hear the answer to the next question:
How do we gain such an awe of God and thus a hatred for sin?
We can do five things which will help us gain a healthy fear of God.
First, we must choose with our will to have the fear of God above all else. Proverbs 1:29 says, "Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord..." God will not give this fear to us unless we want it. We must see this as something we choose above all else because we desperately need it. We will need the same attitude we see displayed in the first two Beatitudes—Matt. 5:3-4.
Second, we should confess our desperate lack of this fear, and ask God for it by faith. The Psalmist expresses what that prayer should be: Ps. 86:11—"Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name." What will enable the Psalmist to have the fear of the Lord? An undivided heart. What is the connection between an undivided heart and the fear of the Lord? It implies we need an undivided heart so we can focus solely and completely on God, and that we can't have that heart without God's help.
The Lord also teaches how we should ask for the fear of God. Matt 7:7-8—"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8] For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."
Each of the verbs in Matthew 7:7 are present, continuous, active, and they mean "ask and keep asking, seek and keep seeking, knock and keep knocking and the door will be opened unto you." You may not feel any different immediately after asking, but if you have desired it with your heart, and keep asking for it in faith, you will receive the fear of God. You will know by your new reaction to sin, for which you'll have an increasing hatred.
Third, we get a greater understanding of the fear of God by doing a study of the subject. Prov. 2:1-5—"My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, 2] turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, 3] and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, 4] and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, 5] then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God."
Ps. 112:1 adds, "Praise the Lord. Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands." (see also Deut. 4:10; 31:11-12).
How do we do a thorough study of the fear of God?
- List all the references where the fear of God is mentioned.
Use a Topical Bible (i.e., Naves, Zondervan’s New Compact)
Use an Exhaustive Concordance—e.g., Strong’s, N.I.V., etc.)
Underline the verses as you come across them in your reading
Write/type out the key ones
Read through all the references. As you do:
Notice what is before and after each passage. Don't isolate your reading from the context. What proceeds? What follows?
Read each passage carefully and slowly—read with feeling, repeatedly and prayerfully.
Meditate on what you are reading—stop and reflect on what you are reading—Prov. 2:1-5.
Try to put yourself in the place of the original hearers.
This process will illuminate your mind to the Scripture and give you incentive to obey.
Summarize the context of each passage in a phrase or sentence.
List the questions your outline answers.
Outline and summarize your findings.
Fourth, meditate on the Lord Himself. Prov. 9:10— "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." Do you have a deep desire to get to know God? Is Philippians 3:7-11 the desire of your heart? Then do the following:
- Meditate on His attributes as they are found in Scripture—Ps. 139:1-18; 36:5-10; Lk. 1:46-55, 67-79; Ex. 33:18-20; 34:5-8; Job 28:1-40:6, etc. Write each attribute down, and thank God for each one as you pray—add this new content to your praise and worship and meditate on it often.
- Meditate on the miracles of the Lord both past and present. Josh. 4:24—"He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God." Each of the miracles in the Old and New Testaments teaches us something about God. Note what it is, and meditate on it.
- Meditate on descriptions of the Lord in His glorified state. Do this in an uninterrupted and unhurried way. These descriptions are the ways the prophets saw God. As you read them pray: "Jesus, I want to see you as the prophets of old saw you in your holiness, beauty, and glory."
Here are some of the passages to meditate on:
- Revelation 4
- Revelation 19
- Revelation 1:12-16 (See special study)
- Isaiah 6:1-7
- Ezekiel 1:26-28
- Daniel 10:5-6
Note: The Scripture makes it clear that our pursuit of God will not go unrewarded. If we want to know God, we will get to know Him. James 4:8—"Come near to God and he will come near to you."
Fifth, go frequently into God’s special school on the "fear of God" and ask Him to teach you about the subject—Ps. 34:11-13; 86:11; Ps. 36:1-4; Prov. 8:13.
The invitation is in v. 11—"Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days. . ."
- Who is calling us? "Come, my children, listen to me. . "
- What must we do? ". . .listen to me"
- What will He teach? "I will teach you the fear of the Lord."
- Who is invited? "Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days. . ."
The evidence of the fear of the Lord is outlined in the following verses —Ps. 34:11-13; 86:11; Ps. 36:1-4; Prov. 8:13.
- Ps. 34:13-14—"keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. 14] Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it."
- Ps. 86:11—". . .give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name."
The fear of the Lord will be obvious in what we say, the manner in which we control our tongues. The one who has the fear of the Lord is described again in Prov. 8:13. "To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech." In contrast, the one who has no fear is described in Ps. 36:3a. —"The words of his mouth are wicked and deceitful."
The Lord can control the tongue (which no man can tame—James 3:9-12) by emptying our hearts of evil (because He helps us to hate it), and filling our heart with godly input, good things—Col. 3:16; Matt. 12:33-37; Matt. 15:15-19. He also controls our tongues by answering our continued prayers for complete devotion to Him. ". . .give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name."
Ps. 34:13b—". . .your lips from speaking lies."
If we don't have the fear of the Lord, it will be obvious by the lies we tell. Ps. 36:3a—"The words of his mouth [the one who does not fear the Lord] are wicked and deceitful." If we have the fear of the Lord, we will be honest but wise in our responses to others
Avoidance of evil
Ps. 34:14a—"Turn from evil. . ." Remember, the fear of the Lord means we hate sin. Prov. 8:13a—"To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech." (See Ps. 36:4.)
Ps. 34:14b—". . .do good. . ." The fear of the Lord should be the motivation for all service and good deeds—Ps. 2:11.
Be a peace seeker and peacemaker
Ps. 34:14c—". . .seek peace and pursue it." The fear of the Lord brings wisdom, and wisdom is peaceable—James 3:17-18.
Wisdom in our speech
Prov. 15:33—"The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom. . ."
Eccl. 12:13; Gen. 22:12; Ex. 1:17,22. If God finds a person who fears and obeys, He can do anything with him. A test reveals the fear of God.
Prov. 8:13—"I hate pride, arrogance..."
Ps. 5:7—"But I, by your great mercy, will come into your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple."
Rev. 14:6-7—"Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7] He said in a loud voice, 'Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.'"
If we don't know God, we try to fake it with Him; we try to impress or persuade Him, or we don't listen to Him. If we do know God, we stand in awe of Him, knowing He knows our very thoughts and plans, and we easily kneel, raise our hands, and worship Him.
No fear of man
Luke 12:4-5—"I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5] But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him."
Prov. 29:25—"Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe."
The fear of God will release you from the fear of man and give you authority.
What if we choose to avoid the fear of God? This is what it will look like:
The contrast: Ps. 36:1-4; Prov. 1:29-33; Jer. 2:19.
Ps. 36:1—"An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes. 2] For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin. 3] The words of his mouth are wicked and deceitful; he has ceased to be wise and to do good. 4] Even on his bed he plots evil; he commits himself to a sinful course and does not reject what is wrong."
There will be benefits for your family.
- Security for you and your family. Prov. 14:26 —"He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge."
- Mercy from generation to generation. Lk. 1:50 —"His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation."
There will be honor for the woman and man who fear God. Prov. 31:30—"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised;" 22:4—"Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life."
There will be an avoidance of evil. 16:6— "Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil."
There will be true life and contentment. 19:23—"The fear of the Lord leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble."
The Lord will confide in the one who fears Him. Ps. 25:14—"The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them."
There will be long life. Prov. 10:27—"The fear of the Lord adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short."
There will be no lack of anything. Ps. 34:9—"Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing."
There will be mercy. Ps. 103:13-14—"As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; 14] For he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust." Lk. 1:50—"His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation."
There will be fulfilled desires. Ps. 145:19—"He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them."
It will give pleasure to God. Ps. 147:10-11—"His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; 11] the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love."
It will be a great treasure to us. Is. 33:5-6—"The LORD is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness. 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 this treasure."
We will be blessed by God—Ps. 112:1; 115:13. "Praise the LORD. Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who finds great delight in his commands." 115:12-13] "The LORD. . . will bless those who fear the LORD—small and great alike."
We will have the companionship of others. 119:63 —"I am a friend to all who fear you. . . "
We will be acceptable to God. Acts 10:34-35—"Then Peter began to speak: 'I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35] but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right."
There will be guidance for us. Ps. 25:12—"Who, then, is the man that fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him."
We will have riches, honor and life. Ps. 25:12-13 —12] "Who, then, is the man that fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him. 13] He will spend his days in prosperity, and his descendants will inherit the land."
We will be taught by the Lord. Ps. 25:14—"The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them."
There will be healing. Mal. 4:2—"But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall."
The goodness of God will be ours. Ps. 31:19-20—"How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you. 20] In the shelter of your presence you hide them from the intrigues of men; in your dwelling you keep them safe from accusing tongues."
There will be a Righteous government
2 Sam 23:3—"The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me: 'When one rules over men in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, 4] he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth.'"
2 Chron. 19:4—"Jehoshaphat . . . 5] He appointed judges in the land, in each of the fortified cities of Judah. 6] He told them, 'Consider carefully what you do, because you are not judging for man but for the LORD, who is with you whenever you give a verdict. 7] Now let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Judge carefully. . . '"
What will be the greatest reward for those who fear God? Their names will be recorded in a special book, and they will be God's treasured possession—Mal. 3:16-17. Is this your desire?
Mal. 3:16—"Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name. 17] 'They will be mine,' says the LORD Almighty, 'in the day when I make up my treasured possession. [Or Almighty, 'my treasured possession, in the day when I act'] I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him.'"
- Using the above list, what—as far as you are concerned—will be the greatest reward for those who fear God? (Why? List two rewards.)
- Reread Malachi 3:16-17. What does this passage say will be the rewards for the fear of God? Is this your desire?
- Why do you think the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom?
- How should the fear of God affect your worship/service?
- Using the outline, what evidence shows one has the fear of God?
- What steps will you take to begin to assure that you have the fear of God? (Use the outline for help.) What will be the biggest obstacle—the most difficult part of the process for you/most people?
- How will meditating on the Lord affect the fear of God? (Scriptures?)
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