Fearing God: First Things
23 April 2017
A study on the proper fear of God by John Dugas
Grace Bible Church, Tulsa
Full Audio Message
Fearing God: First Things
Why in the world would we want to talk about the fear of God? Am I trying to scare you into obeying God? Certainly not. You may wonder if we are supposed to fear God at all. Didn’t John tell us in 1 Jn 4:18 that “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”? And what about passages where we are told to “fear not”?
But we also find in Scripture, commands to fear God (Prov 3:7; Lk 12:4-5; 1 Pet 2:17). So what gives? Are there two kinds of fear? While I think that this is on the right track, we have to be careful that we don’t so weaken the fear of God that there is no fear whatsoever. We’re going to explore this more in a future lesson, but it is significant that the terms used in the OT and NT for “the fear of God” are also used for what we normally use for being afraid.
Another question we need to answer is: why study the fear of God at all? Is it that important that we need a sermon series on it? Let me suggest a few reasons. Without the fear of God: 1) we can’t have biblical wisdom; 2) we cannot be godly; 3) we will not worship God properly; 4) we can’t rid ourselves of fearing people; and 5) we will not experience the rich blessings that flow from it. Did you ever realize it was that important?
Christians typically don’t give the fear of God the same amount of time that Scripture gives it. The Bible has a lot to say about fear. I did a quick scan through my concordance and saw that the Bible words for ‘fear’ occur over 600 times. Why? Because fear is a major problem in our day to day lives. We all deal with fear in different forms. But among all of those passages that talk about fear, many of them talk about the fear of God.
John Murray captures the significance of the fear of God this way: “The fear of God is the soul of godliness” (Principles of Conduct, p. 229). It is the very core of the Christian life. But while it may sound like a heavy subject or may even sound negative, Jerry Bridges points to fearing God in its many aspects. Indeed, the title of his book is The Joy of Fearing God. He concluded from his own study that the fear of God “is the wellspring of all godly desires and aspirations.” In other words, you want godly things because you fear God. Is that true of what you want? Bridges continues, “Do you desire to be a godly person? Then you must understand and grow in the fear of God” (p. 25).
What is the fear of God? Bridges defines it as “reverential awe” but admits that it is a complex idea. That’s one reason why I’m doing a series on it. We will see that fearing God for the believer means that we do have real fear toward God but that fear is coupled with loving trust. Commentator Bruce Waltke explains in his commentary on Proverbs, that believers have this attitude toward God: “they believe his promises and love him; they believe his threats and fear him. In sum, [Charles] Bridges says: “[The fear of the Lord is] that affectionate reverence, by which the child of God bends himself humbly and carefully to his Father’s law”” (p. 101). John Murray calls it “reverential awe” or reverence that draws out of our hearts “confidence and love”.
Well we’ve raised a number of questions that we’ll need to answer throughout this series. We will also work on developing our understanding of what the fear of the Lord is. But for the rest of our time this morning, I want to examine what the Bible lays out as the “first things” to learn if you want to grow in fearing God. We will look at three of those this morning. The fear of God: is the principal thing, it is the first in a series and it is a choice. We must learn what the fear of God is and we must learn how to make it the orientation of our lives. Fearing God must provide direction in everything we do and it must provide focus for how we live.
I. The fear of the Lord is the principal thing.
Solomon tells us in Proverbs 1 that the point of these proverbs is to gain wisdom. What is wisdom? Biblical wisdom is skillfully applying God’s word to all of life. To do that, we must learn biblical truth, promises and principles. But all of that will be of no help if we don’t first have the fear of the Lord. Look at Prov 1:7. Ps 111:10 is like it: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”.
The idea here is that the fear of Yahweh is the principal thing, not merely the starting point. The word for “beginning” here is the Hebrew word “rosh” which means “head”. Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year”. Waltke explains, “What the alphabet is to reading, notes to reading music, and numerals to mathematics, the fear of the Lord is to attaining the revealed knowledge of this book” (p. 181). In their realm, each of those is the principal thing on which the remainder of knowledge and skillfulness are built. You cannot proceed without them.
Picture it this way, in school, you had to learn your ABCs if you ever hoped to read. Now let’s say that your teacher gave you the option—you could learn your ABCs or play outside. It’s your choice. Now students who learned their ABCs, could go on to learning to read. But students who decided to play instead, would not learn to read.
That is how it is with the fear of the Lord. If you want to benefit from the knowledge and wisdom for living that the Bible offers, you first have to fear God. Willfully rejecting God’s authority prevents anything beyond mere information.
Over the years, many people have come to me for wise counsel but who did not believe that the Bible had authority over their lives or who wouldn’t bring themselves to submit to what God demands. Because they didn’t fear the Lord, they could not receive the help that the Scriptures offer. Biblical help is only available to those who fear the Lord.
Think back to the days when you were learning the alphabet. Were you able to read well before you had the alphabet firmly established in your understanding? Of course not. So if we don’t have the fear of the Lord as a firm foundation so that if affects every area of our thinking, we will struggle with consistency, steady growth and real spiritual change. Make a plan to regularly review the principles that we will learn in this series. Memorize them if you need to. Practice using them just as you practiced multiplication tables or practiced music. The goal is for the fear of God to become like the alphabet, numbers and notes. It becomes a normal part of your thinking.
Believers must start with the principal thing, the initial building block, which is the fear of the Lord. Godly wisdom is built on the fear of the Lord.
II. The fear of the Lord is the first in a series [Prov 9:8-11]
Solomon is here contrasting how people handle correction. A scoffer will hate you when you correct him. But a wise man will love you because he has the wisdom to know that your correction is for his good. He knows that this is part of how he will grow in wisdom. The one who fears the Lord will continually add to their learning. They will submit themselves to godly correction and they will receive the blessing of a productive life.
So is this merely a repeat of Prov 1:7? It’s actually saying something a little different. Here, Solomon uses a different word for “beginning”. Waltke points out that here, the fear of the Lord is “the first in a series of events that lead to their masterful understanding and skill” (p. 441).
He goes on to explain that the “fundamental principle” behind gaining wisdom is the fear of the Lord. Wisdom is “masterful understanding and skill” in living life under the Lord. Your ability to be educated in God’s ways begins with your submission to God, the Holy One. While the fear of the Lord is the principal thing, it is also the first in a series of your learning process.
This concept of Yahweh as “the Holy One” helps us in our understanding of fearing God. Yahweh is separated from the mundane and from sinners. Knowing this fills the believer with fear that expresses itself in awe that moves the person to submit to God’s commands. You strive to grow in the same purity that is characteristic of Yahweh, the Holy One.
What this means is that when we think about how to live the Christian life, that is, how to be godly, we consider what it means to fear the Lord and begin living that out.
III. Fearing God is a choice we must make. [Prov 1:27-29]
These fools considered the fear of the Lord and saw no need for it. So, they rejected it and thus rejected wisdom. Then, when they need wisdom, wisdom will mock them. Here then is a very important point that I want to set before us today. You and I need to make a careful, well thought out choice as to whether we are going to make the fear of God our way of life.
We must make a willful, careful, conscious choice to submit ourselves wholly and fully to revering Yahweh our God. We must humble ourselves before Him. We must accept His way as our only way. We must take seriously the fact that He is a holy God who hates and punishes sin. We must carefully select the fear of the Lord as our way of life.
As you and I learn more and more about fearing God through this series, I want to set before us this decision that we must make. Will you, will I, choose to fear the Lord? Will we organize our lives around fearing Him, the Holy One?