The Fear of the Lord Is the Beginning of Knowledge
August 09, 2009 | Andrew Davis
What is the Fear of the Lord?
Every single person in this room is united by one thing. As I begin my message today, I'm thinking about this one thing that unites us all, and that is a craving for - an overwhelming need for - intimacy with Almighty God, that we might have an intimate, a close relationship with God. It's the deepest need of any human being. Psalm 1:31, "My eyes are not proud, O Lord. My eyes are not haughty. I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me, but I have stilled and quieted my soul like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me." Wouldn't you love to be like that in God's arms right now, like a weaned child resting comfortably and at peace?
How often have you read those accounts of the little children with Jesus and wish you could have been one, crawl up in Jesus's lap? Or be like John at the Last Supper, putting his head on Jesus' breast and asking him questions? Intimacy with God is a deep need. But our God is a consuming fire, it says, in the New Testament. It says that he dwells in unapproachable light. The holiness of God, like a searing bright light, piercing our reality. How do we put this together? How do you cuddle up with a consuming fire?
Some people begin to work on the image of God in our minds and pitch one or the other. Some cling to the teaching that God is light and, in Him, there's no darkness at all, and they really somewhat abandon any possibility of intimacy with God and closeness and affection and tenderness, like a little child. Others so crave that intimacy. They've been perhaps wounded by sin. Theirs or the sins of others against them, and they're just broken people, and they just would love to crawl up into God's lap and just be there for a while. But they, in doing that, forsake any sense of the fear of the Lord, or the holiness of God, or that God would judge sin, or any of that.
What I'm about to say, I say with much prayer and with tenderness, but a number of people have recently recommended the book The Shack to me. Members of this church have read it; some have commended it to me, and I believe that the author of The Shack has created an idol that's not biblical and is presenting intimacy with that idol, that we can have intimacy with the God that The Shack presents, that God's kind of like a warm, inviting mama, cooking a pie. And there's flour on her apron, and you just want to just crawl up and just be absorbed in all that love. But as you read this book (and I've read two-thirds of it, and I've read a lot of accounts about it, talked to others), the passage I'm about to preach on doesn't fit at all. The fear of the Lord - you just wouldn't fear that God, any more than you'd fear a bunny rabbit. Dear friends, that's an idol, and we're told to keep ourselves from idols. I say it with all tenderness because I've been perplexed, frankly, at people that have commended this book to me, having read the whole thing. Perplexed. And they tell me, "Now, the theology's off, but it's very, very compelling, it's very... " So I thought, what is compelling?
You know what's compelling? It's the intimacy. Can I say to you the real God offers a better intimacy than the idol-maker God does? We've got a better intimacy waiting for us in heaven, dear friends. But I want to preach today on the fear of the Lord, and I do apologize for the appearance of my face. It doesn't help me today - this red face preaching on the fear of the Lord. I envisioned, I looked in the mirror, I said, "This will not do." But what can I do? The damage is done. I didn't put sunscreen on, like my wife always tells me to do, and I said, "No, it's not me, I don't need it.” But I did need it, and it's too late. But I want to find a way, I want to find a way that you will retain both God is love and God is light in your conception of him, because this is what God has told us he is. Also, God is spirit. But people just don't seem to be able to keep them together. And this study this morning on the fear of the Lord is a rich one and a deep one and a full one. It's not a simple one.
My thoughts on what this means have been deeply challenged, and I've learned some things, and I hope to commit them to you this morning. Now, as we come to Proverbs 1:1-7, we come to the introduction of the book of Proverbs. You’ve already heard the reading this morning, it says, "The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity, to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth. Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles."
So, that's the purpose of the book of Proverbs, according to Solomon. It's kind of like if you're picking up a book at the Christian bookstore, and you wanted to know why you should read the book. And so, the publisher has put on the back, or on the inside dust cover, the reasons why you'd read this book or what advantages come to you. And so, a disciplined and prudent life comes from studying the book of Proverbs. Discipline and prudence - we need these things, and certain character traits come, like righteousness, justice and equity. These are good things, and it's for everybody. Let the youth and the simple learn; the naive, let them gain an instruction and wisdom. So, it's for that person, but it's also for the wise. Let the wise hear and gain even more wisdom. So, it's for everybody. But I want to focus on this verse 7. Center to everything is this one statement in verse 7, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." So, we have before us now this concept of the fear of the Lord. There was a time that Christians wouldn't have minded being called God-fearing people. We were God-fearers, that kind of thing. That kind of terminology is a bit passé; people don't talk that way as much anymore. So, I think it's important that we recover a biblical sense of the fear of the Lord. Now, what is fear? What do we mean by that? Well, it's a natural emotion, but I believe the fear of the Lord is a supernatural grace.
Fear: A Natural Emotion; The Fear of the Lord: A Supernatural Grace
Now, when I talk about the natural side of fear, fear is just an emotion. It responds... It's an emotional response to a perceived danger. It results in certain physical effects: an elevated heart rate, and breathing rate, and adrenaline, and other things come on. There's just physiological side of fear. Scholars have arranged the basic emotions of the human in categories. I've found one list that has six basic emotions. I don't know if this is true, but I know that these are all emotions. There's love, joy, surprise, anger, sadness, and then there's fear. They say these are the basic ones. I don't know if there's more or less. All I know is that those are all emotions, and I felt all of them at different times in my life. But fear is an emotion. And then there are different nuances of fear. You can have alarm or shock, fright, terror, panic, hysteria, mortification. There's anxiety. There's tenseness or uneasiness. There's apprehension, worry, distress, and dread. So, there's all different kinds of flavors of fear. That's natural fear.
Some fears are irrational, one might even say childish, like fear of the dark or fear of not having your closet closed before your dad kisses you good night. I'm not saying who that might refer to, but the closet sometimes may need to get closed, and that might be an irrational fear. I've checked the closet; there's nothing in it, alright? Well, there's a lot in it, but there's nothing you need to fear. You may need to fear your dad in reference to the closet, but that's another topic. But some fears are actually quite reasonable, like if you're in a precariously high place and there's a very real possibility of stumbling and falling to your death. I remember an old, an ancient castle I saw in the Hunza Valley in Pakistan, and it was really centuries old, completely unprotected. There's no insurance. They don't care if you, the tourist, fall to your death. That would be your problem. They sure aren't going to get sued. And so, you can do whatever you want. And there's a picture of me kind of leaning a little bit over the edge to look down at literally a thousand-foot drop. And I think that's a rational fear. I mean, we might actually fall to our deaths - all of these things or the fear of crossing a busy four-lane interstate.
That's a natural fear. The fear of the Lord is a supernatural grace. It's given by God. It is not natural to fear the Lord. Look at the verse again, it says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." A few weeks ago, when we talked about the wise man and the fool in the book of Proverbs, the fool is the unregenerate man. And the unregenerate man has no fear of the Lord. When God first begins, therefore, to convert someone, he must begin here with the fear of the Lord. We sang earlier “Amazing Grace” by John Newton, and you know that line? It says, "Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace, my fears relieved." So, John Newton was a vile sinner, a wretch, he called himself, and well so. He was a slave trader and a wicked man, and he went to sleep one night before a big storm hit. In his own testimony, he said, "In the same old confidence that I always went to sleep with." And yet, he was lost. When he woke up, the storm was raging and the boat was groaning, and there was a real sense that he was going to die and go to hell that very night. It was the beginning of the fear of the Lord for him that eventually led to his salvation in Christ.
Aspects of the Fear of the Lord
So, the fear of the Lord then is a supernatural grace, essential to our salvation. We must have this, or we will not be saved. Now, as I've continued to meditate on it, I think there are two different aspects of the fear of the Lord. There is a negative side, and there is a positive side to the fear of the Lord. Negatively, then, I think fear of the Lord is the emotional reaction to danger. And what is that danger? Well, Jesus commanded that we should fear God in this sense. In Luke 12:4-5, he said, "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after they kill the body, can do nothing more to you. No, I tell you who to fear. Fear the one who, after the death of the body, has the power to destroy both soul and body in hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him." Jesus told us to fear God in that way, "Fear him who has the power to send you to hell."
The unregenerate man does not consider that a genuine threat. It's something to be laughed off than considered serious. But by the grace of God, some people begin to see their danger, that there's a real danger of hell, a real danger spending an eternity in the lake of fire, in eternal torment. And the smoke of their torment, it says in Revelation 14, rises forever and ever. There is no rest, day or night. Should we not fear that if we are in an unregenerate state? Jesus said you should. Now, I believe this is a supernatural grace from God, and it's the beginning of a lifetime of seeking God. And I believe the fear of that condemnation should end when you come to faith in Christ. I think that's what Newton meant when he said, "Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved." I was, by grace, saved from hell, and I don't need to fear condemnation anymore. I think this is exactly what John means in 1 John 4:15-18, when he talks about this topic of the fear of the Lord. This is what he says, "If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so, we know and rely on the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever lives in love, lives in God, and God in him. And in this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world, we are like him. There is no fear in love. The perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears has not been made perfect in love.” Believe me, dear friends, that verse has been - or the passage - has been hugely on my mind, as I've preached on Proverbs 1:7, trying to understand what it means. But I think at least he's saying this, "If you acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, you're a believer. God lives in you, and you need not - you must not - fear condemnation on Judgment Day." It's an insult to his grace and to the Gospel. And so, if you do, you've not been perfected in love. Perfect love drives out fear. Similar to Romans 8:15, where it says, "You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit of adoption by which we cry out, 'Abba Father'." So, we're not living in bondage to fear all the time.
The Negative Aspect of Fear of the Lord
But I also believe that there is still remaining a healthy fear of sin and of God's response to sin that we must cultivate as Christians while we live in danger of sin. And we are still in danger of sin, dear friends, because we're still here. And so, there is a fear of the Lord in reference to sin that we must still actually maintain, and it's not faithless to do it. You remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira in the early church and how they lied to the apostles; they lied to the Holy Spirit about an amount of money they were giving, and then, individually, one after the other, Ananias and then Sapphira, both of them instantly dropped dead. Not a hand was laid on them. They just dropped dead. And it says in Acts 5:11, "Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events." There's nothing wrong with that. Actually, that's exactly what God was going for. He wanted a healthy fear of sin, of lying to the Holy Spirit, to seize the church.
So, therefore, the fear of the Lord is partly then a fear of His holy response to sin, either fear of his wrath in hell if you don't know that you're converted, if you don't know that you're saved. You ought to fear death. You ought to fear hell, you ought to. If you walked in here today in an unsaved state, you ought to be afraid right now that you'll spend eternity in hell. You ought to fear it. Jesus said you should. But there is relief from that fear through faith in Christ. “Come to Christ” oh, what a beautiful song that was. That song always makes me cry. I don't know if it would be a disservice to my friends and family to have somebody sing that at my funeral. Then everybody would be dissolving in a puddle of tears. But how refreshing is that? Come to Jesus and live. You don't have to die. Come to Jesus and live. You won't die. You won't go to hell. You'll spend eternity in the presence of God. Come to Jesus. But even if you've already come to Jesus, you've already been baptized, your conscience is cleansed by the testimony that you're a child of God, but you still know you have sin.
Are you done with the fear of the Lord? I tell you no. We ought to fear sin and what it can do to us. We ought to fear God's holy discipline. I heard of someone I know well, who was in a significant ministry position, and pornography was found on his computer, and he's out. His life, his ministry, is finished. His family is in turmoil. How can I hear that and say, "I don't fear that. I'm not afraid of that. I'm beyond that. That could never happen to me." If any man thinks he stands, take heed, lest he fall. I'm thinking of the sinner, take heed might be a healthy fear of sin and of God's holy reaction to it. I think we ought to fear even now. So, that's the negative side, has to do with sin. And I am convinced the fear of the Lord, it says in another place in Proverbs, is the hatred of sin. The stronger you are in the fear of the Lord, the more you hate evil and flee from it, like Joseph did from Potiphar's wife. How could I do this great evil and sin against God? You just know he's there. There's just this holy fear of sin and of discipline as a result.
But here's the good news, dear friends, that fear is temporary. There will come a time we don't need it anymore. We will fly to Jesus, and we will not need to fear sin anymore. We will be done with it. There'll be no temptations. There'll be no indwelling sin nature. The devil will be in the lake of fire, and we'll be free. It's temporary, but we'll still fear the Lord even then because there is a positive aspect of the fear of the Lord that has, I think, nothing to do with sin. The negative aspect, the fear of the Lord is the emotional reaction to danger in sin, reference to God.
The Positive Aspect of Fear of the Lord
The positive aspect is the emotional reaction to infinite majesty, the infinite person of God. And the response that the Bible uses for the way we respond to that is called fear – it’s the fear of the Lord. I do not understand it, friends. I've gone and meditated on this as far as I can go. Why don't they call it something else, like awe, or wonder, or reverence? You can do that if you want, but the Bible just uses that same word. And so, I'll just stay with it and just say, in some way, the word is going to be redeemed. There's not going to be any danger, but there's still the fear of the Lord in the presence of this infinite majesty of God.
So, why do I think they'll be the fear of the Lord in heaven? Well, a number of passages teach it. For example, this one, Psalm 19, in verse 9, it says, "The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.” The fear of the Lord is pure, clean, enduring forever, or out to eternity. So that means the fear of the Lord is a clean thing. It's a pure thing. Fear of man is not. It's dirty; it's filthy. Some of these phobias are filthy, but the fear of the Lord is not. It's a clean thing. It's a clean thing, a pure thing. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. Then there's Isaiah 6, where the burning ones, the seraphim, are in the presence of Jesus, and he's high on his throne. And they have six wings. You remember, with two wings, they covered their faces, and with two, they covered their feet. Both of those, I think, are a reaction to the infinite majesty of Jesus up on his throne. They're covering their faces. They have nothing to fear from him. They are holy. They're the holy angels; they're the burning ones, the seraphim. They're not afraid of judgment. They're not afraid they're going to get thrown to hell. They're just covering their faces in the presence of the infinite majesty of Christ.
And then there's Revelation 15:1-4, that passage, we read it on the way to church this morning. And there the redeemed are; they're up in heaven. They're standing there before the sea of glass mingled with fire, it says. And they're there, and they're worshipping God. They're done with their fight, they're free from the world that is dominated by the beast, and they're up in heaven, praising God. And this is what they say in Revelation 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." So, here are the righteous saints, they're free from sin, and they're saying, "Who will not fear you?" To them, it's inconceivable that any created being would not respond to God's infinite personhood in majesty with fear, the fear of the Lord. It's unthinkable. God is infinite in his majesty. A.W. Pink said this, "Happy is the soul that has been awed by a view of God's majesty, that has had a vision of God's awful greatness, his ineffable holiness, his perfect righteousness, his irresistible power, his sovereign grace.” When you have a vision of that, you are filled with awe, filled with the fear of the Lord, in this positive sense, and you are happy.
A.W. Tozer, in his classic The Knowledge of the Holy said, "Forever, God stands apart in light, unapproachable. He is as high above an archangel as above a caterpillar, for the gulf that separates the archangel from the caterpillar is but finite, while the gulf between God and the archangel is infinite." So, here, as I've meditated on this fear of the Lord that I can't understand, I think it just has to do with the infinitude of his attributes. Psalm 36:6 says, "Your righteousness is like majestic mountains. Your justice is like the depths of the sea.” So, there's this scope of God. “Heaven, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. The eternity of God, he's the Ancient of Days, before the foundation of the world, and all of that, the Alpha and the Omega, the infinite presence of God.”
Isaiah 55, "As high as the heavens are above the Earth, so higher are my ways than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 40:22, "He sits enthroned above the circle of the Earth and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy and spreads them out like a tent to live in." God desires that we fear him. He actually openly reaches out for this. He wants us to fear him. It says in Jeremiah 5:22, "'Should you not fear me?' declares the Lord. 'Should you not tremble in my presence? I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it.'"
So, in summation, what is the fear of the Lord? It has a negative aspect, and that has to do with sin, danger from sin, God's holy reaction to sin. If you're lost, if you're not a Christian, you should fear what God will do on Judgment Day. You should fear hell, and you should flee to Christ into the cross. You should fear him and flee. The God of The Shack wouldn't hurt anyone. There's no need to fear him or flee to the... There's none of that. It just isn't there. Friends, it's an idol. But the God of the Bible is one to be feared. If we're apart from Christ, you're in great danger.
But even if you're in Christ, we're still in danger. We have this beast called indwelling sin. The very thing I hate, I do, as it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. I need protection, and the fear of the Lord is part of that protection for me. Positively, however, there is the fear of the Lord that I think will go out to eternity. It just has to do with how infinite God is and how finite we always will be. Pure? Yes. Holy? Yes. Resurrection body? Yes. In glory? Yes. Still finite created beings, and God infinite.
The Fear of the Lord is the Hatred of Evil
Alright. So how is the fear of the Lord the beginning of knowledge? Well, as I already mentioned, fools don't naturally possess this fear of the Lord, it's not naturally there. They actually despise it. It says, "Fools despise wisdom and discipline.” They hold it in contempt. They consider this insignificant. So, the unregenerate person, Psalm 36, it says, "An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked. There is no fear of God before his eyes, for in his own eyes, he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin." Paul put it this way, summing up the fact that all of us need Jesus, we all need a savior. Romans 3, in verse 14 and following, he says, "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood, ruin and misery, mark their ways, and the way of peace, they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes." That's the final word. A.W. Pink, commenting on that, said this, "Why is it that today the masses of people are so utterly unconcerned about spiritually-internal things, and that they are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God? Why is it, even on battlefields, multitudes are so indifferent to their soul's welfare? Why is it that defiance of heaven is becoming more open, more blatant and more daring?" The answer is because there is no fear of God before their eyes.
How Is It the Beginning of Knowledge?
Now, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, it says here. What that means is, if you don't have that, you haven't learned anything, not really. Some of the world's most brilliant geniuses have been aggressive atheists. This text says they learn nothing. They could be very educated people, they could have six PhDs, they could have three Nobel Prizes; they learned nothing while they were here in this world. You've heard of Watson and Crick, who developed the double helix model of the DNA. Both of them are aggressive atheists. Francis Crick said this on the matter of religion, "Christianity may be okay between consenting adults in private, but it ought not to be taught to young children." James Watson kind of connected with our text inadvertently, I can assure you, but this is what Watson said, asked by a student if he believed in God, he said, "Oh no, absolutely not. The biggest advantage to believing in God is you don't have to understand anything, no physics, no biology. I wanted to understand.” Oh my goodness, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of understanding. What's going to happen with Watson and Crick when they stand before God, if they didn't convert before they died? All of their knowledge will be as nothing. It will be meaningless. Like wet tissue paper, it will disappear. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.
Knowledge (Wisdom) Begins with Fear of the Lord Because We Begin as Sinners
And it begins there because we must be convicted that we're sinners, and that's where it starts. Look at the day of Pentecost. Peter is up there preaching the Gospel, and he is being very, very clear about the death of Jesus. He died on the cross as a substitute for our sins. He is preaching the Gospel, says with many other words that he warned them and pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” And it says in Acts 2:37, "When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?'" That's the fear of the Lord. That's the beginning of knowledge. They're cut to the heart. They're convicted. They need a savior. And he says, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Same thing happens later in Acts 16 - the Philippian jailer. You remember what happened? Paul and Silas are there, they're singing praise songs to Jesus, and there's an earthquake, and the doors - prison doors - fly open, the chains fall off, and the jailer runs out and he thinks he's lost all his prisoners. And he draws his sword, and he's about to kill himself, and a voice calls out from the darkness, "Don't harm yourself, we're all here."
And the jailer calls for lights, and he runs in and falls, trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brings them out and says, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" That's the fear of the Lord; that's the beginning of knowledge right there. “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your whole household” (Acts 16:31). And preach the word. There are many examples of this from church history. It was fear of the Lord, maybe even a superstitious fear of the Lord, that led Martin Luther in the middle of an electrical storm to fall on his face in the mud and pray to Saint Anne, saying, "I'll be a monk if you just get me out of this electrical storm." And in that same, more or less, superstitious fear, he went into the Augustinian monastery and began to try to earn his salvation through good works, by being an incredible monk, by long times of fasting and prayer, and by a pilgrimage to Rome, where he went up the holy staircase on his knees, mumbling the Pater Noster, the “Our Father,” and hoping that somehow he could diminish his time in purgatory, and just pleading that he might somehow escape the wrath of God. He was afraid to die. It was fear of the Lord as he held the cup of what he believed to be the actual blood of Jesus, he started to shake and he spilled it, spilled the wine.
He was terrified of God. It was out of fear of God that he used to have long times of confession with his father confessor, Johann Staupitz. Even the slightest mental issues, the tiniest things. Finally, Staupitz said, "You're making it too hard. You just need to love God." He said, "Love God? I hate him." What is it that makes somebody say that? Fear, the terror of judgment and wrath. But it was the fear of the Lord that led him to the gates of paradise. In the words of Scripture, "I'm not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). For, in the Gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is from faith to faith, just as is written, the righteous will live by faith. And he said, "The gates of paradise flew open for me and I was free at last, and ran through them into salvation.” But, it's the fear of the Lord that was the beginning of knowledge for him. But God is holy and he was a sinner, and it is fundamental to our ongoing life as sinners in this world, even after conversion, as we've said.
Where Does It Come From?
Seek It Diligently!
Now, where does the fear of the Lord come from? Well, if you look at Proverbs 2, the very next chapter, Solomon gives the advice that you ought to seek it diligently. Proverbs 2:1-6 says, "My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver, and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and you will find the knowledge of God, for the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding."
So, therefore, ask God for it. If you don't fear God, ask him for it. He gives it as a gift. He gives the fear of the Lord. Psalm 86:11 says, "Teach me your ways, O God, and I will walk in your truth. Give me an undivided heart that I might fear your name." If you sense today that you've been dealing too lightly with God over your sin, you really don't fear him like you should, you've had too low a view of him, perhaps you feel, to some degree, that an idol has been crafted, and you haven't really seen God for who he really is, then cry out for the true, genuine fear of the Lord, that you would understand the grace of God in giving that to you. You know, it's actually part of the gift of the New Covenant. The New Covenant gives you this as a gift. It's part of your birthright as a Christian. Jeremiah 32:38-40, it says, "They will be my people and I will be their God. This is the New Covenant. I will give them singleness of heart and action so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them, and I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me so that they will never turn away from me."
God’s Work in Redemptive History
God uses the Scripture to work this in. You read the stories. Read about God coming in the cool of the day to Adam and Eve after they sinned, and they cowered before him; they were terrified. Read about the flood, and how the entire world, except for Noah and his family, and those with them on the ark were wiped out. God has been working fear of the Lord from the beginning of redemptive history all the way through. When Abraham was justified by faith, a promise was made to him, and he said, "Your descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky." And Abraham believed God and was created in His righteousness. And he said, "You're going to inherit the land." He said, "How do I know that I'm going to inherit it?" And he said, "Get a sacrifice ready." So, he got the pieces of the sacrifice, separated them out, and then it was a long time. He was waiting, and he's knocking the birds away, the buzzards that are coming. And then suddenly, as the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abraham, and behold, a dreadful and great darkness fell on him. And then He makes the promise: know for certain your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, where they'll be enslaved and mistreated 400 years.
Now, what is this deep, dreadful darkness? Literally, the horror of great darkness. This is God coming to his friend, Abraham, and teaching him to fear him properly. “Fear me, and everything's fine.” And this is the paradox, dear friends, the paradox of Mount Sinai. God comes with thunder and lightning and earthquake and fire, and all of this terrible voice, speaking so loudly that they beg not to hear it any longer. And God spoke this mysterious word in Exodus 20, "Do not be afraid, the fear of the Lord has come upon you so that you will not sin against me." Do you understand how that works? If you fear me, you don't need to fear anything. You don't need to fear man. You don't need to fear death. You don't need to fear financial trouble or sickness or any rejection from people. If you fear God properly, you don't need to fear anything.
You know what happens every time the angels come? You know what happens? The glory of the Lord shines around, and some... And you know what angel always has to start with? He always says the same thing, "Do not be afraid." The first thing he says every time. But there's an order, "I see that you're afraid. Now don't be afraid." He didn't say it to the Roman soldiers, note that, who were guarding Jesus. He didn't say that. They shook with fear and became like dead men, but he didn't say, "Do not be afraid." They had reason to fear. But to those whose hearts were right toward God, the message is, “Fearing me, you need fear nothing.” You need fear nothing
Application – Where Does It Lead?
So, what can we do by way of application? Well, the fear of the Lord leads. It's not the end. It's the beginning of wisdom. When the Gospel is done with us, we are going to be escorted out of what someone called a craven fear through various steps of our journey, until at last, we understand the holiness of God, coupled with the infinite dimensions of his love for us. Ephesians 3, Paul says, "I pray that you will have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,” The magnitude of it! How wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ? “And that you would know that love that surpasses knowledge. You may know that infinite love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."
That's infinite language, that's where the fear of the Lord leads. So, the fear of the Lord is just the beginning of knowledge and of wisdom. It leads, in the end, to a full sense of the love of God. So, therefore, we should work out our salvation with what? Well, with fear and trembling. With fear and trembling. That's how you do it. Fear the Lord, give him glory and honor. Fear sin. Take it seriously. Guard your hearts. Tremble in his presence. Shun evil. Fear the Lord, and shun evil. So, it leads to a holy life. It also leads to patterns of costly obedience. The angel of the Lord stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac. He stopped him and said, "Now I know that you fear God since you have not withheld your son, your only son, Isaac, from me" (Genesis 22:12). So, the fear of God leads to patterns of costly obedience, could be financial, a sacrificial gift. It could be stepping out in faith in a ministry, evangelism missions. It could be very, very... Just... Jesus said, "If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” Could be get rid of something in your life that's causing you to sin, get rid of it. Cut it off and throw it away. It could be electronic entertainment. It could be something that is causing you to sin, throw it away, get rid of it. Costly obedience. And if you do that, dear friends, you need fear nothing else. Close with me in prayer.