Fearing God (2)
…but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. Psalm 147.11 (ESV)
Nothing to fear?
One of the great, turning-point exhortations of the last century, was Pope John Paul II’s word to the Polish people: “Do not be afraid.”
Christians have nothing to fear in this life. On several occasions the Lord Jesus commanded His disciples not to fear. He told them not to be afraid of men who, after all, can only kill you (Matt. 10.28) He instructed them to sell all they possessed and follow Him, and not to be afraid, when they do, that they might miss a good and happy life, since they are gaining the Kingdom of God (Lk. 12.32, 33). He warned that in this world we could expect to have many trials and tribulations, but added that, since He had overcome the world, we should not be afraid (Jn. 16.33).
There is no reason, Jesus insisted, for any of His followers to fear anything here on earth.
At the same time, as we have seen, Jesus clearly and unequivocally commanded His disciples to fear God. Jesus taught what the psalmist wrote, that it is the pleasure of God for His people to fear Him as they should. It is only as we fear God as He commands, that we can know His pleasure so palpably as to not be afraid of anything else.
Fear and love in tension
The psalmist clearly declares this; however, it may leave some of us wondering: How can this be so? Why should it be in the pleasure of God for me to fear Him? Wouldn’t God much prefer that I be motivated toward Him out of love, rather than fear?
To think this way would be to make a typical, foolish human mistake. In our minds, we struggle to hold fear and love in tension as opposing but harmonizing affections. We think it’s got to be one or the other, and, since none of us likes to live in fear, we opt to relate to God by love, and leave fear out of the equation.
But that just shows our finitude and folly. God knows that, for us to relate to Him properly, that is, so that we may know the full and abundant life He holds out to us, and may enter His pleasure,and find there the ability to overcome every other fear, we must both fear and love Him. Never mind if we can’t figure that out; God knows what He’s doing, and He does what lines up with His pleasure.
But note also how the fear of God is defined in our psalm.
They fear the Lord who hope in His steadfast love. We fear God as we ought when all our hope in life is focused on the love of God ,so that we long to know it as fully in the future as ever we have known it in the past. Apart from God’s love for us, we cannot so much as even exist! It is by His steadfast and faithful love and mercy that God gives us all good things, including, life, salvation, and the many and diverse blessings which constitute and sustain our daily lives.
If we hope in anything other than the Lord’s steadfast love – such as political stability, material wellbeing, financial and personal security, and the like – then we fear not having these things more than we fear Him Who ultimately provides all things.
Many people live in fear of having such things taken away from them. The reason they fear this is because they do not fear God – do not hope in His steadfast love and faithfulness – and they have allowed the things they love to become idols in place of God. If they truly understood that every good and perfect gift – every single one – comes to us from a loving God, they would hope that His steadfast love would continue and fear Him Who, should He choose to act only in justice toward us, rather than with mercy and grace, would not only withhold all future blessings but all life and existence as well.
In this we can see the close connection between fear and love. To fear God is to hope in His love; to know His love is to be prompted to fear Him, lest because of who we are, He should turn His favor away from us. To fear and love God is to find ourselves in the sweet spot of His pleasure and, hence, to walk in all His holy and righteous and good ways.
If we do not fear the Lord, we may take His future blessings for granted. How does it make you feel when someone takes your goodness and kindness for granted? If we do not fear the Lord, it is certain that we will not be able to engender sufficient love for Him to obey Him in all His holy and righteous and good ways.
But if we both fear and love God, then we will rejoice in the anticipation and hope of His future blessings; and we will walk each day with spiritual power and blessings in the path of righteousness – knowing the pleasure of our Father Who is in heaven.
So with respect to anything in this world – or the loss of anything in this life – let us not be afraid. Let us, rather, fear God.
1. Give some examples of things people fear in this life. Why do they fear such things?
2. Why is it wrong for believers to fear such things, but not to fear God? Why is fearing the right thing such an important affection?
3. Those who fear the Lord, hope in His steadfast love and mercy. Explain.
Next steps – Demonstration: Spend some time meditating on all the ways God shows His steadfast love and faithfulness to you throughout the day. What would your life be like without all these benefits? We do not deserve any of the good things that come our way. They are ours by the grace and mercy of God alone. We fear God when we hope in the continuation of His steadfast and faithful love. Express your fear and love for God in a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.
T. M. Moore
What does it mean to know the Lord? How does knowing the Lord relate to fearing Him, and to enjoying full and abundant life in Him? Our book, To Know Him, addresses these and other questions concerning our relationship with God. Order your copy by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.