The Fear of God (2)
The LORD takes pleasure in those who fear Him,
In those who hope in His mercy. Psalm 147.11
Nothing to fear?
Fear is an altogether appropriate and useful affection. We could argue, in fact, that fear is the most fundamental of all affections, for when all the affections of our hearts are united in fearing God, then we will love, obey, serve, and increase in Him as He intends (cf. Ps. 86.11).
The Lord Jesus certainly understood the power and appropriateness of fear, and He instructed His followers on its proper role in our hearts. In the first place, 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. 12.2, 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).
Fear is a powerful affection, and if it is inappropriately focused, it can rob us of the joy of following Jesus. 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. What Jesus understood is what the psalmist also knew, that God “takes pleasure” when His people fear Him as they should; and, as we have seen, that fear is based on God’s awesome holiness, justice, power, and might. The Hebrew says, literally, that God pleasures those who fear Him, suggesting clearly that God is in the midst of those who fear Him as they should, and brings them into the pleasure of His presence.
If you want to know the pleasure of the Lord, pleasuring in your midst, fear Him, as Jesus commanded.
Fear and love in tension
The psalmist clearly declares that, where God is concerned, fear and love are two sides of the same coin; however, it leaves us wondering: How can this be so? Why should it please God for us to fear Him? Wouldn’t God much prefer that we be motivated toward Him out of love, rather than fear?
But this 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 only, 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 full and abundant life, and the pleasure He holds out to us, 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 brings us into His pleasure.
But note also how the “fear of God” is defined in our psalm. They fear the Lord who hope in His mercy, or, His steadfast love. We fear God as we ought when all our hope in life is focused on the love of God that we long to know 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 that God gives us all good things, including life, salvation, and the many and diverse blessings which constitute and sustain our daily lives.
Many people live in fear of having these things taken away from them. The reason they fear this is because they do not fear God – do not hold Him in reverent awe and dread – 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 our loving God and heavenly Father (Jms. 1.17), 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. To fear and love God is to know 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 sustain 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 of His future blessings, we will walk with spiritual power and blessings in the path of righteousness – and we will know the pleasure of our Father Who is in heaven, and Who makes His presence known among us.
1. What is the pleasure of the Lord? How do you experience the Lord’s pleasure? Is this a good thing?
2. Do you understand that we deserve nothing from God except justice, condemnation, and wrath? Do you hope that, in His mercy, God will spare you from this? Why should He? Should knowing that He will not condemn you keep you from hoping for His mercy? Explain.
3. If fearing God is a way of expressing our hope for His ongoing mercy, as well as of bringing us into His pleasure, would learning to fear God be a good idea, and an important key to keeping your heart with all diligence? Explain.
Next steps – Transformation: 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
This is part 2 of a multi-part series on Keeping the Heart. To download this week’s study as a free PDF, click 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.