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OCTOBER 25 2015

The Fear of God

 

The fear of God is one of the most frequent themes in the Bible. It occurs more frequently than the love of God (about three times as often), more than the power of God, more than the glory of God, more frequently than money and its synonyms, more often than the church, more than sin, more than salvation, more than faith! In fact, there are very few topics that appear more frequently than does the fear of God. It appears more than one thousand times in the Scriptures!

 

If this is true (and it is) then it must mean that it is important and that God desires that all people have an understanding of it.

 

Our Scripture reading is Revelation 14:6-7. In this passage we see that an angel of God proclaims an eternal gospel to those who live on earth. It is not just good news for a few, for a select group, but it is good news for every nation, every tribe, every language, and every people. Neither is it a temporary gospel. Those of us who have been saved by the Lord in this age were done so through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a glorious gospel! It is wonderful news for those who have come to see just how bad off they are and in need of a Savior! It is the gospel of grace. No one can be saved in this age without receiving and believing in this marvelous gospel of grace.

 

But it is a temporary gospel. It is a gospel that began when Christ appeared and it will come to an end when Christ returns a second time. This angel brings an eternal gospel – one that will go on forever. This gospel is to fear God, to give Him glory, and to worship Him. We are here this morning worshipping God. As we do this we also give Him glory, but we also ought, as individuals, to be giving God glory in our words and in our living. The first thing the angel says, though, is “Fear God.” To fear God is part of the eternal gospel.

 

[I.] What does it mean to fear God? It is sometimes heard in Christian circles that “fear” with respect to God in the Bible just means “awe” or “reverence.” This is simply not true. The words that are translated “fear” (ya-re and φοβος) may take those meanings on a few occasions, depending on context, but it is obvious that the primary meaning of the word is our common and simple understanding as “fear.”

 

The context of the passages will most often make clear that this is the case.

 

Moses at the burning bush:             And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

(Exodus 3:6 ESV)

 

But Yahweh of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. (Isaiah 8:13)

 

            Do you not fear me? declares the LORD.

                        Do you not tremble before me?

(Jeremiah 5:22 ESV)

 

Likewise, in the New Testament: READ Acts 5:1-5;9-11.

 

            For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

(Hebrews 10:30-31 ESV)

 

All these passages show that fear means fear.

 

We have answered the “what” question. For the remainder of our time together I wish to answer the question: Why should we fear God?

 

[II.] We must fear God in order to have wisdom. In Proverbs we read:

 

            The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,

                        and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

(Proverbs 9:10 ESV)

 

Wisdom is the understanding and art of living well. Not living well as shown in material possessions or having our physical needs met. Rather, living well as in living the right way, in accordance with God’s will which leads to contentment and peace. Proverbs, of course, has much to say about wisdom. It is the most valuable thing that one can have after love.

 

According to this passage, one cannot even begin to have wisdom until they fear God. Why is this so? Our family is going through the book of Proverbs in our evening devotions. This past week we were in Proverbs and came across this verse:

 

            Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,

                        but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.

(Proverbs 22:15 ESV)

 

Folly, or foolishness, is bound up in the heart of children. This is why they need discipline. When parents fail to discipline their children they give a green light for the expression and growth of foolishness in their children. If your children are disobedient or act as fools a great deal of that may be laid at your feet. Not all of it, because you may do everything right and they will still do foolish things. However, failure to discipline our children corporally will give free reign to folly.

 

But, is it only children who have folly in their hearts? No! We all do! Young children have it, but so do older children like teenagers. Teenagers have it, but so do young men and women. Young people have it, but so do adults in their 30’s and 40’s.

 

Folly or foolishness is the propensity to make decisions with only a regard for the satisfaction that an action brings without due consideration of the consequences. We all have this weakness.

 

Here is a sober truth: Unless we fear God we all have a tendency to make decisions for our personal satisfaction rather than for the goodness of a matter. Knowing who God is – that He is a God of wrath, that He punishes disobedience, that He is holy – stirs up a healthy fear. And this fear will bring wisdom. Fearing God is the beginning of wisdom!

 

Who is on the ten dollar bill? It is Alexander Hamilton. He was the first Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington at a time when the Treasury Secretary was an influential position beyond that of its current scope. Prior to his appointment he won, as a commander during the Revolutionary War, two key battles. The first was one of the first battles of the war where he overtook a British fortification at Battery Park. The second was a victory at Yorktown which was a decisive battle in the war and which was followed by the British surrender and vacating North America.

 

He is perhaps best known for his role in the acceptance of our Constitution. He wrote the bulk of the essays in the Federalist Papers, a series of 85 essays defending the proposed Constitution, appearing in newspapers of the day. At the Constitutional Convention he spoke eloquently for its passage. He also established the U.S. Mint.

 

Alexander began as a Christian. He was raised Presbyterian back in the day when that denomination was grounded in the Scriptures. He wrote a hymn as a youth entitled The Soul Ascending into Bliss, describing the rapture of a saint. He wrote it for his younger sister Eliza, whom he loved, when she was gravely ill and he thought she was going to die. The lyrics read in part:

 

I come, oh Lord! I mount, I fly,
on rapid wings I cleave the sky;
Stretch out thine arm and aid my flight;
For oh! I long to gain that height,
where all celestial beings sing
eternal praises to their king.

O Lamb of God! Thrice gracious Lord,
now, now I feel how true thy word;
Translated to this happy place,
this blessed vision of thy face;
My soul shall all thy steps attend
in songs of triumph without end.

 

When Alexander was in college his faith burned bright. Robert Troup, his college friend, wrote of him: “At this time the ‘General’ was attentive to public worship, and in the habit of praying on his knees night and morning…. I have often been powerfully affected by the fervor and eloquence of his prayers… [H]e was a zealous believer in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. I confess that the arguments, with which he was accustomed to justify his belief, have tended in no small degree to confirm my own faith in revealed religion.”

 

Alexander feared God and embraced the faith. But as he grew older his faith waned. He engrossed himself in the affairs of this world and, as many do, he exhibited powerful self-interest. By the time he was in public office he no longer feared God.

 

In 1791, 23-year-old Maria Reynolds approached the married 36-year-old Alexander Hamilton in Philadelphia, requesting his help. Claiming that her husband, James Reynolds, had abandoned her and her daughter, Maria asked him for enough money to transport them back to New York City, where her family lived. Hamilton consented, and delivered the money in person to Maria later that night. They spoke at length and soon an affair developed that would last three years. The affair was kept hidden for three more years after its ending until it was uncovered by a journalist in 1797. Hamilton’s reputation was ruined and, if he had any Presidential aspirations they were derailed. Minimally, his influence was greatly diminished.

 

What if Alexander had feared God in 1791? I tell you, if he continued to fear God he would not have had entered into an adulterous relationship with Mrs. Reynolds.

 

Sadly, Alexander did not learn his lesson. He may not have had another adulterous relationship but his pride was so great that when he was challenged to duel by Aaron Burr he opted to duel rather than apologize. He knew it was against the will of God for he wrote a defense of his reason to duel while yet implying that it is against the Christian faith to proceed. The duel took place and Alexander was shot, dying about 30 hours afterward. Incidentally, on his deathbed said that he relied upon the mercy of his Savior.

 

What if Alexander had feared God more than what men would think in 1804. I tell you, if he continued to fear God he would not have entered into a deadly duel with Mr. Burr and he would have lived.

 

Alexander Hamilton had a great intellect but he did not have wisdom because he did not fear God. We must fear God in order to have wisdom.

 

[III.] We must fear god because He has the power to cast into hell. Hell is the place of torment that will be never-ending for the one who has rejected Jesus Christ as Lord. Jesus taught about hell. If anyone has a problem with the doctrine of hell then they have a problem with what Jesus taught.

 

            “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!”

            (Luke 12:4-5 ESV)

 

Here, Jesus plainly states that we should not fear men. Rather, we should fear the One who has authority to cast us into hell. Is this not the most reasonable and natural reason to fear God? If hell is real and if God sends people there, what a terrible thing it would be to go there. Indeed, hell is real. Jesus taught it. God does send people there. It is an extension of his divine justice and an expression of his wrath. Therefore, there are only two reasons that would prevent us from fearing a Being who has such authority. One reason would be a failure to believe in hell. This is easily solved by seeing, as we just have, that Jesus taught the realilty of hell. The other reason would be a failure to believe that one is worthy of hell.

 

This is a dangerous state of affairs. For man, in his natural state, thinks he is not deserving of hell. This is because people compare themselves with other people and the people they compare themselves with are always those who are worse than they are. So, they come out looking not-so-bad as to deserve hell. But this is a self-deception. The bar of justice is not some other person but sinlessness. A failure to perceive the seriousness of sin also contributes to the notion that one is not deserving of hell.

 

On July 8, 1741 Jonathan Edwards preached the most famous sermon ever given outside of Scripture. He gave it at a Congregational church in Enfield, CT at the request of the pastor there. It is entitled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

 

He preached: “Sinners deserve to be cast into hell.  Divine justice never stands in the way of God using his power at any moment to destroy them; it makes no objection whatsoever. Rather, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins. Divine justice says of the tree that brings forth fruit like that of the poisonous grapes of Sodom, ‘Cut it down; why burden the ground?’ (Luke 13:7) The sword of divine justice is every moment brandished over their heads, and it is nothing but the hand of all-powerful mercy, and God’s sovereign will, that holds it back.”

 

Yes, “justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment.” This is what makes hell so terrifying. It never ends. It is a place without hope. And, where there is no hope there is the deepest, darkest dejection of the soul and misery untold.

 

The unbeliever is a tree that “brings forth fruit like that of the poisonous grapes of Sodom.” The poisonous grapes of Sodom have filled society once again. But, one does not have to participate in sodomy to be a corrupt tree. The fruit is like that of Sodom. It is self-willed and expresses itself in fornication, serial marriages, lustful thoughts and like sins.

 

We must fear God because he has the authority to cast into hell.

When I was 20 years old and a sergeant in the Air Force I experienced a crisis in my life. God often uses crises to soften our hearts and awaken us to our true condition. In the midst of this time of turmoil there was a knock on my door; two young men from the Navigators were going door to door with a survey. The survey was, of course, a non-obtrusive evangelistic tool. Most people don’t mind answering a few questions on a survey. I still remember the first three questions. The first question was if I believed in God to which I replied affirmatively. The second question was if I believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God; again, I replied “yes.” The third question was if I believed that the Bible was the infallible word of God. After they explained what “infallible” meant I replied in the negative. This was the launching point of a conversation in which one of the young men brought forth convincing evidence that the Bible was inspired and without error. My pride would not permit me to acknowledge the merits of their arguments so I bid them farewell. Although they were done with me the Holy Spirit was not. After they left I sat at my desk and pondered some of the things they had said. As I did this I  came under great conviction that the Bible was, indeed, the word of the living God and that I was severely amiss in neglecting it for my whole life. I felt as if I had spurned the Lord by willingly avoiding his word and my many sins came to my mind. This conviction was soon replaced by a great fear of impending judgment. You see, I was taught as a boy the reality of hell. I knew that if I should die that night I had no hope of heaven. Terror gripped me. I feared what I knew to be my destiny. Within an hour of that experience I repented and came to Christ.

 

My experience that night 41 years ago is not unique. The Holy Spirit uses the fear of God to bring many to the Lord.

 

We ought to fear God because he has the authority to cast into hell.

 

[IV.] We must fear God because it will motivate us to fulfill our calling: to evangelize.

 

            Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.

(2 Corinthians 5:11 ESV)

 

This verse, taken all by itself, can lend itself to two understandings. Is Paul meaning to say that because of the judgment to come upon unbelievers (the reason to fear) that we seek to persuade others of the truth of the gospel? Or, is he saying that because of the judgment to come upon the believers that we seek to persuade others? Looking at the verse in isolation one cannot tell. But, when in doubt, look at the context. Most times it will become obvious what the meaning is.

 

READ verses 6-10. The “we” is clearly the believers and verse 10 refers to the judgment of the believers. Paul is saying that we must all appear before the judgment seat and knowing the fear of the Lord for us we must persuade others. In other words, our sharing of the gospel, or lack thereof, will be one of the things that will be brought up at the Judgment seat of Christ. Let us be faithful to him in this regard!

 

We must fear God because it will motivate us to fulfill our calling to evangelize.

 

[V.] Finally, we must fear God in order to bring our holiness to completion.

 

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.     (2 Cor 7:1 ESV)

 

The promises to which Paul refers are found in the prior three verses in chapter six and include:

 

  • God dwelling with us
  • God walking among us
  • God being our father
  • We being God’s children

 

Briefly take note that we are to bring our holiness to completion. When you complete something this means that it has already begun.  Those who belong to Christ already have some holiness, that is, a separateness from the world. If one has no holiness at all, if your life looks no different than anyone else living in Winfield, then you are not a Christian.

 

A second matter is that we are to “cleanse ourselves.” That means there is something for us to do. We must be active, not passive, in putting the remaining sins that plague us to death. We must identify them and mortify them.

 

Cleansing ourselves must be done in the fear of God. When we consider the consequences of not having defilements removed from our lives there ought to be fear at the prospect. Why? The same reason that we persuade others: because we will stand before Christ at the Judgment Seat. Knowing that our lives will be examined upon the Lord’s return should stir up in us a certain measure of trepidation that motivates us to sanctification.

 

Some will say that we ought not to fear God as a motivation for service. Rather, we should love him and love should be our motivation for service and sanctification. They may cite I John 4:18:

 

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

 

“See,” they may say, “when you love the Lord it casts out fear.” But this is not what the verse says. Perfect love is what casts out fear. Do you have perfect love? If you do then, indeed, there is no need to fear God. But how many of us have perfect love?

What does perfect love look like? See I John 5:3.

 

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.

 

When we love God perfectly we will keep his commandments perfectly. If you are still breaking some of the commands then you are not yet perfected in love. It is not an either/or proposition. It is not that we serve him by love or by fear. We serve him by love and by fear. Love and fear are not mutually exclusive. They are complimentary.

 

[VI. Conclusion & Application] We must fear God in order to have wisdom.

We must fear God because He has the power to cast into Hell.

We must fear God because it will motivate us to fulfill our calling: to evangelize. (2 Cor 5:11)

We must fear God in order to bring our holiness to completion.

 

In view of these truths what ought we to do? Brothers and sisters, we must fear God! Cultivate a fear of the Lord. We may do this by reading His word often. I would encourage you to read the Old Testament as well as the New. I would encourage you to read the gospel of Matthew for in that gospel, more than the others, our Lord taught about what to expect at the judgment of his own servants.

 

The more we know who God is the more we love him. It is also true that the more we know who God is the more we will fear him.

 

Secondly, dwell often upon the judgment that is to come. We should dwell upon it because it is mentioned so very often in the New Testament.

 

Fearing the Lord will both change us and bless us. Let us not follow the examples of those who did not fear the Lord – men like Saul, Joab, and Alexander Hamilton. The next time you look at a $10 bill I want you to say, “I need to fear the Lord.”