The Fear of the Lord: humble awe or scary submission?
by Nellie Ponce
What does it mean to fear the Lord? Are we supposed to be afraid of Him? Does it mean He is a dictator waiting to crack His whip on the backs of humanity when they do wrong? I have heard this term most of my life and never really understood what it meant. Part of me did not like the sound of it because I had so much fear already and did not want to be afraid of God as well. After listening to Dr. Kathy share about the fear of the Lord and doing my own study, I have come to conclude that the fear of the Lord is the key to everything we desire in this life. It isn’t the fear that creates stress, anxiety, or phobias. God isn’t looking for slaves He can beat into submission. No, this call to fear the Lord is about awe, honor, reverence, and respect because HE IS CRAZY GOOD. Let’s examine the two types of fear in the Bible.
In scripture, we find the fear of God and the fear of man. These two fears are completely different in how they operate. The word used in Hebrew for “fear of man” means, “to have fear, anxiety, or anxious care.”
“The fear of man brings a snare,
But whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe.” Proverbs 29:25 NKJV
Fear of man is a trap. Every time we agree with fear and honor ourselves or others over God, we set ourselves up for big trouble. This fear will bring a snare into your life. It will have you connect with the wrong people. You will be influenced to throw away your God-given purpose. This fear will lead you to disregard the feelings of others and the Word of God for your own personal gain. It will cause you to stay in an abusive relationship or be the abuser. Fear of man makes you pretend to be something you aren’t or treat yourself as less than you really are. This looks like underselling your value and projecting false humility or puffing yourself up like your better than everyone else. It is a death trap just waiting to happen. Fear of man is rooted in exaggerated self-importance and insecurity. It is a dictator that wants mindless slaves but Jesus is a Kind King who wants faith-filled friends.
As I researched the fear of the Lord I found that it is actually rooted in humility and faith. The Hebrew word used for “fear the Lord” means, “to fear, reverence, honor, or respect.” We reverence and respect those we trust. Humility and trust produce the very things that fear of man tells us it can give us – intimacy, value, connection, and success. Let’s see what the Bible says about the fear of the Lord!
- “Only fear the LORD, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you.” 1 Samuel 12:24
- “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever..” Psalm 19:9
- “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom..” Psalm 111:10
- “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and depart from evil.” Proverbs 3:7
- “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way, the perverse mouth I hate.” Proverbs 8:13
- “The fear of the Lord prolongs days, but the years of the wicked will be shortened.” Proverbs 10:27
- “In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence, and His children will have a place of refuge.” Proverbs 14:26
- “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to turn one away from the snares of death.” Proverbs 14:27
- “The fear of the Lord leads to life, and he who has it will abide in satisfaction; He will not be visited with evil.” Proverbs 19:23
- “By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life.” Proverbs 22:4
Wow! Wisdom, prolonged life, STRONG confidence, life, satisfaction, protection, riches, and honor – these are just a few of the many benefits of fearing God! They are promised to those who reverence and honor the Lord because of the great things He has done for them. This awe, this reverence is built on a shared history with God – our Creator, Savior, King, Judge, and Friend. Fear of man, on the other hand, is built on mistrust and twisted respect for one’s own opinion or the opinions of others. Self-protection and meeting your own needs, because you believe no one else will, not even God, are core for those who struggle with fear of man. It can result in much anxiety, hopelessness, and despair that is really unnecessary when you fear the Lord.
Instead of fearing man we are called to fear and reverence God, not because He is evil and cruel but because He is dangerously good and just. God does not want fear-based obedience. He wants trusting and loyal lovers. Throughout scripture, we can see God pleading with His people to obey and honor Him because their wicked pride would lead to their OWN demise. God is not egotistical. He doesn’t NEED our obedience or respect. That’s like telling your child to listen to you when you tell them not to stand in the street or touch the stove, then her accuse you of being rigid or narcissistic. His precepts are here to protect us, not control us. They are for our own benefit and given to us as boundaries in our relationship with Him.
Every relationship has boundaries, spoken or unspoken. These are the things we expect from each other that create an atmosphere of safety, trust, respect, and love in the relationship. It could be as foundational and basic as, “My heart belongs to you alone.” or “Please wipe the water off the counter when you use the sink!” Our boundaries represent our core values and God has shown us His.
“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way, the perverse mouth I hate.” Proverbs 8:13 NKJV
When we reverence God by hating evil we are saying to Him, “I honor you and value my relationship with you. I see that you are good and worthy of all my trust. You even sent your Son, Jesus to die for me! You are God and I am not. You always meet my needs and take care of me. You are all-wise and all-knowing, so I yield to your loving leadership.” Our reverence is a sign of how much we love Him.
“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love…You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” John 15:9-10,14
The cornerstones of every healthy relationship are respect, love, and humility. If these are violated the relationship will not work or thrive. Friendship is built on loyalty and trust. Do you respect the Lord or do you fear man? Do you honor, value, and cherish your opinions and people’s opinions more than God’s? It’s time we examine our hearts – whether they are filled with pride or trusting humility. We will never live the abundant life Jesus died for if we do not humble ourselves, believe His Word, and honor His commands. This is God’s promise to us:
“Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and depart from evil.
It will be health to your flesh,
And strength to your bones.”
Proverbs 3:7-8 NKJV
I challenge you to examine your heart, repent of all pride, and turn your heart to Him in faith. As we seek the Lord and spend time in His presence, we will learn to fear Him. (Proverbs 2:1-5) This humble awe and reverence will fill our lives, leading us into greater victory and intimacy with Jesus. Are you ready to receive the blessing of a healthy relationship with God? Are you ready to live in His peace, joy, and provision?
“Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Psalm 34:9-14 ESV
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