What is “fear of the Lord”?

“Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.”

Psalm 33:8–9

Years ago, when I was doing a little editing and writing for a Christian magazine, my husband, Bart, wrote a paragraph to describe me. In it, he referred to me as “a God-fearing woman.” I changed the wording in his description (I can’t remember to what) because at the time it made me uncomfortable. I thought to myself, I don’t fear God. I love Him and I’m amazed by Him. But I don’t fear him. Yet there are so many places in the Bible that refer to “fear of the Lord.” So, I wondered … What am I missing here? What does that phrase really mean?

Over the years since then, I have heard a few sermons on the topic and read some articles that have helped me get a clearer picture of what “fear of the Lord” means. This information helped me understand why it’s not really such a scary term. So, I wanted to share what I learned here to possibly help someone else who may have been, or is still, confused by it.

This past Sunday, Jarrett Stephens, Teaching Pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Texas, preached on this very topic. As he explained, we often think of “fear” as related to feelings of terror. But, in this case, it’s not technically about being scared, it’s more of a feeling of awe or deep respect.

Dr. Stephens pointed out that anyone God revealed Himself to in the past trembled with fear when they saw His glory. However, because we have been made right with God through Jesus, and perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18), for Christians today, terrorizing fear has been replaced with more of a respectful fear or a reverence.

However, some might consider fear of the Lord to be related to a fear of God’s judgement. Still others may see it as a reference to revering God alone and not fearing anyone or anything else.

According to O.S. Hawkins (pastor, GuideStone President, and author), we need to understand that “the fear of the Lord is not a fear of retribution but an awe with reverence and respect of the holy God that prevents Christians from doing anything that might dishonor or displease God.” In talking about his past, Hawkins once said, “It wasn’t that I was afraid God would put his hand on me. My greatest fear was that God might take his hand off me.” He believes “This kind of fear should rest with every man or woman called of God.”

Continuing with his sermon on Sunday, Dr. Stephens gave the following explanation of what he believes “fear of the Lord” means:

“Honoring God from so deep within that it motivates us to live a life wholly pleasing to Him.”

Simply speaking, he said, fearing = obeying. Following are just a few examples of how this fear, or awe, has been demonstrated or lived out throughout the Bible. “By faith, Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.” (Hebrews 11:17) Abraham provided an example of obedience no matter what is asked (Genesis 22). “By faith, Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.” (Hebrews 11:7) Noah showed obedience no matter what others thought (Genesis 6–8). In Exodus 1:15–17, the Hebrew midwives demonstrated obedience no matter what the cost. Although the king of Egypt had ordered them to kill any baby boys delivered by Hebrew women, “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.”

Of course, this theme of fear and obedience continues with Moses, Ester, Daniel, David, John the Baptist, Stephen, and too many others to mention specifically.

O.S. Hawkins once said, “With every man and woman in the Bible who was greatly used of God, there is a common thread woven from Genesis to Revelation — they lived in the fear of the Lord.”

These people all show us that to be fearless and effective Christians, we must live with a fear of the Lord and act in humble obedience, honoring and serving God to the best of our abilities. Psalm 115 encourages all who fear the Lord to “trust in the Lord — he is their help and shield” (11). In other words, fearing God should produce confidence, hope, and trust in Him, which are necessary when we are looking to God for mercy, forgiveness, and salvation (OliveTree.com).

JoHannah Reardon (ChristianBibleStudies.com) says, “fearing God is good because it saves us from caving in to our own sinful nature. That’s why hearing someone is God-fearing actually makes us trust that person more. If they fear God, they are more likely to keep their word and treat others with kindness.”

In that case, I now hope that anyone who knows me actually does consider me to be a God-fearing woman. Have a blessed day.

“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
but love from the Lord is its completion.”

William D. Eisenhower, “Fearing God,” Christianity Today

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