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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Looking at Fear in all the Wrong Places

The Bible is a book full of "fear". Okay, let me explain that before you misunderstand. The Bible is full of the use of the word, "fear". What is interesting, however, is the number of times that the word "not" is associated with "fear". "Fear not, Abram," God told him in a vision, "I am your shield; your reward shall be very great" (Gen 15:1). And so it goes. Over and over and over. Israel was to "fear not" the Egyptians. Israel was to "fear not" their enemies. The shepherds were to "fear not" the announcing angels. We are to "fear not" because we are more valuable than sparrows. John was to "fear not" the Alpha and Omega. Over and over and over.

It's interesting, too, because, for the most part, these are things that should be feared. For instance, Jesus said, "Do not fear those who kill the body" (Luke 12:4). Now, wait a minute. Those who kill the body are scary! Joseph was told "Do not fear to take mary as your wife" (Matt 1:20). Yeah, well, uh, she's pregnant ... and it's not mine! That is something to fear. And Peter says something to wives that is totally ludicrous: "Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening" (1 Peter 3:6). Oh, come on, now, Peter! You just said there are things that are frightening. And then you say they shouldn't fear that. We're not talking about things that aren't scary; we're talking about really frightening things. It's not like a kid who is afraid of the monster under the bed. "Don't worry; there's no monster." No, we're talking about genuinely frightening things. Think Israel and Egypt, Israel's enemies, the king of Babylon, or "those who kill the body". Really scary things. In Revelation 2, John writes, "Do not fear what you are about to suffer" (Rev 2:10). That is, "Yes, you are about to suffer this, but don't fear it." Yes, this is gonna hurt, but don't let it scare you. Very real fearful things.

The reason that we are so often told to "fear not" is not that the things we fear are imaginary. It is that the things we fear are under the control of our God. Repeatedly God told Israel, "Do not fear, for I am your God." It is really quite amazing how many times He told them that in one form or another. Yes, those people are scary! Yes, those events are coming! Yes, these things will even be painful! But do not fear, because ultimately it is God who is in control and you really have no reason to fear these things. Fear not, then, because of God. He is over all that happens. You can trust Him.

So we look at imaginary or very real fearful things and get afraid. We fear persecution and loss. We fear sickness and pain. We fear trouble. We fear discomfort. And, you know what? It's all real and it's all likely. So God tells us, "Fear not, for I am with you."

Consider, then, what the Bible says on the other side. What fear should we have? You see, the Bible tells us to "fear not" a lot, but not always. What should we fear? "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt 10:28). Oh, it goes on.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (Prov 1:7).

The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate (Prov 8:13).

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight (Prov 9:10).

The fear of the LORD prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short (Prov 10:27).

In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge (Prov 14:26).

The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death (Prov 14:27).

Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it (Prov 15:16).

The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor (Prov 15:33).

By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil (Prov 16:6).

The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm (Prov 19:23).
The fear of the Lord is biblically mandatory. It is the beginning of knowledge. It is the means by which we turn from evil. It leads to life. And, as it turns out, it alleviates all those other fears.

Now, some will try to tell you that this "fear of the Lord" is "reverential awe" and not actual fear. I need to point out that, while it certainly does include "reverential awe", if that's all you think it is, you're mistaken. It doesn't fit, for instance, in that Matthew 10 verse. "Do not hold those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul in reverential awe. Rather hold Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell in reverential awe." No, not making any sense. The fear of the Lord is genuine and even reasonable fear. It turns us from evil. It prevents pride and arrogance. It turns us from the snares of death. It is a wise thing.

We tend to look in all the wrong places for things to fear. We consider worldly concerns fearful and feel warmly toward God. The Bible, on the other hand, commands the reverse. Because of who God is, we don't need to really fear all those very real worldly problems, but we had certainly better fear God. Conveniently, that fear has all sorts of beneficial results. We should work at fearing God, not our surroundings. That's a good fear.


Susan said...

As always enjoyed your sharing of a deep truth. Mickey & I came to realize, several years ago after his heart scare and then again at the death of our beloved Suzette, since it is God who gives us our very next breath of air in our lungs and the very next beat of our heart, and we trust HIM for that, then we can and DO trust HIM for everything. My fear is Luke 18:8b "Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" I am determined He shall find me in faith.

Stan said...

In the past I worked for a company that had annual layoffs. A coworker asked me, "Aren't you worried about losing your job?" I told him, "Here's how I see it. If God wants me to have this job, they can't fire me. If He doesn't, they can't keep me." In all things -- health, finances, employment, etc. -- that trust in God has served me well. My mistake is too often thinking that it depends on me.