Fear of the Lord

You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy
do not turn aside in case you fall.
You who fear the Lord, trust him,
and you will not be baulked of your reward.
You who fear the Lord, hope for good things,
for everlasting happiness and mercy.
Sirach 2:7-9

These days, we rarely hear pastors talk about fearing the Lord. For some reason, this topic turns off other people from coming to God. Yet, if we look at the biblical definition of this term, we will realise that we should indeed preach the fear of the Lord.

Scripture repeatedly says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. If only for this reason, we should preach the fear of the Lord. Because wisdom is the ability to discern the best in a given situation.

The book of Sirach is one of the wisdom books in the Old Testament. This book is unique in the entire scripture because it is the only book with a foreword. The foreword precedes the first chapter of the book. The first verse of the book begins with "All Wisdom is from the Lord and it is his own for ever."

It proceeds to talk about the fear of the Lord. When I prayed over this, I realised that the phrase translated as "fear of the Lord" does not really mean being afraid of the Lord. True, we have to be afraid of the Lord because he is Almighty and he will eventually judge us of our actions when our time comes.

But as I read on what the book says about the fear of the Lord, I get a different sense about the word fear. If we are to be afraid of God, why are we told to wait for his mercy? Why are we told to trust God? Further to this, if we are to be afraid of the Lord, why should we expect a reward? Why should we hope for good things and mercy?

I am not such a brave person. I am scared of rats. So when I see a rat I run away from the rat. The natural tendency of a person when fear creeps in, is to run away from the thing that causes fear.

However, if we read carefully the quoted verses we get a sense that the author in fact wants us to draw near to God. When a person asks for mercy, that person does not go away. That person approaches the one on whom he asks for mercy.

How can you trust someone you are afraid of? If you are afraid of something, you would in fact be more careful when you approach it. But here, the author tells us to trust in the Lord.

Finally, would you hope for good things from someone you are afraid of? The reason why we are afraid of something is because we believe that it will harm us instead of giving good things to us.

With these arguments, we then can conclude that fearing the Lord is NOT being afraid of him. Jesus tells us that the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our hearts, all our minds, all our hearts and all our strength. If we are therefore to love God, then we should not be afraid of him.

In love there can be no fear,
But fear is driven out by perfect love
because fear is to expect punishment
and anyone who is afraid is still imperfect in love.
1 John 4:18

We cannot love God and at the same time be afraid of him. I think the phrase translated as fear of the Lord actually means to stand in awe of the Lord.

To stand in awe of the Lord is to acknowledge and realise his infinite might and the the power of his love for us. I think that is why Paul prays that we will

have strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:18-19

So should we then preach about the fear of the Lord? I would say yes. Because to fear the Lord is to stand in awe of him. This is only possible when we are able to experience the power of God and the love of God. To experience his power and love, we have to totally surrender ourselves to him. This is the only way to get ourselves to wait for his mercy, trust in him and to hope in good things.

May the Lord give us his Spirit so that we can indeed stand in awe of his power and greatness.