Ok, we have talked about what fear of the Lord means, why it is important, and what it leads to, but what does fear of the Lord have to do with love? All of the characteristics of grace and truth that we have been looking at in this series are connected to having a healthy reverence, fear, and awe of the Lord. If you want to love like Jesus loves us, you need to be full of grace and truth. You need to embody those characteristics. To do that, you need to have fear of the Lord.
Love’s love is holiness. Love for God is founded on the moral beauty and perfection of His holiness. We love the greatness—the power and strength of God—because His greatness is guided and controlled by His holiness (I wrote a three part series earlier this year where I talk about this more in depth. You can read that series by going here). If love’s love is God’s holiness, fear’s fear is God’s greatness. The reasons we are told to fear God are all directly related to God’s greatness: His sovereignty, power, and knowledge. We fear God’s holiness because it is connected to his greatness. No one can stop God from being good, showing mercy, or bringing salvation. And the reverse is also true; no one can stop God from executing justice, righteousness, and judgment.
Look for example at Psalm 33:18-19, But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. The fear of the Lord is in knowing that God, and God alone, has the power to bring life and death, provision and famine. His power, right, and knowledge are unassailable by any opposition. Because He has such ultimate power, He is to be feared. As He Himself boasts in Isaiah 45:7 (NIV), I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.
“Now wait a minute,” you say, “What about 1 John 4:18 (NIV) There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love? What about all the times in the Bible where God specifically says to His people, ‘Do not be afraid?’ Like in Judges 6:23 (NIV) But the LORD said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”, and Revelation 1:17-18 (NIV) When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Isn’t what you are saying contrary to these passages?”
I don’t think so. Isaiah 11:1-3 (NIV), a prophecy about the coming of Jesus which
says that He would have a fear of the Lord. A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
And Jesus Himself teaches that His disciples should have a fear of the Lord. He says in Matthew 10:28 (NIV) Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
In Luke’s parallel of this passage, he says in 12:4-5 (NIV), I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.
The fear that passages like 1 John 4:18 are talking about is a fear that God was coming in judgment. For instance, 1 John 4:18 makes this very clear, There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. If you are in Christ, you are forgiven. There is no punishment to fear, its already been given at the cross. If Jesus could have fear of the Lord, then the fear must have been based in something other than the fear of punishment because He did not deserve any.
If God loves us, we do not need to fear His wrath being set against us for our sins because His saving love comes with His forgiveness. The fear that we are to have is a heartfelt acknowledgement of God’s awesome greatness and holiness.
Perhaps the person who said it best was C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when Susan asks Mr. Beaver if the Great Lion Aslan is safe. “Safe? Of course He isn’t safe! But He’s good.” God isn’t safe. He is not tame. He is not a play thing. He is the One who exclaims in Isaiah 46:8-10 (NIV),
Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.
Do you have this fear of the Lord? If you don’t, I don’t know what to tell you. If you know God, if He has revealed Himself to you, then you must have this fear. God wants you to have this fear. There are two places to go if you want to learn the fear of the Lord.
The first is looking to Scripture. Read passages like Isaiah 63:1-6 (NIV)
Who is this coming from Edom, from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson? Who is this, robed in splendor, striding forward in the greatness of his strength?
“It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save.”
Why are your garments red, like those of one treading the winepress?
“I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me. I trampled them in my anger and trod them down in my wrath; their blood spattered my garments, and I stained all my clothing. For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redemption has come. I looked, but there was no one to help, I was appalled that no one gave support; so my own arm worked salvation for me, and my own wrath sustained me. I trampled the nations in my anger; in my wrath I made them drunk and poured their blood on the ground.”
The second is looking to nature. A number of years ago I went on a camping trip in Florida with some friends of ours. Florida, of course, is the flattest state in the Union, so it was really more of an extended walk through the woods than a hike. I was in a one-man tent. Great thunder storm came through that night. It was amazing! The lightning lit up the night. It was blinding. The thunder was so loud! The wind blew against my tent. The wind was so strong, it rippled underneath my tent floor. I was very aware at how exposed I was. I felt so small. So insignificant. I remember being very conscious of the fact that God controlled the thunder, lightning, and the wind. Job 38:34-35 ( NLT ) Can you shout to the clouds and make it rain? Can you make lightning appear and cause it to strike as you direct? The only thing protecting me from the storm was my little tent. I remember hearing God speak to me saying, “My grace is like the fabric of your tent. Even the thinnest covering of My grace is strong enough to protect your life.” I spent the night learning what it means to fear the Lord.
The next time you see lightning. Think that God chooses where it strikes.
When you go to the beach, remember that God measures the sea in the palm of His hand.
When you visit the aquarium and you watch the sharks glide by, remember God says in Job 41:1-5, Can you catch Leviathan with a hook or put a noose around its jaw? Can you tie it with a rope through the nose or pierce its jaw with a spike? Will it beg you for mercy or implore you for pity? Will it agree to work for you, to be your slave for life? Can you make it a pet like a bird, or give it to your little girls to play with?
God is awesome. He is full of grace and truth. Therefore He deserves to be held in reverence and awe.