Do Not Be Afraid... Fear God!
Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid; for God has come in
order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so
that you may not sin." (Exodus 20:20). This is an interesting verse, and the one
from which the title of this article is
taken. At first glance, the title suggests a paradox in the counsel Moses gave
to the people. "Do not be afraid" and "fear of Him"
almost seems to be at odds with one another. They are not; rather, they
compliment one another.
"Afraid" Versus "Fear"
It helps to understand that there are different kinds of "fear". Sometimes it means to be cowardly. At other times it means to be terrified. At other times it means to have a reverent respect. When it comes to fearing the Lord, usually the Bible is using "fear" in the sense of reverential fear; to stand in awe of God. We need this kind of fear to be pleasing to Him. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever. (Psalm 111:10; see also Ecclesiastes 12:13). However, the Bible also tells us that to face God in judgment after a life of unrepentant sin will cause us to have "fear" in the sense of terror (Hebrews 10:26-31). This is a fear we should seek to avoid, and by God's grace through our faith, we will avoid.
Practical fear is understanding the consequences of certain actions and therefore avoiding them. As an old song says, "That's why you don't tug on Superman's cape" and "You don't pull the mask off the ole' Lone Ranger". A lack of this kind of fear can cause people to behave recklessly. A park ranger at the Grand Canyon once explained to a group of tourists why they should not show off by letting their legs dangle over the sides of the cliff, "We lose several a year" , he said. This kind of fear is not a negative thing at all. It is the fool who "has no fear" in this regard. And when it comes to the Lord and His commandments, again, it is foolish to "have no fear" in this sense. Practical fear comes hand in hand with knowledge. A baby has to be watched because he or she has not learned the consequences of dangerous behavior. On the spiritual side concerning our relationship with God, one who has fear understands the consequences of disobeying God and is not willing to, so to speak, "dangle his/her legs over the cliff" by testing God with sinful behavior. Instead, one who has practical fear seeks to avoid sin and neglect, and walk the path that God has appointed. Such a one appreciates God's mercy ad obeys His covenant (2 Peter 3:9,14,15; Romans 11:33-36).
Anxiety is also a type of fear. Anxiety is stress which comes from a lack of trust in God. Many times, it expresses itself in terms of hopeless despair and is often self incriminating. One may hold that he is inadequate for the tasks of life, and especially during times of difficulty become cynical and defeatist. Jesus said that there was no room for this kind of fear in the lives of His disciples. "For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? " (Matthew 6:25; see 6:25-34). A better comprehension of God's plan, what things are most important, the setting of higher goals and an unswerving trust in the love, care, power and wisdom of God to bring our lives to their very best possible conclusion here and to glory in eternity will help overcome anxiety.
Fearlessness is often thought of as a very positive trait. It isn't, at least not always. We have already discussed the dangers of having no fear when it leads to reckless and thoughtless actions. It also brings disaster when one has no fear of the Lord. When one ignores the warnings of living with contempt for God's word, he or she is inviting disaster. How accurate is the Psalmists portrayal of such a one! Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart; There is no fear of God before his eyes. For it flatters him in his own eyes concerning the discovery of his iniquity and the hatred of it. The words of his mouth are wickedness and deceit; he has ceased to be wise and to do good. He plans wickedness upon his bed; he sets himself on a path that is not good; He does not despise evil. (Psalm 36:1-4). Such a one is quite willing to flirt with disaster because of a lack of fear. Without repentance, the disaster will become permanent.
One who has proper respect for Almighty God possesses a holy and righteous fear which is good, clean and right. It brings about a proper regard for the will of God in everyday living. In times of trouble, it leads one to flee to the Rock of refuge we have in God. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindess, To deliver their soul from death and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. For our heart rejoices in Him, because we trust in His holy name. Let Your lovingkindness, O LORD, be upon us, according as we have hoped in You. (Psalm 33:18-22).This kind of fear lives and speaks according to the Lord's will. It may or may not be popular in society to take a moral, doctrinal or spiritual stand based on the Bible's teachings on a certain issue, but that is where one who fears the Lord chooses to stand (2 Timothy 4:2). In whatever culture and time, the Bible tells us who is acceptable unto God. Opening his mouth, Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. (Acts 10:34,35).
Love is a motivator in choosing to live our lives for God, but so is the right kind of fear. In fact, the right kind of love will cast out the wrong kind of fear. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. (1 John 4:17-18). Fear God. Keep His commandments.
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 10.8; August 2003