When the bible commends to us the ‘fear of God’, it can initially be a little unsettling.
Attempts to play down the meaning of the word ‘fear’ in the New Testament can often be driven by fear. We may fear (for instance) that if taken literally, we will loose intimacy with God.
However, the greek word ‘phobos’ doesn’t give us any wriggle room here. It’s where we get the english word ‘phobia’ and not surprisingly means; panic flight, fear or terror.
But aren’t love and fear at odds? After all, doesn’t the bible say,
“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” (1 John 4:18 NLT)
So yes! Yet, we also read,
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10 NIV)
“Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1 NLT)
So how does fear of God – who is perfect love – take away fear?
To answer this question, let me firstly make the observation that whatever we fear, we serve.
William D. Eisenhower puts it this way in his article ‘Fearing God” in Christianity Today:
“Unfortunately, many of us presume that the world is the ultimate threat and that God’s function is to offset it. How different this is from the biblical position that God is far scarier than the world …. When we assume that the world is the ultimate threat, we give it unwarranted power, for in truth, the world’s threats are temporary. When we expect God to balance the stress of the world, we reduce him to the world’s equal …. As I walk with the Lord, I discover that God poses an ominous threat to my ego, but not to me. He rescues me from my delusions, so he may reveal the truth that sets me free. He casts me down, only to lift me up again. He sits in judgment of my sin, but forgives me nevertheless. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but love from the Lord is its completion.”1
Do you remember the first time you replaced a light globe? As you screw it in, you’re asking yourself, “Did I leave the switch on or off?” You have a healthy fear of electricity… and that moment when the globe lights up in your hand can be something of a shock (maybe literally). However, once it’s engaged, it provides the light we seek.
As light dispels the darkness, so love dispels fear. But first, we must insert the globe. A fear of God enables us to encounter the love of God, a love that dispels all other fears.