29 October 2007

The fear of the LORD--what does it mean?

Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name.
--Deuteronomy 10:20

What have we done to the fear of God? What does it mean? Have we kept a healthy fear of Him? Or have we diluted the phrase "Fear the LORD thy God" to the point that we see Him as a wizened old school principal, or the kindly old man we mow the grass for in the summer? In today's parlance, "Fear the LORD thy God" simply means, "You really need to listen to what He says. But you really don't have to be afraid of Him. Just have a healthy respect for Him." We have made the fear of God nothing more than pity for our Divine Papaw, or a muted reverence for that uncle that served in the war, but we don't visit too much anymore. We know he's there, we appreciate what he did, and we respect that. Well, isn't that nice.

"Fear the LORD thy God." People talk about their fears--"I have this awful fear of dying in a fire/stung by bees/drowning." Do these people approach water, or a beehive, or a bonfire, with a "healthy respect"? Or do they approach with abject terror? If we become deathly afraid of earthly things, should we not fear the LORD with an even greater fear? Or what did the writer mean when he wrote this caution in Hebrews 10:31—“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” He meant what he wrote. That we should have such an all-consuming fear of the LORD that we dare not return to our vomit once we have been purged of our sins.

Consider the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 10:28--"And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” What does that word “fear” mean? The Greek is φοβέμαι (phobemai), which means, “to fear, be afraid of one.” We get the term "phobia" from it. And should we not fear the One who can send us into an eternity filled with “wailing and gnashing of teeth?”

And should He not be feared even more by those who know Him? Philippians 2:12 commands us to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." For if a doctor is prosecuted and punished under human laws for negligence in his practice, how much more severely will we be judged when we misuse God's written word? Is that not what Paul told us in 2nd Timothy 2:15--"...study to show yourself approved, a workman who need not be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth."

King David said, in Psalm 34:8-9, "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him! Oh fear the LORD, you His saints! There is no lack to those who fear Him." Isaiah 66:2--"But on this one I will look: On him who has a contrite heart, and who trembles at My word." Yes, friends, we should return to having a healthy fear--not just a loving respect, or a sentimental attachment--but a good, healthy fear of the judgment that would have been ours had He not seen fit to save us from the eternal destruction that awaited us. He could have let the whole lot of the human race suffer unquenchable fire in the depths of hell. But instead, in His grace--not because of anything WE did to make ourselves appealing to Him--He was merciful to some, to show Himself glorious to all.

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