What does it mean to fear the Lord?
What does it mean to fear the Lord? How do we fear the Lord?
The fear of God is used in the Bible to describe the tender esteem, regard and love for the Lord as the Almighty and Good God. It isn't the same as the 'fear' as being afraid. Adam and Eve feared God after they heard Him approach in the garden but that was a deep dread to meet Him. But the 'fear of the Lord' that filled the heart of Abraham when he offered his son Isaac expressed his deep devotion and love for the Lord that he was willing to sacrifice his only son. (Gen. 22:12) In Ex 1:17 we read about the Egyptian midwives who 'feared God' and therefore refused to obey the orders of the king. Again, this fear of the Lord was their deep awe for the LORD whose anger they feared more than the wrath of their Pharaoh. It is hard to know whether there was love in their heart for the LORD God but we know for sure that the Lord blessed them for their actions.
So let me try to define the ‘fear of the Lord’ as the affectionate reverence with which the soul humbles himself as well as denies himself and carefully walks according to God’s revealed law out a deep love for Him. This essential ‘heart attitude’ is, I am afraid, often missing in so much religion today. If I meet people who constantly challenge the way we are living and what we are doing in terms of our behavior before God and men and seem to hold that we aren’t living in the 1800’s, I am afraid I meet someone who doesn’t really fear the Lord. Because if you fear the Lord, wouldn’t you want to stay away as far as possible from those things that displease or dishonor Him? Those that fear the Lord will be like Joseph, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9) Or take the example of Daniel, “He purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat…” (Dan. 1:8) For many ‘food and drink’ is neutral but that wasn’t the case for Daniel. He felt tender about offending God and drew his boundary line clearly. When God stopped Saul on the road of Damascus, he was undoubtedly filled with both fears at first. But the question “What wilt thou have me to do?” became the prominent question of his life and prayer. It revealed his deep reverence for the majesty of King Jesus and His holy will.
Even though the New Testament doesn’t mention the ‘fear of the Lord’ as often as the Old Testament, you can still find it. Check for example Heb. 12:28-29. There it is defined as ‘reverence and godly fear.’ Perhaps the more common word in the New Testament that corresponds with the fear of the Lord in the Old is ‘love.’ True love esteems, denies itself, seeks to please and holds the loved one dear.
If the fear of God is truly alive in our heart, it will also influence every department and aspect of your life and living. It will governs you in what you choose to do with your free time; what calling you will pursue in life; with whom you want to build a life-long relationship; how you will order your family life; in how you deny yourself also in the area of liberty. It becomes a life-motto that breathes through everything we do or are.
Lastly, many blessings are promised in the Bible to those that fear the Lord. Take the time (and use a concordance) to check all the references to the fear of the Lord in Proverbs. It truly is one of greatest blessings to have such a fear of the Lord in our life.
May I end with pointing out that the poet in Ps. 86 prayed, “Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.” Let it be your prayer.
Carterton, New Zealand