“Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways. You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.”
Fear! The word doesn’t conjure up very positive images does it? These days in our cultural context, parents don’t usually teach their kids to live in fear of anything and teachers don’t instruct their students to be afraid. So why should preachers stand in pulpits and preach the “fear of the Lord” to their congregations? That seems a bit incongruent with our image of a loving and gracious God.
The problem is that we misunderstand what the Bible means when it talks about this kind of fear. A better way to think of it is the old term used a generation or two ago: God fearing. That simply meant to have a deep reverence for God and a healthy respect for his laws. It did not mean to cower in terror because a capricious and vengeful Deity was fixing to squash you like a bug if you displeased him in the least. Rather, while acknowledging that disobeying God’s law would bring painful consequences (just try ignoring his universal law of gravity and see how that works for you), it recognized that obeying that very same law would bring life-giving benefits.
To live with a healthy and holy fear of God provided the foundation for a prosperous journey through this life as well as preparation for entering into the joy of the eternal kingdom in the life to come. The fear of the Lord was what enabled people to navigate daily challenges with good judgment and grace. And the icing on the cake for a fear-of-the-Lord approach to living was the promise that God would add fruit, blessings and prosperity to our lives. That’s not a bad exchange: Fear of the Lord for fruitfulness in life.
Too many people today are trying to live a God-blessed life without a God-fearing life. It can’t be done! Living without deep reverence for God and healthy respect for his laws, including awareness of the consequences of breaking them—will only produce the other kind of fear: fear that our past will catch up to us, high anxiety because of what we’re going through today, and terror of what might happen tomorrow.
But those who fear the Lord have nothing to fear! In fact, they have every good and perfect thing to gain. If you can wrap your life around what it means to be God-fearing, this gracious God himself will give you the life you’ve only dreamed of—and even beyond that.
“Shame arises from the fear of man, conscience from the fear of God.” ~Samuel Johnson