The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Do you know the fear of God? That is a strange question to some. Aren’t we supposed to rejoice in God’s grace, love and mercy? Are we supposed to be afraid of Him? Is that biblical?
Well, it may surprise you to learn that it is biblical. Paul said “knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…” 2 Corinthians 5:11
Other translations use the word “fear”. Perhaps they wanted to soften the idea of being ‘terrified’ but the Greek word that Paul used is PHOBOS (from which we got our word phobia of course). It means panic, flight, fear, the causing of fear, terror and comes from phebomai, “to flee, withdraw”.
If you have a phobia of spiders you will probably experience a rising sense of panic and run away when you see one. So you can grasp the meaning of this word.
Paul leads up to this statement, about knowing the terror of God, by speaking of his judgement. (Please note, I use the British spelling of the word JUDGEMENT)
2 Cor 5: 9-10 Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must ALL appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
Thus the context of this terror is the reckoning, accounting and consequent praise or rebuke that we will all undergo at the throne of God eventually.
Christians, Do Not Be Complacent
We know that those who have not availed themselves of the redemption offered in Jesus will have no way out, but will have to carry the just penalty for all they have said, thought and done.
But Christians are not exempt! We will likewise stand before the judgement-seat of Jesus Christ. He is our Master as well as our Saviour and we owe him our service. Not all servants will be praised, but the lazy, selfish, mean-spirited and consistently disobedient ones will receive His rebuke.
The way in which we have used the ‘talents’ he gave us, and the conduct of our lives will certainly be open to question there, albeit in no way leading to rejection or damnation. But some will be saved “as through fire”.
1 Cor 3:12-15 Now if anyone builds on this foundation [Christ] with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Could it be more clear?
The Bible talks about the Judgement Seat of Christ – also referred to as the ‘bema‘ in three places: Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 3:10–4:5; and 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. The Church will appear at that judgement seat, as shown in 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”
Both Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:9 speak of the judgement seat. This is a translation of one Greek word, the word bema. While bema is used in the gospels and Acts of the raised platform where a Roman magistrate or ruler sat to make decisions and pass sentence (Matt. 27:19; John 19:13), its use in the epistles by Paul, because of his many allusions to the Greek athletic contests, is more in keeping with its original use among the Greeks.
This word was taken from Isthmian games where the contestants would compete for the prize under the careful scrutiny of judges who would make sure that every rule of the contest was obeyed (cf. 2 Tim. 2:5). The victor of a given event who participated according to the rules was led by the judge to the platform called the Bema. There the laurel wreath was placed on his head as a symbol of victory (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-25).
In all of these passages, Paul was picturing the believer as a competitor in a spiritual contest. As the victorious Grecian athlete appeared before the Bema to receive his perishable award, so the Christian will appear before Christ’s Bema to receive his imperishable award. The judge at the Bema bestowed rewards to the victors. He did not whip the losers. We might add, neither did he sentence them to hard labour.
While we won’t be condemned for our sins, our present lives do affect what will happen at the Judgement Seat of Christ. Here’s how:
Sin and indifference in this life rob us of our present desire for serving the Lord. That in turn means a loss of rewards, because we will not have used our time to His glory. That is why Paul exhorts us to “be careful how [we] walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of [our] time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16).
- Sin and indifference result in a loss of power in our lives because sin grieves the Holy Spirit.
- Sin and indifference cause us to pass up opportunities for service, which we would otherwise perform and be rewarded for.
The greatest consequence of unfaithfulness here on earth is that it disappoints Christ. First John 2:28 says, “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” That is a sobering thought: we could be ashamed as we stand before the Lord.” [Source]
But let’s move away from the topic of judgement, and look at the fear of the Lord in general.
The bible says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10 and compare. Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10; Ecclus. 1:16; and also Job 28:28). This means, genuine spiritual and lasting wisdom is not found in keen insight, nor wide experience, nor book learning, but in an attitude of reverence and awe towards God.
Those who have come to revere and worship God properly, knowing his greatness, are more inclined to make sound decisions without trusting to their emotions or desires. Indeed, they tremble to trust in the flesh, knowing it to be so fragile.
Nobody who encounters the Living Lord remains the same.
Those who Met the Lord
Throughout the word of God, those who met the Lord reacted with that very same ‘terror’ that Paul mentioned in Corinthians – and rightly so.
The ancient people of God feared they would DIE if they saw God. They had experienced his overwhelming power. They had known his severe wrath. They had no illusions about the penalties for offending this mighty Lord. “He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honour and everlasting power.” 1 Tim 6:15-16
And who were these appearances, if not the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus? For he states that “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.” [Thus showing that He, Jesus, is God] “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He [Jesus] has seen the Father.” John 6:45-46
The God who talked with Moses on the mountain was the Lord Jesus; The Lord who visited Abraham at Mamre was Jesus; the ‘Man’ who wrestled with Jacob was Jesus; the ‘Man of God’ who appeared to Manoah’s wife to tell her that she would give birth to Samson was Jesus! (Judges 13:3-6) And so on.
Why therefore do we scale down Jesus in our modern minds to make him less powerful, less glorious and less FEARSOME and worthy of awe?
2 Cor 5:16-17 Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.
Let’s beware of humanising Jesus Christ unworthily. Let’s not fall into the error (as some do) of portraying the God of the Old Testament as a different Being, and imagining that Jesus Christ is a much softer, tender-hearted and more lenient God than previously. Jesus Christ does not change!
He is the same yesterday when he created the earth, today as he sits at the right hand of Majesty, and tomorrow when he will come as awesome Judge. Jesus Christ and the Father are ONE. Yet we do not at this time see the Father:
John 1:18 states, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” So man has only seen the Son of God, not the Father.
The only reason we do not see God in absolute glory is that we could not endure it for one second. God at first condescended to fellowship with Adam and then mankind in the form of a man (for we are made in his image) and then stooped even lower to be born of a woman, and lower yet to be crucified on a cross for our sins. This is how infinitely loving and humble God is.
Phil 2:5-11 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Yet those who did see Jesus fell down at his feet.
Moses was called to speak to God on the mountain, but the ordinary people were terrified.
Exod 20:18-19 All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.”
Gideon feared that he would die when he met the pre-incarnate Jesus:
Judg 6:22-23 Now Gideon perceived that He was the Angel of the LORD. So Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord GOD! For I have seen the Angel of the LORD face to face.” Then the LORD said to him,”Peace be with you; do not fear, you shall not die.
Daniel fell on his face:
Dan 8:15-17 Then it happened, when I, Daniel, had seen the vision and was seeking the meaning, that suddenly there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, who called, and said,”Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.” So he came near where I stood, and when he came I was afraid and fell on my face.
Ezekiel did likewise:
Ezek 3:23 So I arose and went out into the plain, and behold, the glory of the LORD stood there, like the glory which I saw by the River Chebar; and I fell on my face.
The Roman guards fell backwards at the word of Jesus when he pronounced the divine name I AM. Even they were awed by the glory of God.
John 18:5-6 Now when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
Acts 9:3-4 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.Then he fell to the ground.
John of Revelation also fell “as one dead” when he met Jesus in glory:
Rev 1:16-17 His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid…
The true glory of God is impossible for man to comprehend. We can only stand in his presence by divine favour. Do you realise that God has to humble himself to your level to interact with you, to protect you from the full consequences of his incredible power? Yet we belittle this fact, even take advantage of it!
Our Modern Comfortable Jesus
In rather the same way that the Catholic Church turned to a motherly woman (Mary) in preference to a holy and – to them – distant male God, we today have reinvented Jesus according to our needs. We want Him to be harmless and friendly all the time!
We have lost our awe of God and turned to a new version of Jesus primarily as our focus of worship (which is not actually biblical, for we pray to the Father in the Name of Jesus the Son. The ministry of the Son is to lead us to the Father! They are indeed ONE, yet you will find both unity and separateness in the bible. Jesus Christ accepted prayer and worship but he never sought to replace the Father in our adoration. Intriguingly, the bible says that at the very end, when all is made subject to God the Father, then Jesus Christ the Son also will “be subject to God the Father.”)
1 Cor 15:27-28 “But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.”
God Scares Us
Perhaps people find God the Father too forbidding and remote? Perhaps he’s just a little too scary and holy for their modern-day comfortable Christianity?
Whatever it is, many have created for themselves an all-forgiving, ever-loving approachable Friend called Jesus whose main task seems to be, helping people enjoy themselves and be blessed. Indeed, some treat Jesus Christ more as the servant than the Master!
God seems to have become, to many today, an inexhaustible Fount of provision, at the beck and call of the saints, instead of the glorious (and terrible) Person who caused Israel to tremble and knocked the sinner Paul to his knees.
It sickens me to see modern depictions of our Lord as a surfer-guy, or this smiling cool dude with an “I love Father” tattoo! It has led, also, to the disgusting situation of women going “out on a date” with this humanised ‘jesus’ and even (perish the thought) having carnal relations with him – I hardly dare write those words because they are so very offensive to my mind, but I want to alert you to how far this has gone.
Far from falling on our faces, people are now happy to drag Jesus into their human depravity, and expect him to laugh along with the party crowd or at least turn a blind eye.
It will be an unbearable shock when they really do meet God, and some will be ashamed in his presence. How much better, to catch a glimpse of this fearful LORD, and adjust our perceptions while on earth rather than waiting until reality bites us in the essentials.
God IS fearful, as well as loving and merciful. He doesn’t want us to be so terrified of his power and holiness that we never dare to approach him, but nor does he want us to lose our awe of his greatness. It is far better to retain our respect of God’s power and greatness, and humble ourselves before him, than to slap him on the shoulder as our best mate and expect him to go along with our plans.
As always with God, there are two sides of the coin: justice is balanced with mercy; holiness with grace; dominion with humility; and therefore God’s glory is balanced with his condescension as he lovingly deals with mankind. Let’s keep everything in perspective.