Fearing God

In 1 Peter 2:17, we find a command that is very simply stated:  “Fear God.”  There are about 100 passages in the Bible that refer to the fear of God.  What does this concept mean?  What does it say about our approach to God?  How does fearing God look in daily living?  This lesson has three parts: some definitions on fearing God, some presuppositions for fearing God, and some applications from fearing God.   

Let's consider some definitions on fearing God.  First of all, to fear God can mean to recognize God.  Abraham tried to justify his actions before a king by saying, “Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will kill me on account of my wife” (Genesis 20:11 ).  Being in the land of pagan king, Abraham said he thought that there would no recognition of Jehovah God among those idolatrous peoples.  Another similar passage in found 1 Kings 8:43 where Solomon prays at the dedication of the temple: “Hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, that all peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this temple which I have built is called by Your name.”  Solomon wants other peoples to know God’s name and to recognize Him as the true God above all gods.  Definition one: fear as recognition.

Secondly, to fear God can mean to be terrified by God.  Jeremiah 5:22-24 state: “’Do you not fear Me?’ says the Lord.  Will you not tremble at My presence, Who have placed the sand as the bound of the sea, By a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass beyond it?  And though its waves toss to and fro, Yet they cannot prevail; though they roar, yet they cannot pass over it.  But this people has a defiant and rebellious heart; They have revolted and departed.  They do not say in their heart, ‘Let us now fear our God, Who gives rain, both the former and the latter, in its season.  He reserves for us the appointed weeks of harvest.'”  Will you not tremble in My presence because I can flood your city and bring drought to your crops in a heartbeat?!  This is the fear that is terrorized by God’s magnificent powers!  In Mark 4:39, we read, “Then Jesus arose and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’  And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  But He said to them, ‘Why are you so fearful?  How is it that you have no faith?’  And they feared exceedingly [i.e. they were scared to death] and said to one another, ‘Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!’”  Isn’t it interesting here that “in the awesome power of Christ the disciples met something more frightening than what they had encountered in the storm” (Sproul)?!  Definition two: fear as being terrified.

Thirdly, to fear God can mean to respect, reverence, and honor God.  Psalm 96:4-6 declares: “For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods.  For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the Lord made the heavens.  Honor and majesty are before Him; Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.”  Red McCain once told about a fellow worker who was electrocuted on the job.  Now those working with him could not just go over and pick him up to carry him away.  Oh no, there were some special safety precautions that had to be made before they could even touch him.  Why?  Because all the workers had a healthy respect and reverence for voltage!  Now please look at Malachi 2:5-6: “My covenant was with Levi, one of life and peace,  And I gave to him that he might fear Me; So he feared Me And was reverent before My name.  The law of truth was in his mouth, and injustice was not found on his lips.  He walked with Me in peace and equity, And turned many away from iniquity.”  Here we see that reverence for God is underscored, but that reverence also leads to doing things that would bring honor to Him.  Definition three: fear as respect, reverence, and honor. 

Now let's consider some presuppostions for fearing God.  What does fearing God say about our approach to Him?  What are some assumptions that can be made before we can begin fearing God?  What are some of the requisites or presuppositions for fearing God?  Let’s look quickly at three. 

First of all, we can't tame God.  Turn over to Exodus 19:18 “Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire.  Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.  And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him by voice.  Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai , on the top of the mountain.  And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.”  Now drop down to verse 24: “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Away!  Get down and then come up, you and Aaron with you.  But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, lest He break out against them.’  So Moses went down to the people and spoke to them.  And God spoke all these words saying: ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt , out of the house of bondage.  You shall have no other gods before Me.”  A tape recording of all this would have been great!  And then God speaks the rest of the 10 commandments amid all the other tremendous noises.  Now note verse 18: “Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off.  Then they said to Moses, ‘You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.’  And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.’  So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.”  What a majestic and terrifying experience this must have been for the Jews in order that they would fear God and not commit sins!  No, brothers and sister, this is a God that we can’t ever tame!  It’s like the lion Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia: “He’s a good lion, but you can’t tame him!”  With this God, all things are possible!  Our very lives are in His hands.  No, we can never tame Him!

Secondly, we can't teach God.  Now let’s read Deut. 4:7-10: “For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him?  And what great nation is there that has such statures and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?  Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.  And teach them to your children and your grandchildren, especially concerning the day you stood before the Lord you God in Horeb, when the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to Me, and I will let them hear My words, and they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.”   The law was to be read to teach the Jews about God and to stimulate fear, and then they were to teach its precepts to their children and grandchildren.  God was the Teacher, and the Jews were the learners, and those roles could never be switched!  God has no need of our teaching Him anything; like Job learned, we are not qualified in any shape, form , or fashion to open our mouths and instruct the Almighty!  Such humility is a prerequisite to our fearing God.

We can't trump God.  Now please turn to Jeremiah 32:36-41: “Now therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, ‘It shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence.  Behold, I will gather them out of all countries where I have driven them in My anger, in My fury, and in great wrath; I will bring them back to the place, and I will cause them to dwell safely.  They shall be My people, and I will be their God; then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them.  And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me.  Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.’”  Just look what God has done to bring about our salvation—He restored the Jews to their land so a Savior could be born there, He gave us all one heart and one way—and isn’t it interesting that in the book of Acts, Christianity is called “The Way”, He gave us a new everlasting covenant which Jesus ratified with His own blood, He has planted us in the church.  HE did it, HE made it happen with all His heart and soul, HE controlled all the history and the nations involved, HE gave His Son to put that new covenant into effect!  God did so much to save us, that we can never do more in our lifetimes collectively than what He did over the centuries to make our salvation possible!  We will never be able to outdo what He has done!  We can’t boast before Him, we can only stand in respectful and honorable awe at all that HE accomplished for our blessing and hope.  In no way, can we ever trump Him!

“Ok, Preacher, interesting definitions and an adequate presuppositions, but what does fearing God look like in daily life?  What kind of a life flows from fearing God?”  Alright, let’s turn over to Acts chapter 10.  Let’s begin reading with v. 1.  We see from verse 2 that Cornelius is described as “a devout man who feared God”  So, what does Cornelius do that is worthy of our imitation?  There are eight actions.  Let’s read the rest of verse 2: “who gave alms generously to the people and prayed to God always.” 

First of all, fearing God means helping others, especially those who are poor.  This well-paid Roman officer was not materialistic, but was showing a living faith by doing more than just saying to the needy, “Be warmed and filled.”  Many times, you as a congregation don’t often get to meet some of the needy that we help as they pass through our city; already this year, some have been fed, some have been housed, and some have been given fuel.  Such generosity is fearing God.

Secondly, fearing God means being prayerful.  Cornelius had adopted the Jewish custom of praying daily at 3:00 p.m., which was the time for daily prayers at the Jewish temple.  An angel tells Cornelius in verse 4 that his prayers had not gone unnoticed.  Let’s follow Cornelius’ good example.  Maybe we should even set a regular time for our prayers.  As the old hymn states: “Oh, how praying rests the weary!  Prayer will change the night to day.  So when life seems dark and dreary, don’t forget to pray.”  Those who fear God are regularly in communication with God. 

Thirdly, fearing God means obeying God’s Word.  And angel appears to Cornelius and instructs him to send for Peter.  If we look in verses 7-8, we see that Cornelius did not hesitate, but immediately sent three people to find Peter.  A minister uses this method when he studies the Bible with people.  On a sheet of paper, he puts three columns.  Under one column is the biblical text written exactly as it is in the Bible.  In the next column, he asks the person he is studying with to write out what they think the biblical text means in their own words.  In the third column, each sentence begins with the words “I will …”  You see it’s not just enough to read the text and understand it, but how will we apply it to our lives?  Obedience shows our desire to honor God.

Fourthly, fearing God means having a good reputation.  When the men find Peter, note what they say to him in verse 22, “Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews was instructed by and angel to summon you to his house, to hear words from you.”  Fearing God means having a good reputation.  Remember that one of the qualifications for an elder is that “they have a good testimony among those who are outside” (1 Timothy 3:7).  One man had been nominated to serve as an elder, and one of the elders went to the local diner to ask others what they knew about this man.  “Oh,” said one, “I don’t’ think you’d want him serving as a church leader; his employees say that he’s a bear to work under.”  And others around the table nodded in agreement.  After these remarks were later verified by further investigation, the candidate was not allowed to serve as an elder.  His daily practices in his business had hindered him from having a good reputation among others.  What kind of reputation are we making for ourselves?  I didn’t know the Iman Browns, but their good reputation has been mentioned to me already by several members here.  Fearing God means striving to have a good reputation.

Fifthly, fearing God means sharing your faith.  In verse 24, we discover that Cornelius had called all his relatives and close friends together to hear what Peter would say.  Cornelius realized that Peter’s message would be an important one, so he wanted others to share in its significance.  Are we sharing our faith with others?  Do we share with others how Jesus has helped us and how the church here has been a blessing to us?  We have another gospel meeting in April?  Will we invite anyone to attend?  Sharing our faith with others shows that we want to honor God.

Sixthly, fearing God means showing reverence.  When Peter enters the room (v. 25), we see that Cornelius falls down at his feet and begins to worship him!  Cornelius was a man of authority himself, but he realized that someone greater than himself was coming to him, so he tried to honor him by humbling himself before him.  Cornelius may have worshipped the wrong person (in fact, Peter quickly corrects the situation), but he had the right idea.  When we come before our Creator to worship each time in this place, do we have the same attitude as Cornelius did?  Do we realize that we are coming before God our Maker, Christ our Sustainer, and the Holy Spirit our Comforter?  As we willing to humble ourselves before the God of gods, the King of kings, and the Spirit of all spirits?  Like Cornelius, let us show reverence when we come into the presence of Divinity!

Seventhly, fearing God means seeking God’s will together.  In verse 33, Cornelius says to Peter, “Now, therefore, we are all present before God to hear all the things commanded you by God.”  Cornelius and all those with him were anxious to learn about what Peter had to share with them from God.  They were eager to discover God’s will together.  May this be our attitude as well.  May we be anxious to learn and to discover God’s will together.  Our Bible classes here for all ages have much to offer!  We not only have some excellent teachers but also some really great class activities and discussions!  It’s wonderful when we can all explore together the riches found in God’s Word, the ways its teachings can be applied to our lives, and the victories others have achieved by doing things God’s way.  Fearing God means seeking God’s will together.

Lastly, fearing God means understanding Jesus.  Peter's message to Cornelius and his friends is about the One God sent to Israel to preach peace Who is now truly the Lord of all (v. 36).  Jesus will be the Judge of everyone, and all who “believe in Him will receive the remission of sins” (vv. 42-43).  Peter then concludes his message in v. 48 by “commanding Cornelius and his listeners to be immersed into the name of the Lord Jesus.”  A command that Cornelius and those with him again immediately obeyed.  Fearing God means understanding Jesus and making Him the Lord over our lives.

There one other thing that Jesus did that Peter did not mention.  Isaiah prophesied it in his book.  Let’s look at chapter 11, beginning with verse 1: “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.  The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.  His delight is in the fear of the Lord.”  Jesus’ delight was in fearing God.  It sounds wonderfully paradoxical doesn’t it?  Being respectful, reverent, and awe-filled before His Heavenly Father was Jesus’ joy.  Jesus wants that delight to be our joy as well.  That’s the abundant life that He offers to each of us right now.  May we delight as we strive to follow Christ to truly fear the Lord God Almighty, Who was, Who is, and Who forevermore shall be!

                                                                                                        Last updated on 3.8.08