A few weeks ago Ben Cobb delivered a thoughtful sermon on the meaning of the “Fear of the Lord” we read so much about in the Bible. If God is love (I John 4.8), and if there is no fear in love, for love casts out fear (I John 4.18), how can we be told that the fear of the Lord is a positive response? Ben did a great job exploring this question, drawing upon his experience as a football player to demonstrate how fear can unite and inspire, and that being a little afraid of someone is not prohibitive of loving them and depending on them.
I have known this first hand. The thing I remember first about my dad is that he was so much bigger. When you are two or three, and your dad towers over you – that is your first, and lasting impression. Even after I got to be an inch or two taller that he was it didn’t feel that way. Since it is usually your dad, not your mom, who throws you around, wrestles you, and generally offers himself up as your amusement park ride, most of us kids get an indelible impression of the insurmountable superiority in strength our dads have over us. That impression lasts beyond the moment when you are physically stronger than he is. I was never much afraid of my mom being angry at me, but I was afraid of my dad. I also never felt really safe at night unless he was home with us – which was not always the case since he worked shift work. I would have hated to have had a dad I wasn’t afraid of a little bit.
The best teachers, the best coaches, I daresay the best leaders in any endeavor have this quality – it is the by-product of strength. It is this quality that allows us followers to feel safe, secure, and confident.
Proverbs tells us that the beginning of knowledge and wisdom is the Fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1.7, 9.10). I would like to assert as well that the Fear of the Lord if the beginning of courage.
The LORD is my light and my salvation,
Whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the defense of my life,
Whom shall I dread?
In a phrase that is easy to miss, Peter says (I Peter 2.17b) “Fear God, honor the king.” Notice the difference in relationship. Honor to whom honor is due (Romans 13.7) certainly – but we fear no human authority. Jesus says to Pilate, “You have no authority over me, except what you have been given you from above (John 19.11). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego told Nebuchadnezzar “Our God, whom we serve is able to deliver us from this fiery furnace…and even if He does not, let it be known to you, O King, we will not serve your gods or bow down to the golden image you have set up, (Daniel 3.17-18).
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not tremble or panic for the LORD you God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1.9)
We are strong and courageous BECAUSE God is with us. His size and strength are overwhelming, superior. We are His children, we know. His size and strength are a little scary – but that makes us feel safe, confident, and courageous.
The Fear of the LORD is the beginning of courage.