Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom: Why do we Fear God?


The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
    To him belongs eternal praise. -Psalm 111:10 NIV

The scriptures read "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."  Wisdom is something we desperately need in our world.  We need it today especially.  We need it as the body of Christ on Earth.  

The scriptures are very clear: Wisdom begins with fearing God.  This offends our modern sentiments.  Why?  I suppose because we assume fear is a bad thing.  But is fear always bad?  Fear alerts us to danger.  Fear reminds us we are walking close to the edge from a steep height.  Fear keeps us within our boundaries. 

Of course fear can become out of whack.  Fear can overcome us, and become things like chronic anxiety, worrying, and even depression.  Fear can certainly be a bad thing.  But fear can also be a good and healthy thing.  It's part of our make up.  It helps us to flee when danger is near.

1 Corinthians 6:18 says "flee from sexual immorality."  2 Timothy 2:22 says "flee from youthful passions."  Once again, running from temptation flies in the face of our modern views.  We think we can handle it.  In fact we're told we can handle it.  We're told we deserve it.

Flee from sin!  And fear the Lord.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  As an early Christian I read right over that verse.  I didn't like it, so I ignored it.  But instead let's crack it open, see if it's true.  God's word is truth right?  Always.

Psalm 23:1-6 ESV reads,"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows."

The beautiful psalm reminds that we must not fear evil.  Again in Isaiah 41:10 it is written: "Fear not, for I am with you."  Many times in the scripture we are told to "fear not!"  So how then can we say to fear is good?  

Well, to me it seems like the scriptures are pointing to a fundamental truth about the human condition: Our poles are reversed when it comes to fear.  We fear the world, we fear people, we fear the future, and we fear the past.  But we don't fear God.  In fact even those who know there is a God don't seem too concerned when they break his commandments and shun his presence.  We've got a pole reversal problem.  

The proper state of fear is that we fear God and we are completely fearless in the face of the world and the future.  We're as bold as lions, we're filled to the brim with zeal.  There is nothing we cannot do before the unbelieving world.  But this zeal, this fearlessness and courage begins fundamentally with a fear of the Lord.

"The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm." -Proverb 19:23 ESV

The greatest book of wisdom in human history is a book called Proverbs.  It was written by a man named Solomon, and by several others.  King Solomon was the son of King David.  King David was called a man after God's own heart.  His son Solomon was made an offer by God, to ask him for anything.  Solomon was wise when he made this request: "Grant me wisdom Lord."  God was very pleased with this request, and granted the request to him.  

Solomon penned the words of Chapter one of Proverbs as such:
The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

for gaining wisdom and instruction;
    for understanding words of insight;
for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
    doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,
    knowledge and discretion to the young—
let the wise listen and add to their learning,
    and let the discerning get guidance—
for understanding proverbs and parables,
    the sayings and riddles of the wise.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Once again we see, in the very first chapter Solomon describes line by line all the various uses for the book of Proverbs. Then in verse 7 he gives his very first piece of wisdom: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge."

And again, in Psalm 34:8-14 (NIV) it is written: 
Taste and see that the Lord is good;
    blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
    for those who fear him lack nothing.
10 The lions may grow weak and hungry,
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
11 Come, my children, listen to me;
    I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Whoever of you loves life
    and desires to see many good days,
13 keep your tongue from evil
    and your lips from telling lies.
14 Turn from evil and do good;
    seek peace and pursue it.

It's quite certain that we are in need of the knowledge of the fear of the Lord.  I hope it will be your prayer tonight, to ask of God: "Teach me to fear you Lord." So what does it mean to fear the Lord?

1. To fear God means to tremble before the him. Psalm 2:11 (KJV) instructs us to: "Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling."  In Philippians 2:12 it says we ought to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.  The message spans both testaments.  To fear God means to tremble before him.  This is the aspect of the fear of the Lord that offends our modern sentiments the most.  We refuse to believe that fear should be any sort of motivator.  But the truth is that fear is an excellent motivator when used properly.  Understand that we are not fearing hell or torment or brimstone.  We are trembling before God.  This trembling motivates us toward action in our lives.  This fear instructs us of the proper place of God in our lives.  He is our master.  The current state of man is to assume that: "I'm the master!"  I can admit that.  I always thought that way.  I wanted to be in charge.  I tried to play God in my life, to force things to turn out how I wanted them to turn out.  Yet it never worked!  Trembling before God is acknowledging God's sovereignty. 

2. To fear God means to revere him.  To fear the Lord means we consider him completely holy.  We think of the Lord in sacred terms.

In the 1828 Noah Webster dictionary the definition of holy (in terms of describing God) is as follows: "Applied to the Supreme Being, holy signifies perfectly pure, immaculate and complete in moral character."

In understanding how good God is, we hold him in reverence.  We respect God.  We express emotional and intellectual reverence for God.  We are humbled by his vastness.  We are humbled by how complex he is.  We are humbled by the immensity of his creation.  We are amazed by God.  We are found to be in awe of God.  We find ourselves within the eternal love of God.  We find ourselves within the wonderful grace of God.  We are amazed, humbled, and found to be in our proper place as we kneel in reverence before the infinity of God, the complexity of God, the power of God, and the love of God.  

For it is written: "The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
    their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into jars;
    he puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
    he commanded, and it stood firm.

 The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
    he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
    the purposes of his heart through all generations.
  Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
    the people he chose for his inheritance. From heaven the Lord looks down
    and sees all mankind;  from his dwelling place he watches
    all who live on earth— he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do."

3. To fear God means to be inspired by his perfection. The result is that the fear centered on God reflects back to us in the form of ambition toward holiness.  Fear spurs us toward holiness, like the competitors in a basketball game inspire the players to level up their game.  

While I was in college at the University of Wisconsin campus extension in Wausau I worked for the college newspaper.  During 2008 I served as a staff writer and distribution manager.  I became very good friends with the editor that year, a young man by the name of Hans.  We had a mutual love for basketball.  We made it a habit to practice together regularly, which developed into one on one basketball games.  We'd be working in the office and it would come around to 10 or 11 pm and we'd go out to the courts and we'd play.  I always remember how the competition inspired me to play at my very best.  He was much better than me, but through the challenge of the struggle of the game, my skills rose to match his.  I had a new motivator to drive me toward excellence.  In a similar way, the fear of the Lord causes us to drive toward growth, holiness, and Christ-like perfection.  We seek the mind of Christ in the fear of the Lord. 

One could also say that the inspiration found in the fear of God is akin to being pursued by a monster.  The fear keeps us running at full speed.  But God is no monster.  A more apt metaphor would be that we are the (gratefully recovering) monster, pursued by the hero who justly guides us.  

But truly, to be inspired by the fear of God is simply to see reality as it truly is.  We are having a mini-revelation as to our own shortcomings in reflection of the perfection of God.  The natural response is to be filled with enthusiasm for becoming more like Christ in all things.  We are bowing to the actual truth of anthropology.  We are admitting the obvious facts of anthropology (the state of man.)  When we fear God we are acknowledging that we are sinful beings.  We are acknowledging to God, in humility, that we need his guidance.  

In humility we challenge the greatest weakness provided by the terrible gift of the evil one: pride.  Pride drove Satan to turn against God.  And Satan tempted the first humans with pride and they were deceived by it.  To this day our race is continuously deceived by pride.  Pride destroys our world.  Pride drives good men to do terrible things.  Pride turns men evil.  We are able to keep pride in check indefinitely when we remain inspired, humbly reverent, and fearful of God.  

I hope my language has not frightened you.  God is not primarily a God of fear, but primarily a God of love and mercy.  Yet God is also full of justice . He is entirely just and good.  He is pure.  Yet he is also so loving, to give us full grace, and further, adoption as sons into his family.  We have wonderful promises of God our creator in his son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  

Jesus Christ took our place on the cross, freeing us from sin.  Which is why it's so important that we put off all the sins of the body: sexual immorality, greed, pride, gluttony and envy; among others.  

The fear of the Lord is key when endeavoring to be freed from every sin that can hold us back.  Consider 2 Corinthians 7:1 (ESV) which states: "Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God."  We are instructed by the writer of 2 Corinthians to bring holiness into completion with this keystone: the fear of God.

But I think one of the most amazing benefits of learning to fear God is that we lose our fear of people and the world.  It just fades away.  With fear in it's right place, it evaporates from all the wrong places.  

If there is one universal for modern people, it's fear.  Fear and taxes.  Fear and debt.  But when we turn fear to it's correct location, we understand the truth.  Within the fear of the Lord, we find fearlessness before the world.  

In closing, the fear of the Lord is our strength. I encourage you to ask God to teach you to fear him.  Learn the fear of the Lord, and you will comprehend another immutable facet of life, the universe and God.  For it is written: "My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom
    and applying your heart to understanding— indeed, if you call out for insight
    and cry aloud for understanding,and if you look for it as for silver
    and search for it as for hidden treasure,

then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.

For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

He holds success in store for the upright,
    he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,

for he guards the course of the just
    and protects the way of his faithful ones."

Proverbs 2:2-8 (NIV) 

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