By William C. Sexton
Nehemiah, one of the men who made a great effort to restore true worship and service to the God of heaven in Judah after the captivity, revealed the true motivating force in producing acceptable and beneficial behavior: “the fear of God” (Neh. 5:15). We believe that such is the correct mental state to have as we perform religiously, and we would like to see evidence of such in more people today.
“Fear of God,” however, is often thought of as being a negative quality and consequently bringing harmful results. We would not deny that there is a sense in which this could be true; an examination of this is in order and understanding in this area is needed. Truly, there are harmful effects produced by “fear.” Many “fear” in a way that keeps them from living a full life, fruitful and enjoyable. Yet, we are convinced that proper respect for God is basic to a full life (Psa. 111:10; Job. 28:28). “He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever; holy and revered is his name. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.” They who do not have a “fear of God,” which is gained by reading His word and understanding His greatness and goodness, are not equipped to act and serve correctly in many important phases of life. Let us consider and re-evaluate the nature and fruits of different types of fear:
1. Realistic Fear. If one understands God’s word and sees the consequences of disobeying certain restrictions or of failing to live up to certain demands, if he obeys from fear, such is realistic fear. The fear encompasses admiration for the wisdom, mercy, and longsuffering of God (2 Pet. 3:15; Rom. 11:33-36; Tit. 3:5). Just as one who observes an approaching lion should be fearful, so he who contemplates standing before the God of heaven in disobedience has a realistic basis for his fear, (Heb. 10:31; 12:29). Only one without the ability to reason and calculate the conclusion would be unfearful.
2. Anxiety. For one to have a sense of inadequacy and such low esteem of himself or herself that they allow such to immobilize them – keep from doing the job that needs to be done – such is classified by Social Psychologist as “anxiety” and such is indeed harmful to each person who is so captured. However, such is condemned by the revelation of God, and should be so recognized by His children (Matt. 25:24-30). As spiritually minded and mature members of the Lord’s body we need to point to the detrimental effect of such and also point to the unscripturalness of such an attitude and mental state (Matt. 6:33-34).
3. Lack of fear, foolishly proud. If one sees no danger and acts freely as though there is nothing threatening his eternal safety and well-being, then he is foolishly proud being on the edge of destruction and not knowing it. Eternal destruction will be his destiny, although from all appearances he may be “having a ball,” he is insane, spiritually speaking. “Tribulation and anguish” awaits him just outside the prison gate, behind which he is held in captivity, to which he shall be transferred shortly, (Rom. 2:5-9).
4. Creative and dynamic fear. As Peter said long ago (Acts 10:34-35), the person who acts from the “fear of God,” doing what the Lord has said do, regardless of the nation, social standing, cultural background from which he has come, is accepted by God and will find “glory, honor, and peace” (Rom. 2:10) because God is no respecter of persons.
5. Fear directing – to be selective and active. Yes, we hope that the “fear of God” is moving us in two directions: (1) moving us to be selective in our behavior and activity – to please God; (2) moving us to be actively involved in the greatest work ever designed, that outlined in the New Testament: doing good unto all men and presenting the soul-saving-message in word and demonstration (Col. 3:16-17).
Beloved, have you committed your life to Christ, the Son of God? Have you gained a fear of God in the sense of awe and admiration, witnessing His power and goodness as He has dealt with mankind, as you read and meditate on His recorded dealings with us? Faith and fear of that sort will move you to repent, (Acts 17:30-31). Is there evidence of that fear creatively functioning in your life and destiny? That dynamically functioning fear produces confession in the Lordship and Sonship of Jesus (Rom. 10:9-10). Have such fruits been brought forth in your life? Having experienced the death to sin by repentance, one is buried with the Lord and raised to walk with Him (Rom. 6:1-6). Have you been raised through the operative power of God, from this watery grave (Col. 2:11-12)? Is that fearful force moving you to be selective in what you do and being consistent and determined in faithful services all day every day even if our life is threatened in efforts to stop us (Rev. 2:10)?
Yes, in short, beloved, are we motivated by the fear of God to do His will in being prepared to face the reality of eternity? If not, then we had better become motivated, before the time arrives that the opportunity is withdrawn. If there is no fear of God in our heart, manifest in our lives, then we have not reached the beginning of knowledge!
Truth Magazine XXIII: 41, pp. 666-667
October 18, 1979