Faithlife Sermons

The Fear of the Lord

Hot Topics 2020  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  51:39
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The fear of the Lord is what happens when our human senses encounter a holy and almighty God. Our first reaction may be one of terror. But if you stay in His presence, the experience will transform you. Ultimately, it leads us to a deeper experience of worship.

In this year, 2020 our theme is “Seeing Spiritually.”
What a year it has turned out to be!
With the pandemic and then riots - fear is rampant!
But what is God doing behind the scenes?
This summer I am covering “Hot Topics.”
These are topics that people in the congregation have requested.
This morning’s topic was a question, “Is the fear of the Lord simply reverence for God, or is it something else?”
We are often told in church not to be afraid of God, but to have reverence for God.
However, when we read the Scriptures, the fear of the Lord sounds like plain old fear.
The children of Israel were terrified to go up on the mountain and meet with God.
How do we reconcile “our God, the consuming fire,” with our loving Heavenly Father who invites us into His arms.
The fear of the Lord is what happens when our human senses encounter a holy and almighty God. Our first reaction may be one of terror. But if you stay in His presence, the experience will transform you. Ultimately, it leads us to a deeper experience of worship.

Fear as an emotion

Deuteronomy 5:22–26 ESV
22 “These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more. And he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me. 23 And as soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders. 24 And you said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. 25 Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived?
Fear is the experience of being terrified!
What makes people afraid? Fire? Darkness? Loud noises? Mysterious beings that we can’t see?
Well, you have all of that in this passage. Is it any wonder that the people were afraid?
This is how the children of Israel were introduced to YHWH.

Fear. Emotional foreboding or dread of impending distress or misfortune. Often spoken of as the source of religion. Yet fear alone can never account for true religion, since men are impelled to draw near unto God, the object of their worship. One does not desire to come close to the being he fears.

Fear is that primal instinct toward self-preservation and self-protection.
We learn to be afraid of things which may harm us or which have hurt us in the past.
Elijah House teaches that some fears (phobias) are not associated with spiritual roots, they are simply learned behaviors which take time and patience to unlearn.
In one sense, fear is an emotion to which we need to pay attention because it might save your life.
There is also a “spirit of fear” over which we can take authority.
2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV
7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
The enemy wants to take a good thing and make it excessive.
When fear takes over we either become controlled by those feelings or we are paralysed.
Paul describes fear as leading to bondage (Rom. 8:15).
So how does such a bad thing as fear become a good thing?
Fear comes from encountering something bigger than you and beyond your control.
When do we see God’s people first learning what it means to fear God?
There was an event before the Mount Sinai experience which laid the foundation for the people’s fear of God.
We don’t fear what we can manage. Fear begins where our ability to control ends.
Fear happens when our senses become overwhelmed, when we are threatened and our reasoning tells us that whatever is happening might not result in our wellbeing.
Our body tries to respond by releasing adrenaline, increasing attention and blood flow to our muscles.
If we can’t meet the challenge, we look for a way out or we become paralysed.
Exodus 14:30–31 ESV
30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.
First, Israel was terrified by the Egyptians and by the Red Sea.
They were caught between a rock and a hard place.
Each threat had the power to overwhelm them.
But then, they learned that God had the power to overwhelm their overwhelming threats.
Now, the fear that they had of their circumstances is transferred onto God.
What we fear is a matter of what we perceive to be bigger.
Whatever or whomever we perceive to be the biggest and most powerful influence commands our respect and rules our fear.
Fear can also be an experience of awe and reverence.
So the God who terrifies us with His presence also inspires our faith and confidence. In that sense, fear becomes reverence.
Hebrews 12:28–29 ESV
28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.
It helps to know that God is on your side - or rather, that you are on His side!
That's the thing about reverence, to say that the fear of the Lord is only reverence misses the point; reverence is fear!
Have we “domesticated” God by making Him in our image?
Who is bigger, you or God? Silly question? But do you act like you know the answer?
Fearing God looks different as we learn to know Him, but it should not lessen.
Lat week my father preached the sermon. I don’t have to tell you that I have great love and respect for that man, but I also have a healthy sense of fear.
Forty years ago I could honestly say that I was afraid of him and that fear kept me from doing things that I shouldn’t. I always knew that He loved me, but I also knew what he would do to me if I got out of line.
Now, many years later our relationship has matured. I’m not afraid of what he might do to me (he seems pretty harmless). That fear is irrelevant because I’m not a child anymore. However, I still care very much about what He thinks. You could say that my fear has turned to reverence.
I may go on to do things that my father could not do, but I will never be greater than my father. Why? Because of origin. I can only be who I am because of him. He will alway be beyond me because he was before me.
It’s not a competition. I’m adding to his legacy as he has contributed to mine.

Fear as an incentive

Deuteronomy 5:27–29 ESV
27 Go near and hear all that the Lord our God will say, and speak to us all that the Lord our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’ 28 “And the Lord heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the Lord said to me, ‘I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. 29 Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!
There is good fear, and there is bad fear.
Fear as an emotion can either save your life or leave you paralysed and helpless.
Fear can be either terror or reverence; either way it is acknowledging that something or someone is greater than you.
Whatever you fear has power over you!
The Israelites at Sinai wanted to hear what God would say, but they didn’t want to hear it for themselves; they wanted Moses to go for them.
So they recognized God’s power and they experienced God’s deliverance but they also wanted self-preservation.
Isn’t that the struggle for most of us? We want to know God and have that good fear of the Lord.
We want to hear what He will say, but we also have the bad fear that is afraid of what will happen if we get too close?
Perhaps we should begin to sort out what is good fear and what is bad fear.
Bad fear makes you want to hide, good fear makes you want to respond.
Bad fear is disabling, good fear can be an incentive to want to do something.
Bad fear leaves you feeling powerless and helpless, good fear inspires hope and trust in God.
Fear is good or bad depending on what results.
Since the Fear of the Lord is good fear, let’s focus on the result of good fear.
Good fear is the basis for understanding.
Psalm 111:10 ESV
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!
What makes the difference between people who seem to know how things are and people who lack good sense or direction.
We would refer to these people as being “grounded.”
A “grounded” is person able to remain emotionally balanced and physically calm.
“Grounding” exercises help people to focus on tangible perceptions rather than their internal feelings to help anchor them in the present reality.
Bad fear is often an anticipation of what might be rather than a perception of what really is happening.
In counseling we call this giving perspective.
It means separating what is actually happening from what we fear may happen and facing each choice as it comes.
We often need the help of another person to separate feelings from reality.
Having someone outside ourselves to help us process and reflect can help separate to good fear from the bad fear.
Proverbs 1:7 ESV
7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
It takes a certain amount of good fear (in the form of faith and trust) to even recognize the bad fear and to get rid of it.
The way that we grow in faith and stability is to anchor ourselves in the reality of the One who is the Ultimate Reality.
We need the help of a Higher Power to change.
Good fear is the motivation for obedience.
Psalm 19:9 ESV
9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
If surrendering to Someone greater than ourselves is the path to security and stability, then this must also be the key to knowing how to live rightly.
In fact, that was the purpose of the Sinai encounter - God gave the people rules to live by.
God’s rules are not arbitrary, but they help us to know what is best for us and how to live in harmony with God and with others.
Bad fear makes us obey out of fear of punishment. Good fear sees rules as instructions from from our maker.
So in this sense, fearing God is simply recognizing God as the One who made the world and the One who knows best how it should operate.
Our part is to align ourselves with God. To work with God rather than opposing his will.
Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV
13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
The writer of Ecclesiastes questions everything in life, but his conclusion is it is better to work with God than against Him.
So what was God’s response to the people at Sinai?

Fear as a choice

Deuteronomy 5:30–33 ESV
30 Go and say to them, “Return to your tents.” 31 But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you the whole commandment and the statutes and the rules that you shall teach them, that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.’ 32 You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. 33 You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.
Relationships are based on good fear- It’s called trust.
In the end, God decides to communicate with Moses and that Moses should then communicate with the people.
Why? Because the people have more bad fear than they have good fear.
There is no basis for a relationship without some measure of trust.
If the people are afraid that God is going to hurt them, why would they believe or follow anything that He says?
Remember the Israelites were slaves and had a slave mentality.
They were used to fearing (bad fear) but they were not used to trusting.
Thy were used to appeasing their God’s, they were not used to loving God.
They were used to worship as hype, they were not used to worship as voluntary surrender.
They were used to doing what they were told, they were not used to obeying from the heart.
God is going to communicate with Moses because there is a trust relationship going all the way back to the burning bush.
Moses is going to spend the next forty years teaching the people how to trust God.
Fear in the Bible is a paradox.
Exodus 20:20 ESV
20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.”
How is it that the Bible tells us not to fear but to fear God in the same verse?
Obviously, because there is good fear and there is bad fear.
We need to resist the kind of fear that would keep us from God, but embrace His sovereignty, His majesty and His holiness.
This is a paradox, seemingly opposing truths that create a healthy tension.
A healthy, holy fear of God will transform you.
It will produce wisdom and understanding as you consider who you are in light of who God is.
It will move you to obedience and to aligning you life, your priorities and your actions according to God’s will.
Ultimately it will lead to worship as you allow your self to consider the God who is so far beyond you and yet who loves you so very intimately.
You have a choice to fear God, or to fear everything else.
You have a choice to see God as greater than yourself.
If you really think you have everything under your control you are in for a rude awakening
We have the choice to react with self-preservation or to put our life in God’s hands.
We have the choice to trust God and align with His will.
During a ministry training time in my young adult years, I was required to spend several sessions with a Christian counselor to become familiar and even comfortable with the counseling process. I chose to confront some inordinate fears that I identified in my life.
My counselor asked me to do a concordance study on the topic of fear in the Bible. I looked up every instance of fear in the NIV Bible and made lists of all the verses. Then I went thought and made notes on each verse. Looking over my notes I saw that the verses fit neatly into two categories. I put them in two lists of verses that were about the fear of the Lord and verses that were about people being afraid or being told not to be afraid.
At the next session my counselor asked me, “So what did you learn from this?”
“Well,” I said, “I learned that you can either fear God or you can fear everything else!”

Questions for reflection:

When you read the Bible’s instruction to “fear the Lord,” do you suppose that this means moving toward God or away from God? Do you see God as someone you would want to move toward? Why or why not?
Do you recognize the difference between good fear and bad fear? Can you see examples of each in your own life? How does focusing on good fear help with bad fear?
How much do you trust God? Does it comfort you or scare you to put your life in God’s hands? What will you choose - to fear God or everything else?
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