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The Fear of the Lord: God Matters

Ours is quite the secular age. The mention of God has been all but removed from the public square. One who truly believes in the God revealed in the Christian Scriptures and has a vibrant faith in him is looked upon as, at best, an odd duck in politics and academia.

While that makes for a sad state of affairs, what is even sadder are those who ar associated with the Christian faith who live as though God does not exist. Why is this? Is it not because they do not really fear God, regardless their protestations to the contrary?

The Bible speaks much about the fear of the Lord. Psalm 111:10 tells us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” Interesting—“all those who practice it have a good understanding.” Proverbs 1:7 puts the matter more negatively: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. “ We find in Acts 9:31 that “the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” The fear of the Lord had an impact upon the numerical growth of the church. Perhaps the reason was that the fear of the Lord provoked believers to have compassion for the lost: “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Corinthians 5:11).

So what is the fear of the Lord? The Protestant reformer Martin Luther explained it this way, “To knowledge belongs the fear of the Lord, so that, possessing knowledge, a man may fear to offend God lest he be puffed up. Thus the Christian man is fully equipped and a fit vessel of the Lord if he has wisdom, that is, purity of teaching, if he has understanding, that is, if he guards that doctrine pure and unimpaired, if he has counsel and if victory over temptation follows, if he leads an upright life with his brothers and uses all things to advantage and not as a stumbling block in the fear of the Lord. But where the fear of the Lord has been absent, the rest is easily perverted. This is a picture and description of Christ’s kingdom. These are his weapons. In this way that kingdom is extended and the twigs bear fruit” [Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 16: Lectures on Isaiah: Chapters 1-39, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 16 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 120].

To fear God is not to live afraid of God. Rather, as Luther wrote, it is to be afraid of offending God. It is to recognize that God matters. A lack of fear of the Lord reveals that God does not matter to that person.

To the person who fears God, everything in life is seen through the lens that God matters. What we believe, what we speak, what we learn, how we interact with others, how we view scriptural commandments—all these things matter, and they matter deeply.

If a person is sporadic in worship attendance, that person does not fear God. God does not really matter. To be sure, a hypocrite can be in church meetings every time the door is open and still not fear God. Not attending faithfully, however, is a sign that one does not truly fear God. The Bible exhorts us, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24–25).

It is the proud person whose life neglects God. He may claim that he loves God, but he puts off being baptized, attends worship infrequently, and gives begrudgingly, if at all, to the Lord’s work. She may claim to follow Christ but she sporadically reads the Scriptures, spends little time communing with God in prayer, and rarely, if ever, utters anything of a spiritual nature.

Life is short, and our lives end all too soon. We all will stand before a holy God. Who is the wise person? Is it not the one who fears the Lord, who recognizes that God matters?