What does it mean to fear the Lord? Should we really be afraid of him? Well, we should never minimize these words since they appear more than three hundred times in Scripture. But fearing God is not the same as living in terror of him. It’s more about having a proper reverence for him.
As with so many other truths in the Bible, fearing the Lord is a different thing than the earthly kind of fear we are all familiar with. It is a positive disposition, not a negative one. It’s a way of building our faith and deepening our relationship with God, not keeping us distant from him.
At its heart, fear of God helps us to say no to our sinful desires. It functions more as a way of protection than as a means of oppression. Parents instil a similar “loving fear” in their children. They teach their children to stay within certain boundaries of speech and behaviour so that they can grow up to be responsible, respectful adults. For their part, children know that consequences will follow if they cross these boundary lines. And so a certain “loving fear” lays the foundation for wisdom in the children. It’s in a similar way that Scripture tells us that “fear of the LORD” is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). Fear of the Lord is a tool that keeps us safe as we grow and mature.
And like all learning tools, it is helpful for only a time. Eventually, this godly fear should give way to love, because “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). This is a lifelong process, of course, but it’s encouraging to know that even godly fear can dissipate as love grows.
So let’s all take to heart God’s greatest commands: “Love the LORD, your God, with all your heart” and “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18).