Discipleship and the Fear of God, Part 2
The Characteristics of Disciple-Making Fear, by Annang
What are the features of the kind of fear that brings blessing and growth on the people of God?
Firstly, it is a God centred fear; it is a fear that exalts God among His people. Because it sees God as a “consuming fire”, it worships Him in the acceptable way (Heb 12:28). Godly fear does not play with fire. It is conscious of God’s holiness and does not take Him for granted: “The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread” (Is 8:13).
It all depends on how high or how low your view or fear of God is and how fierce or how tame He is in your midst. The more we try to make our God relevant to today’s circumstances, language and jargons, the more we make Him irrelevant as the exalted Lord Almighty. Godly fear knows who God is; and like Moses in the wilderness, or Isaiah in the temple, the person with this fear is filled with dread and submits unreservedly to Him. This fear enriches our worship. “In the council of the holy ones”, Ps 89:7 says, “God is greatly feared”. The holier God’s people are, the more His presence is tangible to them and the more they fear and worship Him.
Not only holiness but also love for God characterizes godly fear. Those who would love God fear Him more. “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut 10:12). This is the paradox of the Christian faith, that the more you fear God the more intimate your relationship with Him becomes, because the more of Himself that He reveals to you. We love Him less because we fear Him less.
Secondly, godly fear is a matter of the will more than the emotion. Perhaps this is why we struggle to fear Him today, because much of our Christian efforts and activities these days are geared towards strengthening and uplifting the human emotion rather than the human will. One of the strangest verses of the Bible is God’s assessment of Abraham’s faith in Gen 22:12: “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son”! You are right to ask, did God not know that Abraham feared Him until he attempted to sacrifice his son in faith and obedience?
In God’s economy, fearing Him is shown by your action and attitude of submission to Him out of faith. It is when you have given all in your hands to Him, when you have refused to cling to the little idols you hold so dear, when you have surrendered and obeyed Him to the uttermost sacrifice that God comes to know that you indeed fear Him. Tell me, does He know that you fear Him? Is God aware of your fear of Him? It is not your tears that show your fear, my friend; it is your act of obedience from the will.
Godly fear, my brothers and sisters, is shown when we refuse to doubt and question God even in the face of disappointments, loss of jobs, dear ones and things that we hold so dear. It is when we remain resolutely humble under His mighty hand through pain and suffering that we show that we fear Him. Godly fear is an act of surrender and submission to God’s all-knowing wisdom in dealing with us. It is a personal decision not to belittle God and rebel but to stay close to Him despite your disappointment. When Job was crushed and disappointed with the way God has dealt with him against all his expectations, he was encouraged by others to confront God, curse Him, and perhaps provoke God to anger so He would take him out of his misery. But Job refused to do any of these things. Why didn’t he? The answer is this: It is because Job feared God. He said “I am terrified before him; when I think of all this, I fear him” (Job 23:15).
People who get bitter against God when things are not going the way they had hoped and expected have lost this sense of fear for God. It is time Christians in the postmodern world learnt that no one can box Jehovah God into a corner and manipulate Him to their every whim. Sometime, somehow, your Abraham or Job moment will come; when God may appear to go against your plans and wishes, and you will have to show Him that you fear Him. When you submit and surrender your will to His, God will know that you do indeed fear Him.
Thirdly, godly fear is a matter of ethical behaviour. This iis the reason why in countries, homes, workplaces and schools where there is no fear of God, sin reigns. David sets out the characteristics of godly fear in Ps 34:11-14. Godly fear, he says, is keeping the tongue from evil; it is turning from evil to do good. If you fear God, people will know it when you refuse to gossip, lie and slander your neighbours. In Lev 25 the Bible says that fearing God is a matter of not taking advantage of your sister or brother (Lev 25:17); it is a matter of helping the poor and destitute among you and not demanding interest rates for the loans you give them (Lev 25:35-36) and not being bossy over your subordinates at work (Lev 25:43-46).
Fearing God is demonstrated by how you conduct yourself in your mundane duties at home, school and work. In Luke 18:4, Jesus speaks about a judge who didn’t “fear God or care about men”. Why is that? It is because frankly, this judge was lazy and didn’t want to do his work. He couldn’t be bordered because the poor widow would not pay him enough. So he went on strike! If he feared God, he would have got on with his duties of administering justice.
Godly fear is practical. If you really fear God, you should be winning “the employee of the month” award at your workplace more often!
But godly fear is not just a matter of ethical behaviour, it is also a way of thinking, it is a philosophical outlook to life itself. Fear of God does not entertain thoughts and worldviews unworthy of Jehovah. This is what Solomon meant when he wrote in Prov 1:7: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge”. The search for true knowledge, the Bible says, should have as its foundation the fear of God. Scientists who fear God will not propose and teach theories that suggest that He does not exist! Sociologists who fear God will not explain things away as if God is dead.
Economists or geographers or accountants or doctors or nurses or administrators or traders or cleaners or labourers or farmers or fishermen or the unemployed or mothers or fathers or daughters or sons who fear God will not behave as if God is blind or deaf. Our whole way of approach of life in this world, according to 1 Pet 1:17 should be characterized by godly fear: “pass the time of your earthly residence in fear”. How much we need this fear today to beexhibited in our homes, schools and churches.
In the final and concluding part, we shall consider how to cultivate godly fear in our lives and in our Churches.