Do you want to be blessed? Who doesn’t? God desires to give us wisdom, knowledge, and hope. He seeks to bless us in many ways. And his blessings don’t rely on works, but rather on hearts that seek to please him. Scripture teaches us that God isn’t as concerned with our sacrifices and offerings as he is with our desire to serve and worship him in a spirit of holiness and reverence.
The psalmist wrote, “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him. You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours” (Psalm 128:1, 2). This Psalm promises that we will eat the fruit of our labor and acquire blessing and prosperity when we walk in obedience to God. We will obtain these things if we fear the Lord.
The Meaning of Fear
But what does it mean to fear the Lord? Does it mean to be terrified and to hold back? No. Neither does it mean to live in terror of stepping out of line, waiting for lightning to strike when you commit a sin. Such thinking is contrary to the teaching of the Bible. Paul wrote, “In him [Jesus] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12). We are not to shrink back or live in terror.
Even so, reverence is a requirement when approaching God. He is Yahweh, the Almighty, who loves us with an undying love, yet is just and cannot look on sin. He is the only one who can save us from our sins. That alone calls for our ultimate respect—to say nothing of things like his creative works, his power, his knowledge, and his ways, which are beyond our comprehension. He deserves our respect and honor. That is what is meant by “living in fear.”
The word fear in Psalm 128 is pronounced “yah-RAY.” While it means “to fear or to make afraid,” in the context of Psalm 128, it means more than just to terrify. It’s used to explain the idea of reverence. It is, in part, the idea that God is so powerful, so holy, and yet so loving and good, that he is worthy of our highest respect. Such respect and reverence is different from love. It’s possible for someone to feel love for God without truly fearing him. But when respect is lost, God is reduced to a friend, and nothing more.
Fear vs. Friendship
This isn’t to say we can’t have a friendship with God. Indeed, God is our friend. But we can’t reduce our relationship with God merely to a friendship. If we regard God only as a pal, a comrade-in-arms, or a cheerleader, we lose sight of who he is and ignore that he is sovereign. We become disappointed when he doesn’t follow through on what we think he should do or how we think he should act.
Perhaps it will help us to understand that even as God seeks to be honored, he also honors us. We might even say he reveres us. In Psalm 139:14 David wrote, “I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” In this passage, the word fearfully is the same word used in Psalm 128 in reference to the fear of God. Every human being is respected and revered by God for who they are, children of God created in the image of God.
God blesses those who fear him. In Ephesians 6:1-3 Paul referred to an Old Testament promise connecting reverence and obedience with blessing: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’”
Fear and Discipline
Unless your parents were unusually indulgent, it’s likely that you were disciplined when you were a child. Poor behavior brought unwanted consequences. Good behavior led to additional privileges. On a far more serious note, when we disobey God and fail to revere him, it leads to death. Eve was deceived by the serpent in the garden. Adam sinned along with her. The Bible tells us that it was through Adam that the human race fell and death entered the world. In that one instance, Adam disregarded God’s authority, failed to hold God in the highest regard, and went his own way. The world has paid the price for that sin ever since. Clearly, God takes his authority seriously. How much more pleasing is it, then, when we fear him, submit to him, and obey him as our perfect authority?
Fear and Wisdom
There is another upside to living in fear and realizing God’s place as judge rather than merely friend. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” James tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5). Peter wrote, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6). The Greek word translated “lift up” in this verse means “to exalt.” Exalting ourselves leads to pain and death. Having God exalt us is by far a better choice.
Why live in fear of God? Why revere and honor him? Simply because he deserves our fear, our respect, and our reverence. And because he promises to lift us up when we honor him in this way.
Daphne Stoltzfus is a freelance writer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.