I remember vividly the fear I experienced the first several weeks after graduating from college. My life was marked by uncertainty. I was fearful of the future and afraid of making the wrong choice about which path to take. I was fearful about where I was going to live or if I could make ends meet as college loan bills began looming over my head. Honestly, I was even fearful about whether or not I would find a wife after coming up dry from four years of attending a Christian college.
It was at that time the Lord graciously led me to do a personal bible study on the “fear of the Lord.” I was familiar with the concept but actually knowing how to apply it was foreign to my life experience. I was aware that the Bible declared some version of “do not fear” hundreds of times (some say 365 times, one command for each day of the year), but I was oblivious to the fact that the Scriptures testify to “fearing God,” or “the fear of the Lord” approximately 105 times. Of the multitude of verses I explored there was one that struck me and began to reframe my perspective of fear in relation to God.
Psalm 111:10 declares, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” (ESV)
A couple of definitions are helpful here to determine our direction of understanding and to live out this crucial command. First, to fear something, or someone usually has negative connotations. Merriam Webster defines fear as “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.” 1 Now to be sure, this perspective can apply to God when it comes to the dread of judgment and punishment to the disobedient and unrepentant. As Hebrews 10:31 warns, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Yet, the “fear of the Lord” maintains a perspective not of punishment but of piety. In other words, to fear God is essentially the “the act of worshiping and obeying Yahweh.” 2
A.W. Tozer, in this classic book on the attributes of God, Knowledge of the Holy summarizes,
“The greatness of God rouses fear within us, but His goodness encourages us not to be afraid of Him. To fear and not be afraid – that is the paradox of faith.”
Or as the English preacher and theologian, Charles Bridges profoundly cited, “But what is this fear of the Lord? It is that affectionate reverence, by which the child of God bends himself humbly and carefully to his Father’s law.”
“But what is this fear of the Lord? It is that affectionate reverence, by which the child of God bends himself humbly and carefully to his Father’s law.” – Charles Bridges
This ties back into what Psalm 111:10 declares and highlights a curious phrase that has captivated me ever since. It refers to the “fear of the Lord” not only as the beginning of wisdom, but as something that can, and ought, to be practiced. How can fearing God be something that we practice? While the ESV offers this unique translation of this loaded Hebrew verb, other translations help us uncover the core meaning of obedience. The NIV says that a good understanding comes from “following his precepts,” and the NASB declares that understanding comes from those “who do his commandments.” The Hebrew word also conveys the idea of expending considerable effort and activity in any task or endeavor. In some contexts possibly involving skill or special knowledge with a focus on creating or fashioning an object. 3
Putting this all together, we tend to follow whatever we fear. This may seem counterintuitive since we often think that we want to avoid what we fear. While this is true in some contexts, more often than not our lives are formed by what we fear. For what we fear is what we revere, and our lives will be a response of whatever we revere most. If the object of our fear is a person and their opinion of us we tend to absorb their perspective and follow their direction. Yet this often only increases our worry, anxiety and insecurity. But when the object of our fear is the Lord Alimighty, the Creator of the heavens and earth who has set His steadfast love upon us, our response will be worship, peace and security. We will follow His word and our lives will be shaped by His perspective, which in fact is the basic definition of wisdom.
What we fear is what we revere, and our lives will be a response of whatever we revere most.
Following our Fear
So rather than expending our energy on avoiding what, or who we fear. What if we reframed our perspective by the wisdom of God and adored the One who is worthy of our reverence and worship? Consider every time you fear something or someone else as an opportunity to “practice” the fear of the Lord. Rather than being anxious over a troubling circumstance, you will be in awe over the character of God. You will find what many have testified to be true, that the fear of God will drive out every other fear. For fearing God is marked by the intimacy of perfect love (Psalm 25:14, 1 John 4:18), and dwelling in the security of our Sovereign God. When you fear God, the reference point of your life will be reset to be founded upon the truth of God’s word rather than the opinions of others, or even the deceptions of the enemy of our souls.
Fearing God is marked by the intimacy of perfect love, and dwelling in the security of our Sovereign God. When you fear, God the reference point of your life will be reset to be founded upon the truth of God’s word.
May we this week experience the freedom that comes from “fearing God” above all else and discover again what the writer of Ecclesiastes declared, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of mankind” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Copyright © 2022 Justin Jeppesen. All rights reserved
2 James W. Knox, “Fear of the Lord,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham
3 James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor:
Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).