by Lee Anderson Jr. —
We live in a time of fear.
Even a brief look at the daily headlines confirms that our society is gripped by fear—fear of illness, fear of the government, fear of economic crisis, fear of civil unrest and violence, fear of isolation, fear of what is coming next. The list goes on. Not only do we get the impression that there is a lot to be afraid of, we have seen our society become so consumed by fear that it is now commonplace for others (and especially for the media) to encourage us to be afraid.
As Christians, we are not immune to feelings of fear; fear is a normal human emotion. But there is a difference between experiencing an emotional response to something alarming or distressing and living in a state of fear, being constantly overwhelmed by the earthly concerns we face day to day. Unfortunately, it seems often that we have conditioned ourselves to living in the fear that grips our world, rather than living in the confidence that comes from our Lord. Perhaps that is because, ultimately, we have not fully embraced the right kind of fear.
Inside the front cover of my Bible, on a small piece of paper, is printed a short statement that I keep as a continual reminder to myself in these challenging times:
Resolved, to live always in יִרְאַת יְהוָה
The Hebrew text, which translates as “the fear of YHWH” and typically is rendered in English Bibles as “the fear of the LORD,” is the phrase used most frequently in the Scriptures1 to speak of a deep, sincere, awe-filled reverence for God that is prompted by a recognition of His matchless attributes and His mighty works (see especially Job 37:22–24; Psalms 22:23; 33:6–9; 47:2–4; 96:4–6; Isaiah 8:13; Jeremiah 10:6–7). This reverence evidences itself in loving devotion (Deuteronomy 10:12–13, 20; 13:4), dependent trust (Psalms 33:18; 147:11), faithful obedience (Deuteronomy 6:2; 8:6), and earnest worship (Psalms 2:11; 5:7).2 To “live in” the fear of God means having an abiding reverence for Him that effectively governs and directs one’s thoughts, words, and actions in submission to God’s will, no matter the circumstances.
Proverbs 14:26 teaches that “In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence.”3 As such, in fearing the Lord, we have a basis for overcoming the other sorts of destructive fears we so commonly face. That is not to say we should callously dismiss legitimate concerns about the frightening difficulties and uncertainties we encounter in our world. Nor does it mean we ought to disregard appropriate measures of caution in our day-to-day lives. Rather, it means that, in truly fearing the Lord, we are instilled with boldness to live in accordance with God’s revealed will regardless of the earthly consequences.4 Moreover, having such boldness, we can confront the fears of this world head-on and, where there is opportunity, employ sound biblical wisdom—for which the fear of the Lord is the foundation (see Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10; 15:33)—to pursue courses of action in which we lovingly encourage and minister to those around us.
It seems unlikely that the fears of this world will lighten any time soon. In fact, Scripture teaches there will be a steady increase of disquieting, even terrifying, events before the kingdom of our Savior is established on earth (see, for example, Matthew 24:4–14). However, we who hope in Christ need not be slaves to the fears of this world. As Jesus said in John 16:33, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” With that assurance, then, let us strive to live in the fear of the Lord, growing in the strong confidence He supplies, by which we may prevail over every worldly fear we could possibly encounter.
1This phrase appears in 2 Chronicles 19:9; Psalms 19:9; 34:11; 111:10; Proverbs 1:7, 29; 2:5; 8:13; 9:10; 10:27; 14:26, 27; 15:16, 33; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17; Isaiah 11:2, 3; 33:6. Comparable expressions employing the verb ירא (from which is derived the noun יִרְאָה, of which יִרְאַת is the construct form) and/or using אֲדֹנָי or אֱלֹהִים in the place of יְהוָה likewise appear regularly.
2Such a condensed description of the fear of the Lord, while accurate, falls far short of fully capturing the grandeur and complexity of the biblical theme. For a helpful devotional treatment on this subject, see Jerry Bridges’ work, The Joy of Fearing God (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 1997).
3All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, is from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
4Commenting on Proverbs 14:26, Roland Murphy observes, “The key wisdom virtue provides a source of trust because the Lord is the object of such confidence. Thus protected, one need not fear another human being (cf. 29:25).” See Proverbs, Word Biblical Commentary 22 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 106.