The Fear of the Lord

Two words leave a bad taste in the mouth of many in our self-serving culture today.  They are submission and service.  Such words taste bad to all who are not converted as new creatures in Christ.  But in Christ our nature and view are changed, and we are now able to look upon the culture with new eyes.  We now, by the grace of God, want to submit and serve one another as we are called to do. The apostle Paul describes submission and service of one another as hallmarks of the Christian family, both universally and locally in churches and families.  William Gouge, a Puritan pastor who served for forty-five years at St. Ann Blackfriars in London and was a member of the Westminster Assembly, says that this submitting and serving one another flows from the fear of God.  Gouge explains the words of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:21

“The fear of God is both the efficient cause that moves a true Christian willingly to perform all duty to man, and also the purpose that he refers everything that he does…

First, the fear of God is an awe-filled respect of the divine majesty.  Sometimes it arises from faith in the mercy and goodness of God.  When the heart of man has once felt a sweet taste of God’s goodness, and found that all happiness consists only in His favor, it is struck with such an inward awe and reverence, that it would not displease His majesty for anything.  Rather, it would do whatever it knows to be pleasing and acceptable to Him… Sometimes again, awe and dread of the divine majesty arises from distrust.  When a man’s heart doubts God’s mercy, and expects nothing but vengeance, the very thought of God strikes an awe or rather dread into him, and so makes him fear God.

From this double cause of fear, where one is contrary to another, has arisen that usual distinction of a filial, or son-like, fear, and a servile, or slavish fear… The filial fear is such a fear as dutiful children bear to their fathers.  But the servile fear is such as bond-slaves bear to their masters.  A son simply fears to offend or displease his father, so that his obedience is joined with hatred.  Such a man fears not to sin, but to burn in hell for sin… This slavish fear is plainly a diabolical fear, for the devils so fear that they tremble (James 2:19)… We must serve the Lord without this fear (Luke 1:74).  There is nothing acceptable to God in this fear to submit one’s self.  Therefore, it is the filial fear to which this clause refers…

By this clause, ‘in the fear of the Lord,’ the apostle implies that it is the fear of God which moves men in good conscience to submit themselves one to another… A true fear of God makes us respect more what God requires and commands than what our corrupt heart desires and suggests.  It subdues our unruly passions, and brings them within the compass of duty.  It makes us deny ourselves and our own desires, and, though through the corruption of our nature and inborn pride we are loath to submit, yet God’s fear will bring down that proud mind and make us humble and gentle.  It will keep those who are in authority from tyranny, cruelty, and too much severity, and it will keep those who are under subjection from giving half-truths, deceit, and conspiracies.

Behold how necessary it is, that a true fear of the Lord be planted in men’s hearts, in the hearts of kings and all governors, in the hearts of subjects and all people, whether superiors or subordinates.  Where no fear of God is, there will be no good submission to man…

Happy is that kingdom where magistrates and subjects fear the Lord.  Happy is that church where ministers and people fear the Lord.  Happy is that family where husband and wife, parents and children… fear the Lord.  In such a kingdom, church, and family, everyone will submit themselves to the mutual good one of another.”

~ From “Building a Godly Home: A Holy Vision for Family Life” edited and modernized by Scott Brown and Joel Beeke

Oh how we need this filial fear of the Lord today in the church and in the world.  I need it more and more in my own life.  What a wonderful thing to pray for ourselves and our families and our churches and our nation.