- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 8, 2006

The following are excerpts from a sermon delivered recently by Ron Hicks, a missionary speaker at the Washington Christadelphian Ecclesia.

My talk today is based on Ecclesiastes 12:13: “Fear God and keep His commandments.” At one end of the scale, some would say that there is no room for fear of God, with love overriding all. Others place much greater emphasis on fear, defined certainly as awe, but also as terror and dread. What then is the Bible teaching about the fear of God?

The word “fear” and its synonyms — including dread, distress, awe and reverence — occur several hundred times in the Bible. An example of the fear of God emphasizing terror and dread, rather than awe and reverence, is found in the events at the burning bush (Exodus 3:6). “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” In Acts 7:32, elaborating on this event, we read that “Moses trembled and did not dare to look.”

Such passages indicate a mystery in divine holiness that can produce in man a sense of terror. But for Moses, as for all the faithful, dread leads to emotions of exultation and joy at the discovery of God’s intense concern and love for man, as in the song of Moses (Exodus 15) celebrating the escape from bondage.

In Exodus 20:20, Moses states: “Do not fear; for God has come to prove you, and that the fear of Him may be before your eyes, that you may not sin.” The initial fear of God, in the sense of dread, encourages a very necessary moral restraint. This can be an important step in leading us forward to fear God in the sense of awe and service. The fear of God, whether terror or reverence, relates specifically to obedience to God. Hence, the importance of our key passage: “Fear God, and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” It is because there is a kind of fear compatible with faith that the Psalmist is able to exclaim: “But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared (Psalm 130:4).” If we respond to God’s commandments, then dread turns to awe and reverence, leading on to the full love of God.

Accordingly, in the New Testament, the nature of the fear being considered depends on whether the focus is on those who sin deliberately against God, or on those who walk in faith. For the deliberate sinner, Hebrews 10:31 concludes that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” The fear of God should remain a strong moral discipline for the unrepentant sinner. But for the faithful it is completely different: For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship, whereby we cry “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).

These points are summarized beautifully in 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.” Without the love of God, we return to fear as dread, rather than as reverential awe and devotion for our loving Heavenly Father. This perfected love will be complete when the redeemed find a place in God’s coming kingdom to be established upon the Earth, with Christ as king. As this second coming of the Lord approaches, much of mankind will be filled with fear, as dread, with the “distress of nations” (Luke 21:25-28) — but the true saints will be filled with awe and reverence for God.

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