The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom
Recently, we said in an article on this website that the problem with "preacher-eaters and trouble-makers" in the church is that they do not believe in God. I stand by that statement, although it requires a little clarification.
Theoretically, they do. Those members who are determined to have their way regardless of the cost to the fellowship of the church, the unity of the congregation, the continuance of the pastor's ministry, or the sacrifice of programs of the church are not without religious convictions. They have even had religious experiences.
The problem is they are now living godless existences. Their work in the church is being conducted in the flesh and for their own purposes.
The shame of it is they are almost always unaware of these conditions. They have fallen into a shameless pattern of seeing nothing but what is in their own field of vision, of wanting only what they see as important, and advocating nothing but their own program. They are not knowingly mean-spirited people. They are self-deluded. They are atheists in the strictest sense. Whatever belief in God they possess is theoretical. God was in Christ, yes. He was in the past. And He will be in the future, they believe, when He takes them and others like them to Heaven. As for the present, alas, they are on their own.
What, you ask, would lead me to say such outrageous things about some people who are members of good Baptist churches and who frequently get elected to high positions of leadership in those churches?
- I have a half-century of dealing with them. I have met them in every church I ever served. However, it took me decades to identify the problem.
- The clue to their atheism is simple: There is no fear of God in them.
Again and again, Scripture insists that wisdom begins with fearing God. We take "fear" to mean awe and reverence. Nothing of any significance spiritually begins without that awe. Want to see the fear of the Lord in action? Take a look at Job when he comes face to face, so to speak, with the Almighty. He exclaims, "I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes," Job 42:5-6.
Here is Isaiah having the same experience: "Woe is me, for I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips, and dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts," Isaiah 6:5.
Simon Peter must have felt the same way when he exclaimed, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord," Luke 5:8.
See a common theme there? The presence of the Lord--experiencing His nearness, knowing that "He is here, in this very place"--shrivels the ego, wilts the self-confidence, and overpowers one's pride. Humility becomes the order of the day.
A fear of the Almighty God of the Universe is the healthiest possible thing for any resident of Planet Earth. How much more the redeemed children of God.
In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence, and His children will have a place of refuge.
The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to turn one away from the snares of death, Proverbs 14:26-27.
I love the way the Prophet Amos puts it in explaining his ministry. The lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken! Who can but prophesy? Amos 3:8.
Sometimes a good old-fashioned fear is the healthiest of all reactions. It is for good reason that the opening line of almost every biblical encounter with divine beings was the same: "Fear not!" Everyone who came face to face with the Lord or one of His messengers seems to have experienced the same knee-knocking, teeth-chattering, heart-stopping sensation.
Once in a while, we pastors have to listen as a rebel brags about what he will say to the Lord of the universe at judgement. It's always a defense for self-justification as to why he did not come the same way as others.
Actually, we can know precisely what people will say in their defense at judgment. Jesus told us in Matthew 22:12. But when the king came in (to the great banquet hall where all his guests had assembled), he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, "Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?" And he was speechless. No excuse. No defense. No speeches before the Almighty God at judgment. Just soul-searing fear.
Those who live without a fear of God become lawless and unrestrained. The pity is when they run churches.
"There is no fear of God before (the wicked's) eyes" (Psalm 36:1).
"They say, 'The Lord does not see, and the God of Jacob is not paying attention'" (Psalm 94:7).
Here is my list of 5 church members whom I have seen practicing atheism in churches all over this land.
- Those who, wishing to have their way, tear up the Lord's church and think it is all right. Psalm 50:21 comes to mind: "You did these things and I kept silent, and you came to the conclusion that I was just like you."
- Those who lie about their giving and feel no guilt. Ananias and Sapphira were the first, but not the last by any stretch of the imagination (Acts 5).
- Those who are holy terrors at home and holy joes at church. Can you say "hypocrite"? Look at the blistering the Lord gave the Pharisees of His day in Matthew 23.
- Laymen who rule the churches with an iron hand. These are sons of Diotrephes (III John 9-10). The Bible specifically says the Lord made the pastors/elders "the overseers, to shepherd the church of God" (Acts 20:28).
- Church members who live by fear and not by faith are demonstrating unbelief in the living God. "Why did you fear?" Jesus asked the disciples in the storm-tossed boat. "Where is your faith?" (Mark 4:40)
The prayer of Elijah on Carmel is as valid today as it was 3,000 years ago: "Lord, let these people know there is a God in Israel and that I am your servant,"I Kings 18:36.
When I think of the fear of God, I recall a conversation with a number of pastor-friends and their wives in a restaurant one day. The discussion fell on a brother who had committed adultery and, among other things, ruined his ministry. One of the wives said, "I don't have to worry about James. He's too busy fooling with his pipe to have that kind of problem." She was making a joke and we laughed.
Another wife said, "I don't worry about Frank. He's too afraid of God to commit adultery." Frank said, "You've got that right."
All fear of God is not simply awe and respect. Those are just a little too tame to cover the subject.
A healthy fear of the Lord of the universe means the prospect of standing in His presence at judgement having failed Him strikes terror into our hearts.
A healthy fear of God means I want to please Him above all else.
A healthy fear of the Almighty keeps my ambition in check and my self-esteem in balance.
A healthy fear of the Lord means I will fear no one or nothing else nearly so much.
Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy, Revelation 15:4.