Are We to Fear God?
The word “fear” appears in
the New King James Version of the Bible 367 times. In some
of these occurrences, the text is expounding upon “the
fear of the Lord” and its relationship to wisdom (cf. Job
28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7). In numerous other passages
of Scripture, one can read where God commands that His
creation fear Him (Leviticus 25:17; Deuteronomy 6:13; Matthew
10:28; et al.). It is widely known that one of the repeated
truths in the Bible is that God’s “mercy is on those who
fear Him” (Luke 1:50). It also is well known, however,
that in the New Testament Paul informed Timothy that “God
has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of
love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). The apostle
John went even further, saying, “There is no fear in love,
but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves
torment” (1 John 4:18).
time ago, I noticed where Steve Wells, author of the Skeptic’s
Annotated Bible, highlighted 2 Timothy 1:7 and 1 John
4:18 (verses indicating Christians are not to fear),
and placed alongside these verses twenty-six Bible references
that specify we are to fear God. He then asked, “Should
we fear God?” Obviously, it was Wells’ intent to convince
his readers that the Bible’s discussion of fear is contradictory.
How can a person fear God and not fear God at the same
time? Although this is a question I thought a skeptic never
would raise due to its seemingly obvious answer, it nevertheless
requires a response.
most cases, when the Bible praises man’s fearlessness and
his need to move beyond fear, it is using the term in a
different context than the way it is used when referring
to “the fear of the Lord.” The passage in 2 Timothy 1:7
is not teaching that we should not fear God; rather, Paul
was instructing Timothy that we should not fear for
our lives while doing the Lord’s work. God wants His
children to be fearless in their service to Him. Such courage
will help His people “not be ashamed of the testimony of
our Lord” (2 Timothy 1:8). Like the Israelites who were
instructed by Joshua and Caleb not to fear the people of
Canaan (Numbers 14:8-9), Christians must not fear their
adversaries around them, nor the task before them. God
expects His people to understand that “He who is in you
is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
what about 1 John 4:17? Is it not referring to fearing
God? A person must keep in mind that the term “fear” is
used in various senses in Scripture (and whenever different
senses of the same word or thing are under discussion,
the skeptics’ allegations hold no value). Fear can mean
terror, dread, and horror; but it also can mean awe, reverence,
and respect. The “perfect love” about which John writes
casts out the former, not the latter. As the late Guy N.
here contemplated, is not that which the Psalmist declares
is “the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10), a reverential,
godly fear, which shrinks from any action which would displease
God, the fear which an obedient child has for a loving
father;…but terror, dread, slavish fear, such as
is characteristic of a slave in the presence of a cruel
and heartless master…. The fear that is absent from genuine
love is the fear of the whip in the hands of the master;
the dread of the chastisement which comes to the disobedient.
Perfect (mature) love casts out such fear, because it cannot
exist where genuine love is (1979, pp. 304-305, emp. in
Malachi 2:5, the prophet linked fear and reverence together
in describing the attitude that Levi (whose name here represents
the entire priestly class) possessed at one point in the
past. Malachi stated: “So he feared Me, and was reverent
before My name.” The Hebrew word transliterated yare’,
frequently translated “fear,” also means “religious awe.” For
this reason, some modern versions (like the New American
Standard) have translated Malachi 2:5 thusly: “So he revered Me,
and stood in awe of My name.”
God expects His people to revere Him, not panic at the
thought of Him as a slave might fear his cruel master.
Furthermore, one way a Christian walks “in the fear of
the Lord” (Acts 9:31) is by boldly following in the steps
of the Savior, Who stood fearless in the face of His adversaries.
Guy N. (1979), A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles
of Peter, John, and Jude (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).
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