Posted by: Bro. Lawrence D. | September 6, 2008

Agonizing Over Fear

I have much trepidation in writing a post this honest. In it I will express thoughts that may cause some of “Job’s friends” to rise up in poor counsel. Some of you may conclude things about me that prior to reading this you would have never thought possible. Whatever your reaction to this post, can I count on your prayers? Let’s begin with two text of scripture:

Matthew 10:28 “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell?” (cf. Luke 12:4,5) and

Philipians 2:12c “work out your salvation with fear and trembling;” 

What do you think of when you read these two verses? To be honest, I wasn’t sure whether to entitle this post “Being Honest About My Fears” or to just give it the current title it has. The reason is that in some way I will be doing both in this post. I have had interesting conversations about this subject of fear, with several brothers that I admire and trust very much. Without going into a lot of personal history, let me just say that at this particular juncture in my life I suffer from fear. The fear of what, we’ll discuss later. Maybe. My problem is that I’m not sure how this fear was born in me. I mean sure, I could point to several mystical and subjective events that I’ve experienced. I could point to verses in the bible (and I will) that scare me silly. I could even point to times in my life where even as a professing Christian, I lived in on-going, habitual sin. But I would rather find a way out of this fear or at least a way to combat it than to just dwell on the fact that I suffer from it. That’s part of the reason for this post and the site itself. I’m thinking that perhaps some of you may be able to help or to even receive help yourself. And before you just simply quote I John 4:18, take it into account that I’ve read this verse thousands of times and I have a number of yet unaswered questions about it. Fair enough? I must be honest and say that often times statements by those I admire and trust, even if not direct statements from the bible, also produce fear in me. Statements such as “If you fear death, then you are no Christian.” Or “If you have any doubt that you’re going to heaven, then you ain’t saved.” Or “No Christian should be afraid of hell. It shouldn’t even be a thought in their mind.”. Well, I’m guilty of having all of these thougths periodically. Sometimes the fear is minimal. Sometimes it is great. Sometimes it last only minutes. Sometimes for months. And all this in light of the fact that I don’t believe I live in any “on-going patterns of sin” as one famous conservative preacher describes it. But even when considering that, I fear I could be self-deceived.

Now in looking at many text that deal with fear, both in the Old and the New Testament, I find that it is a much mentioned subject. Interestingly enough, when I hear people use the word fear in reference to God it is always with the sense of “reverence”. This reverence is not so much a trembling or fear that one may have of a gun-toting robber or of a blood-thirsty pit bull. But rather it seems, to me at least, that it is conveyed as a reverence similar to that that one would have for a powerful engine in a large car. It can do damage, but properly controlled one need not worry about it. Even as I looked through several “bible” dictionaries, I wasn’t able to find any real consensus. For the most part, I understand that context is key to understanding a word used in the bible, especially when a seemingly apparent contradiction is presented. For instance, Pastor John MacArthur’s definition of “the fear of the Lord” in his note on Proverbs 1:7 in his NASB Study Bible. It reads, “The fear of the Lord is a state of mind in which one’s own attitudes, will, feelings, deeds, and goals are exchanged for God’s.” But let’s look at some of the text that deal with fear in regards to God and see if we can develop any other perspectives about that fear. There are so many that I will not be able to type all of them out or to comment on each one. So for that matter I will simply list some and type out others. I will begin with the Old Testament. All text are from the NASB. The word FEAR will be capitalized for emphasis.

1. Situational Usages

 Genesis 22:12; Exodus 18:21, 20:20; Leviticus 25:17; Dueteronomy 5:29, 6:2,13,24, 13:4, 14:23, 17:19, 31:12-13; Joshua 4:24; I Samuel 12:14,24; I Kings 8:40; II Chronicles 6:31,33

2. Directly commanded by God or His representative:

 Dueteronomy 8:6 “Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His way and to FEAR Him.”

Dueteronomy 10:12,20 “Now Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to FEAR the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to served the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,…You shall FEAR the Lord yoiur God; your shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.”

Psalm 33:8 “Let all the earth FEAR the Lord; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.”

Psalm 34:9a “O FEAR the Lord, you His saints;”

Psalm 96:9 “Worship the Lord in holy attire; Tremble before Him, all the earth.

Proverbs 3:7b “FEAR the Lord and turn away from evil.”

Proverbs 23:17b “But live in the FEAR of the Lord always.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13 “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: FEAR God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.”

3. God is worthy of FEAR

 I Chronicles 16:25; Psalm  47:2, 76:7,11; 90:11, 96:4, 119:120; Ecclesiastes 3:14; Isaiah 8:13

4. FEAR is accompanied by a promise

Psalm 25:14 “The secret of the Lord is for those who FEAR Him, And He will make  them to know His covenant.”

Psalm  60:4 “You have given a banner to those who FEAR You, That it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah”

Psalm 61:5b “…You have given me the inheritance of those who FEAR Your name.”

Psalm 85:9a “Surely His salvation is near to those who FEAR Him,…”

Psalm 103:11,13,17a “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who FEAR Him…Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the Lord has compassion on those who FEAR Him…But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who FEAR Him…” (verse 17 is quoted by Mary in Luke 1:50)

Psalm 111:5a,10a “He has given food to those who FEAR Him…

Psalm 145:19 “He will fulfill the desire of those who FEAR Him; He will also hear their cry and will save them.”

Psalm 147:11a “The Lord favors those who FEAR Him,”

Proverbs 14:26 “In the FEAR of the Lord there is strong confidence, And his children will have refuge.”

Ecclesiastes 8:12b,c “…still I know that it will be well for those who FEAR God, who FEAR Him openly.”

Jeremiah 32:38-40 “They shall be my people, and I will be their God; and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may FEAR me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the FEAR of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me.”

5. Other statements about the FEAR of the Lord

Psalm 111: 10a “The FEAR of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;”

Proverbs 1:7a “The FEAR of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;”

Proverbs 8:13a “The FEAR of the Lord is to hate evil;”

Proverbs 9:10a “The FEAR of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,”

Proverbs 10:27a “The FEAR of the Lord prolongs life,”

Proverbs 14:27 “The FEAR of the Lord is a fountain of life, That one may avoid the snares of death.”

Proverbs 15:33a “The FEAR of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom,”

Proverbs 16:6b “And by the FEAR of the Lord one keeps away from evil.”

Proverbs 19:23 “The FEAR of the Lord leads to life, So that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil.”

Proverbs 22:4 “The reward of humility and the FEAR of the Lord Are riches, honor and life.”

That concludes the Old Testament references. I’m sure that there are many that I left out. Needless to say, fear was not an assumed thing. God commanded it and often added promises and benefits to all those who would fear Him. On this alone, I wonder if I’m actually right to fear as I do. Written in the ‘Expository Dictionary of Bible Words edited by Stephen Renn’ under the heading “Additional Notes” are these words, “The phenomenon of ‘fear’ in both the Old and New Testaments reflects common emphases as far as attitudes towards God are concerned-whether one is talking about the terror of God or worshipful reverence. The Old Testament, however, places a greater emphasis on the terror of God as a consequence of diving punishment because of the dominant theme of retribution for violation of covenant obligation….”. More on this later. Now let’s look at the New Testament. In most of the text the Greek word is phobos. I believe that this is the word from which we get our English word phobia. I’m not sure, however, if the idea we have today of phobia is directly related to the words usage in scripture. What I mean is that if that were the case, then someone who suffers from arachnophobia would merely be “reverent” of spiders. But is this the case? No, they are afraid of them. This “phobos”, as a noun, means “fear” or “terror” throughout its nearly fifty occurrences according to the dictionary I mentioned earlier. Here’s a few of those verses:

Acts 5:5,11- This “fear” was produced by the news of God’s judgment upon Ananias and Sapphira. The “church” is said to have experienced this fear. But given the common feeling about Christian’s not needing to fear anything, how do we explain this?

Acts 9:31 – Here the “fear of the Lord” is mentioned. This may be just a case of reverence but the Greek word is still phobos. And according to this dictionary it means fear or terror.

I’ve already mentioned Philipians 2:12. We must keep in mind, though, that the New Testament is tricky to navigate in regards to its usages of fear. Otherwise it would appear to be conflicting admonishments concerning our relationship to fear. In one place it would be advocating a fear that in another place it rebukes. Note the following:

1. Don’t fear texts

Romans 8:12-17 (vs. 17) “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to FEAR again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!'”

II Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity (or FEAR), but of power and love and discipline.”

Hebrews 2:14-15 “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through FEAR of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”

I John 4:18 “There is no FEAR in love; but perfect love casts out FEAR, because FEAR involves punishment, and the one who FEARS is not perfected in love.”

2. Do fear texts (those that command us to fear are usually relational)

Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:4-5 The statements made in these verses are made to believers (here specifically disciples) by our Lord Jesus Christ. He tells them to fear God in reference to His sovereign control over their eternal destinies. Unless you want to argue that He either did this for Judas’ sake or that they were supposed to fear for the souls of the ones to whom they were going above their own fears of persecution.

Romans 11:20 – Now here we pick up a thought in the middle of a conversation (sort of) that Paul is having with “Mr. Potential Objections/Comments”. This could be an unregenerate man that he’s answering but I’m not sure. 

Romans 13:7a,d “Render to all what is due them:…FEAR to whom FEAR…”

II Corinthians 7:1 “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the FEAR of God.

 Ephesians 5:21 “and be subject to one another in the FEAR of Christ.”

Ephesians 6:5 “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with FEAR and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ.”

Philipians 2:12

Hebrews 4:1 “Therefore, let us FEAR if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it.”

I Peter 1:17 “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in FEAR during the time of your stay on earth;”

I Peter 2:17 “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, FEAR God, honor the king.”

That concludes the New Testament references. Again, there may have been many more but these were enough for this discussion. My conclusion is as follows; As much as the bible, in both Testaments, speak of fear, I can only conclude that there must be a certain type of fear that each of us as believers ought to have but also a fear that we should no longer have. That is, in regards to God. My dilemna is how to get rid of the fear that I shouldn’t have: The fear of hell, the fear of being self-deceived, the fear of having learned the way of the hypocrite, the fear of having no recourse with God.

Please, brothers and sisters, prayerfully respond to this one. If the length of this post didn’t convince you of my seriousness, perhaps the subject matter will.

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Responses

  1. Well man what else to say about the fear of the Lord
    is this. This would be it for me is Ecclesiastes, 12:13
    let us hear the conclusion of the matter “fear” God and keep his commandments for this the whole duty
    of man. God help us all where ever we need it.

  2. Bro. Lawrence, I am thankful you wrote this post. I was reading it over and over again. My wife deals with thoughts like this, and I too myself. I more stand along the lines of a Christian SHOULDN’T fear, but I have learned that Christians have fears. I would listen to my wife tell me the same things you said, and I had to be sensitive, so I didn’t quote a whole bunch of scripture to her. Then I got to thinking to myself. What if I lifted up my eyes in hell? O Come on Karsten, you’re not supposed to be fearing that. Yeah, but this reminded me of a point Dr. Vernon McGee was making on one of his ttb programs. He said that Christians do fear, and any Christian that says they don’t fear nothing, is in some serious denial (not his exact words). You brought up 1 John 4:18. (I use KJV alot but not a KJV only supporter)

    There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

    A word that stands out is what the KJV uses: casteth! Looking at the context of why John is writing this letter, the church is facing false teachers teaching that Jesus Christ didn’t come in the flesh. So what was in those Christians? Yeah, fear. What needed to be cast out by love? Fear, Ahah, so a Christian can have fears. How is fear cast out if there’s no fear there. If the persecuted Christians in the scriptures times and even now are not fearful, why are they hidding? Yeah, fear! But when it comes time to stand for Jesus, what happens? Perfect love cast out what? Fear.

    Man, I appreciate your honesty. I encourage you and pray this thinking is changes as you come closer & closer to Jesus. Thank you for this post Bro Lawrence. May His grace be with you.

  3. Bro. Karsten,

    I had truly hoped that my honesty would be a blessing to someone. Your words and exposition of I John 4:18 blessed me richly. Read my second post on this subject and then have your wife read it if you think it will bless her. You know you guys are on my prayer list and I know I am on yours. I love you brother. Be blessed!


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