My granny was very protective of spiders. Whenever she found one in our house she would gently pick it up, give it a kiss, and toss it out the nearest open window. As a little boy I was afraid of creepy, crawly spiders along with other things like stinging wasps and school bullies. Watching granny kiss and chuck spiders helped me with my spider fear. I lost my fear of wasps after being stung and my fear of bullies after being beat up over and over again in karate class. These experiences led to a philosophy of fear something like, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” (Franklin Roosevelt). Yet this did not help me with other fears that personal experience had never met or conquered. Fear was still a huge negative in my life.
How do we defend ourselves from our fears? Wasp spray; pepper spray; martial arts; guns; walls; barriers; separation; preparation? We have invented many ways of dealing or coping with our fears, but there is only one way of actually defeating fear.
How do we defend ourselves from our fears?
Nebuchadnezzar dealt with his fear by making an image of gold. He feared for the future, for the end of his kingdom so he forced all of his subjects to bow to an image that represented his kingdom having no end. The people complied because they too had fears, specifically the fear of being burnt alive in a fiery furnace. Yet while everyone was bowing in fear, there stood three young men who had truly defeated fear. In these three Hebrews Nebuchadnezzar’s fears came in direct conflict with the fear of God… and crumbled (Daniel 3).
One of my greatest fears, especially as I grew older, was the fear of public speaking. I had to do it in English class as a young boy—speech class specifically. My mum was an English teacher so I got straight A’s, yet the most difficult thing I ever did in English was get up in front of the class to give a speech—go figure.
The book of Proverbs holds the ultimate biblical narrative about the philosophy of fear:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7)
As a philosopher, Solomon, the son of David, was a master. In his personification of wisdom, for example, he rescues philosophy from a purely intellectual grave, giving it life, limbs, and practical application (Proverbs 1:20-22). Solomon bridges the man-made chasm between faith and philosophy by bringing philosophy into faith. The beginning of knowledge was, to Solomon, the very practical task of reuniting us with the heart and mind of God.
So this verse in Proverbs 1:7 is a foundational point to Solomon’s philosophy of fear. It identifies the secret of all Christian experience—“the fear of the Lord.”
What is the fear of the Lord? How does one experience it? Why is it so important? How does it relate to all of our other fears?
According to Exodus 20:20 there are two kinds of fear in the Bible:
“And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that His fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.”
The first type of fear naturally drives us away from God and towards sin.
The second type of fear draws us to God and away from sin.
Genesis 3 identifies the first natural “fear” as something we experience as a result of sin. Natural fear is the basis of most, if not all, of life’s experiences on Planet Earth. The popular idea of the “no fear” slogan is indicative of how fear permeates our present world. Fear of terrorism, disease, hunger, poverty, bondage, natural disaster, war, and all other evils pervades and defines our philosophy of life. Into this world of fear comes a message of love, of hope, of power—“fear God.”
“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 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 4:8, 18).
According to the gospel, God has bridged the deep, dark chasm of our human fear with His prevailing love.
This is not just the philosophy of Proverbs. According to the prophetic book of Revelation the call to “fear God” is mankind’s best last hope! It is the very first message of the “everlasting gospel.” It is the antidote for all human fear! It is the basis of atonement, our becoming one with the God of love.
According to the gospel, God has bridged the deep, dark chasm of our human fear with His prevailing love. Love, in the person of Jesus Christ, has stepped into our sandals, literally in the flesh, and defeated our human fear. Perfect love, Jesus Christ, has cast out all fear—Alleluia! (1 John 4:8).
Are you afraid of Ebola, of hunger, of poverty, of the future, of strangers, of the police, of the bully, of the dark, of dogs, of peer pressure, of looking stupid, of your boss, of failing school, of anything but God? Welcome to humanity. The remedy is to behold Jesus Christ the One who came to save us from this fear:
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14, 15).
Jesus Christ has delivered us from the ultimate fear behind all other fears and that is the fear of death. Therefore we are delivered from the bondage of fear. The remedy for every earthly fear we face is the “fear” of God—godly fear. This fear comes into the heart as a result of love. It displaces our natural earthly “fear”—the fear that pushes us away from God. Godly fear draws us close to God so that He can deliver us from the fears that desolate us with distress and anguish. His fear gives us hope and peace.
This is why the message to “fear God” comes to us most often in the words “fear not” (Genesis 15:1).
From the first book of Genesis to the last book of Revelation this call of love from the heart of love is repeated again and again:
“Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward….” (Genesis 15:1).
“Fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them” (Deuteronomy 20:3).
“Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong and of good courage” (Joshua 10:25).
“I am the LORD your God; fear not” (Judges 6:10).
“Fear not; I will help thee” (Isaiah 41:13).
“Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus…” (Matthew 28:5).
“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10).
“Fear not; I am the first and the last” (Revelation 1:17).
“Fear not” Abraham, Hagar, Joshua, Gideon, Daniel, Zacharius, Simon, Mary, Paul, sons, daughters, shepherds, and sheep. “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
Our fears are like a desolating whirlwind, but the knowledge of the love of God brings shelter from the storm. Yet we must choose the knowledge of God’s love. We must feed the soul with gospel truth rather than the fears of men. We must nurture the heart with godly fear and refuse to feed on human fear. We must choose to feed on the love of God and not the garbage of the world. God’s love is the purest source of the fear of the Lord:
“When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer; they shall seek Me early, but they shall not find Me: For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD” (Proverbs 1:27-29).
Proverbs 1:27-29 urges us to “choose” the “fear” of God. It warns us that our natural “fear” will one day come as a desolating whirlwind and when it does God cannot save us from it. If we persist in dealing with our fears in our own way instead of giving them to God, we force God to honor our choice.
It’s time to let go of our fears, to give them to God. We can choose to stop spending time focusing on the very things that bring us fear rather than focusing on the only One who can destroy our fear. We can give our fears to Jesus and allow Him to deliver us from fear by His love. We can choose to stop focusing on what we are afraid of and start focusing on the One who fears nothing… but losing us!
This biblical philosophy of fear is the finest in the land for one very significant reason—it works! Jesus Christ, the personification of wisdom (never a man spoke like this man), was the ultimate litmus test of this philosophy.
Jesus spent 33 years living, eating, and breathing the fear of the Lord. As a result, no human fear could touch Him—whether in the wild animal invested wilderness without food and water or being dragged to the brow of a cliff by an angry mob. Day after day, sorrow, grief, loneliness and contempt tested and proved Christ as He lived the “fear of the Lord” philosophy.
This undying love of Jesus Christ is the grace of God that delivers us from all our natural fear.
Jesus met the final test of our fears when He was accosted at midnight by an angry mob, forsaken by His closest friends, denied three times by Peter, falsely accused in a mock trial, interrogated seven times by four different bodies of religious and political rulers. “Oh, fearful scene! the Savior seized at midnight in Gethsemane, dragged to and fro from palace to judgment hall, arraigned twice before the priests, twice before the Sanhedrin, twice before Pilate, and once before Herod…” (Desire of Ages, p. 760).
Christ was chosen over a murderer by the people He came to save, fainting under the burden of His cross on the way to His crucifixion (the most excruciating torture known in the world at the time); His blood-soaked body was nailed naked to the cross in the most public place available (the Times Square of His day). He was weak and thirsty, mocked and scorned and He finally died… of a broken heart.
During this entire ordeal Jesus showed absolutely no fear of man whatsoever. His only fear was the fear of the Lord. It was a perfect experience of love. There is nothing to fear in love except… being forsaken by Love. In Christ the fear of being forsaken of God decimated every earthly fear.
Jesus Christ came to Planet Earth to decimate all our fears. He did this by having a relationship with God of unreserved connection and trust in His Father. Christ’s love relationship with God led Him to love us to the very end without giving into fear. Jesus faced every fear that turns us away from each other. Fear of being rejected, misunderstood, judged, belittled, left out; the fear of facing the fallen, weak, wretched people we all are. Jesus continued to love us no matter how we hurt Him. He loved us “unto the end” (John 13:1).
Perfect love casts out all fear. We are afraid to love God (first four commandments)—what if we lose our job? We are afraid to love people (last six Commandments)—what if they don’t love us back? Jesus overcame these fears. He loved God with all His heart by loving us until the end and in so doing He cast out all fear. This undying love of Jesus Christ is the grace of God that delivers us from all our natural fear. The fear of the Lord is truly the beginning of wisdom.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear;
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear;
The hour I first believed! Amen.
James has spent more than 30 years preaching the gospel around the world in revival seminars and evangelistic meetings. He and his wife Risë have two adult children, Jeiel and Kierra.