Twice in today’s Bible reading* are statements concerning the fear of the Lord. This is a common theme in the Book of Proverbs.
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
“The fear of the LORD prolongs life,
but the years of the wicked are cut short.”
Elsewhere, we’re told that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” (Proverbs 1:7) Actually the phrase “fear of the Lord” or “fear the Lord” occurs from eighteen to twenty times in the Proverbs, depending on your translation. Obviously, the fear of the Lord is a pretty important concept!
The Hebrew word translated as fear can mean anything from terror to awe to reverence, depending on the context. Varying examples can be seen in Deuteronomy 2:25, Psalm 90:11, and Psalm 5:7.
In just two verses from today’s reading, Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, tells us that if you want to be wise, and if you want to have knowledge, you have to fear the Lord. He also says that having this fear will, generally speaking, give you a longer, fuller life.
In earlier generations, churchgoers were familiar with “hellfire and brimstone” preaching. Many Christians recount coming to know Jesus during revival meetings because they were afraid of going to hell. Many people talk of feeling that God was always mad at them, even after they came to faith in Christ.
Preaching styles have changed. “Hellfire and brimstone” preaching isn’t used much anymore. In most churches today, you’ll hear more of God’s love, grace, and mercy than hellfire and brimstone. But God hasn’t changed. And the Gospel Message hasn’t changed.
However, I’m not so sure that all of those fiery sermons weren’t just a lot of emotional manipulation instead of a clarion call to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus. In hearing people’s stories, it seems that many were more interested in getting out of something (an eternity in hell) rather than getting into something (an eternal relationship with Jesus Christ).
I’m afraid that well-meaning revivalists were more interested in claiming a multitude of “decisions” rather than making a few disciples. The Great Commission, as I remember it, was to make disciples, not to get a bunch of people to claim they made a decision. (Matthew 28:19-20)
How about you? If you consider yourself to be a Believer, do you look back on your salvation experience as wanting to escape hell or to come to Jesus? One approach wants only to escape punishment and the other approach wants to respond in love. (1 John 4:18)
God hasn’t changed. God is still to be feared; God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28–29) The Gospel hasn’t changed. Yes, hell is still hot. And eternity in hell is a very long time.
But so is an eternity with Jesus! Believers have no reason to fear God’s condemnation. (Romans 8:1)
* Chapters covered in today’s reading: