FEAR has been defined as a painful emotion excited by danger; apprehension of danger or pain; deep reverence; piety towards God; anxiety; solicitude. The word is said to be related to Old English faran, meaning to go or fare, as expressive of the dangers encountered long ago in travelling. This may seem somewhat far-fetched, and perhaps with Kluge we should connect it with the German word Gefahr, "danger, risk, jeopardy," and Old English faer, "sudden peril, ambush." These words are said to be related to Greek peira, a trial.
Our object is to study the common words in Hebrew and Greek found in the Scriptures. It will be found that the Hebrew word yare (or IRA) and the Greek word phobeomai answer quite closely to our English word FEAR. These words may cover various degrees of fear, but it is quite erroneous to make them answer to "reverence." A few illustrations will prove this. Thus, in Young's Concordance the first occurrence of the verb, stated to mean "fear, reverence," is shewn as Gen. 15:1, "Fear not, Abram, I am thy shield. ." We may be sure God did not say to him, "Do not be having reverential fear of Me." The next occurrence proves our point: Gen. 19:30, "he feared to dwell in Zoar." We may be assured it was not because of reverence that Adam, when he discovered that he was naked, was afraid and hid himself. This demonstrates that it is quite wrong to read at Lev. 19:30 and 26:2, "Ye shall keep My sabbaths, and reverence My sanctuary," and at Psalm 89:7, "to be had in reverence of all." It is also misleading at Eph. 5: 33 to twist the sense into meaning that the wife is to reverence her husband. That is not the meaning here. Quite a few versions go wrong here, and some put "respect."
Perhaps we ought to seek to clear up the point before going farther.
The wife ought to fear her husband, perhaps in the same sense as Olshausen has it, "the fear of Christ is the tender timidity which love has in its train." The construction of the clause is said to be peculiar, and commentators seek to get round this by supplying a word, such as "let the wife see that she fear her husband." The word hina (that, in order that, expressing result or purpose) must be allowed to have its full force. Why not understand the verse thus, "Moreover, you also (like Christ), let each individually be loving his own wife thus (in the same manner as Christ) as himself (that is, the wife as part of himself), yet in order that the wife may be fearing the husband." Such love as Paul mentions could only be produced by real holiness, humility, and reverence. Would not these call forth that tender timidity which he here calls fear?
Again, Hebrews 2:15 does not tell of those who throughout their life were living with reverence for death. They were very much, "in fear of death." Nor could the statement, found about twenty times, "Be not afraid" or "Fear not" possibly mean, "Have no reverential fear."
Fear in the Bible may be of different degrees. Great fear is mentioned a few times (e.g. Mark 4:41; Luke 8:37). One could be filled with fear (Luke 5:26). Not only so, but fear is a Divine quality capable of going hand in hand with "great joy".(Matt. 28:8). Let us weigh this carefully.
One important feature must be noticed in connection with the Greek verb, Phobeomai, which is found only in the Passive Voice and the Middle Voice. All the Middle forms invariably express fear which is natural and instinctive; while the Passive forms tell of fright or sudden shock caused by external reasons. It is significant that Paul does not use the Passive. The expression, "Fear not" is always found in the Middle. We should compare Mark 11:32 with 12:12. In the former verse, the religious authorities "feared the people" (Middle), while in the latter verse, they were "made afraid" or "frightened" by the throng. Mark becomes righteously ironical. In Rev. 14:7 the eonian Gospel implies more than innate fear. In loud voice the messenger cries, "Be made afraid of God" (or frightened by Him). And no wonder, because One is shortly coming with great power and glory, whose magnificent theophany will be a most staggering and bewildering event to the careless and indifferent earth dwellers. Human beings can only learn one step at a time. They are incapable of assimilating facts which lie out with their reasoning powers. That the heavens should suddenly burst open and disclose armies and angels will strike a world totally unacquainted with God with the utmost terror.
Some friends have pointed out that the definition of the Greek word for FEAR found in the Concordant Version Concordance is somewhat one-sided—"an emotion excited by impending evil." This would not explain our fear of God, or the many passages which tell us to fear Him. We are glad to observe, however, that in the German Concordant Version, the Concordance thereto attached features various cases which prove that fear is not always connected with impending evil.
We must now ask, Is human fear the result of sin? Partly only. Sin and wrongdoing bring fear of the consequences and of judgment.
Fear is a divinely implanted instinct, useful and necessary to human beings and animals. Without fear we should not be truly human. Once while traversing on foot England's smallest county, I had to cross undulating forest land for a mile before reaching a hamlet which was visible. No track was to be seen. Had I proceeded more or less in a straight line, the sun should have been behind me. Suddenly, ere having gone half the distance, I found to my horror that the sun was in front. I had been going in a circle. One moment of fear and dismay—how could it have happened? Very soon a track was found which led quickly to the hamlet.
There can be fear of God which is not due to sin or wrongdoing. This fear is a necessary ingredient in our spiritual life. The Scriptures nowhere state that to fear God is an evil. Romans 3:10-18 tells us of those who possessed no wholesome fear of God. Those who have an instinctive fear of God will not have fear of man (Heb. 13:6).
The fear of Jehovah is the beginning (or first principle) of wisdom (Psalm 111:10) and of knowledge (Prov. 1:4). Such fear implies humility, without which genuine wisdom cannot be acquired. The scholar at school must have some fear of his master and his authority, or he will learn little.
Peter says that "in every nation he who is fearing Him and working righteousness is acceptable" (Acts 10:35). He also wrote, "Go on fearing God; go on honouring the king" (1 Peter 2:17). Paul instructs slaves to go on obeying their masters, and to go on fearing the Lord or Master (Col. 3:22). We are to accord fear to whom it is due (Rom. 13:7). We must be subject to superior authorities, yet he points out that the chiefs or magistrates are a fear, not to the good act, but to the evil act. "Now, art thou wanting not to be fearing the authority? Go on doing the good." Fear of the authority will make us wish to do what is good, so that we may be without fear.
When God tried Abraham in Gen. 22, his obedience and his faith were complete. But there was something more. "Now I know that thou art a fearer of Elohim, and thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only one, from Me" (verse 12.) Fear impels us to obedience and trust. If fear can be coupled with great joy, it can lead to joy. Fear can lead us into all the other Christian graces.
Holiness is to be completed" in fear of God" (2. Cor. 7:1). I wonder whether we give due weight to these words. We are to subject ourselves to one another in fear of Christ (Eph. 5:21). Our individual salvation we are to be assiduously effecting with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). Timothy was exhorted to shew up those sinning, in sight of all, that the rest may have fear. Fear, undoubtedly has its excellent uses. There seems to be no other way of working out our individual salvation here on earth but in fear and trembling.
Someone, however, is sure to ask, are not all these cases where fear appears to be necessary, neutralized if we attain to the standard of 1 John 4:17? Beyond any doubt, it is very beautiful to dwell upon such a theme as Perfect Love. We are more than eager to discover exactly what John does say. And can it be true that in 1. Cor. 13 Paul is setting forth a standard of Perfect Love whereto all of us may here and now attain? What is his argument in ch. 12? That all the members of Christ's Body are one; that no member exists for itself; that the weaker members ought to get more honour than the others. Were that principle only applied among the members of the Body of Christ, then, and only. then, would there be some of the Love of ch. 13 within the Body. Divine love can. only be manifested provided God's people love one another. All that Paul can say is "Go on pursuing (that) love."
John's argument is very much the same. Not one word does he write concerning believers having perfect love towards. God. All his writings are masterpieces of carefully integrated statements concerning some of the most vital principles of the. spiritual life. What he says regarding perfect love must be related to and governed by the context. Briefly, his argument is that if believers love one another, they may look forward with confident boldness to the "day of the Judging" which none of us can afford to miss. No one has ever been gazing upon GOD (v. 12). That is, no one has ever gazed on God as GOD. It is vital that we observe the order of the Greek words here, "GOD no one ever has been gazing at." Many had gazed upon God as Man, as ch. 1:1 states. But, says John, we have been gazing, and are testifying that the Father has sent the Son, Saviour of the world (and in Him we have seen. the Father). "'God' means 'Love,'" and he who remains in that Love is remaining in God, and God in him. If we love one another, that is the proof that God remains within us, and that we possess His Spirit. "In this has (that) love been perfected with us (meth hEmOn; verse 17; not "in us"), that boldness we may be having in the Day of the Judging, seeing that according as that One is, we also are in this world. Fear is not in (that) love, but (that) perfect love goes on casting (that) fear outside, seeing that (that) fear has chastening."
That love should be perfected WITH each other, WITH the brethren. The conception is a societary one, referring to the brotherhood of believers.
What an empty pretence it would be for anyone to claim that he could love God, while he goes on hating his brother.. John simply calls such a one a liar (v. 20).
We must also note what verse 16 teaches, "And we have been getting to know, and have been believing the love which God is having in us (not here FOR us). 'God' means 'love,' and he who is remaining in (that) love is remaining in God; and God in him is remaining." God will put His Love within us provided we love those human beings whom He has chosen. But not otherwise. It would only be an insult to God did we claim that we loved Him, if at the same time we detested one of His called saints. The" "Reconciliation" teacher who, instead of shaking hands with a former associate whom he had deeply wronged, shook instead his head, as though justified in declining fellowship, could not possibly know what the love of God means.
"Everyone who is loving Him who begets is loving him also who has been begotten out of Him. In this are we getting to know that we are loving the children of God,—whenever we may be loving GOD, and doing His precepts. For this is the love of God, that we may be keeping His precepts. And His precepts are not heavy, seeing that everything begotten of God is conquering the world (1 John 5:1-4).
Our love towards God cannot be perfected apart from love to the brethren. "Yet whoever may be keeping His word, truly in this one the love of God has been perfected" (ch.2:5). Not otherwise.
Trench has shewn ("Synonyms of the N.T.") how Aristotle unconsciously vindicated the Greek word for "humility" as a grace in which every man ought to abound; meaning that to think humbly of oneself, where that humble estimate is the true one, cannot be imputed to any as a culpable meanness of spirit; rather it is true sane common-sense.
Such love and such humility cannot exist without that humble-disposition in which we deem one another superior to ourselves (Phil. 2:3), which spirit Paul implies belonged to the Lord Himself while He was on earth.
We are reading and understanding the Scriptures in vain if they do not cause us to honour the meanest and lowliest brother as one more precious than ourself. Why is it so seldom that we see Paul's instructions regarding the meaner members of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:22-26) put into operation?
Much is written concerning Wisdom in the Apocrypha. Sirach says that God will grant wisdom to man only if he will receive her. On those who love Him He will lavish wisdom. She holds the secret of all health and wealth. But there is one condition of the gift—"The fear of Jehovah." But such fear does not mean terror or fright. It signifies that beautiful combination of genuine awe and worship and humility and obedience. Only those who possess that galaxy of graces can have real wisdom.
Why do we love God? Because HE first loves us (ch. 4:19). But we are not able to reproduce the same love that He has shewn us. His love can only be fulfilled in us when we love one another with that love which is His own. When such love is begotten within us, the circuit of love becomes complete. First from God to us, then from us to our brethren then through our brethren back to God.
Such love should remove any dread of the day when we all shall be manifested in front of the tribunal of Christ, in connection with which Paul mentions "the fear of the Lord" (2. Cor. 5:11).
It is significant that the second of the great precepts (Matt. 22:39), "Thou shalt be loving thine associate as thyself," occurs first as the climax of a passage the subject of which is, " Ye shall be holy, for I, Jehovah your God, am holy" (Lev. 19:1-18). Furthermore, Paul points out as the chief of the three universal characteristic marks of the saint or holy one, Love (1. Cor. 13).
It is not possible to detach a holy awe or fear from any of the Christian graces. Real love for anyone includes a holy awe or fear lest we should disappoint or misjudge.
Fear of God is a fine fertilizer. Mingled with a knowledge of His vast power and His prayer promises, it produces great boldness (parrhEsia). To possess a wholesome fear of the Judgment Seat will urge one to supplicate God on behalf of wayward saints. A few years ago anxious fear that a well known brother had so lost the fear of God that he had slipped into evil habits produced an intense agony and heart-storm, which could only be assuaged and find relief in that boldness which gently and humbly insists that only GOD can set matters right, in terms of His own promises.
Many years ago, before the first world War, when I was a mere youth, a reader sent in to a religious publication the following question, "If we, being complete in Christ, appear guiltless before God, and no act on our part can separate us from that love, what incentive is there to induce one to resist the temptations of immorality?" The answer horrified and shocked me. It said, "Sin shall not master you, for you are not under law, but under grace." Also, "Grace wooes with far more effect than the fear of the law's penalties." I put in a strong protest, arguing that we ought to be subject to a wholesome fear of God as our moral Governor. And how could any Gentile be under the Law referred to?
The reply given was that the doctrine of the Grace of God had been woefully neglected far too long. No doubt this was true, but serious wrong was being done to Holy Writ by magnifying God's Grace at the expense of the Fear of God. The two must go together. A knowledge of the Grace of God is useless unless balanced by a powerful fear of God. Those, who make much of the Grace of God, but possess no profound fear of Him, invariably lapse into antinomianism, and wax careless.
True freedom can only be enjoyed now by living in righteousness. But right actions thrive best the more we detest and fear wrong actions.
The fear of God goes with great joy. It is both gladsome and salutary. He who outrages the laws of Nature will discover, sooner or later, that it would have been wiser and better, in every way, to fear and respect God's laws.
True conscientiousness cannot exist without fear—fear of doing wrong, fear of coming short, fear of quenching the Spirit, fear of hurting the feelings of another. What a difference would it make, in industry, in labour, in government, in society, were there but one more really conscientious person per hundred, who would dread any transgression against rectitude.
It has been said that "Punctuality is the Politeness of Kings." It is caused not only by a sense of honour, but by a fear of coming short. No finer example Can be found than the young British Queen, who fears to let down her friends or her subjects by being late for an engagement.
Never let it be said of our homes or surroundings, "Surely, the fear of God is not in this place" (Gen. 20:11).
ALEXANDER THOMSON. Last updated 22.12.2005