Living in the Awe
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Fear not man

The Godly Man: When God touches a man's life.


1 John 4:17-19

We are forced to the conclusion that the fear of God is not only okay but a necessary part of our lives. Our question instead must focus on how does the love of God work along with the fear of God. We must hold back from stating that the love and fear of God are mutually exclusive; both are necessary. They work hand in hand. Having one does not mean not having the other. 1 John 4:17-19 often confuses people however.

"By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 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. We love, because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19, NASB).

The Godly Man: When God Touches a Man's LifePerfect love and fear are indeed incompatible. This fear, however, is not speaking of the reverence and awe one has before God. This is good. Peter and Paul both clearly illustrate the necessity and normalcy of honor and fear (reverence).

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"Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king." (1 Peter 2:17, NASB).
"Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom;
fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor." (Romans 13:7, NASB).

We are to honor (Greek: timao) both men and king, but for God fear (Greek: phobeo). This is a step above honor. Perhaps this is because there are always consequences to disobeying God. This Greek word phobeo is a broad term that includes many meanings, some good and some bad. It is also used here to describe a negative fear that causes one to be afraid of and stay away from. In today's world, however, fear always is interpreted in a negative way; they do not understand the fear that preserves a special relationship. The newer translations have not yet been able to use reverence instead of fear. It seems that their word for honor is not quite as strong as it needs to be. There is a Chinese word that nicely combines the word fear and revere.

So what does these verses from 1 John 4 mean? Let's try a paraphrase.

God's love has brought such a confidence in our lives that even on judgment day, we are to be like Christ. There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out all fearfulness. This is because fear is associated with punishment. If we fear God's judgment, then we do not adequately understand His love. Our love is present because God first loved us.

Note how these two other verses affirm this interpretation.

For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear;
but ye have received the Spirit of adoption,
whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
Romans 8:15

That he would grant unto us,
that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies
serve him without fear,
Luke 1:74

John is speaking to His children simply stating that no longer do they need to be afraid of God. They are His children. However, just as children are to respect their father, so a Christian is to respect and revere God. Because we are His children, through Christ's redemption our sin and judgment has been taken away. Our confidence leads us to a warm relationship with God, but it does not mean we children are now the parents. Confusion has developed here.

Confusion between relationship and authority
Confusion between relationship and authority has soared in this last couple of generations. As the society has tried to make children's authority the same as the parents, so this respect for authority is being ripped out of other important places too. These are listed below.

teachers : students
policeman : civil
government : citizen
God : man
husband : wife
parent : child
leader : follower

The problem behind all of this misunderstanding of the fear of God is really a misunderstanding and rejection of authority. People do not accept the concept of honorable fear because they do not accept authority. People might say they honor God but still believe that they can do whatever they desire. Because of this, they don't take what Jesus says very seriously. Without a better understanding of authority and reverence, verses like 1 John 4:17-18 are used to create a equal love relationship where no respect or reverence is needed.

This of course is not what is meant, taught or really exists at all. Marriages, families, and all sorts of relationships are being destroyed because they are being built on unreal and unscriptural perspectives. Equal authority leads to equal opinion and disorder. Fights are expected and normal. So in the end, it is not an authority that wins but the loudest, noisiest or most intimidating person whether it be husband or wife, parent or child, pastor or laymen, etc. Once we allow decisions to be made by desire rather than principle, then the relationship will be so governed - by desire rather than rule.

People have a most difficult time with God today because there is no fear of God. They attempt to rip this aspect out of their theology so that they can create an equal love relationship with God. They unfortunately do not mean to obey Jesus' command,
"If you love me, you will do what I command." They instead are thinking that God and man will walk and hang around together. What happens if they disagree with God? Well God can have His rule, but man will insist on living by his desire. We wonder if this strong mindset is setting the church up for one of the greatest departures from the faith that is recorded (1).

This nonchalant secular spirit among Christians can be easily heard when man openly disobeys the Lord, disregard the Lord's commands, or recklessly complains about God's way of doing things in their lives.

Reverence for God is a most needed teaching that will cause us to pay more attention to God's person and purpose. We will pay attention to Him because He is so awesomely important. Our reverence should not be one of fearfulness where we want to run away but a good healthy awe which creates a desire to serve. This fearful aspect has been taken away because that final dread and terror of the Judgment Day is now gone. Christ's redemption through the cross and resurrection has overcome their enemy and canceled (2) out the power of death and judgment (3). Without the knowledge of Christ, fear reigns, but with the love of God through Christ, grace reigns.

Love and fear are similar in that they are both motivational. The love of God motivates me to obey God because I please Him. The fear of God motivates me to obey Him even when I do not care for God. Jonathan Edwards has referred to this as an equalizing balance in the Christian's obedience to God. They are both necessary and important depending where we are in our relationship with God. He did not infer that one was lesser and the other greater. He did not say that the fear of God was no longer present. The fact is that unless we fear God, we cannot know the love of God.

The fear of God is a normal and healthy response to God when our love is not completely perfected. We might have some concern as to what consequences God might bring upon our lives if we disobey Him. If it was based on fear, then it would not be based on a trusting relationship. However, the fear of God is based on trust and therefore is good and healthy. Through His fear we trust Him to guard our lives from the worse and bring us to receive what is good. When we have this understanding of God, it keeps us from lots of troubles. We can trust God for a 'sting' when wrong is done so that we are kept from further wrong. The fear of God builds trust and deepens relationship. Fearfulness destroys it.

The love of God gives us a great affection for God which again is based on trust. We expose ourselves to Him because we have great confidence in God's care and guidance over our lives. We are willing to take risks because we trust Him, even though what He asks of us seems foolish or dangerous. We can trust God for a reward when right is done so that we will pursue the good path.

Because of our sinful natures, we dare not say we do not need chastisement. However, as we become trained, the need for this should be less and less. In summary, although the love of God might increase to such a degree that the need for reverence seems overshadowed, it never is. And although we are part of the family of God, we are still only the children.

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Biblical Foundations for Freedom

By Paul J. Bucknell

(1)"Let no one in any way deceive you, for [it will not come] unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed..." (2 Thess 2:3)
(2)"Having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 2:14, NASB).
(3) ",,, Only the God of love has brought greater clarity to the teaching of redemption and so cared for his enemies (persecutors) and death itself." Further word study can be found at TDNT (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament), V9:214.