April 24, 2008

Be godly? Be afraid!

The Hebrew word for fear as in “fear God” occurs 314 times in the Old Testament. One major Bible version translates this word as “fear” 188 times, “afraid” 78 times, “terrible” 23 times, “terrible thing” six times, “dreadful” five times, “reverence” three times, “fearful” twice, “terrible acts” once. There are eight miscellaneous other translations.

The meaning of this word is a bit of a challenge. It can mean to be in terror of, but is more like to revere, to stand in awe of or be awed, even to be astonished. It is the same fear a person might experience standing in close proximity to an erupting volcano, or being in a vehicle in the midst of a rampaging herd of elephants. The danger is known and yet the focus is not on running away, but on staying there and experiencing that source of utter fear.

I read Proverbs 16:6 this morning. It says, “In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity; and by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil.

My devotional reading says there is a very close and intimate connection between godly fear and being holy. I cannot imagine being near a volcano or wild elephants and talking about ignoble or frivolous things. That fearful emotion would restrain all levity and foolish conversation and may even shut my mouth completely. Being aware of God and having this biblical fear of Him should have that same effect.

The reading says that we drop into carnal and worldly talk whenever that godly fear is absent. However, as right thoughts of God occupy our minds, our souls are “softened into humility and love” which make a huge change in the way we talk and live.

Yapping without constraint, according to James 3:6, “defiles the whole body”! I know full well that if my tongue goes out of control, I will say things that grieve and wound my own conscience, are a stumbling-block to those around me, show a bad example to other Christians, and even provide a weapon Satan can use for destruction. Not only that, if my tongue is out of control, so is the rest of me!

I know that controlling any sin, including my runaway tongue, is impossible through my own efforts. There is only one way this “unruly evil” can be tamed; it must be by the power of God.

Ephesians 4:29-32 tells how I am supposed to talk and the attitude I am to have toward others:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
This is not about self-control. Last night I heard a radio pastor say that the fear of God is so important because when a person has it, without any effort on their part they are brought into a state of peace. When I am in that state of peace, I do not talk foolishly, nor can I be bitter, angry, fighting, gossiping or malicious. This peace from God produces kindness, compassion and a forgiving heart. I cannot make it happen. It is just there—whenever I stand in awe of God.

No wonder that the psalmist repeats, “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him . . . For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods . . . Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD” (Psalm 33:8; 96:4; 128:1).

Fearing God is truly the foundation of not only all wisdom, but also of all godly living.

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