Many think that verses referring to harsh judgment were meant to be applied to the unsaved. But how did Paul see the judgment? As an incentive to get ready lest one be punished! “Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences” (1 Corinthians. 5:9-11). Paul applied the judgment verses to himself. As a result, he knew the fear of God, and it motivated him to live an exemplary life.
“And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Peter 1:17). If we pray to God, how shall we spend our lives here? In fear. In terror. (In all your descriptions of Jesus, do any of them include “terror”?)
What is the fear of the Lord? The fear of the Lord begins with the understanding that he does not play favorites. Romans 2:11 tells us that God shows no partiality. God will treat his own people severely; as he did with the Jews who departed from him, so he will do for the Gentile child of God. Here are some examples where he did just that.
In Acts 5 we find Ananias and Sapphira, Christians, lying to the Holy Spirit. At Peter’s pronouncement, they dropped dead. “So great fear came upon all the church” (Acts 5:11). Ananias and his wife were not immune to the judgment of God. The church feared because judgment begins first in the house of God. They learned that God was “deadly” serious about sin.
God loved King David, but he did not spare his hand of correction when David sinned with Bathsheba. The Old Testament chronicles the fall of Israel, the people of God; and Romans 11:21-22 tells us that God may not spare us either if we also depart from a life of faith as they did. The fear of God teaches us to appreciate our salvation and Savior. Both the Jew and Gentile have a shot at glory, honor, and immortality if they aim for the prize.
Also, the church at Corinth had lost some members to sickness and death because they disrespected the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:30). God will discipline His own children severely.
Remember what happened when Moses blew his top after the Israelites complained about the lack of water for the second time? God had told Moses to speak to a rock and water would flow. But Moses angrily struck the rock twice (Num. 20:1-13). Yet God was not angry at the people. Due to his gross misrepresentation of God, because he did not discipline his temper, Moses was disqualified from entering the Promised Land. Paul disciplined his body and brought it under control because he knew that he could be disqualified from entering the kingdom and enjoying a reward if his appetites went unchecked (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). If this does not match our way of thinking about sin and self-discipline, then what did Paul learn that we are not learning? Even Paul and Moses were not above escaping God’s judgment!
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10). When we realize that God does not play favorites but operates strictly according to the spiritual laws in his book; when we know that what we sow we shall reap, no matter who we are; when we know that he will cut us off from the kingdom if we choose the way of the flesh – then we’ll begin making wise choices that reflect attention to humility and morality to a higher degree.
Because we believe there is a future judgment for the people of God, who does not show partiality, we know the fear of God.
What Do You Think?
a. How can fearing God help us into loving God the right way? If fearing God helps us to live carefully before the Lord, doesn’t that imply that we would then be living a life that God blesses?
b. Is fearing God and loving God opposite, different, or the same? Explain your answer.