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“The Good Fear”
Proverbs 14:27 and others
September 30, 2018
The fear of the Lord teaches us to turn from evil to trust.
I. The fear of the Lord leads away from evil
II. The fear of the Lord leads toward knowledge and blessing
III. The fear of the Lord leads to trust in the Lord
I’ve always been fascinated by phototropism or heliotropism, the ability of plants to follow the sun through the sky to get the most exposure on leaves and flowers. Plants as common as tomatoes, radishes and sunflowers, do this. And it’s cool, evidence of God’s design. But I also love this as a metaphor. The Holy Spirit, the author of Scripture, loves the imagery of light and darkness, and scatters it through the Bible. Darkness, in these verses stands at times for ignorance, at times for judgment and often for evil. Perhaps the clearest of these verses is John 3:19. “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” The idea is that people are in darkness doing evil, and rather than following the light they shun it.
So how do people who love darkness learn to follow the light? One answer is that God draws them. God himself through the Holy Spirit works in people’s hearts to turn them from darkness to light. Praise God that he does. But the other side of that coin, the human responsibility side, is called repentance. The Old Testament word means, simply, to turn. God calls us to turn from evil to good, to turn from selfishness to godwardness, and to turn from self-reliance to God reliance, to turn from love of darkness to Jesus, the light of the world.
But what teaches us to repent? It could be many things; hurts, needs, consequences, etc. But the one that Proverbs focuses on is the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord teaches us to turn from evil to trust. This is true not only in our salvation but in our walk as believers. The fear of the Lord guides us away from evil and toward spiritual growth and health. The fear of the Lord leads toward knowledge and blessing, and ultimately, to trust in the Lord.
Let’s begin by briefly re-defining the fear of the Lord. We’ve done this off and on for years, most recently just a few weeks ago. But the attitudes associated with the fear of the Lord are so important I want touch on them again. Fear of the Lord is first of all, awe, of him and of his works, of the power that created and sustains the universe. An example in Scripture is Exodus 15:11 "Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” The word awesome is the common Biblical word for fear. In many places it is translated “awe” or “awesome.”
But the Scripture also uses the word fear when people honor God by their worship. In the law of Moses the words ‘worship’ and ‘fear’ are often interchangeable.
Deuteronomy 14:23 “You shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.” We would have expected it to say worship. The awe of God’s power and might is fear that leads to worship.
Third, the fear of the Lord is also true fear, dread of his judgment, knowing that his wrath over sin is both just and real. In Malachi 3:5 God says “So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me.” If we harbor sin in our lives, we should fear God’s judgment. Finally, the fear of the Lord is respect for him, respect that shows up in obedience. Deuteronomy 13:4 “You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice. You shall serve him and hold fast to him.” The fear of the Lord is practical awe that impacts our lives.
Proverbs takes us deeper into the fear of the Lord by showing us its effects on our lives. First, the fear of the Lord draws us away from evil. Proverbs 8:13 “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” The person speaking is Lady Wisdom, personified as a woman in these chapters. Lady Wisdom hates pride, arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech, which is a pretty good list of things to hate. The verse is telling us that the person who fears the Lord will hate these evils; hate these things in himself, and stay far away from them.
Proverbs frequently contrasts the fear of the Lord with the pursuit of evil. Proverbs 10:27 “The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short.” Here one of the natural consequences of fearing the Lord is revealed. The person who fears the Lord stays out of the kind of trouble that shortens lives. And, according to this verse, the person who does not fear the Lord, the wicked person, suffers as a result. Fear of the Lord and love of evil are opposites. Proverbs 14:2 “Whoever walks in uprightness fears the Lord, but he who is devious in his ways despises him.” If you fear the Lord you will walk in uprightness or righteousness, but if you despise the Lord you will have devious or deceitful ways. If you are giving yourself subtle permission to continue in the path of sin, that’s deceit. It means that you despise the Lord rather than fearing him - not a very comfortable place to be. The same kind of warning is found in Proverbs 28:14 “Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” I’ve said many times that I think one of the most dangerous symptoms of spiritual trouble is when we harden our hearts toward our sin.
I’ve seen way too many cases where a person’s heart could not be reached even by pleading for them to do right, because they had hardened it. This verse shows that we avoid that by the fear of the Lord. The person who has a soft heart toward the Lord, who has respect and is awestruck by God, that person takes the Lord seriously about sin. More than that, a soft hearted person reaches out to the Lord in worship, in prayer, in conviction, and in hearing and responding to God’s word. A person whose heart is becoming hard will find himself losing some or all of these disciplines. Is that you? Is it me?
So the fear of the Lord turns us from evil. Proverbs 14:27 “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.” The author of Proverbs uses ‘a fountain of life’ several times. It’s a great image, of water leaping and playing in the sunshine, fresh water that gives life and health. In a dry land like Israel flowing water was a wonder. A thousand years later Jesus used the same image when he said. “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” What Solomon attributes to fear of the Lord, Jesus attributes to faith, or trust. That’s where we’re headed this morning. But the verse also makes it clear that fear of the Lord is the thing that allows one to turn away from the snares of death, to turn from evil to trust.
Finally, Proverbs 16:6 says the same thing another way. “By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.” Steadfast love and faithfulness pay the price of sin. Wow. But whose steadfast love and faithfulness are we talking about? It turns out that that phrase, chesed va emeth, is use almost exclusively about God. It is his loving kindness and his covenant faithfulness that ultimately pays the price for our sin. So we might, legitimately, read this verse ‘through the Lord’s love and faithfulness our sin is atoned for and through fear of the Lord, awe at His atoning deeds, a man avoids evil. The last half of the verse says exactly what we’ve been saying in this whole section: through the fear of the Lord a man is drawn away or turned away from evil to the love and faithfulness of God.
But that’s not the only effect of this fear. It also draws us toward knowledge and blessing. Two well-known verses highlight this. Proverbs 1:7 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Here we are told that wisdom and knowledge have their foundation in the fear of the Lord. To put it another way, people who fear the Lord have their head on straight. Why? Because God is the most important variable in any life; you can’t make wise decisions if you don’t take God into account.
Trying to be wise without fear of the Lord is like trying to fly cross country without consulting a weather map. You’ve neglected a key factor in your planning. Or it’s like trying to grow plants in the dark. You’ve left out what is essential for growth. God, and his desires, and his plans are the most important factor influencing your life, whether you take Him into account or not. The fear of the Lord is the foundation for wisdom because it takes him into account.
Proverbs also teaches that as we grow in knowledge of God and wisdom we also grow in fear of the Lord. Solomon says in Proverbs 2: “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, 2making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; 3yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, 4if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, 5then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” We seek wisdom and insight with our ears, our hearts, our voices and our eyes, crying out and searching for these things. If we do this, then we’ll understand what it means to fear God.
This is a very practical truth, because it says the better you know God the more you will fear God. Your awe, your respect, your worship, and your obedience will grow through knowledge of God, which is mainly gained through time in the Word. I saw a study once, can’t find it now, that was trying to see if length of time as a believer correlated to maturity. It didn’t. But the researches did find something that correlated with maturity: how much time a person had spent in the Word. People who had spent just three years or more in consistent daily Bible time were higher in every measure of spiritual maturity used in the study. We ought to take that seriously. Knowledge of God leads to godly fear.
The fear of the Lord also leads to blessing. As with most blessings in Proverbs, this is very practical. Proverbs 14:26, NIV “He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.” As we walk in godly fear and obedience, we more and more find strength and refuge in God. As parents we have a special motivation to fear the Lord because that fear makes our families a safe place for our children. As we walk into the refuge of God through awe and obedience, we open the door for our children to find the same refuge.
Proverbs 19:23 reinforces this truth. “The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.” Here the blessing that comes from fear is life itself, spiritual life, eternal life, abundant life. Those with this life are “satisfied,” “not visited by harm.” I don’t think this means they won’t have trouble, but in trials the fear of the Lord gives perspective, comfort and peace. The life they have been given means that no present circumstance can ultimately harm them.
The verse reminds me of Philippians 4: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Finally, fear of the Lord leads to trust in the Lord. Perhaps the key verse that links the two concepts is Proverbs 29:25 “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” In the first half we have ‘fear of man’, basing our actions and behaviors on what people will do or think. We run scared live in paralysis for fear of losing our jobs, our approval, our so-called friends. In our culture we call one aspect of this ‘peer pressure.’ Negative peer pressure is a snare for many who can’t break away from what their friends believe and do. And it’s not just young people. Aall of us can be pressured to do things we know aren’t right by these fears: at work, and even in our families or at church.
But what is the opposite of ‘fear of man’ in this verse? We would expect it to be fear of the Lord. We’ve already seen that fear of the Lord is a powerful force to turn us away from evil and lead us to knowledge of God and blessing. But it doesn’t say “fear of the Lord” it says “whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” To trust in the Lord must be like fearing the Lord. In fact, fear leads to trust. As we get to know the Lord better, as we begin to be in awe of what he has done, to worship, to respect his desire and to obey, we recognize more and more that we can trust him, that only he is worthy of our faith.
This concept of trusting in the Lord is common in Proverbs. In Proverbs 22 one of the authors says to keep the words of the wise within you and ready on you your lips. And then, verse 19, “That your trust may be in the Lord, I have made them known to you today, even to you.” Again, this is a place where we would have expected him to say “so that you may fear the Lord,” but he says “so that you may trust’ the Lord.” The same thing is true in Proverbs 16:20 “Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.” Great verse. Pay attention to the instruction of Scripture and discover good. And then trust in the Lord and be blessed. To truly fear the Lord, to take him seriously and respect him, means to trust him not ourselves.
One of the best known verses in Proverbs teaches this trust in the Lord. Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” The fear of the Lord leads to this kind of trust. As we stand in awe of who he is and of his works will we begin to realize that his plans and ways are far above our understanding and far better than our imagining. As we submit our lives to him, he gives us straight paths, directs our paths.
The key is a resolution to trust God’s way rather than man’s. When we celebrated the homegoing of Billy Graham earlier this year I reread the story of his doubt. He began his ministry at a time when the authority and sufficiency of Scripture was being widely questioned, even by Graham’s Young Life coworkers. In 1949 their influence came to a head at a Christian camp in California. He went off and put his Bible on a stump and told God his doubts. But one phrase stood between him and giving up his ministry, the common phrase in Scripture “thus says the Lord.” Finally, he fell to his knees and said “Father, I am going to accept this as thy Word, by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word!” Billy Graham’s extraordinary ministry flowed from that moment.
Proverbs 28:25-26 “A greedy man stirs up strife, but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched. 26Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” A greedy person always reaches out to take hold of his own good, to grab whatever passes by and say ‘this is mine’. But the person who trusts in the Lord trusts His provision. He is willing to wait, he doesn’t feel the need to hoard or grab what is rightfully someone else’s. In the same way, verse 26, he who trusts in himself is a fool. What we fail to realize in our egotism and pride is what a thin string we hang on when we trust only in ourselves. It’s like lowering a piano from a window suspended by a chain of cooked spaghetti. Trusting in God is lowering that piano suspended from a strong strap. He who walks in that kind of wisdom is secure.
So the fear of the Lord leads us to a decision point: will we put our trust in God or will we continue to trust in ourselves? Proverbs says that trusting in ourselves and going our own way is entirely unprofitable. It’s foolish. Scripture teaches that it’s also sinful. Self-centeredness is sin. It’s rebellion against the way God has designed us. When we go our own way, doing what we want rather than what God wants, acting out our egotism and pride, our greed and selfishness, we separate ourselves from God. And the result is death. As we said earlier “the fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.” The New Testament says “the wages of sin is death.”
But Proverbs also teaches us that the fear of the Lord leads us to trust in the Lord. We stand in awe of who God is, we stand in fear of his judgment so we turn and trust what God has done. He has seen our sin, our greed, our pride, our death, and because he loves us he has not been content to leave us on that path. Instead, in love, he sent his Son to the cross to take the penalty and die the death we deserved. He died so we might live, he was separated from the Father for a time so that we might be with the Father for eternity, he was punished so that we might go free.
The fear of the Lord teaches us to come in awe to the foot of the cross, to see what God has done, his marvelous works on our behalf and to feel awe in the very pit of our stomachs over such an amazing love from an amazing God. It is in this we place our trust. The Psalmist says “I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.” The New Testament says “Believe” or trust, “in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.’ It is trust, faith, believing, that the Bible over and over identifies as the key to salvation. By faith we trust Jesus for rescue from sin and death, for cleansing and newness, for eternal life.
But the fear of the lord is also the key to the practical benefit of Proverbs. In the years after I first preached this sermon the one thing I’d seen that stuck with me is the realization that “God is the most important variable in any life; you can’t make wise decisions if you don’t take God into account.” Wisdom for right living requires the fear of the Lord because he is the center of life in the world he has made. Living life without taking God into account is like trying to launch a rocket withtout knowing the law of gravity. It’s like trying to build the transcontinental railroad without taking account of the Rocky Mountains. It’s like trying to grow a plant without sunshine. But like a plant turning to the sun, the fear of the Lord teaches us to turn from evil to trust.
So my plea to you this morning is to pursue the fear of the Lord. Pursue awe. Pursue worship. Pursue a deep knowledge of his justice and judgment. And pursue respect that obeys. This is the beginning of wisdom and the path to trust.