“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10 (NKJV)
The fear of the Lord is a common theme in Scripture. In Proverbs, we are told that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Prov 1:7, 9:10). In the book of Deuteronomy the fear of the Lord is frequently given as a reason to serve God, obey God and worship God and God alone. Peter tells us that knowing that God judges all people without partiality we are to live our lives on earth in fear (1 Pet 1:17). The book of Philippians tells us we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 1:12). Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that knowing the terror of the Lord is part of what motivated him to work hard at persuading people about the Gospel (2 Cor 5:11).
This small sampling teaches us that the fear of the Lord is a common and important theme in both the Old and New Testaments. Despite being such a consistent and important theme in Scripture, it is relatively unheard of and mostly misunderstood by the modern church. I believe this is a massive hindrance to the church. One of the reasons this teaching is unheard of and misunderstood is because it truly is a hard concept to understand.
What does it mean to fear the Lord? At times, we’ve been told that the fear of the Lord means respect, reverence or awe. While this is partially true, it falls short of what is really meant. Think for a second of who we are talking about when we talk about God. This is a Being with unlimited power and knowledge. This is a Being that can do anything He wants to and there is no one or nothing in the universe that could stop Him. This is Being that is so pure and holy that no sin can enter into His presence. This is also a Being that is so just that He will absolutely punish every single sin.
This is the Biblical picture of our all-powerful God. When we recognize the greatness and power of our God, it gives us a clearer picture of ourselves. We are sinful. We are weak. We are frail. We are needy. When we correctly recognize who God is and who we are, fear is a rational and proper response. Fear, real fear, is a part of what is intended by the fear of the Lord.
However, does this mean we are to have a terrible dread of a capricious God that will smite us at any moment? Obviously, the answer to this is no. So what does the fear of the Lord mean? The best way I can understand the fear of the Lord is like this. It is a recognition of God’s greatness and power that has been tempered by an understanding of His mercy and love. There must be an understanding of the greatness, power, holiness and majesty of God. The fear that this should produce is transformed into a holy reverence or reverent awe for the Lord when we also recognize His great love and mercy for us.
Recognizing God’s greatness, power, mercy and love motivates us to remove ourselves from being the central authority in our lives and putting Christ in that place. One of my commentaries explained it this way. “For today’s Christian, the fear of the Lord also means that one has made the foundational decision to trust Jesus as Lord of one’s life. To say that we believe in Jesus but refuse to acknowledge Him as Lord of creation and Lord of our lives is to live like the fool, in dangerous denial of the facts. Proverbs seeing that danger, offers more than tips for success or even for moral guidance; it holds out wisdom as an invitation to a relationship with a loving God.”
As we look the book of Proverbs in the coming weeks, we must have an attitude that says that Proverbs and the God who inspired it has the authority and not me. It means that when God says to do something I will do it. It means that I don’t see the commands of the Lord as suggestions. It means that there is no hesitation in doing what God wants me to do. This is what it means for me to live in the fear of the Lord.
This is not just teaching founding Proverbs. This is all throughout Scripture. As believers in Jesus Christ, we are expected to surrender our lives and our wills to Christ. Surrendering control of our lives to the Lordship of Christ is one of the most important teachings of Scripture.
To live in the fear of the Lord is to live under the Lordship of Christ. Proverbs says that is where it all begins. Without the fear of the Lord, without living under the Lordship of Christ we will never get out of Proverbs what God intended for us to get. Proverbs says that this is where it all begins. If we get the fear of the Lord right, we will get everything else right. Everything starts with having a right relationship with God. A right relationship with God comes when we receive Christ as both Lord and Savior.
 Paul E. Koptak, NIV Application Commentary Proverbs, pg. 46