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Is the fear of the Lord a good or a bad thing? The Bible appears to commend it in numerous places:

“Blessed is the one who fears the LORD always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” (Proverbs 28:14 ESV)

Douglas Stuart in his commentary on Exodus says helpfully:

“The fear of the Lord is enjoined throughout Scripture, demanding that God’s people stand always in awe of him, appreciate his supremacy and greatness, fear the consequences of disobeying his will, and not treat lightly any aspect of their covenant relationship with him, lest the consequences be severe or even fatal. Attempts on the part of some in modern times to define fearing the Lord as merely respecting him distort the biblical evidence.”[1]

Jesus seems to commend the fear of the Lord in Matthew 10:28:

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28 ESV)

The Apostle Paul said that a proper fear of the Lord motivates evangelism:

“Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” (2 Corinthians 5:11 ESV)

Peter told his people to fear the Lord:

“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17 ESV)

Maybe the confusion comes from something the Apostle John said in his first epistle:

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18 ESV)

Is John contradicting Jesus? And Paul? And Peter? Or is he talking about something else?

Most commentators see no contradiction between what John is saying and the consistent message of the Bible commending the fear of the Lord. The key is to read 1 John 4:18 in context. The previous verse says:

“By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17 ESV)

In this passage, “fear” is presented as the opposite of “confidence on judgment day”. John is saying that if you know the love of God through Christ then you can be confident on the day of judgment – you don’t need to be terrified of being condemned and sent to hell. Colin Kruse understands the passage that way, saying:

“The type of love the author has in mind when he says ‘love is made complete among us’ (lit. ‘with us’, meth’ hēmōn) here would seem to be God’s love that is with us, which completes its work so that our fear as we face the day of judgement is removed.”[2]

A Christian secure in the love of God through Christ should not be terrified of judgment day – but he, or she, should maintain an appropriate fear of the Lord, for:

“Blessed is the one who fears the LORD always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” (Proverbs 28:14 ESV)

Thanks be to God!

Paul Carter

To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes. To access the entire library of available episodes see here.

[1] Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus in Volume of 2 of The New American Commentary, (Nashville: B&H Publishers, 2006), 240.

[2] Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John, Pillar New Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 166.