“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10
The fear, or reverence, of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…
Because foolishness places “self” at the front of and in the center of my life. Wisdom, on the other hand, always elevates God to front and center. Wisdom realizes there is something greater than self and constantly culls the universe for God’s perspective. The more I allow God’s presence and perspective to permeate my mind and heart, the more wisdom will expand and then feed an even greater reverence for God. It’s a cycle of spiritual health and wholeness.
Proverbs says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It’s just the beginning, but not its sum total? Oh, I must have missed that one over the years. So, what’s the rest of the story? What if I stopped at the fear of the Lord, what would I get?
I think you’d get the Puritans. The Puritans had a deep reverence for God, and a high regard for his holiness. They were never cavalier about God’s Word or their obedience to it. Living in the 21st century where God’s name is most often used in some expression of profanity, the Puritan’s poetry and other writings have long been a welcome relief for my weary soul. I value and appreciate their unwavering respect for God’s holiness and have learned much from them.
However, when the Puritans set out to establish what they believed was God’s “city set on a hill” in the New World, they shifted into a people who valued external conformity over internal devotion. They intentionally incorporated their Biblical understanding of holiness into the very fabric of their local governing charters and constitutions. The Puritans feared God and demanded that others fear him too.
The external conformity required by the Puritans was based on their apprehension that if people viewed God differently than they, then the detractors would destroy the perfect Christian Utopia they had built. Their fear “of God” had morphed into a fear “for God.” The Puritans believed God’s holiness needed their protection so obedience and conformity by all (even unbelievers) became paramount, and had to be maintained at any cost.
Wisdom, however, doesn’t only run on one rail; it runs on two. The verse says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” So, “knowing” God is just as important as fearing him. Knowing him is vital to providing understanding to our hearts and minds. Now, we’re back to perspective and presence: fearing God provides perspective, and knowing God comes through an exposure to his presence.
Fearing God without knowing God is the fast track to religion, legalism, and condemnation and is not what Proverbs 9:10 intends at all. If we stop at fearing God and never learn to know him or love him, our lives will swing excessively out of balance. To exaggerate the fear of the Lord, without tethering it to knowing him, renders me vulnerable to the excesses of legalism and spiritual tyranny. The God of the universe does not need my protection.
James 3:17 provides a broader definition of wisdom when it says, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” The latitude in James’ description breathes grace into my understanding of wisdom and makes me less tentative to embrace a healthy fear (or reverence) of God.
I desperately want to understand the fear of God without being afraid of it! Grace offers me that door.
So it begs the question, what is healthy about reverencing the Lord?
1. My fear of God alters who I live my life for:
- I don’t live to please or impress others
- I don’t live to please myself
- I live to please God
2. My fear of God provides a boundary for my emotions and allows me to express them without acting rashly or foolishly
3. My fear of God demonstrates my belief that he knows more than I do, and that produces humility in my life
4. My fear of God releases me from defending or avenging myself
5. My fear of God recognizes his sovereignty over my life
This week as I’ve thought about fear and wisdom, a group of early American settlers, called the Moravians, has come to mind. The Moravians were known for a deep personal faith in God, a relentless devotion to prayer, and a sacrificial commitment to sharing their faith with others.
They were also fearless because they feared God.
In October of 1735 a small group of Moravians boarded a ship bound for the province of Georgia to bring the Gospel to America. Also on board The Simmonds for that same voyage were John and Charles Wesley. The Wesley brothers were sailing to America at the request of Georgia’s governor, James Oglethorpe, who wanted them to minister in the new Savannah parish.
During their trip across the Atlantic, The Simmonds was caught in a ferocious storm, which snapped the main sail of the ship. While the English screamed and feared for their lives, the Moravians sat peace-filled praying and singing all the way through the storm. Later, John Wesley asked one of the Moravians if he had been afraid.
“I thank God, no,” the man answered. Then Wesley asked again, “But were not your women and children afraid?” He replied, mildly, “No; our women and children are not afraid to die.”
Why weren’t they afraid to die? Because they had a healthy fear of God and understood that his sovereignty over them would always have their best interest at heart and His glory in mind. John Wesley was forever changed by his encounter with the Moravians and eventually embraced his own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He and his brother went on to call thousands and thousands of others into a relationship with Christ as well.
Regardless of a storm’s raging fury, having a healthy fear of God allows my heart to rest in peace while I sing through the storms of my life. Fearing God is essential to living a peace-filled life, and knowing God provides the necessary balance so I can also live a grace-filled life.
Are you in the midst of a storm? Are you afraid? My prayer for you is that God will give you the faith to believe in him and the courage to sing.
© Copyright, 2012 by Donna Tallman.