The Fear of God
“Ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God … ?” (Neh. 5:9)
Nehemiah and his companions were doing a great work for God: the building of the wall, and the putting in order of the gates. Like every other work of God, it became a target for the attacks of the enemy. For a time, these attacks came largely from the outside; but they were successfully withstood, and the work continued. However, in chapter 5, we see the enemy’s purpose to be the same, but his methods were changed: he was stirring up strife and trouble inside (5:1-5).
Nehemiah, a man of God, was no doubt greatly disturbed because of this, and felt that something had to be done. What did he do? Give up? Cease the work? No! And why not? Because it was a work of God that he was engaged in; what he was doing was in keeping with the will and the word of God.
When difficulty arises in the assembly, there are some who say, “We give up,” and off they go, abandoning a scriptural position, and often going to places in which are found good Christians and good work, but for which there is no scriptural authority. The assembly is of God; let us abide by it.
Note also that he did not say, “Well, it’s clear that we cannot all agree together; we will not give up, but we will divide up.” Rather, he realized that it was one city, one wall, one work; and in it, every man and his work was needed. There would be strength and prosperity in unity, but weakness and poverty in division. Unity is something which God likes (Ps. 133) and which Satan hates. Let us see to it that we all aim at what pleases God in this connection.
What did Nehemiah do? He reminded his brethren of “the fear of our God.” What would be more likely to dispel our troubles than the fear of God? Perhaps most are more inclined to walk in the fear of man; but that, of course, brings a snare. David and Peter both discovered that. Nehemiah did not fear man, so much so that of one he said, “I chased him from me.” How important: he feared God! Had he known the old hymn, he would likely have used it:
“Trust no party, sect, or faction;
Trust no leaders in the fight.
Cease from man and look above thee;
Trust in God, and do the right!”
What Is the Fear of God? The fear of God is not a slavish fear of death or judgment. Perfect love has cast out such a fear. Mr. W. E. Vine suggests that the fear of God is “a wholesome dread of displeasing God.” If this fear were in our hearts day and night, would not our private and assembly lives be greatly changed?
Reasons For Fearing God
1. His Greatness and Majesty. Let us ever remember that He is a great God. If we were to stand in the presence of kings, presidents, or emperors, would we not do so in a very careful, becoming way? Yes, and rightly so! How much more then should we do so when we consider the awful majesty and absolute authority of God!
2. His Holiness. Has this not lost its grip on our hearts? God is so holy, that Moses was told, “Put off thy shoes” (Ex. 3:5); holy beings veil their faces and feet and cry, “Holy, holy, holy” (Isa. 6:3). On the cross, the Lord Jesus was forsaken and cried, “Why?” “Thou art holy,” echoes the Psalmist (Ps. 22:3). If these remarkable individuals have had such experiences, how much more should we dread to displease our God!
3. His Judgment. Think of those who lost their fear of God: Uzziah did what was “right in the sight of the Lord” at the beginning of his reign. “He sought God” and “God made him to prosper” … (2 Chron. 26:4-5). However, “when he was strong … he transgressed against the Lord his God.” As a result, God smote him, and he became a leper (2 Chron. 26:16-21).
Ananias and Sapphira were carried out lifeless, because the hand of God was upon them for lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11). Solemnly, we must realize that those who lost their fear of God, experienced His judgments upon them.
Results Of Fearing God
1. It Will Keep Us from Sin (Ex. 20:20). Sinners have “no fear of God”; hence, their excessive sin (Rom. 3:8). When Abraham was in the place where there was no fear of God, he sinned (Gen. 20:11). Job was a man that feared God, and consequently he eschewed evil (Job 1:1). Joseph is another good illustration (Gen. 37: 9). His master’s eye was not upon him; his brethren were not at hand; and yet he fled from sin. Why? He feared God!
2. It Will Produce Reverence (Ps. 89:7). Do we not freely acknowledge that this is sadly lacking in many of our lives and assembly gatherings? Late arrivals, early departures, and irreverent demeanour are sometimes much too common. We could not imagine a priest in the tabernacle or the temple going in to execute holy orders in a careless, irreverent fashion. As he would tread those courts, he would feel that God was there — holy, majestic, eternal. Let us all watch our deportment just as carefully.
3. It Will Lead Us to Treat Our Brethren Properly (Gen. 42:18). Joseph had suffered much at the hands of his brethren, a difficult, cruel group of men. Now the position is reversed: he is in power and they are at his mercy. Had he meted out stern judgment, we could not have blamed him; but he did not do so. Why not? He feared God! A Christian who fears God will not speak evil or act evilly toward a fellow-saint. It may be that many of their ways and associations are unacceptable to him, but he will do what is right toward them because of the dread of displeasing God.
4. It Will Solve Assembly Troubles (Phil. 2:12). I rather think that this verse refers to the salvation of the Philippian assembly from trouble, and possibly the trouble referred to elsewhere between two sisters. Paul says to them, “Work out your own salvation with fear.” If this were present our assembly troubles would soon be gone. If all of us walked in God’s fear and wanted only what was right, surely our troubles would disappear overnight. Why are assembly difficulties often not solved? I submit that the reason is a lack of the fear of God.
5. It Will Promote Fellowship (Mai. 3:16). God says that fellowship is good and pleasant; God loves it, but Satan hates it, and will do anything he can to mar or hinder it. But if we fear God, fellowship will be seen in greater measure. How much need there is for a greater amount of fellowship based upon a whole-hearted acceptance of the truth of God in His fear!
Rewards Of Fearing God
Nothing that I see in Scripture yields better dividends than does the fear of God.
1. It Will Bring Blessing (Ps. 115:13). As we think of our homes, our assemblies, and our service, do we not need and long for the blessing of God? Is He as good as His Word? Let us put Him to the test. (See Gen. 22:12; 24:1.)
2. It Will Bring Protection (Ps. 34:7). Daniel in the lions’ den is an illustration of this blessing. He seemed happier and safer in the den than did the king in his palace. “My God hath sent His angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths.” How much he experienced the protection of God!
3. It Will Bring Honour (Ps. 15:4). Whether we admit it or not, most of us would like a little honour. The trouble is that we seek it from the wrong source. It is the Lord Who lifteth up. The men of Babel said, “Let us make us a name.” God called Abraham out from it all, and said, “I will make thy name great,” and He did. The men of Babel died “Unwept, unhonoured and unsung,” but Abraham has been honoured in life and death. Today, his name occupies an honoured place in the pages of Holy Writ, and in the hearts of God’s own people.
4. It Will Bring Revelation (Ps. 25:14). There are some who do not seem to be great readers or students, yet in a peculiar way, they seem to know the mind of God. It may be that this is the secret: God makes known His secrets as He did to Abraham (Gen. 18:17).
5. It Will Bring Fulfilled Desires (Ps. 145:19). Despite Lot’s departure and worldliness, Abraham longed for his good, and stood before the Lord on Lot’s behalf. God granted Abraham’s desire and sent Lot out of the overthrow (Gen. 19:29).
6. It Will Bring Abundant Provision (Ps. 34:9). Some of us have listened with rapt attention to men of God who can tell of years of service, and of the wonderful way in which God has met their many needs — material, physical, mental, and spiritual.
As the days darken and the difficulties increase, we do well to take carefully to heart the words of Nehemiah, “Ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God?” “It shall be well with them that fear God.” (Eccl. 8:12).