IS FEAR A SIN?

I want to be very clear in my answer to the question asked in the title of this post, “Is fear a sin?” I don’t know for sure, but my sense is that maybe it is and maybe it isn’t; it all depends.

I’ve never run the numbers myself, but I have heard from multiple sources that “fear not” appears in the Bible 365 times – one for each day of the year. The repeated instruction “fear not” is clearly something Christians need to hear and take seriously.

I read a article yesterday by Megan Briggs in which she reported “the Bible verse most shared, bookmarked, and highlighted on the YouVersion Bible app during 2020 is Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Through the years I have used that verse many times in funerals I have conducted and other difficult situations. It is a comforting and encouraging statement relevant to many situations we face in life.

But there are other passages in the Bible that instruct us to fear. Most readers probably are familiar with Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Not everyone will remember the book, chapter, and verse; but most readers will have heard Ecclesiastes 12:13 and 14: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

Which is it? Are we to fear or are we not to fear? My answer is both. To fear God doesn’t mean we cower in fear of him, but rather to respect, honor, and worship him for who he is and what he has done and does. In Luke 12:4 and 5 Jesus tells us more: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” 

Sometimes Christians overstate the maxim that faith overcomes fear. Faith certainly helps us face and deal with fear, but it doesn’t always melt our fears. Two definitions I read that make sense to me are “fear is threat of harm, real or imagined,” and “fear is one of the most basic human emotions,”

I’m pretty sure the reason the most popular Bible verse(s) of 2020 tell us “not to fear” or “fear not” is the Covid-19 pandemic. In the interest of transparency, I have been fearful at times of being infected. And I’ve also been fearful of what the outcome could be for me if I did become infected.

Here’s the point I want to make about this subject of fear: to not fear does not mean because we are Christians everything will always go well for us.  Nor does to not fear mean we can be irresponsible, overly casual or reckless, take risks we don’t have to take, or think we are somehow not vulnerable to problems, illness, tragedies, pain, and many other things both unbelievers and believers fear.

Because of our deep and growing faith we should appropriately fear God and continue to trust him as we experience and deal with the many fears of which we may be vulnerable. And when we do realize we are fearful, we might remind ourselves that our Heavenly Father is a God of grace and forgiveness.

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ARE YOU OPEN OR CLOSED?

As I have done the last several years, I am reading the book of Proverbs again this year during the month of January. Each day I read the corresponding chapter in Proverbs to the day in January. Since today is January 9th I came to Proverbs 9 this morning.

Focusing on verses 7-17, I had to ask myself if I was open or closed when it comes to continuing to learn and grow in wisdom. Here are the verses (I copied and pasted from BibleGateway.com):

Proverbs 9:7-12 New Living Translation (NLT)

Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get an insult in return.
Anyone who corrects the wicked will get hurt.
So don’t bother correcting mockers;
they will only hate you.
But correct the wise,
and they will love you.
Instruct the wise,
and they will be even wiser.
Teach the righteous,
and they will learn even more.

10 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom.
Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.

11 Wisdom will multiply your days
and add years to your life.
12 If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit.
If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer.

Verses 7 and 8a warn us that mockers and the wicked are not open to be rebuked or corrected. Their response shows they are not just closed to such efforts, but are hostile to them.

Verses 8b and 9 tell us the wise and the righteous are open to being corrected, instructed, and taught. They are not just open, they will love you for correcting them and will be wiser as they learn more.

Verse 10 reminds us that “the fear of the LORD” is the foundation of wisdom, and that good judgment is an outcome of knowing him. When I teach the book of Proverbs I use an acrostic I came up with (ARWOL) to give a sense of what it means to fear the LORD. It is not to cower before him but rather to acknowledge, respect, worship, obey, and love him.

Finally, verses 11 and 12 encourage us that gaining wisdom is beneficial and that rejecting it is damaging.

For me the first part of verse 9 is the most striking observation in this passage: “Instruct the wise, and they will be even wiser.” My take on it is that wise people — because they are already somewhat wise — are open to learning, growing, and becoming even wiser.

My intention is not to be closed to continue learning and becoming wiser but to be open. It’s not always easy, but it is my intention. Are you open or closed?

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FEAR THE LORD?

In my High School Bible class we recently concluded our survey of the five poetry and wisdom books in the Old Testament. Both Proverbs and Ecclesiastes give a foundational principle that can be confusing and has troubled some believers. Proverbs 1:7 declares “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” And Ecclesiastes 12:13 wraps up the book with “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments.”

Are we really supposed to fear God? That all depends on our relationship with him and our understanding of the challenge. What does it mean to fear the LORD?

I don’t think it means we should run from, avoid, or shrink away from him like we would a dangerous animal or situation. After all, he is our Creator and Heavenly Father and he loves us. He also is our friend, but he is not our pal or good buddy.

In my teaching the past few years I’ve been thinking and talking about the fear of the LORD quite a bit in trying to understand what it means and challenge my students. A couple of weeks ago I realized my proposals suggest an acrostic: ARWOL.

Fear of the LORD begins with an acknowledgement of his existence. You no doubt believe God is, but not everyone does. To fear the LORD we must acknowledge the LORD. But it is more than that.

To fear the LORD is also to respect him. By their words and actions, a lot of people who acknowledge God certainly don’t seem to respect him. To fear the LORD we must respect the LORD. But it is more than that.

To fear the LORD is to worship him. And by that I don’t mean simply going to church. Of course I think it means we go to church, but worship involves much more than just going to church. It goes beyond acknowledging and respecting him to honoring him for who he is. To fear LORD we must worship the LORD. But it is more than that.

To fear the LORD is to obey him. That’s part of what Ecclesiastes 12:13 is saying goes with fearing God. But it is not to intimate that if we fear the LORD we will perfectly obey him. We know that is not the case. We might say we try to obey him or we intend to obey him or our resolve is to obey him even though we are not always successful. But because we fear him it is our intention and goal to obey him. But it is more than just obey him.

Finally in my acrostic, to fear the LORD is to love him. You remember I’m sure Jesus’ answer to the question asked of him in Matthew 22:36 and 37 about the greatest commandment. He replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” My paraphrase: love God completely. To fear the LORD we must love the LORD. And to love the LORD is to acknowledge, respect, worship, and obey him.

I’m interested in what you think. Please feel free to leave a comment below (or email me at bobmmink@gmail.com) and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK YOU KNOW?

I love the Old Testament book of Proverbs and have reread it every January for several years now. There is no way I could choose one favorite verse, but one I return to again and again is Proverbs 9:9. The New International Version renders this verse “Instruct the wise, and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.” Here are four things I take from this verse.

I DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING. You may think that is obvious, but the truth is I sometimes come across as though I know a lot more than I do. I am finally learning that it is good to keep in mind that I don’t know everything; I don’t even know as much as I sometimes think I do.

Not only do I not know everything, I COULD BE WRONG. I don’t like to be wrong, but there have been plenty of times when I have been wrong. I’ve been wrong on some little things, and I have been wrong on some big things. It hasn’t always been easy for me to admit that I could be or was wrong.

If I could be wrong, then it follows that THE PERSON WHO DISAGREES WITH ME COULD BE RIGHT. If it is hard to admit you could be or were wrong, it’s probably even harder to admit that the person who disagreed with you was right.  I know people who have disagreed with me have been right at times.

In light of these first three revelations (that I’m sure surprise no one), I NEED TO KEEP LEARNING AND GROWING IN WISDOM. I don’t need to know everything, I don’t need to always be right, and it’s ok that someone who disagrees with me is right. What I need to do is to keep on learning and growing. And these four affirmations indicate at least some progress.

Going back to Proverbs 9:9, A CERTAIN LEVEL OF WISDOM IS ASSUMED if a person who is instructed will become even wiser. And A CERTAIN LEVEL OF RIGHTEOUSNESS IS ASSUMED if a person who is taught will learn more. I don’t think we can be too optimistic for those who think they know everything, who don’t think they are ever wrong and someone else could be right, or don’t realize they need to continue to learn and grow.

Proverbs 1:7 gives the theme of the book: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” By “fear of the LORD” the Bible does not mean that we shrink back in terror from God, but rather that we acknowledge Him as Creator, worship Him as God, and submit to Him as Lord. That is a good beginning point, isn’t it? From there we can continue to welcome wisdom and instruction into our lives.

Share this post with others if you think it will encourage them and I welcome comments below.

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