What Does It Mean to Fear the Lord?

I am a few weeks into following the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) for my daily Bible reading. For most of the year, the elections, or texts, include a reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm, an Epistle, and a Gospel.

Recently, I have been reading in the book of Acts and I came to chapter 9. Leading up to this we witness Paul’s miraculous encounter with the resurrected Christ on the Damascus Road. It’s clear in the preceding chapters how God is forming the church in its infancy and there are incredible displays of spiritual power – from the story of Simon the Sorcerer to Ananias and Saphira, in addition to incredible displays of community as the church grows together in unity (Acts 2:42).

And then in Act 9:31 we read the following:

Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

What do you notice when you read these words? What jumped off the page to me was the mention of the church in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. This is reminiscent of Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

I’m always on the lookout for repeated words or phrases when I read the Bible and with this set of repeated locations I see that the words of Jesus are coming to fruition – the church is expanding, indeed the disciples were witnesses.

But what struck me most was the description of the church at this time:

They enjoyed a time of peace

The church was strengthened

The church was living in the fear of the Lord

The church was encouraged by the Holy Spirit

The church increased in numbers

You are probably already familiar with most of these descriptions – we all know what it looks like to be encouraged and strengthened, but what does it look like to live in the fear of the Lord? As I began studying the fear of the Lord, I realized that Scripture is replete with references to this doctrine. References to the fear of the Lord are found in almost every book in the Old Testament and throughout many New Testament books. You’ve probably memorized some of these: Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Philippians 2:12, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” I love Nehemiah’s prayer, “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name…” They delight in fearing God. How does that work? I don’t particularly delight in fearing anything.

The best teaching I’ve come across on the fear of the Lord comes from Francis Chan – I would encourage you to take 15 minutes to watch it sometime and consider – what does it look like to live in the fear of the Lord?

Click here to see teaching from Francis Chan. 

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