As Jesus continues to prepare His Apostles to go on their mission of spreading the gospel, He addresses any fear they may have that people they come in contact with may seek to do them bodily harm, perhaps even kill them. He tells them:
“Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28)
On the one hand, it may be a lot to ask of someone to not be afraid of people who want to kill them — it’s a natural reaction. However, on the other hand, if you truly believe in God and you know where your soul is going when you leave this life, it does make it somewhat easier. And, if your choice is to either (a) keep yourself safe from harm but disobey God or (b) obey God even though it means risking your life, the choice should be easy. That’s what Jesus is saying in the verse above.
The one part of this verse that strikes me though is the part about fearing God. Isn’t God our heavenly father? Isn’t He the one who loves us so much? The one who sent His Son to save us? Why would we fear God?
Over the years, I’ve had it taught to me that when it says in the scriptures to fear God, it really means that we should give him reverence. Consistent with that concept, if you look up “fear” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, definition No. 3 is “profound reverence and awe, especially toward God.” And, it is true that there are several Bible verses in which the Greek word for “reverence” was translated to “fear,” such as these:
- Acts 9:31 (“walking in the fear of the Lord”)
- 2 Corinthians 7:1 (“perfecting holiness in the fear of God”)
- Ephesians 5:21 (“submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God”)
However, although there are several verses similar to the above, there are many more verses in which the word “fear” comes from the Greek word that means to be afraid, including Matthew 10:28 above in which both instances of the word “fear” come from that same Greek word. So, it does appear that many scriptural references are telling us to live in the fear of God.
In order to understand what it means to live in the fear of God, it might be helpful to consider other fears that people live with. On the website fearof.net, there is a list of the top 100 phobias in the world. Here are a few common ones:
- Acrophobia — Fear of heights
- Aerophobia — Fear of flying
- Claustrophobia — Fear of small places
If we have one of these fears, how do we live with it? Well, quite simply, we take certain actions to avoid the condition associated with that fear. For the ones listed above, we would probably avoid high places, not use airplanes, and stay out of elevators. A couple of years ago, many people were living in fear of Covid so they took actions, such as wearing masks, social distancing, staying home, etc., to try to avoid that condition.
Well, when we talk about the fear of God — first of all, we need to realize that it’s not really God that we’re afraid of but rather the condition described in Matthew 10:28 above — having our soul and body cast into hell. So, that’s the fear that we are living with. And, how do we live with that fear? Just as with the other fears listed above, we take certain actions to avoid the condition associated with the fear — we repent of our sins, get baptized, live a righteous life and endure to the end.
For those of us who have already repented of our sins and been baptized, we’re now in the “live a righteous life” phase. As defined in an earlier blog, living a righteous life means doing what God wants you to do. So, for us, living in the fear of God simply means doing what God wants us to do (and not doing what He doesn’t want us to do). Considering what the Lord has done for us, we’re happy to do what He wants us to do — there’s actually no fear involved at all!
Somebody living with aerophobia who never goes on an airplane has nothing to fear because he has taken the proper actions. We who are living in the fear of God and have taken (and continue to take) the proper actions to serve God also have nothing to fear — we are on the path that leads to eternal salvation, and we will make it there when we endure to the end.
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.