Is the Primary Meaning of the Word “Fear” in the Bible “Reverence”? Absolutely Not!

In minimizing the effect of the phrase, “the fear of the Lord” (Prov.1:7; 9:10), many have said “fear” in the Bible (“yirah” in Hebrew and “phobeo” in Greek) simply means “reverence” (i.e. deep respect). Unfortunately, what they don’t tell you is that it is only partial truth! They also don’t tell you that the Hebrew word “yirah” means fear, exceeding fear and dreadfulness 100% of the time. And its root word “yare” means fear, afraid and dreadful 99% of the time, that means, it is to be understood as reverence only 1% of the time. Likewise, the Greek word “phobeo” in Mt.10:28 and its root word “phobos” are used 87% of the time as fear or terrifying fear. Again, reverence is rarely its meaning.

What does this mean to us then to fear God (which is what Christians are to do)? While God is indeed our friend, comforter, lover of our souls, gracious Father, good good Father, etc., we must not neglect the fact that He is holy, righteous and to be feared! That means on a daily basis that before I consider sinning against God in any way, whether it is not doing what I’m supposed to do (such as obeying God to serve Him and His people, proclaiming the gospel and making disciples) or doing what I’m not supposed to do (such as indulging in sinful desires, material things and all kinds of worldliness), I must not only tell myself not to sin because He loves me and I love Him, but ALSO to tell myself I must not sin against God because He is to be feared! As Jesus said in Mt.10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Yes, we should fear deliberate continuous sinning that leads to eternal death (Heb.10:26,27) – and that is not a bad motivation not to sin, really. (This is not unlike our fear of fines, penalties and jail-time for committing crimes.) As Christians, we must not only love God but fear Him too. And as the author of Prov.1 wisely said, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” – Prov.1:7. Additional note: With the many worship songs written by so many world-class Christian songwriters today, when was the last time you heard or sang a new song about the fear of the Lord?

To add a story to highlight what fear of the Lord meant to a mentor of mine (Sister Esther) back in the 80s. We were at a church prayer meeting praying for an important outreach event. At the end of the meeting, someone suggested synchronized prayer at 10pm every night from wherever we were until the day of the outreach. Everyone agreed readily and passionately, but suddenly Sister Esther spoke up in Mandarin (she’s mainly Mandarin speaking though she spoke English too). She said she could pray every night at 10pm except for Monday (if I remember correctly) because she had a weekly meeting on Mondays and won’t be home till after 10pm (she preferred to pray when she got home properly and for a prolonged period of time instead of a short prayer in the bus), thus she was unable to commit to 10pm synchronized prayer for Monday night, and she said, “我不敢“, which means “I dare not”. So we all said ok and agreed to change Mondays nights to 10.30pm instead. Then, Sister Esther smiled and said ok. I have never forgotten what I felt in my heart and the expression on Sister Esther’s face when she said, “我不敢”. I felt a strong sense of awe, fear of God and terror, while it was disturbing yet it wasn’t disturbing in a bad way, but made me feel like I want to be holy because God is holy. Sister Esther had unwittingly demonstrated what the fear of the Lord meant to all of us in that room. Holiness filled that room.

God Is So Good To Me

“God is so good, God is so good,
God is so good, He’s so good to me!”

That’s the core message of Christianity – God is so good to me! He is and He will always be. In Him, there is no lack. In Him, we are nourished, refreshed, guided and protected. Even during the most difficult of times and the darkest hours, during the most frightful and life-threatening moments, we fear no evil for He is with us! Surely that is enough for every situation. His plans for us are exceedingly good, and He will bless us abundantly in the presence of our enemies! Imagine what our enemies will say when they see the Lord blessing us when they had intended harm for us (remember the story of Joseph?). And as we continually make Him our Shepherd, goodness and mercy follow us, (we don’t follow them!), all the days of our lives and we dwell in the Lord’s presence forever and ever, Amen!! And very importantly, we MUST remember that the song “God is so good to me” is intended to be sung by every living person – both our friends and foes too – that’s the Lord’s intention – that’s why Jesus said:

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matthew‬ ‭5:44-48‬ ‭CSB‬‬

His desire is that all come to know Him and receive Him as Lord. So the next time we sing God is so good to me, and when we feel the powerful, amazing love of God in our hearts, let us also be mindful that the same love of God we know intimately in our hearts is also the love God has for our friends and foes. When that happens, we view them differently and we will relate with them differently too.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Well-loved hymn that contains timeless truths – this is true worship, offering, surrender and sacrifice in response to the finished work of Christ – nothing here about material favours or worldly gains reserved for me, instead the desire of the true worshipper is expressed this way, “demands my soul, my life, my all”.

“When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood

See from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Where the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small,
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

Our Primary Focus in Corporate Worship

When we gather to worship the Lord, our primary focus is to offer ourselves to the Lord in worship in view of His offering of Himself to us first. Thus, we sing songs about surrendering ourselves and our hearts to God as living sacrifices. When we listen to His Word preached, we respond with a desire and determination to live according to His Word – that too is worship. What the devil has successfully done in some instances is turning worship into a feel good, self-comforting thing with too many songs focused on how much the Lord loves me, gave Himself for me because I am so precious, so special, so loved, and really, I am just so amazing!! It becomes all about ME and that’s not worship. And in some churches, the Word preached is also mostly about how much God wants to bless me because I am so special and so loved, favored and blessed. While it is true that God loves us and we are the apple of His eye, the worship service has to be mostly about Him, what He had done for us and what we would offer Him and do for Him as an expression of our worship and gratitude. There must be a sense of both wonder of God’s love and renewed surrender of ourselves to God in daily living. I had such a moment today in church when we sang, “if You’re calling me, I will answer, If You’re bidding me to come, I will come…. Jesus I come, I surrender, all for Your glory I give my life”. Thank you Awaken Generation for this anointed song of selfless worship.

Effortless Christianity?

“This is what I command you: Love one another.” – John‬ ‭15:17‬ ‭CSB

If loving one another doesn’t require effort and if it is an easy thing to do, Jesus wouldn’t need to command His disciples then and us now to love one another. Neither the Holy Spirit in us nor the finished work of Christ would do that for us without effort on our part. The fact that we lock our homes and car doors tells us something doesn’t it? One could say the Holy Spirit will watch over my home and car, so there’s no need to lock them myself. If you should ever meet a Christian like that, you know his or her theology is flawed! More that that, we would probably think that person is foolish! Likewise, anyone who thinks the Christian life can or should be lived without any effort on our part is theologically flawed.

敞开我心 (Open Wide My Heart)I’m

So deeply affected and moved the last weekend by this song, 敞开我心 (Open Wide My Heart) written by Taiwanese pastor, Rev 葛兆昕. The worship teams at Seremban Praise Sanctuary where I spoke last weekend included this song in their worship sets on both Sat and Sun. The entire song has amazing lyrics but in particular, I’d like to share a little about the song title which is sung at the start of the chorus, “我向祢敞开我心, 恳求祢更新我心意” which means “towards You I open wide my heart, earnestly begging You to renew my heart”. While the simple meaning of 敞开我心 is “open wide my heart” but 敞开 (open wide) means a whole lot more (as it so often does in Chinese – such a beautiful language). It’s an opening of the heart that is unrestrained, without limit and forceful. It is best understood through these two sentences, “我手抓着拳,连指甲都陷进了肉里。我要跟他敞开了说” (which may be translated, “with fists tightly clenched, almost digging my fingernails into my flesh, I will speak with him most openly!”) and “昂首立山巅,喝一口水,敞开胸怀,把十万大山抱起来!” (which may be translated, “lifting my head towards the summit, I drink a mouthful of water and open wide my heart to embrace a hundred thousand mountains before me!”) Understanding the deeper meaning and emotions behind the words 敞开我心 certainly made singing it deeply emotional. It’s like saying, “Lord, unto You I rip my heart wide open!” Here’s the original version of the song on Spotify and also the video I recorded with my phone published on YouTube. May the Holy Spirit move you as He had moved me through this anointed sing.

Do I Love Jesus?

Do I love Jesus? That’s the question I asked myself recently. If so, what does my love for Jesus look like? What should it look like? I must admit, for a while it troubled me, do I really love the Lord? How have I loved Him? Then, two things came to mind. First, that warm feeling I feel towards Him in my heart – whether it is during my personal time with Him or during corporate worship, that deep feeling I feel towards Him and my heart that has often been moved by His love and faithfulness in my life, in my family and the churches I had served in. Then I thought, where in the Bible has love for God or friendship with God been described to bring about a warm feeling in our hearts? Ah, Lk.24:32, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us while he was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?” Second, Jn.14:15 came to mind, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commands.” Loving God cannot just be a warm feeling without obedience, neither can it be obedience without that warm feeling. Loving God is about that warm feeling in our hearts towards Him, it is also about keeping His commands – that is, to know His Word and obey it, to do what He tells us to do, to faithfully and sacrificially serve Him, to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and to make disciples. That’s how I should always love Him and continue to do so till the day I meet Jesus in glory.