27 October 2011

Fear and comfort: a healthy blend

by Dan Phillips

Wouldn't you think that "fear" and "comfort" are antonyms, like "love" and "hate," or "darkness" and "light"?

In a Biblical context, we might most quickly associate the word "fear" with "of the LORD," or "of Yahweh." That topic — "the fear of Yahweh" — is a major Biblical theme. Clearly, in Proverbs, it is a literally foundational thought (cf. 1:7; 9:10; 31:30). In the Proverbs book, a chapter of 40+ pages traces the concept its older Old Testament appearances, just so we can begin to understand of Solomon's use throughout the book of Proverbs. One discovery is that the concept itself frames and must color our understanding of each individual verse within the entire book.

When we develop the concept Biblically, we feel the burden to show that the fear of Yahweh is not (as some might think) an Old Testament concept as opposed to a New Testament concept. Indeed, it is quite literally a pan-Biblical concept.

This stood out to me in a recent daily Bible reading. Acts 9:31 leapt out at me in this context:
Ἡ μὲν οὖν ἐκκλησία καθ᾽ ὅλης τῆς Ἰουδαίας καὶ Γαλιλαίας καὶ Σαμαρείας εἶχεν εἰρήνην οἰκοδομουμένη καὶ πορευομένη τῷ φόβῳ τοῦ κυρίου καὶ τῇ παρακλήσει τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος ἐπληθύνετο.

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
There's that same phrase we find in the OT; in fact, the Septuagint of Proverbs 9:10 has φόβος κυρίου ("fear of the Lord), as the beginning of wisdom. The post-Pentecost Christian church proceeded in that same fear. They lived their life from that motivation, the very same motivation found throughout the OT, and identified by Solomon as the necessary starting-place of knowledge (1:7) and of wisdom (9:10).

That in itself is instructive and thought-provoking. Though they'd been saved by the shed blood of Christ, though the Spirit had been outpoured, though non-Jews were beginning to be brought in, yet one thing that united them all is that they moved on in their Christian lives with the motivation of fear of the Lord.

It poses the question: how dominant of an element is this in the modern Christian's life? How does it affect the way he thinks, the way he forms views, the way he talks and lives and chooses and writes? How much is a lack of this quality a factor in the situations that vex us here at this virtual gathering? How many bloggers, writers, pastors are limp and passionless because they are less motivated by fear of the Lord than by fear of man, which is a snare (Prov. 29:25)? How many doctrinal errors, or errors of ministry or practice, can be traced to the want of that fear (cf. 3:7; 14:2; 15:33; 23:17; 28:14)? There's fertile ground for self-analysis, and re-examination of the genesis of wandering, in that topic.

But then notice the next phrase: "and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit." Luke sees and depicts this quality as seamlessly joined with the preceding. The two are joined by a simple "and," not "and yet" or "and by contrast," nor qualified by "sometimes... sometimes."

Clearly, the jarring disconnect we feel between fear and comfort was not a problem to Luke. It was fear that gave the heart and mind the right stance before God; it was comfort given by the Spirit that assured and encouraged him in the life he was moved to live.

I conclude that either, to the exclusion of the other, is an unhealthy imbalance. Conversely each, coupled with the other, is a spiritually healthy blend.

What God has joined, we shouldn't sunder.

Dan Phillips's signature


Robert said...

This post seems to fall right in line with yesterday's. Fear of man is definitely a snare and I am sure that it tangles us all up at times. This shouldn't happen within the church and associations with the church, though. At least not to the degree that we see it happening. How else can one explain the need to bring in somebody like Rick Warren, TD Jakes, or even Mark Driscoll? They draw big crowds and that seemingly justifies overlooking the problems that each of them bring along with them. I'm not lumping these three together in the sense to say they have the same problem, but I don't think any of them should be a pastor at a Christian church.

Daren Redekopp said...

David returns to these themes of fear and comfort again and again in the Psalms ascribed to him.

Anonymous said...

When we fear the Lord as we ought, are we not then comforted by the thought that there is nothing to be compared with Him and therefore nothing else that we ought to fear?

But I fear the Lord far too little, and so I fear many many other things.

Man not the least...

Douglas said...

If YOU truly feared God you would be trembling, and YOU would flee from the martial arts, karate, for your very life...

J♥Yce Burrows said...

This is what is remarkable to me about you, Dan(and Phil and Frank), and why Pyromaniacs remains on my reading list: the impetus isn't, as with some, on "red or pink carnations" but to consistently elevate details God-given that are to go beyond a cursory notice(or no notice at all) to being embraced. Shouldn't there be less kerfluffle on/offline when "to know God" be the zeal of shepherds and sheep?

Am grateful for the love evident toward us that flows from loving God ~ too, healthy.

J♥Yce Burrows said...

kerfuffle :-)

Cathy said...

“It was fear that gave the heart and mind the right stance before God; it was comfort given by the Spirit that assured and encouraged him in the life he was moved to live.”

I just can't help but think about Driscoll and the current growing embrace of deliverance ministries after reading your post Dan. I do believe it is a lack of a right and proper fear of the Lord that fuels movements like this. To respond to something/someone with fear means you are saying, "this thing or person has power and authority over me- and so I submit to it." In other words, I worship it. As an unbeliever, you might fear man because you believe ultimately it is man who is calling all the shots. Maybe you fear a lack of power or a lack of money, because you think the acquisition of those things are what will determine your destiny. Maybe it’s politics or a particular type of government. Maybe you fear spiritual beings, because you believe they are forces of good and evil battling for control- and they will ultimately determine the outcome of your life.
But as a believer, we know who has power and authority over all things. We know who created it all and who has determined the purpose and outcome of history. We know who controls our destiny- we also now know that He has power over life and death, and He has the power to save us completely.

I know when I became ensnared in this spiritual warfare stuff- it was my own diminishing fear of the Lord that caused me to turn to something else for answers. I didn’t think God was strong enough or powerful enough to rule effectively over the things I was struggling with. Since I had been in the New Age for many years prior to salvation, I think my pagan theology was coming to the surface as a Christian. And so I turned to the binding of demons and the breaking of generational curses. What irony! I was in bondage again. My fear of Satan and demons increased significantly, and the comfort I had felt in the Lord as a new believer was basically gone. Here I was back in my old pagan ways, fearing Satan more than I feared God. Oh what heartache it brings me to think back on that time.

But God graciously used the extreme dis-comfort I was feeling to open my eyes. It was this time in my life that I began to study the Bible like never before. It was a deeper understanding of God’s sovereignty that turned my worship back to the only One who is worthy of such. As my trust in the Lord grew, my comfort and joy in Him returned also.
God is so good!

DJP said...

Very good observations, Cathy.

I doubt that there is any sin or aberration that cannot ultimately be traced back to an under-estimation of God, and an over-estimation of something else.

Dave said...

I taught about the fear of the Lord a while back. There are many believers who will claim that we are not to fear. Be honest, we often fear the "creation" and give little head to the "Creator". Peace be still. Acts 9:31 would not let go of me. Thanks for the reminder.

I would like to recommend an excellent read, "The Joy of Fearing God" by Jerry Bridges.

Solameanie said...

Could part of our problem be that most preachers one hears on this subject are quick to insist that "fear" doesn't really mean "fear." Instead, it means awe and respect.

In reality, I loved my late earthly father. But along with that love was a healthy sense of fear that if I didn't behave, I'd get a good hiding.

stratagem said...

Good reminder for me that fear of the Lord leads to obedience, and obedience leads to a peaceful conscience, and comfort!

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

It is very healthy to have a fear of the Lord. But, what type of fear is the real motivator to love God? It shouldn’t be a fear of hell so that we serve Him in a servile, oppressive way, but a fear that leaves us in awe, a fear that shows honor, respect, and love, and leads to an obedient life.

I like the word that R.C. Sproul used in his sermon on the holiness of God (gravitas). The words meaning is so apropos, it is with great seriousness and solemnity that we enter into His awesome presence, and worship at His feet.

This type of fear takes all the “casual” out of our wardrobe, and leaves Mickey Mouse home to play, while real godly men and women worship, honor and adore Him. Sorry, Mickey needs to go.

But at the same time, without a healthy respect for His power to cast all of us into outer darkness, we would in essence be denying His full character. He is a God of love and a God of wrath, and to forget or deny either of these characteristics, puts us in great peril. So, as you say, Dan, balance is important.

I love articles like this, Dan! Also, great comments, Cathy!

Matt Aznoe said...

Amen! This was an excellent post, Dan, and something that has been on my mind a lot of late. We need to recognize that while we are under grace, God is still a holy and righteous God who will judge His people if they are in sin.

In our attempt to promote the doctrine of eternal security, we do not pay enough attention to passages like Hebrews 10:26-31, Matthew 7:21-23, and Romans 11:20-22. We dare not forget that while still in the afterglow of Pentecost, God struck down Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit.

We need to keep the love and grace of God and the severity and wrath of God firmly in view to maintain a healthy balance. Father, help us to do this by the power of your Spirit!

Recent studies indicate that 50% of Christian men are actively engaged in viewing pornography. This is what happens when you have a Church that no longer fears God.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Dear Matt,

The judgment of regenerated sinners took place at the cross. We are no longer under His condemnation, but He will chastise us. I know you know this. I believe your choice of words was unintentional. :)

Anonymous said...


I agree with you there.

Does anyone really think that if we stood before the Living God, and the guy on his face beside us on the ground whispered "Are you as absolutely terrified to be here as I am" that we would whisper back "Not really, just feeling a lot of awe and respect right now."

Not hardly.

I don't fear Him enough. Not even close.

Matt Aznoe said...


Yes, that is what I meant. There is a judgement that condemns to Hell, and there is a judgement that punishes with discipline (as to the believer -- Hebrews 12:7-13, 1 Peter 4:17).

But because we no longer have the fear of the discipline of the Lord, those who believe themselves to be saved but lack the fruit are not confronted with their sin to take those passages of warning to heart. I fear there are millions of "Christians" in America today who have been greatly deceived into thinking they are saved simply because they uttered a prayer without seeking true repentance to a holy and fearful God.

Staci Eastin said...

I think this concept is more easily embraced by people who were blessed to have good earthly fathers.

As a child, often the worst thing I had to do when I had disobeyed or broken a rule was stand before my father and tell him what I had done. My father is a gentle, loving man, and I can't recall him ever raising his voice to me. I knew he loved me unconditionally, and to stand before him and know I let him down... ugh.

I don't say that to make people feel hopeless. God can redeem any situation. But the role of the father is so often belittled in our society, when it's actually one of the best earthly pictures we have.

To say that here, though, I'm preaching to the choir. :)

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Dear Matt,

Does a warning constrain us, in the ultimate sense that it keeps us in the fear of the Lord? It is an element and a factor **to be sure**, but when we speak of ultimates, it is God who keeps us from falling. Love is the greater motivator to obedience, not the fear of reprisals.

If we look at warnings exclusively, we serve only a taskmaster.

Gotta run. Will return later!

Dave said...

Matthew 10:28 And 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.

2 Thessalonians 1:8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: 9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; 10 When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.

I can't help but say this, Rob Bell's message of "Love Wins" is not loving!

Stefan said...

A related observation...

I'm going back through the Gospels right now (those four books between Malachi and Acts), and there's no getting around the fact that some of the most fearsome words of God in all the Bible come from the mouth of Jesus Christ: Matthew 7:21-23; Matthew 23; Luke 16:19-31; and so on. And they speak as much to me as a believer as they do to Pharisees and Sadducees 2000 years ago.

And yet...this is the same Lord and Saviour, the same Son of God, the same Passover Lamb, who bids all who labour and are heavy laden to come to Him, and they will find rest for their souls. He bids all who thirst to come and drink the water without price. He was numbered with the transgressors, bearing the sin of many. And through Him and the New Covenant in His blood, God forgives our iniquity and remembers our sin no more.

What is there to do but run every day back to the Cross, and rest in Him who alone is the founder and perfecter of our faith, our Great High Priest and Redeemer, knowing that the blood of Jesus Christ has been shed at infinite cost and sprinkled on the mercy seat as the propitiation for our sins?

one busy mom said...

Ok, I've been meaning to buy the Proverbs book - now I'll really have to. (Thanks for the link!) I'm very curious as to what the Fear of the Lord entails in its entirety - as developed in Scripture. I've never had a good grasp on this, and really struggle when asked to explain it. My church defines this more along the lines of "reverent respect", but I had thought it was almost a terror at the Holiness of God. Reading thru the post and the comments makes me realize that at best I've got a rather hazy concept of what the Fear of the Lord actually is - I suspect it's a much broader, deeper and all encompassing concept than I had thought.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

One busy mom,

One Busy Mom,

Here is a compact description of the fear of God from Got Questions.

Question: "What does it mean to have the fear of God?"

Answer: For the unbeliever, the fear of God is the fear of the judgment of God and eternal death, which is eternal separation from God (Luke 12:5; Hebrews 10:31). For the believer, the fear of God is something much different. The believer's fear is reverence of God. Hebrews 12:28-29 is a good description of this: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ’God is a consuming fire.’” This reverence and awe is exactly what the fear of God means for Christians. This is the motivating factor for us to surrender to the Creator of the Universe.

Proverbs 1:7 declares, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” Until we understand who God is and develop a reverential fear of Him, we cannot have true wisdom. True wisdom comes only from understanding who God is and that He is holy, just, and righteous. Deuteronomy 10:12, 20-21 records, “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.” The fear of God is the basis for our walking in His ways, serving Him, and, yes, loving Him.

Some redefine the fear of God for believers to “respecting” Him. While respect is definitely included in the concept of fearing God, there is more to it than that. A biblical fear of God, for the believer, includes understanding how much God hates sin and fearing His judgment on sin—even in the life of a believer. Hebrews 12:5-11 describes God’s discipline of the believer. While it is done in love (Hebrews 12:6), it is still a fearful thing. As children, the fear of discipline from our parents no doubt prevented some evil actions. The same should be true in our relationship with God. We should fear His discipline, and therefore seek to live our lives in such a way that pleases Him.

Believers are not to be scared of God. We have no reason to be scared of Him. We have His promise that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). We have His promise that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Fearing God means having such a reverence for Him that it has a great impact on the way we live our lives. The fear of God is respecting Him, obeying Him, submitting to His discipline, and worshipping Him in awe."

I am also trying to find a video by R.C. Sproul concerning this topic. It was one of his sermons either about the holiness of God or the glory of God, but I am not having much luck. I did do a short review of it for another blog, though.

I think the verse that encapsulates this entire subject (which is so vast) is this: "Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in [his] goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off (Rom 11:22)."

It is an acknowledgement of God's twofold character: His love and His wrath. Those who love Him need not fear Him for perfect love casts out fear, but to those who deny Him, it is a very fearful thing to fall in the hands of an angry God. When we are born again, that dreadful fear of Him turns to reverence and awe, but we still RETAIN a healthy respect for His judgments, and as Rom 11:22 describes (IF) we don’t continue in His goodness we will be cut off (perseverance of the saints).

Hope this helps! :)

DJP said...

one busy mom — "I suspect it's a much broader, deeper and all encompassing concept than I had thought."

Same here, sister. The many years of study that led to that chapter were a blessing and a help to me. I found some very pronounced elements in Scripture that I haven't seen stressed anywhere else, and it was a joy to share them in that chapter.

one busy mom said...


Thanks - that was helpful. It's frustrating: the more I learn - the more I realize how much I either don't know or don't understand well.

Dan, I'm ordering the book today and am looking forward to going thru it!

DJP said...

Thanks, OBM, I really appreciate it, and hope the book is a boon to you. You'll definitely find a lot of development of the fear of the Lord theme.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

One busy mom,

I told my son to give me a gift certificate to the Christian bookstore this Christmas so I can buy both of Dan's books.

The more I learn, the more I don't know either. The Bible is like no other book ever written. It is absolutely inexhaustible. I wonder why philosophers, scientists and atheists haven't realized that. That has always puzzled me. :) There is NO other book like it!

Church Chair Guy said...

I have always been amazed how many of the kings of Israel began to demonstrate a fear of man as they became older, versus the fear of God they demonstrated earlier in their reigns. Asa, Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah all come to mind.