Why FEAR God?

Throughout the Bible we are told to fear God, but have you ever considered what that means?

At the start, we need to make some important distinctions about the biblical meaning of “fearing” God. While these distinctions can be helpful, they can also be a little dangerous because God’s Word is so much higher than my human words.

When Martin Luther struggled with the “fear of God,” he made a distinction between what he called a servile fear and a filial fear:

The servile fear is a kind of fear that a prisoner in a torture chamber has for his tormentor, the jailer, or the executioner. It’s the kind of dreadful anxiety in which someone is frightened by the clear and present danger that is represented by another person. Or it’s the kind of fear that a slave would have at the hands of a brutal master who would come with the whip and beat the slave. Servile refers to a posture of servitude toward a malevolent owner.

The filial fear draws from the Latin concept from which we get the idea of family. It refers to the fear that a child has for his father. In this regard, Luther is thinking of a child who has tremendous respect and love for his father or mother and who dearly wants to please them. He has a fear or an anxiety of offending the one he loves, not because he’s afraid of torture or even of punishment, but rather because he’s afraid of displeasing the one who is, in that child’s world, the source of security and love.

This distinction can be helpful because in Deuteronomy and in Wisdom Literature, we are told that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Job 28:28, Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, 3:7, 9:10, 15:33, Isaiah 11:2, 33:6). The focus here is on a sense of awe and respect for the majesty of God, which is often lacking in contemporary evangelical Christianity. We get very flippant and casual with the God of the universe. We are invited to call him Abba, Father (Romans 8:15) and to have the personal intimacy he promised to us, but still we’re not to be flippant with God. We’re always to maintain a healthy respect and adoration for him.

If we really have a healthy adoration for God, we still should have an element of the knowledge that God can be frightening. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). As sinful people, we have every reason to fear God’s judgment; it is part of our motivation to be reconciled with God.

Jesus even warns his disciples not to fear men who may kill them, but to fear God, who could not only kill them but throw their souls into hell (Matthew 10:28, Luke 12:5).

But the good news is, for those who are in Christ, there is no longer condemnation (Romans 8:1)

[print_link] [email_link] Adapted from R.C Sproul

Equality of the Genders

John MacArthur supports the “traditional view of women,” but he has a nice summation of the equality of the genders before God, in his book Different by Design.

The prevalent Jewish tradition about women did not come from the Old Testament, which makes it clear women are spiritually equal to men in that:

They Had the Same Responsibilities as Men: To obey God’s Law (in Exodus 20 the Ten Commandments are given to both men and women), to teach God’s Law (Deuteronomy 6:6–7 and Proverbs 6:20 indicates both are responsible to teach the Law to their children, which means both must first know it), and to participate in religious festivals (e.g., Exodus 12 and the Passover).

They Had the Same Protection as Men: Penalties given for crimes against women are the same as those for crimes against men (e.g., Exodus 21:28–32). God equally values the life of a man and the life of a woman.

They Took the Same Vows as Men: The highest level of spiritual commitment available to an Old Testament believer was the Nazirite vow, which was an act of separation from the world and devotion to God. Women as well as men could take that vow (Numbers 6:2).

They Had the Same Access to God as Men: God dealt directly with women in the Old Testament; He didn’t go through a man when He wanted to communicate with a woman. For example, the Angel of the Lord (a pre-incarnate manifestation of Christ) appeared to Hagar (Genesis 16:8–13) and Samson’s mother (Judges 13:2–5).

The New Testament, like the Old, teaches the spiritual equality. Galatians 3:28 teaches the absolute spiritual equality of men and women in Christ. The New Testament does not treat women as spiritual inferiors:

They Had the Same Responsibilities as Men: All the commands, promises, and blessings of the New Testament are given equally to men and women. We have the same spiritual resources and the same spiritual responsibilities.

They Had the Same Access to Jesus as Men: The first person Jesus revealed His messiahship to in the Gospel record was a woman (John 4). Jesus healed women (Matthew 8:14–15), showing them just as much compassion as He did men. He taught them (Luke 10:38–42), and allowed them to minister to Him personally (Luke 8:3). The first person to see the resurrected Christ was a woman (Mark 16:9; John 20:11–18).

He goes on to explain that roles between men and women were different, but I do not agree with his position on leadership and ordination being limited to men alone. When a woman is called by God into the ministry, she has an obligation to follow that leadership and calling as much as any man.

Patrick Morley, in his book Man in the Mirror has a chapter on how to be happily married and brings up roles.

If a man’s greatest need is to be respected, then submission is the appropriate response to a husband since the opposite of submission is resistance. The main problem with marriages on this topic is that men don’t know what it means to love as Christ loved the church. Biblical love is a decision, not a feeling. He adds four types of marriages in in a submit/resist and love/hate matrix:

  1. Love and Submit (Ozzie and Harriet Nelson): these couples share life together and share responsibilities. Biblical examples could be Abraham and Sarah or Mary and Joseph.
  2. Hate and Submit (Edith and Archie Bunker): this may be the most common type of marriage that is not working. The husband does not get it (Colossians 3:19, 1 Peter 3:7, 1 Timothy 5:8, Ephesians 5:28-29).
  3. Love and Resist (The Lockhorns comic strip, or the BBC’s Keeping Up Appearances): this is about a wimpy little guy dominated by a strong willed and screechy woman. Perhaps this has grown out of the feminist movement, but even a “housewife” is not immune to this. It is the man’s responsibility to love her irrespective of his wife’s response.
  4. Hate and Resist (JR and Sue Ellen Ewing): she nags him, idles the day away, contends with his authority, disrespects him, she is sarcastic towards him. He treats her harshly, doesn’t consider her feelings, and disrespects her. More than likely those in this type are already divorced, except for one partner hanging in there to make it work.

I’m not an expert on marriage but have been with the same godly woman for over 30 years.

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Four Basic Doctrines

The following is another lesson from my Sunday morning Bible study, covering about four weeks!

In James 2, he discusses the subjects of godless favoritism and godly faith. Immature people talk about their faith; mature people practice their faith. James gives the simplest of tests to see if one is mature or immature: the way we treat other people really indicates what we believe about God. A man can’t say he loves God and yet hate his brother (1 John 4:20).

Let’s take an overview of what we find about favoritism:

  1. The Command Against Favoritism (James 2:1-8)
    1. The Examples (James 2:1-4): His readers are guilty of the following sins:
      1. Treating rich visitors with great respect (James 2:1-2a, 3a)
      2. Treating poor visitors with no respect (James 2:2b, 3b-4)
    2. The Enigma (James 2:5-7): James cannot understand this, for often it was the rich who persecuted them and ridiculed their Savior.
    3. The Exhortation (James 2:8): James says, “Obey our Lord’s royal command found in the Scriptures.”
  2. The Consequences of Favoritism (James 2:9-13)
    1. To break this law is to break all laws (James 2:9-12).
    2. To show no mercy is to receive no mercy (James 2:13).

Here is the meat of the four lessons. In the beginning of James chapter 2, the author examines four basic doctrines in light of the way we treat other people:

The Deity of Christ (James 2:1-4)

  1. Jesus was not a respecter of persons (Matthew 22:16)
    1. Jesus did not look at outward appearance, but at the heart.
    2. Jesus was not impressed with status and riches (Mark 12:41-44)
    3. Jesus saw potential in sinners (Matthew, Peter, the woman at the well)
    4. Jesus was a friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19)
    5. Paul was judged by his past (Acts 9:26-28)
  2. Jesus was despised and rejected (Isaiah 53:1-3)
    1. Jesus had no home to call his own (Matthew 8:20)
    2. Jesus grew up in despised Nazareth (John 1:11, 46)
    3. Jesus was judged by human standards, and rejected by his own people (John 7:24)
    4. Jesus used Peter, Zaccheus and John Mark in spite of their failures in the past.
  3. A prescription for us:
    1. Look at people through the eyes of Jesus.
    2. Look at people as children for whom Christ died.
    3. Check our prejudice and motives (James 2:4)

The Grace of God (James 2:5-7) the emphasis is on the fact that God chooses, which involves grace. We are his children by his sovereign choice, not our merit. No one deserves salvation (Ephesians 1:4-7, 2:8-10).

  1. God ignores national differences
    1. Peter at the home of Cornelius (Acts 10:34)
    2. Must one become a Jew before becoming a Christian? (Acts 15)
    3. No distinction between Jew or Greek (Galatians 3:28)
    4. No condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 2:6-16)
  2. God ignores social differences
    1. Masters and slaves, rich and poor all equal to God (Ephesians 6:9)
    2. Who makes one poor or rich? (1 Samuel 2:7-8)
    3. God chooses the poor (1 Corinthians 1:26-27)
  3. Poor in this world and rich in the next (1 Timothy 6:17-18). God promises the kingdom to those who love him
  4. James slams the people (a stern rebuke) in James 2:6-7.
  5. The doctrine of grace forces us to relate to people based on God’s plan and not the basis of human merit or status. Jesus broke down the dividing wall (Ephesians 2:11-22) between Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, male and female, educated and ignorant, young and old, black and white.

The Word of God (James 2:8-11) James reaches back into the Old Testament laws (Leviticus 19:18), and teaches a lesson like what we find in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

  1. Why is love of neighbor called the royal law?
    1. Love affirms that we are his disciples (John 13:34): true believers are taught to love one another (1 Thessalonians 4:9).
    2. Love rules all other laws: love is fulfilling the law (Romans 13:10). Who needs other laws if we would only love one another?
    3. Obeying out of love makes you a king: since hatred makes one a slave, love sets one free from selfishness and enables us to reign like kings.
  2. Take any of the Ten Commandments and you will find ways to break it when you respect a person’s position or status. For example:
    1. It makes you lie to some people.
    2. It leads to idolatry, lifting some people up.
    3. It even leads to mistreatment of parents.
  3. Christian love does not mean I have to like the other person, or agree with him on everything; but treating that person as God would treat them, and the way God has treated me.
    1. It is an act of my will.
    2. The motive is to glorify God.
  4. Christian love does not leave a person where I find him: love helps people to reach higher and go better, helping the poor, love builds up others.
  5. We only believe as much of the Bible that we practice. If we fail in this most basic challenge, then we will not do other lesser matters of the Word. Let’s not be like the Pharisees and careful about lesser matters and careless about the important foundational stuff (Matthew 23:23).

The Judgment of God (James 2:12-13) believers will not be judged for our sins (John 5:24, Romans 8:1) but our works will be judged (Romans 14:10-13, 2 Corinthians 5:9-10).

  1. Our words will be judged
    1. The two visitors mentioned in James 2:3.
    2. Careless words (Matthew 12:36).
    3. Words from the heart (Matthew 12:34-37).
    4. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-26, 33-37, 7:1-5, 21-23).
  2. Our deeds will be judged
    1. Additional insight (Colossians 3:22-25).
    2. Sins are not held against us (Jeremiah 31:34, Hebrews 10:17).
    3. But our sins affect our character and works.
  3. Our attitudes will be judged (James 2:13)
    1. Contrasts: showing mercy, showing no mercy.
    2. The lie: that we can earn mercy by showing mercy.
    3. The law of liberty (obedience sets us free).
    4. We are able to walk in liberty (Psalm 119:45)
  4. The law prepares us for liberty: a child under rules is not mature enough to handle himself. He received outward discipline until the time he develops inward discipline.
  5. Liberty is not a license to do whatever you want, but the freedom to become who we are meant to be in Christ.

This is just the first half of James 2; next time we will dissect various types of faith.