“The Fear of God”
In verses such as II Corinthians 7:1, Ephesians 5:21, Ephesians 6:5, Philippians 2:12, and Colossians 3:22 the apostle Paul makes reference to “the fear of God,” or to “fearing God,” or to “fear and trembling.” It is also apparent in these verses that he is speaking to us about being motivated by such “fear.” How is it that we are motivated by “the fear of God”? Is this the issue of us being afraid of God?
1 Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of god. (II Corinthians 7:1)
21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. (Ephesians 5:21)
5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; (Ephesians 6:5)
12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)
22 Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye-service, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: (Colossians 3:22)
As you have correctly noticed, “fear” is spoken about as a real and legitimate motivating factor with us in this present dispensation of God’s grace. In fact, it is spoken of both in a positive sense, (i.e. a good and/or appropriate sense), and in a negative sense, (i.e. a bad and/or inappropriate sense.)
Hence we find ‘positive fear’ in such places as you have cited, and we can find ‘negative fear’ in such places as II Corinthians 7:5 and II Timothy 1:7.
Now of these two kinds of fear it is the negative one that most folks have a tendency to think of first, or some times it is the only kind they think of. And this is simply because ‘negative fear’ is the kind of fear with which they are the most familiar, as well as being the kind that is most often spoken about these days.
However most any comprehensive English dictionary will define and describe both kinds of fear. Plus they will show that ‘positive fear’ is still frequently spoken about today, even though it was more common to speak of it a generation or so ago, and still more common in previous centuries.
So both kinds of fear are real and legitimate, and both kinds are clearly spoken about in our epistles.
Wherefore we not only encounter both kinds of fear in our epistles, but we are also expected to deal with both kinds at various points in our sonship lives as we proceed through our Father’s curriculum for our “godly edifying.”
In fact the truth of the matter is that we must deal with both kinds of fear in our sonship lives. Because our Father has designed that we deal with both kinds of fear as His curriculum for our “godly edifying” effectually works within us to increasingly conform us to the image of Christ in our daily lives.
Therefore we need to understand both kinds of fear, and learn to respond to each as our Father has designed.
Hence in the outworking of our sonship lives we especially need to be properly and appropriately motivated by ‘positive fear.’ Yet at the same time we need to avail ourselves of the things that we are taught in our “godly edifying” which are designed to make it so that we can overcome the detrimental effects of ‘negative fear’ and not be motivated by it.
Now since ‘positive fear’ is specifically the kind that you asked about, we’ll briefly focus upon it.
First off it is important to understand that fear, (regardless of which kind it is), involves the issue of us being both mentally and emotionally overwhelmed and impressed by something to the point that it powerfully motivates us.
Accordingly, therefore, we are usually overwhelmed either by something that someone says to us or does to us, (if it is a person whom we fear), or we are overwhelmed by the consequences or ramifications that some situation or some circumstance might pose to us.
And so depending upon the nature of what it is that overwhelms and impresses us, our fear will either be of the ‘negative’ kind or of the ‘positive’ kind.
So ‘in a nutshell’ the essence of fear is that it involves us being overwhelmed and impressed by something to the point of being strongly moved to either shrink back from someone or some situation out of intimidation, or to take a stand with someone or in some situation out of strong respect for a cause.
Now in accordance with this, (and to put it very simply), ‘positive fear’ is the opposite of ‘negative fear.’ It is the opposite of ‘negative fear’ in the sense that it does not cause us to shrink back from someone or something, or be intimidated by them.
Hence ‘positive fear’ usually does not involve us being frightened, or afraid, or scared of someone or of something. It does not make it so that we move back from them because they have overwhelmed us by some sort of threat that they have made to us, or that they pose to us.
Instead ‘positive fear’ actually causes us to want to move towards someone or something. It causes us to want to take a stand for something or with someone.
As such ‘positive fear’ involves the issue of us being overwhelmed and impressed by something other than a threat. In fact it involves us being impressed by something that is viewed by us to be more powerful than a threat. And this actually causes us to want to move towards someone or something because we have greater respect and regard for them than for anything else.
Wherefore when it comes to ‘positive fear’ we are overwhelmed by, (and duly impressed with), such things as the correctness, or the righteousness, or the properness, or the propriety, or the excellence of something.
Or we are overwhelmed by and duly impressed with such things as the honour, or the virtue, or the justice, or the value, or the nobility of something. Or when it comes to someone’s person, we are overwhelmed and impressed by his greatness, or majesty, or august nature, and the like.
In short, therefore, with ‘positive fear’ we are mentally as well as emotionally overwhelmed by, (and duly impressed with), something about someone, or something about some matter, because we have great respect for it, and it means more to us than anything else.
Moreover because we are overwhelmed and impressed by such things as the correctness or excellence of something, or by the greatness or majesty of someone, this causes us to want to stand for, or be identified with, such correctness or excellence. Or it causes us to want to submit to someone’s greatness or majesty and do things his way, in preference to following the course of others, or being identified with others, who are inappropriately impressed with other things.
Now this ‘positive fear’ is the kind of fear that Paul is talking about in such places as II Corinthians 7:1; Ephesians 5:21 and 6:5; Philippians 2:12; and Colossians 3:22. And as is evident from the immediate context of each of these places, (or from what has been set forth in the context leading up one or more of these places), specific information is given in each context about such things as correctness, or excellence, or virtue, or greatness, and the like, which God has designed to effectually overwhelm and impress us and therefore cause us to have ‘positive fear.’
With this being so, verses such as these then exhort us to do what they say in response to having ‘positive fear’ for either the correctness, or excellence, or virtue, or greatness, etc., of what is being spoken about in the context.
Therefore when, for example, in II Corinthians 7:1 Paul says…
1 Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (II Corinthians 7:1)
…the “fear of God” that Paul says we should have is ‘positive fear.’ And it comes from the overwhelming and exceedingly impressive nature of the grandeur and glory of what our sonship status is all about, and of what it means for us to live as “the sons of God” that we are. Which is what Paul reminds us of, and reproves both the Corinthians and us about, in the preceding verses.
Hence in view of this particular ‘positive fear of God’ we ought to be caused to want to ‘perfect holiness’ as the “sons” that we are by completely disassociating ourselves from the damaging effects of the ungodly enticements of this world, no matter how popular, attractive, persuasive, or pleasant they may be.
So once again it is ‘positive fear’ that Paul is talking about in such verses as you have cited. And ‘positive fear’ is not only legitimate for us to have, but especially in this present dispensation of God’s grace it is fully appropriate for us to operate upon it.
For ‘positive fear’ is one of the main motivations for a “son” as he responds to his father and lives his sonship life according to the curriculum that his father has given him.
Therefore with us having received “the adoption of sons” in this present dispensation, ‘positive fear’ is naturally a big issue between us and God our Father in His program and dealings with us, just as Paul’s frequent references to it testify.
– K.R. Blades