Fear of the Lord.
We have been considering various motivations for speaking to others about Christ (series begins here). This post will explore a motivation that we used to hear a lot but rarely here today in many circles. I’m referring to the fear of the Lord. This motivation may have been overemphasized previously, but that does not mean we should omit it. Instead, we should continue to consider it but then also make sure we also balance it with other motivations, which we will do throughout this series.
One passage that clearly describes this motivation is:
9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. (2 Corinthians 5:9-11a).2 Corinthians 5:9-11a
Today we often hear that we are not actually supposed to fear the Lord and that the idea of the phrase is closer to respect or reverence. I agree with this in some degree. The phrase “fear of the Lord” is indeed sometimes used in parallel with reverence (Psalm 22:23) and obeying his commands (Psalm 128:1). Overall I think God wants us to love him, be devoted to him, trust him, obey him and serve him, and that does not seem to be the exact same thing as living in absolute terror of him.
On the other hand, it is also clear that God is not to be trifled with. We are to regard him with absolute seriousness. He is nobody’s fool, and we dare not try to take advantage of him. Further, if we do defy him, we have every reason to be terrified of him. The Bible is clear that there will be a day of judgment and God will show his wrath to those who have continued to ignore him.
One of the most terrifying passages in the Bible to me is the description of judgement in 2 Thessalonians 1. If you heard sermons on this or similar passages multiple times, it may be difficult for you to hear it now. I mean that in two senses—it may be hard even to listen to what it is saying, and if you are able, it may be painful to do so. Since I am determined to balance what we are saying in this post with other motivations for reaching out, however, I am going to go ahead and ask us to listen to this sobering passage again. After all, it, too, is a part of the word of the Lord.
8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might….2 Thessalonians 1:8-9
Other passages likewise speak clearly about God’s wrath in judgment as well (Matthew 3:7; John 3:36; Romans 2:5, 8; 5:9; Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:10). We don’t do anyone any favors by ignoring these truths from God. Thankfully God has also given us good news, though, that Jesus saves us from this wrath, as some of the passages above also mention.
This judgment, when God’s final wrath will be shown, is the context of the 2 Corinthians 5 passage quoted at the beginning of this post. In it Paul says he made it his goal to please the Lord (v. 9), and the reason why is indicated in the next verse, introduced by “for” (v. 10). That reason is because we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. At that time we will all receive what is due us for how we have lived, good or bad (v. 10). That’s why Paul strives to please the Lord.
Paul then draws his conclusion in v. 11, introduced by “therefore” (“then” in NIV). His conclusion is that he tries to persuade others, and the reason (“since”) is that he knows what it is to fear the Lord. In other words, due to the reality of judgment it is appropriate to fear the Lord, and due to this fear, he seeks to persuade others about Christ. Thus, fear of the Lord is another motivation for speaking to others about Christ.
I realize this is difficult for us to think about people being condemned in judgment, especially people we know and love. I know people who are not Christians and have no interest in Christ, and it is very painful for me to think about them being judged and suffering God’s wrath. I’m not sure I can even name what my emotions are but perhaps dread is the right word. It is easy to see why we suppress such feelings. We need to recognize, however, that these painful feelings do not change the reality of the judgment.
What’s more, Paul felt similarly deep, painful feelings in regard to this motivation:
I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel.Romans 9:1-4a
Paul had “great sorrow” and “unceasing anguish” in his heart because so many of his own people, the people of Israel, had rejected Christ. I don’t often picture Paul feeling such feelings, do you? Yet this is part of what motivated him to focus so relentlessly on telling others about Christ.
Uncomfortable as it is, the reality of judgment and wrath, and all the feelings associated with it, is part of the palette of truths and feelings God has given us to motivate us for the mission. If you’re like me, this one will also inevitably drive you to your knees in prayer. May God give us the courage to face the truth about judgment and allow it to motivate us to tell others about the One who “delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10; cf. 5:9).
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