Well, we are pressing on to another book of the Bible. In 2 Timothy 1, Paul reminds Timothy that the life of a Christian is not a life that is characterized by fear.
2Ti 1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
2Ti 1:8 Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God;
There are three things that Paul mentions belong to a Christian in the place of the spirit of fear. Power is rather obvious. We have the power of God working through us, so why would we be afraid of anything? God is greater than whatever we might be facing.
However, we also have experience of love. People seem to fear things that they don’t like. As a kind of ridiculous example from my own life, I have never liked needles, so when I was young, I was afraid of them. However, when we move that to people, maybe we are afraid of people because we are intimidated or something like that, but when we recognize that we are called to love people, that fear is simply not necessary either.
Finally, having a sound mind drives away fear. Many of our fears are not logical. We might be afraid of something funny like the dark, but when we think about it logically, there is really not much to worry about. After all, when you are in your bedroom at home in the dark, it is not as if there is all of a sudden something terrifying in your bedroom. It is still your bedroom. That type of sound mind that ought to characterize the Christian helps drive away fear as well.
Overall, there is a lot of fear out there, and the Christian life simply does not need it. God is with us, so what could possibly stand against us?
I think it is easy for us to be confident like the disciples in John 16. Because Jesus was explaining parts of the future to them, they were convinced that He was the Messiah. However, Jesus challenges them.
Joh 16:31 Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe?
Joh 16:32 Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.
Joh 16:33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
Jesus knew what would happen when He was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane. He knew that His disciples were going to run away in fear. It was easy for them to be confident while Jesus was sitting right there with them, and none of them were really under persecution. Sure, people did not necessarily agree with everything Jesus was teaching, but there were no Christian martyrs yet. Christians were a strange minority religion in Israel following a Rabbi who was different than any other.
I bring this up because Jesus asked them if they really believed. He seemed to imply that perhaps they do not believe as strongly as they thought they did because they were going to run away in the future. I guess that is the ultimate test of belief. Is it something you are willing to die for?
The disciples did run away in the garden, but it is worth mentioning that history teaches that all of them died as martyrs. They discovered the cost of discipleship.
This is definitely one of those stories that make you think as a Christian in America. It is a lot different to be a Christian around the world where your life could very well be in danger for the following Jesus Christ.
Nineveh was not going to be a pretty place at the end of Nahum 2. They were going to be invaded, their leadership destroyed and everyone was going to wonder what happened to this once great city.
Nah 2:11 Where is the dwelling of the lions, and the feedingplace of the young lions, where the lion, even the old lion, walked, and the lion’s whelp, and none made them afraid?
Nah 2:12 The lion did tear in pieces enough for his whelps, and strangled for his lionesses, and filled his holes with prey, and his dens with ravin.
Nineveh used to be a fearsome opponent, but the people around them were wondering what happened? They were used to being torn apart by the Ninevites, and now Nineveh itself was being demolished from the outside. The people did not get how this was possible.
Nah 2:13 Behold, I am against thee, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will burn her chariots in the smoke, and the sword shall devour thy young lions: and I will cut off thy prey from the earth, and the voice of thy messengers shall no more be heard.
Now we know. We talk a lot about the fact that when God is with us, we have nothing to fear. When God is against us, we have everything to fear. When we have brought judgment upon ourselves through our evil actions, we ought to be trembling. The people of Noah’s day are pretty good example of that.
I think about this, and it makes me think that people have lost this fear of God. I know that God is a God of love, and that is entirely true. However, in modern society, we don’t want to be afraid of anyone, so this fear of God gets thrown out to make people feel good.
We have to make sure we don’t do that. I have written about this type of fear of God before, and I think about the way that you might fear your parents when you are a kid. It is not that they don’t love you, but you don’t want to be grounded for example so you abide by their rules. It is a similar type of situation here. It is not that we fear God because He is some kind of evil being whatsoever. Rather, it is a fear based on an understanding of who God is and how great He truly is. There is respect in that, but it goes even beyond that.
I think it is important for us to remember that God is a God to be feared. God is certainly a God of love as well, but I think that we like to sanitize our image of what God is, and we forget that there is an element of justice. Both of them are perfect, but both of them are present. In Ezekiel 32, the people of the earth will marvel at the downfall of the Egyptian Empire at the hands of the Babylonians.
Eze 32:9 I will also vex the hearts of many people, when I shall bring thy destruction among the nations, into the countries which thou hast not known.
Eze 32:10 Yea, I will make many people amazed at thee, and their kings shall be horribly afraid for thee, when I shall brandish my sword before them; and they shall tremble at every moment, every man for his own life, in the day of thy fall.
This is one of the great misconceptions about the God of the Bible. God is love, so I don’t want to ever forget that, and I don’t think there is any danger of that. We like to remember that God is love because that is comforting. We feel better thinking about that image, so I don’t think we will forget it.
However, we cannot forget the other side of the coin. God is a God of justice, and sin is the kind of thing that is judged. People might wonder why God needs to have this side of His character. Why doesn’t He just forgive everyone?
My response would be to ask whether or not justice is an objectively good thing. I think that in the world we live in today, most people would agree that justice is good. We want justice for people who have been hurt by others, and we want justice for those who are downtrodden by society. If justice is a good thing, then why would that not be something that is grounded in the perfectly good God. Every good thing is grounded in the character of God, so if justice is a good thing as we seem to believe it is, then it would be grounded in the character of God Himself.
Therefore, when we do come to these passages in the Bible where it might be easy to wonder why God would punish people, but I think the more accurate question is why He would not. If justice is truly a good thing, then would you expect the God of the Bible, who is perfectly good by definition, to not desire justice as well?
I think that we sometimes feel a little bit threatened when there is dynamic change. We don’t like it when what we have always known is thrown into turmoil. In Isaiah 60, we have this idea that the Gentiles are also going to be responding to the Gospel, and I wonder if that made the people of Israel nervous.
Isa 60:1 Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee.
Isa 60:2 For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.
Isa 60:3 And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.
Isa 60:4 Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side.
I have to believe that since Israel spent so much of their early history being threatened at all sides by other nations, this might have been a frightening prospect. God had always delivered them and preserved their people, but as a general rule, it seems as if foreign relations were not necessarily a strong point for the nation of Israel.
All of a sudden, everyone is going to have the potential to become brothers and sisters in Christ. That trumps your nationality. We all became one family through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
This is a major change, and change is never easy. It was a change of perspective for the people of Israel. They were still the chosen people, but God was also going to open His family even farther. Obviously, it is a very positive thing, but it would have been a change. However, when God is in charge, we don’t need to be afraid of times like this. Even if it might force us to change our perspective, if God is behind it, that is a good thing.
I am really liking how Proverbs fits together so nicely. We have been talking a lot about wisdom, and as you will remember, the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. As a result, I have kind of played around a little bit with how I would define the fear of God in a way that is consistent with the other times we have talked about it.
However, in Proverbs 8, we discover another definition for what it means to fear God.
Pro 8:13 The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.
If we truly fear God, we are going to get as far away from evil as we can. We will not want any part of it, and we will want to hate sin as much as God does. Of course, I know that it is cliché, but we need to always remember to love the sinner through all of this.
However, my previous point still remains. We do not want to get into the kind of situation where we are actively trying to keep any kind of sin in our lives. Let’s say that I really enjoy bullying people. I get some kind of personal satisfaction out of it, and in some kind of twisted way it makes me feel better about myself.
We all know that it is not right to treat people in that way. I think that that is a pretty straightforward application of loving neighbor as yourself. Therefore, by violating the direct teaching of Jesus Christ, we are committing a sin.
Now I am in a bit of a dilemma. I am not hating the evil in my life. I am not actively trying to stop the problem that I have. I am enjoying the problem, and I am not really trying to change anything.
That’s a major problem. I know that none of us will ever be perfect, but I also know that we don’t need to embrace our sin. It seems as if this is an important part of learning how to fear God in a Biblical way.
Wow, I finally get to say that we are beginning a new book of the Bible. Welcome to Proverbs! I like Proverbs quite a bit, so I think that this should be very fun time.
Chapter 1 seems to be centered on a thesis.
Pro 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
I think that in society today, a lot of people would like to say that the fear of God is the beginning of ignorance, but I guess that shows the differences in our worldviews.
We need to think about the implications of this verse though. We need to fear God if we are even going to begin finding knowledge. That is a rather bold statement. This also seems to imply that if you do not fear God, you do not have any knowledge at all.
However, on the surface that doesn’t seem to be quite right. There are plenty of people who are not God-fearing yet seem to have plenty of knowledge. For example, Sam Harris is a very talented philosopher. He obviously does not fear God, but he certainly has a lot of knowledge about the field of philosophy (even though I believe he is misguided).
I think that we are looking at a somewhat different definition of knowledge than simply facts. Look at the way that that particular verse is set up. It is almost like some type of parallel structure. Those who fear God are at the beginning of knowledge. Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
It seems like knowledge and despising wisdom and instruction are at odds here. Wise people do the first, and fools do the second. Therefore, if the fools did not despise wisdom and instruction, they would not be fools anymore. That is what makes them fools.
It seems as if in context, knowledge is being used to mean both wisdom and instruction. Obviously we can gain both of these things from the Bible, and we base our beliefs on the Bible when we respect and fear God. When we understand how great God is and how amazing His power is, we find that fear of God, and we are at the beginning of knowledge. The Bible is what helps us in that process. It can provide us with wisdom and instruction.
This is important stuff. I don’t think that this verse means that we can only learn 2+2 through the fear of God. There are clearly plenty of counterexamples to that one. However, when we look at the context of the verse, it seems to make quite a bit of sense that we need to be grounded in the word of God and learn to fear and respect Him along with the wisdom and teaching that He has given us.
Psalms 128 is set up as a cause and effect. Let me provide you with the first verse that explains the cause, and then we can talk about the effects.
Psa 128:1 A Song of degrees. Blessed is every one that feareth the LORD; that walketh in his ways.
We are talking about blessings here. The cause of them is that you fear God and walk in his ways. We have talked about this a lot, but if we have a right relationship with God, then we have everything in the right perspective. If we put Him at the center of our lives, things began to fit together.
Let’s talk about the results.
Psa 128:2 For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.
Psa 128:3 Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table.
Psa 128:4 Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the LORD.
Psa 128:5 The LORD shall bless thee out of Zion: and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life.
Psa 128:6 Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel.
You will be happy. Nobody’s guaranteeing hear that life will be perfect, but when you view things in the right perspective and have God in the center, you realize that authentic joy comes from God.
Your family will also fit together well. Think about it. With God at the center, you should really be a picture of love. You should be loving everyone, and that should especially include your family. By demonstrating that love, you will be putting your family in their proper position as well. You will love them and care about them, and that goes a long way to helping with everything in verse three.
Finally, verses five and six talk about peace. Again, with God in the center of our lives, we will love other people, and that will go a long way to establishing the peace that we are talking about here. We will be treating other people the right way, and by doing that, and by being loving, we will help develop that peace.
I hope that this makes sense. If we start with a right relationship with God, this Psalm is talking about three things that will come out. First, we will be happy; joy comes from God, and we will have right perspective. Second, we will develop stronger relationships with our family because we demonstrating the love that comes from God. Finally, we will have peace with other people for the same reason; we will be showing love.
It all begins with the proper perspective, and we need to go back to verse one to find that. Fear God, and follow His commandments.
It is funny how things kind of seem to run together all at the same time. I was at a Bible study on Saturday night, and we were talking about the idea of Biblical hope. We were talking about how important it is for our hope to be grounded in God.
Psalms 118 brings up this theme again, and it tells us where it would probably be better if we did not place our trust.
Psa 118:8 It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.
Psa 118:9 It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.
Let’s take each one in turn.
Is it better to trust in God, or is it better to trust in other people? Well, let me tell you from my experience. People have a way of letting you down. You expect that people will act a certain way, or you expect that they will do something that they never follow through on. People definitely have a way of letting you down from time to time. In fact, sometimes it feels like everyone is letting you down. I know that I haven’t explained why God is better to put your trust in, but I think it is pretty clear that people don’t always follow through. We have all experienced that.
Then, putting our confidence in princes might not be so hot either. I don’t want to go on some kind of anti-government rant, but let me summarize it for you. I think it would be fair to say that there are many points where each of us disagree with the government. After all, it is a system made up of people, and we already established that people have a tendency to disappoint us. If one person can disappoint us, then certainly a collection of people can disappoint us with the decisions that they make. So, again, I haven’t told you why trusting God is better, but I think you can also agree that governments have a way of disappointing us no matter what side of the political spectrum to fall on.
So, if it is not wise to trust in other people or government, why is God any better?
Mat 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.
This is a saying of Jesus, and He is basically saying that fearing people is kind of pointless. People don’t have any kind of eternal control over you. God on the other hand has that kind of eternal control. He is the ultimate Judge, and that is something that people cannot ever do.
Now, that verse in Matthew probably could use a little bit more explanation to fully appreciate. If you go on in the chapter, you can read about how much God cares about us. You read about how we are more valuable than a few sparrows. As a result of that value, Jesus says that we don’t need to fear.
So where does that leave us?
Well, here is how it seems to me. Verse 28 says don’t worry about people who might kill you because it is far worse to ultimately be condemned. Any bodily pain is nothing compared to that type of eternal punishment. This is a comparative statement. Basically, if you are going to fear people who hurt you, don’t bother because you might as well be terrified of God since He can do a lot more.
However, when you move ahead in the chapter, we find that we have value to God, and if we are children of His, we do not need to fear that type of eternal punishment. Does that kind of makes sense?
It is a chain. Never worry about what other people can do to because God is much more deserving of that terror. We ought to be petrified of Him because of the power that He holds over all of these eternal matters. However, because of verse 32, we don’t need to fear about our eternal destiny because God has promised a way to avoid that condemnation. We don’t lose our fear of God, but we can lose the fear of the consequence. If you are Christian, you do not need to worry about spending eternity separated from God.
I am sorry for the tangent, but I want to try to tie this all back together. If everything I said about the teaching of Jesus from Matthew is true, God has control over eternal things. Jesus taught that, and He taught that humans have limited power.
If we take that truth and apply it to Psalms, we see why it matters. We can trust in God because He has control over eternity, and that is why it is better to trust in Him than to trust in people or governments. Their power is so greatly limited. I know that I kind of took to the long way around on this one, but I think the concept is valuable. Even though we might be terrified that God has the kind of power that can condemn people, it is also a confirmation that if we place our trust in Him, that trust is well-placed. He has the power to come through in a way that nothing on earth can.
Psalms 103 is a great chapter for many purposes, but I think that we can pick up something very valuable particularly in the middle of it.
Psa 103:10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
Psa 103:11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.
Psa 103:12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
Psa 103:13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.
Psa 103:14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.
I think that this is something that is one of the most amazing parts about God (although admittedly is really hard to I guess put that label on one characteristic). We receive an amazing amount of mercy. Keep in mind that God doesn’t owe humanity anything. It isn’t like He necessarily needs to forgive us. That is the whole point of verse 10. We haven’t received everything that we should have as a consequence for our sin, and the reason for that comes in verse 11.
He has done that because He is merciful towards them that fear Him. In other words, He is merciful towards people who revere, respect, love and give Him everything that He deserves (which I guess is everything).
Then, we get a really profound statement in verse 12. How far apart are the east and the west? Well, they are directional concepts rather than literal locations, and they are infinite in either direction. In other words, our sins are an infinite distance away from us once God has removed them. That is pretty amazing imagery to think about.
So, think about this one. Think about the power of forgiveness, and consider the amazing gift that God has given to anyone who will rely on Him. It is a pretty awesome that we have a God like this.