12 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, 13 and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?
14 To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the Lord set His affection on your forefathers and loved them, and He chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. 20 Fear the Lord your God and serve Him. Hold fast to Him and take your oaths in His name. 21 He is your praise; He is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. 22 Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.
1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: 2 for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; 3 for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; 4 for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young - 5 let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance - 6 for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise. 7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 both begin with these words: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”
In fact, the Bible says a lot about fools, and in the book of Proverbs in particular. The words ‘fool, fools and foolish’ appear 68 times in Proverbs in the NIV translation, while the words ‘wise and wisdom’ appear 108 times. It’s been said that the book of Proverbs is 100% about wisdom or the lack of it, and in this book the lack of wisdom is called foolishness.
The Word of God tells us how we can be wise, and it also tells us how we can be fools. Proverbs 1:7 is the foundational verse: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” These words set the scene for the rest of the book to follow. But the book of Proverbs is more than just a collection of sayings that tell us the difference between wisdom and foolishness. It also provides us with a measuring stick by which we’re able to measure our own potential at being wise or foolish. And it tells us how we’re able to move from worldly foolishness to Godly wisdom.
It starts out by saying that fear of the Lord is the beginning of true knowledge. If we want knowledge, and if we want wisdom, this verse gives us the starting point. It all begins and ends with God. A month or so ago we looked at just some of the truths found in the profound opening statement of the Bible: “In the beginning God.” The point is that God needs to be central in all we think, all we say and all we do. It is a huge mistake to restrict His relevance in our lives to an hour every Sunday morning. If you want answers to life, go to God. If you want to make sense of what is happening in your life right now, go to God. And if you want true wisdom, go to God.
Other translations of the Bible use the phrase ‘foundation of knowledge’ instead of the beginning of knowledge in Proverbs 1:7. This word ‘foundation’ has a deep meaning. Firstly, it describes something of the first order, and the most important. It describes the starting point and the very essence of what is to follow. If your foundation is not firm, then everything you build on top of that foundation cannot be trusted.
What follows the foundation is knowledge. Knowledge in the Biblical context is more than just acquiring facts about someone or something. The Biblical word knowledge means things like perception, discernment, awareness and proper understanding. Knowledge and wisdom may be similar words, but they really are quite different in their true meanings. For example, it takes knowledge to know that a tomato is a fruit, but it takes wisdom to not add it to a fruit salad…
Biblical wisdom relates to every aspect of our lives. It has to do with how we view life, how we understand life, and how we live life. If we want to live life properly and to its fullest – the way that God intends for us to live, then it follows that we need to know and understand whatever the Bible teaches us about life, and in particular the foundation we build as our starting point. When we turn to Christ the very foundation of our lives changes completely, and it is now on Him, rather than our limited wisdom and knowledge that we now add the building blocks of life.
Looking at Proverbs 1:7 again, what is the most important and right place to start with our lives? Whatever comes before the word foundation or beginning, and here it is fear of the Lord. We’ll get into a bit more detail on that in a moment.
There is another important word in this verse: the conjunction ‘but.’ Whenever we see the word ‘but’ in the Bible, we know there’s about to be a contrast. The person who has the first part (fear of the Lord and knowledge) will not be like the person in the second part. And in the same breath, the person in the second part will not be like the person in the first part. And this verse spells out for us what defines the person who does not know how to live life properly and fully: A fool.
So what the Bible is telling us is that those who do not have what is the essence of life will live life as a fool, and this includes some of the great thinkers and most intelligent people of our time. From a Biblical perspective the word fool means someone who is arrogant and self-willed. The fool says in his heart, “there is no God.”
So what makes the difference between someone who has the right foundation for life and a person who is a fool?
Again, we need to go back to the beginning of Proverbs 1:7 - The fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord makes the difference between a meaningful life and a foolish life. Now this whole concept of fear of the Lord has created much confusion. What do we actually mean when we say ‘fear the Lord’? It’s a phrase we see throughout the Bible, including our reading from Deuteronomy 10 today. As Christians we understand that it doesn’t mean we are to be scared or frightened of the Lord. We know this to be true because of what Jesus has done for us. Every single sinner, including each of us here today should be absolutely terrified of God, because He is holy and we are not, but because of Christ there is a fundamental change in who we now are. This is what comes from being confident in Christ – something we looked at two weeks ago. It is a deep mystery that Paul explains like this in Romans 8:15-17: “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”
So when we talk of fear of God, it means that we live in awe of Him. We have a new respect and reverence for God. If you ever feel that your respect and reverence for Him might be slipping, just stop for a moment and consider what He has done for you. Just look to the Cross and see what Jesus has done in order to make you right with God. You see, fear of God is all about putting things into their right perspective – the way God intended it to be in the first place. When you lived your life without Jesus, you were the master of your own destiny. You did what you wanted to do, because the world revolved around you. That’s the nature of sin.
But now that God by His grace has opened our eyes to the truth, we are to make Him the central figure of our lives, rather than ourselves. And when we begin to do that we find we want to be obedient to Him. We want to respect Him and submit to His will for our lives.
Make no mistake - our sinful natures will continue to fight against those things, but every Christian now has a desire to give to God His rightful place in our lives.
If you want to know the most important things about life, if you want to know the essence of living a purposeful and full life, it all starts with fearing the Lord. When we are in awe of Him, we will soon learn and understand that God is great and there is no other. When we have a reverence for God, we begin to get some understanding of His holiness and His true nature. When you begin to fear Him as the Bible implores you to do, you will have proper respect for Him and awe of Him. He will no longer be the ‘man upstairs’ or the ‘big guy in the sky’ anymore. That’s a foolish perception of who God is. Those who think that God smiles when He hears Himself being described like that are fooling themselves.
But when we learn what it really means to be obedient to Him, we will understand that God’s will is more important than ours. When we have respect for Him, we will understand that God deserves all we have and are. When we submit to Him, we will understand that God is greater than any other being in the universe. And when we truly begin to fear the Lord, our lives are no longer wasted on foolish things but on eternal things. That’s what it means to fear God.
Interestingly enough, in the entire Bible, we only told to fear one thing: Fear the Lord. Jesus says in Luke 12:4-5, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him.”
That’s the warning He gives to those who continue to disrespect God, and to those who treat Him with arrogance and contempt. But He does go on to give us this assuring promise in verse 32: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”
There is only one thing or person we should fear – God Himself.
There is an important question we need to ask here: Why should we fear the Lord? Simply because whatever we fear is what controls us, and this principle applies to both positive and negative fears.
For example, if we’re scared of the dark, the darkness controls us and we’ll run from it. If we’re scared of other people, they have control over us and we’ll cower down to them. If we’re scared of failure, then fear of failure controls us and we’ll never attempt anything in life. If we’re scared of rejection, that controls us and we’ll never take a step in faith. If we’re scared of insignificance, that controls us and we’ll be obsessed with ourselves. And the greatest fear of all is the fear of death. The very thought of death controls some people. They become obsessed with it as it gains control of their lives, keeping them awake at night and sapping the very life out of them. Those are just some of the negative fears that easily control people, and there are many others.
But on a positive note, when we fear God, we are no longer bound by any other fears. We also learn something else about fear in the Bible. 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” What does all this mean? Erwin McManus is an American minister and Christian author. In one of his books he wrote, “We discover that perfect loves casts out all fear. Not even God will hold us or control us by fear. When we fear Him, we in essence begin to live a life where we are fearless.”
Is it possible to live a fearless life? Yes it is, if we fear God! Now of course that sounds like a contradiction in terms, but remember how we defined true fear of God earlier: It’s all about giving Him His rightful place in our lives. Give Him the glory, the honour, the respect, the awe and obedience and all those other things that have been rightfully His for all of eternity, and you have nothing to fear in life.
We start by fearing the Lord. We rise above the negative fears that so easily control us when we have fear of the Lord. So it is possible to live a fearless life for Christ.
What do you fear in life? What is the one thing that you find almost consumes you? What keeps you awake at night?
Remember this: God is bigger than all those things. He is bigger and infinitely mightier than all your fears.
Learn to fear Him and to trust Him completely. Ask Him to teach you to pray, “Lord, I don’t understand this. I don’t know why this is or isn’t happening in my life, but I want to learn to trust you completely. Teach me to not be fearful of what is going on in my life.”
Trust Him and give Him priority in your life, and allow His perfect love to drive all your fears away. Just listen to some of His promises: Do you fear insignificance? In Christ God makes it possible for you to make a difference. Do you fear failure and rejection? God says He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do you fear death? There is no need to, because God has given you eternal life through Jesus Christ. This is what He says in John 6:37: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”
Fear can be such a negative and all-consuming emotion in our lives. There are even many Christians who are so fearful of incurring the wrath and anger of God, but that shows a lack of understanding of the power of the blood of Christ. As a result they find it virtually impossible to live the victorious life God intends for them. Non-Christians though have every right to be fearful of God, because the Bible tells us that they stand already condemned, but if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, the victory is yours and you are no longer condemned. His perfect love drives away all your fears.
We began by trying to understand the Biblical definition of fear, and it really only points us to one thing: Godly fear is not a negative thing. Living with Godly fear is a glorious thing because it reminds us of who we now are in Christ, and it points others to Christ.
Many people think that the God of the Bible, and the Old Testament in particular is an angry, vengeful God, but that’s just not true. Listen to what He says to the Israelite nation in the opening verses of Isaiah 43: “This is what the Lord says - He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.”
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Isaiah 43:1-3
The Bible (and the Old Testament in particular) often speaks about the need for us to fear God, yet at the same time we understand that this fear is not to be a negative thing.
What is your understanding of living a life that fears God, while at the same time not being terrified of Him?
Is it possible to live with a healthy fear of God? Why, or why not?
We’re also told in 1 John 4:18 that “perfect love drives out all fear”, yet there are so many Christians who seem to be controlled by an irrational fear of worldly things.
Why do you believe this happens, and what role can we as the Church play in helping others to see their true worth in Christ?
If you feel able, share with your group some of the fears that may have threatened your walk with God in the past.
How did you experience His grace and love during these times?
Read Proverbs 1:1-7
The NIV translation calls these opening verse the ‘purpose and theme’ of the rest of the book of Proverbs.
How have you personally experienced the wisdom described in verses 2-6?
In which ways are you able to apply Godly wisdom as revealed in the Bible in your everyday working, family and social life?
Close by praying that God would give you a deeper understanding of what it really means to live a life that fears the Lord.