At first, to hear that revival is when the fear of the Lord comes upon us corporately or individually may not sound like good news. After all, fear does not sound like something we want. We work hard to escape our fears, alleviate our fears, remove our fears, we don’t usually pursue them.
We don’t want to be terrified, feel threatened, sense danger, or be scared. And because of the negativity of fear, some shallow Bible teachers have been quick to dismiss the fear of the Lord as an Old Testament thing, or something that really has no element of fear in it, as if the Bible just chose the wrong word. They often ask, doesn’t John tell us in I John 4:18 that perfect love casts out fear? Didn’t Paul tell Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind”?
The answer is yes, all those things are true. But since Scripture does not contradict Scripture, we must reason there is a kind of fear God does not want us to have, and there is a kind of fear He does want us to have.
I once decided to do a study on this. I wanted to find out how often the Bible spoke about the fear of the Lord. I started just looking up the words fear of the Lord, fear God, fear Him and, fear His name. But I soon realised sometimes the Bible also used the words tremble, and dread, reverence, awe, awesome, and honour. It even extended to words like astonished, actions like fell on His face, bowed, afraid. So I kept recording every verse that had one of these words or ideas if it was associated with God. I didn’t finish the study, but where I stopped I’d already recorded 28 pages of verses, around 600 texts. Why is this so prominent? Why aren’t there 600 verses on loving God? Because fearing and reverencing God is the way you love our God. It is the quality of the love we give Him. It is a deep, joyful, reverential, weighty regard for the value of God.
Again, do a study on the kinds of affections that should characterise a Christian. How many times do you think the word intensity appears? Or passion? Or ecstasy? Or excitement? Yes, Romans 12:11 tells us to be fervent in spirit. But consider what words dominate New Testament descriptions of Christian affections:
“that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things– that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet[sensible], chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. Likewise exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility” (Titus 2:2-7)
Paul wants the men, the women, the young women, the young men, and Titus himself to be sober and reverent.
Notice, the command is to be sober, not sombre. Sombre means gloomy, melancholy, depressed, despondent. Sober means serious-minded, clear-thinking, respectful, approaching life with the appropriate thoughtfulness, sincerity, earnestness and seriousness. It includes the idea of being dignified enough to command respect, not a clown.
Christian affection is being sober, being temperate or self-controlled, dignified, of sound mind, patient, meek and quiet spirit. Christians are people who pursue quiet and peaceable lives, who mind their own business; Christians are people who are peaceful and, as much as lies within them, seek peace with all men; they prefer modesty of appearance and modesty of attitude. These describe someone living with reverence, awe, a holy love for God, a reverent love for God.
Is this gloomy or melancholy?
“Happy is the man who is always reverent, But he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” (Prov. 28:14)
Here Scripture commends the person who is always reverent. The world thinks there is a contradiction between being reverent and being happy, between being serious and being joyful. But here we read that the person who is always reverent, who has a sober frame of mind is happy and blessed and joyful. A.W. Tozer said, “The fear of God is… astonished reverence. I believe that the reverential fear of God mixed with love and fascination and astonishment and admiration and devotion is the most enjoyable state and the most satisfying emotion the human soul can know.”