“Fear God.” It’s a strange sounding phrase to our modern ears but it’s a consistent theme in Scripture. There are a lot of verses like this one:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7
On the other hand, the Bible commands (at least 37 times) “do not fear!”
So what gives? Does this mean we are supposed to not fear AND fear? Yes. Exactly.
Jesus said it this way:
“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 10:26–32
See it? Three “fear nots” and one big “fear.”
The reason Jesus says we should fear God is because of how overwhelming huge He is. He has authority over what happens to bodies AND souls. He will reveal every secret. He is in control of the destiny of little birdies. He knows how many hairs you have on your head.
In other words, He is the only one worth fearing. And yet, “you are of more value than many sparrows.” This awesome, powerful God is on the side of all who have trusted in Jesus so there is no reason to fear anyone else. Not only that, our fear of God takes on a different tone. If there were two words I would use to describe “fear of the Lord,” they would be “respect” and “awe.”
Now, all of those other verses come into focus.
“Now then, let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the Lord our God, or partiality or taking bribes.” – 2 Chronicles 19:7
God is on the side of justice. If you are unjust, you better fear.
The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. – Proverbs 8:13
If God is good, then our natural response is to hate evil (and only He gets to define what that is). We fear Him when we stand for evil instead of good.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. – 2 Corinthians 5:10–11
An appropriate fear of God leads us to tell people about Jesus because if we truly love them, we will want Him on their side on that last day.
Fear (respect and awe) of God is a good thing that helps us not be afraid the rest of the time because this fearsome God is on our side.