Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The word fear, as a noun, verb, or adjective, is found in Scripture over five hundred times; only ten books of the sacred canon do not mention fear. This is not surprising, since fear is basic to true religion, and its absence is true of all unbelief. Scripture distinguishes between the fear of the unbeliever and the fear of the child of God; and because we are by nature inclined to be fearful, it often calls us not to fear.
The only proper object of fear is Jehovah God. No one is like unto Him, who is “glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders” (Ex. 15:11). God is to be feared and ought to be feared (Ps. 76:7, 11). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7); it is the whole duty of man (Ecclesiastes 11:13). Not only does the individual Christian fear the Lord, but this is also true of the congregation in its worship, for God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints (Ps. 89:7). This fear for God is also the basis for the communion of saints, for “they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name” (Mal. 3:16).
But the wicked cannot, and will not, fear God. “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18). False prophets and preachers “feed themselves without fear” (Jude 12), running greedily after the error of Balaam for reward. Judah was a foolish people in that they did not fear the Lord nor tremble at His presence (Jer. 5:22). Unbelievers do have a certain fear for man (John 9:22; Acts 5:26), and they spend their lifetime in bondage, fearing death (Heb. 2:15). Those that sin willfully after having received the knowledge of the truth have “a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation” (Heb. 10:27), for plagues shall come upon those that do not fear “this glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD” (Deut. 28:58). Who shall be able to stand when the great day of His wrath is come? (Rev. 6:17). The believer shall, as he is covered by the blood of the Lamb!
The fear of God that we have been given is clean or holy (Ps. 19:9). This holy fear causes us to tremble before God (Phil. 2:12); it is reverence for God (Heb. 12:28); it results in meekness before Him (I Pet. 3:15); and it is mixed with love. Strikingly, the apostle John writes that “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (I John 4:18). The child of God fears his God, but does not fear any evil (Ps. 23:4), war, or calamity (Ps. 27:1), or what man can do unto him (Heb. 13:6). Indeed, he does not fear them that are able to kill the body, but rather Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt. 10:28). How is this to be explained? Only in that the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts. We experience that love, return it to God, and show it to our neighbor. Convinced that God is our Father, we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God. All is well. God’s perfect love casts out fear and torment.
But it is perfect love alone that is able to do that, and because our faith and our love are not perfect, the Scriptures repeatedly exhort us not to fear. By nature we are fearful; by nature we do not fear God; by nature we fear those things which the unbeliever fears. Hence Abraham is told not to fear the Canaanites, for God is his shield and exceeding great reward (Gen. 15:1). Joshua was not to fear nor be dismayed regarding the unknown future after Moses had died (Josh. 8:1). Zion is not to fear the revilings and reproaches of men (Is. 51:7). The women (and the church) are not to fear, for Christ is risen from the dead as He said (Matt. 28:6). Through His death and resurrection, Christ has destroyed him that had the power of death (the devil) and delivered us from the fear of death (Heb. 2:14, 15). The Spirit of adoption that is in us is not a spirit of bondage that causes us to fear (Rom. 8:15). We are called to pass the time of our sojourning here in fear, knowing that we have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ (I Pet. 1:17, 18). In heavenly vision, John hears a voice saying, “Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great” (Rev. 19:5). Then all will be perfect: faith, hope, and love. And godly fear.
Until then, “Fear not little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).