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Hebrew Spirituality: The Jewish Roots of Fearing God (part 3)

Post Title: How Fear and Love Work Together

Here is the key that will help correct your thinking and shape it along biblical lines. Biblically speaking, the fear of God (yirat Adonai) must be distinguished from the fear of divine punishment.

The fear of punishment may, indeed, be a deterrent against sin. Moreover, it may be under some circumstances an appropriate response to God's judgment. We'll see an example of that in a moment. But ultimately, both the fear of punishment and the fear of divine punishment are rooted in self-interest, whereas genuine fear of God is rooted in his holiness.

The fear of God in a word is awe, or reverence.

Not just any kind of awe but awe accompanied by actions, reverence with results. Would you say that with me? Awe accompanied by actions, reverence with results.

It is when we have before us a consciousness of the numinous awe-inspiring divine radiance, the glory of his splendor, the unapproachable light of his essence. The yirat Adonai is not rooted in my self-interest, my apprehensions, or my fright. It is a reverence for God and a respect for his name. That is why, as we saw in Exodus 20:20 last week, God can say, "Do not be afraid. I am going to test you so that the rest of your life you will walk with awe and reverence for Me."

We see both of these aspects of the fear of God at work in the early church. For example, in Acts 2:42 they, "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." Verse 43 continues, "And fear came upon every soul and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles." This isn't speaking of fright or apprehension about God's judgment. They are experiencing and rejoicing in God's awesome presence.

Same context, Acts 9:31, "So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied." You see the picture.

Now, there is an example in Acts that speaks of fright related to God's righteous judgment in the early church. Does an example come to your mind? How about chapter five, when Peter says to Ananias, speaking of his property, "While it remained unsold did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you conceive this deed in your heart?" We will see later that the one who fears God is one who speaks truth in his heart.

Peter says to Ananias "Why have you conceived this deed in your heart? You've not lied to men but to God," and as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last. What does the text say? "And great fear came upon all who heard of it." But notice here, it is fear but not the fear of God.

Shortly after his wife Sapphira arrives, also enters into the sin, and is challenged by the apostle. We read in verse 10, that she fell dead immediately at his feet. The young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. "And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things." (Acts 5:11).

This fear is concerning God's judgment in which is his holiness is unalterably opposed to every act of rebellion, wickedness, and evil. But the fear of God that the scriptures enjoin to us is to be in awe of God, accompanied by appropriate actions.

Here is another profound example. Who was the first non-Jew to hear the gospel and be filled with the Holy Spirit? Cornelius. Acts 10:2 tells us he was a righteous and God-fearing man. What does Peter say when he reports back to the Jewish believers, those observant Jews in Jerusalem? In verse 34, Simon says, "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him."

The fear of harm, as it was viewed by the sages of Israel was considered a lower form of yirat Adonai, but the higher form was the awe of God's greatness. Our focus is on God. Our fear of him is intertwined with love. It does make us aware of our deficiency because we are overwhelmed with his glory, majesty, and splendor. The lifelong process of coming into the awareness of his holiness compels us to walk in selfless love.

The fear of God and the love of God are two intertwined concepts.

So closely are they related that the sages were convinced the fear of God was the precursor to, and the prerequisite for loving God. Does that make sense to you? If you don't have awe and reverence of God, can you truly love him? Apart from the fear of God, are you not vulnerable to what Bob Mumford decades ago called sloppy agape

Here is the point, in Scripture, love is the primary attitude of God for us and toward us. Biblical fear that leads to love should be our primary attitude towards God.

Would you like to develop yirat Adonai more deeply? The first thing to recognize is that this awe and reverence for God is a process. It is a learned behavior, and an experience that takes a lifetime. We'll talk more about that in detail next week.

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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.

Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.

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