Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing.
Who hasn’t felt fearful at some time in their lives? Probably no-one.
Let us see how the Bible deals with the concept of fear.
In the New Testament, the Greek word for ‘fear’ is phobos. This word is the root of the term ‘phobia’, which is used for any kind of abnormal fear. The Gospels relate the story of the disciples experiencing not a phobia, perhaps, but certainly terrible fear, when they were in a boat on lake Galilee. “Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear” (Matthew 14:25-26).
On other occasions, fear can indicate uncertainty, as in the case of the Apostle Paul as he describes how he felt when he visited the Corinthians, “I came to you in weakness, with great fear and trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3).
These examples illustrate how the Christian can experience fear just like everyone else. But in some ways the believer is preserved from fear.
In his description of the Christian’s experience Paul can say in his letter to the Romans, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship” (Romans 8:15). This reminds us that the relationship of the Christian and his God is not one characterised by terror, since God is his father.
The believer is also privileged to know God’s presence and care for him in a variety of circumstances, and thus the Psalmist can testify, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil” (Psalm 23:4).
Fear can also be valuable. ‘Fear’ in the Bible is sometimes associated with obedience, worship, respect and honour; ‘reverent fear’ is a phrase used in the Bible. This is how Moses describes the kind of response that should characterise the people of Israel, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 10:12).
In the New Testament we see how fear, in the sense of respect for our Lord, can motivate us to live a life that respects others as well. We are given this advice in the letter to the Ephesians, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).
Iwan Rhys Jones, ‘Ofn’, a chapter out of Geiriau Bywyd published by EMW in 2017.