Fear of God
This bible study is focused on understanding the fear of God as referenced through an event in Ephesus during Paul’s ministry. As a result of the event, Jews and Greeks in Ephesus were filled with fear, the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor, several people openly confessed their sins, many gave up their practice of sorcery, and the gospel spread widely and grew in power. What is fear and how did it make people turn to God?
Generally, fear arises out of recognizing an extraordinary power to cause or drive events that inflict physical or emotional pain or bodily harm. If one responds by keeping away, hiding, or succumbing to the source of power, then that is negative fear. Christ discourages us from such fear through his teaching in Luke 12:4. If, in contrast, one responds to recognition of such power by seeking to please God, then the fear is positive and is the fear of God. Christ encourages us to fear God through his teaching in Luke 12:5. We discuss the events in Ephesus and several other similar events described in the bible to share an understanding of the fear of God. Also, we make a case that we can learn the nature of fear of parents by understanding fear of God and use the relationship in attempting to understand aspects of parent-child interactions.
Examples from Ephesus
The Ephesus event occurred after Paul had been there for about two years and spread the gospel through daily discussions in the lecture hall of Tyrannus and by performing miracles, healing the sick, and casting out demons. Some Jewish sorcerers tried to imitate Paul: They attempted to cast out evil spirits by invoking “…the Jesus whom Paul preaches” [Acts 19:13]. In one such case, the evil spirit responded to them [Acts 19:15]: “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then, the man they were trying to cure jumped on the seven imitators and beat them up badly. They ran out naked and bleeding.
The incident was reported throughout Ephesus. The Jews and Greeks were seized with fear and the name of the Lord Jesus was honored highly. A large number of sorcerers gave up the practice and turned to God. The incident led people to a recognition of evil powers that operated in their society and consequences of confronting such powers without the backing of God. They also realized that sorcery and other such practices were powerless. They responded to their fear of these powers by turning to God. They repented and turned to God as Paul had preached to them for more than two years. Therefore, their fear was the fear of God.
Christ’s Teaching on Fear
Our understanding of negative fear and the fear of God (positive fear) is based on Christ’s teaching as recorded in Luke 12:4–7. The teaching identifies two types of fear: First is the fear of a threat to the body that cannot affect the soul. In this type of fear, one is afraid of a power capable of inflicting physical or emotional pain or bodily harm but cannot affect the soul. Second, is the fear of God. Christ directs us to fear God who has authority over the body and soul. We should not express our fear of bodily harm by being afraid of the forces that may inflict such harm; rather, we should express the fear by honoring God and seeking to please him. For example, Abraham feared losing his son Isaac but expressed the fear by obeying Gods command that he kill his son as sacrifice. As he prepared to kill the boy, God stopped him and said: “…Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son” [Genesis 22:12].
Fear at Presentation of the Ten Commandments
When Israelites gathered to receive the Ten Commandments, God presented to them “…thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast” [Exodus 19:16] and everyone in the camp trembled. They asked Moses to speak “to us yourself and we will listen” [Exodus 20:19]. They did not want to hear directly from God because they were afraid of him. Then Moses encouraged them: “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning” [Exodus 20:20]. Essentially, they should fear God by seeking to please him but should not be afraid of the thunder and lightning that makes them fear God. In essence, fear that was instigated by thunder and lightning should be expressed by seeking to please God. Being afraid of the thunder and lightning amounts to negative fear, but seeking to please God in response amounts to positive fear (that is, fear of God).
God Treasures those that Fear Him
As Moses explained to the Israelites [Deuteronomy 10:12–13], to fear God means to obey him, love him, and serve him with all your heart and all your soul. God promised through Prophet Malachi that those who fear him will be his “treasured possession” [Malachi 3:17], will be entered in a “scroll of remembrance” [Malachi 3:16], and will be distinguished from those that do not fear him. He considers righteous those that fear him. Those that don’t fear him, he considers wicked. People that fear God worship him and live a life that conveys his image.
Fear of Parents
God assigns parents to every child so that they will direct the child “to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just” [Genesis 18:19]. In this statement about Abraham, God defines his purpose for a parent as training children that he assigns to the parent so that they will know and fear God and worship him by doing what is right and just. To accomplish the training, he makes parents a channel to the children, through which he sends them blessings (e.g., God’s promise to Abraham propagated to Isaac, Jacob, and later generations of his offspring); basic needs (defined in Genesis 28:20 and Mathew 25:35–36 as food and drinks, clothing, shelter, protection and companionship), and messages (e.g., Jacob sent Joseph on the fateful errand that eventually took him to Egypt).
Therefore, God’s training for children is channeled through the parents. Because, as discussed previously in this article, his purpose is for people to fear him (that is, positive fear), he wants fear of God to be developed in children following the same channel. That is, children initially fear God by fearing their parents. Therefore, fear of parents flows from and is the same as fear of God. A child that fears his/her parents likely will understand what it means to fear God and grow up fearing God. So we can learn the nature of fear of parents by understanding fear of God.
Therefore, as we learned about fear of God, the fear of parents is seeking to please the parents, through obedience, love, and wholehearted service. Fear of parents is positive fear, but can be instigated by negative fear. As Moses told the Israelites [Exodus 20:20] to not be afraid of the thunder and lightning but should respond to their fear of these things by seeking to please God, positive fear of parents (i.e., a child seeking to please the parents) can be instigated by a child’s fear of parental punishment. The child should not be afraid of the punishment but should fear the parents in response to his/her fear of parental punishment.
The relationship between parental punishment and positive fear of parents is tricky but so important that God provided direct guidance for understanding the relationship when he spoke to David through Prophet Nathan about a special blessing. He promised to raise an offspring of David’s to take over the kingdom of Israel. He described his relationship with the offspring as follows [2 Samuel 7:14–15]: “I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.” The offspring, who we know as Solomon, described the relationship himself as follows: “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them” [Proverbs 13:24].
Therefore, parental punishment is important but must be carefully thought out and directed through parental love so that the pain of parental punishment will motivate a child to seek a firm hold on parental love. This simply lays out an understanding of the principle, but the application details for specific cases have to be developed by the parents. Positive fear of parents flows from the fear of God. A child that fears parents will learn to fear God.
Please watch this bible study on video at VIDEO_LINK_1 and VIDEO_LINK_2, listen to or download the audio at AUDIO_LINK_1 and AUDIO_LINK_2. You can also download a pdf copy of the PowerPoint presentation from PDF_LINK.
The discussion in this article differs significantly, though not totally, from the original version in the video, audio, and pdf links. We provide both versions here to preserve our learning process and hope that our users will also learn as we did.