Soon after completing my last document, “Fear is Faith’s Need Today”, God began to draw my attention to another aspect of the fear of the Lord that I have never noticed before. This is the fact that he does not build a house (Ps 127:1), that is, a people for himself, without laying a foundation of holy fear in the lives of those who will be master builders with him in building the church (1 Cor3:10). In raising this topic it would seem that the Spirit is signalling that he is pursuing a work in ministries in this city (and beyond), especially of an apostolic and prophetic character, that will ensure that the construction of God will stand the test of time. This is both encouraging and deeply challenging.
Fear of God Marks out God’s Chosen Instruments
Reverential fear is a common property of the key servants of God in scripture. This is clear in the case of the man with whom he forms a particular covenant, Abraham. After his obedience concerning the sacrifice of Isaac, this servant receives a special accolade: “for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (Gen 22:12). This is followed by the LORD’s final and fullest promise to fulfil his solemn covenant obligations to Abraham. It is fear flowing through faith that constitutes Abraham a person willing to risk everything and so the father of all the faithful (Rom4:11).
Moses, the appointed deliverer of the people of God from bondage (Acts 7:25), must leave the treasures and wisdom of Egypt (Acts 7:22; Heb 11:26) to prepare him for this role. BeyondEgypt, Moses meets God at Sinai once again. Here he will receive the foundational teaching ofIsrael, the tablets of the law. It is necessary that the mediator of the covenant must himself meet the awesomeness of God in such a way that he says, “I tremble with fear.” (Ex19:16;20:18; Heb12:21). It is necessary for the mediator of the covenant and the “friend of God” (Ex 33:11) to know the fear of the Lord if he is to faithfully execute his mission.
His successor, Joshua, must similarly be overcome by the greatness of God. On the threshold toJericho, the gateway to the conquest of the Promised Land, Joshua is confronted by the angel of the LORD. Spontaneously he falls on his face and worships as a sign of reverence, submission and awe. Isaiah’s situation illustrates this truth in the life of the prophets. The manifestation of the holiness of God in theTempleshatters every other vision and draws out a fear for life itself (Isa 6:1- 5). This is not merely an Old Testament phenomenon.
Peter, in person and as the first confessor of Jesus as the Christ, is designated by the Son of God as the one on whom he will build his church (Matt16:13-19). Yet Peter must also fall down at the feet of Jesus overwhelmed by his holy presence and proclaim, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Likewise, all the disciples fear Jesus because of his supreme power over the wind and the waves (Luke8:22- 25). Their fear of nature as an impersonal and unpredictable power is replaced by as fear of Christ.
Jesus, the one through whom the newtempleofGodwill be built, is the perfect fulfilment of the principle under discussion. He is filled with the fear of his Father as he approaches and endures his passion (Mark14:32-42;15:34; Heb 5:7). (This subject is examined in detail in the paper “Fear is Faith’s Need Today”.)
Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles (Acts9:15;22:21; 26:12; Gal 2:7 -8) is overwhelmed by the glory of the exalted Christ on the road toDamascus(Acts 9:1 -9). Hereafter, he is a man who “knows the fear of the Lord” (2 Cor5:10).
John the apostle was perhaps Jesus closest friend during his days on earth (John13:23;19:26; 21:7, 20). Yet, in order to be able to participate in the pathos and depth of the story of the climax of the ages recorded in the book of Revelation, he needs to experience the glory of the exalted Christ in a manner that paralyses him with fear (Rev 2:12 -16, 17 -18).
Without these apostles and prophets, and Jesus himself, God would have had no foundation upon which to build his dwelling place, the church, for time and eternity (Eph2:20;Rev 21:24). We need now to move on to a deeper examination of why godly fear is an essential ingredient in the process by which God begins to construct a habitation for himself in the Spirit (Eph 2:22).
Fear is the Prerequisite for Wisely Building God’s House
“By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established.” (Prov 24:3)
If this is a principle of God’s Word, it must first be true of how he works in terms of building his own “house”, the community of the people of God, the church on earth (Heb 3:1 – 5). Foundational to God’s own building programme must be the impartation of godly wisdom. This sort of wisdom comes through the experience of holy fear in the life of his chosen instruments (2 Tim2:20-22).
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the holy one is insight.” (Prov 9:10). Since God must follow his own principles, and work to complete what he has begun (Luke14:28-30), it is unsurprising that, “The goal of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.” (Ps 111:10). From first to last, the fear of God is essential to the formation of a wisdom by which the construction of the household of God may take place.
The fear of God correlates with the holiness of God and most prominently his jealousy. It is the jealous God who prohibits all idolatry and warns of punishment to multiple generations (Deut 5:8 – 9). Christians likewise are to “flee from the worship of idols”, for there is a real danger of “provoking the Lord to jealousy” as if “we are stronger than he” (1 Cor10:14,21).
The essence of idolatry is in giving a glory to something other than God that belongs to God alone. This is incompatible with God’s essential nature and places humanity under his wrath (Rom1:18,23 -25). “I am the Lord that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols.” (Isa 42:8). The consequence of idolatry is the loss of the presence of God.
It is not coincidental that the greatest wisdom figure in the Old Testament, Solomon, is the builder of theTemple. As a man who fears God his reward is not the completion of the magnificent structure itself, but that the Lord of heaven and earth promises to indwell the sanctuary (2 Chron 6:18, 7:16). The manifest presence of God amongst his people validates his promise. “The house of the LORD was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house.” (2 Chron5:13-14; 7:2).
The apex of the fear of the Lord and so the fullness of wisdom is Jesus (1 Cor1:30). This is because the new and eternalTempleofGodis built in his own body (John2:19- 22). The concentration of the Messianic fear prophesied in the Old Testament (Isa 11:1 – 3). Is found in the climax of Jesus’ passion inGethsemaneandCalvary. According to Hebrews, his prayer to be “saved from death”, is answered by the Father “because of his reverent submission” (5:7). The content of Jesus’ reverence is not an emotional state as such, namely fear, but the deepest possible concern that the Father’s relationship with humanity be perfected in him. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. ‘Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.’” (John12:27- 28).
Jesus’ concern is that all glory goes to the Father. His physical and emotional life is clearly secondary to this concern. Much more than this however, his spiritual life, understood as his pleasure in the Father, must also be subordinated to the glory of God. In the sacrifice of the cross all experience of the glory of God (who the Father really is), must be stripped away. Only in this way can the idolatry of humanity be destroyed in the life of the totally pure Son of God.
The result of this submission of Jesus to the Father is resurrection. It is “to the glory of God the Father” (Phil2:11) that Jesus is exalted. All that the Father had always desired to pour into humanity by his Spirit (Rom8:11) now fills the life of the completely transformed and glorified body of Christ (Phil3:21). This is the climax of the building of God. Jesus is the true and eternal temple not made with hands (2 Cor 5:1) in which the fullness of God dwells forever (Col2:9). In this way the fear of the Lord, as the beginning and goal of wisdom (Prov9:10; Ps 111:10), has been the means of the destruction of the old dwelling place of God and the reconstruction of the new. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, the old has gone and the new has come (2 Cor5:15- 17).
Fearing and Building to Last Today
Where the fear of the Lord is present, a godly wisdom will prevail among Christian leaders to ensure all the glory in the church goes to him (Eph 3:21). Generally however, the story of restoration, revival and renewal is a story of tragedy. The long term multi- generational success stories are rare. The reasons for this are typically illustrated by the story of Solomon.
He is the son of David, the man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14), as such he will not only be the richest and most powerful king in the history of Israel but the person through whom his father’s heartfelt prayers will be answered. His is the unique privilege of constructing theTemplewhere God’s heart will dwell (2 Chron7:16).
The basic key to the success of theTemplebuilding programme is Solomon’s humility in asking for a wise and discerning mind (1 Ki3:12). The fruit of this is that the house of God is filled with the glory of God (2 Chron5:13-14; 7:2). The intensity of the divine presence corresponds to the width of the Solomonic vision that the whole earth fears the LORD. He prays that through the petitions of visiting foreigners in theTemple, “all the peoples of the earth might know your name and fear you, as do your peopleIsrael, and so that they know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.” (1 Ki8:41- 43).
This kingly vision sees theTempleas the dwelling place of God and the hub of the cosmos from which the revelation of the one true God radiates to all the nations. Even though this great missionary vision begins to reach fulfilment through the visit of the queen of Sheba (1 Ki 10:1- 13), it is effectively still – born.
Though born within the framework of a special covenant (1Ki 9:5; 2 Sam7:14), Solomon lost his bearings. He loses the fear of the LORD. Solomon’s economic and political success leads him into numerous alliances with foreign powers. The end result of this is idolatry (1 Ki 11:1 -13). This is extreme apostasy, as God had twice pre – warned him that the cost of idolatry would be the destruction of “the house that I have consecrated for my name.” (1 Ki 9:6 – 9). A slow but irrevocable judgement falls onIsraelthat will finally see the total annihilation of the glory of theTempleofSolomon. When God is robbed of his sovereign glory the end result is always destruction.
In the light of Solomon, who is typical of all builders, modern day church builders must take great care. The forces that corrupted the Solomonic vision of the true glory of God in the world are more pervasive than ever before and threaten the long – term building programme of God. These forces are: 1. Material success; 2. Secularisation; and 3. Pluralism.
1. Material success
Prosperity itself is not a problem, as long as it is coupled with a Fear of God, it is the latter that Solomon lost. Similarly, in the church today, the teaching of divine prosperity is taught as a right, or by means of a formula, rather than coupled with godly fear as a necessary ingredient to preserve us from pride and judgement.
It seems that Solomon’s wisdom became secularised. His knowledge of the ways of nature (1 Ki4:32-33) and humanity (Proverbs) failed to remain anchored in constant God – dependence. In our time scientific, psychological, sociological and business principles drawn from the secular sphere are infiltrating the church without discernment or correction. The house of God is becomingly gradually more secularised.
Solomon’s pluralism was that he began to entertain foreign gods along with the one true LORD of all. In many sermons, seminars and Christian publications today, the name of Jesus and the centrality of his death and resurrection are increasingly marginalised. They are replaced by ill – defined spiritual experiences.
History teaches us that beginning well, like Solomon, is no guarantee of ending well. Many genuine revival movements have ended in disaster under the judgement of God. Our assurance must NEVER be in the size of our buildings, budgets or congregations. Nor in our traditions or academic qualifications. Our only assurance is in Christ, sustained by the fear of the Lord and a holy desire for his glory alone. May God grant us the wisdom to fear him from first to last, so fulfilling the vision of the Alpha and Omega, the one true King, Jesus Christ, that salvation may come to the ends of the earth (Matt 28:19;Rev 22:13).
If we have this, his purposes for our nation to be filled with his glory and power to impact the nations will not be still – born. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21).