the shape of leadership

The Beginning of Knowledge

What the fear of God really means

Don’t act that way in church,” some older saints scolded when I was growing up. “This is God’s house!”

As a child, I thought God might get me if I ran in the foyer or giggled during worship. My theology was erroneous and my understanding immature, but my fear reflected a developing belief that God is both real and holy.

The admonition to fear the Lord troubles and perplexes some Christians. Why would a loving God want to be feared? And why should a person of faith need to fear a loving God?

To modern sensibilities, it might seem an incongruous and outdated notion. Yet pastors and parishioners alike must reckon with this biblical concept. It crops up frequently in Scripture, from the Pentateuch to Revelation.

Proverbs 1:7 declares, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” A parallel statement in Proverbs 9:10 defines the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom and “knowledge of the Holy One” as understanding. These twin declarations frame the Book of Proverbs.

Those who fear the
Lord give Him the
honor and glory He
is due.

“Beginning” could indicate a starting point, the launching off place for a lifelong journey. Or it might allude to a foundation, the first step toward building a life of righteousness and flourishing. In either case, wisdom starts with knowing God, while foolish corruption begins with rejecting Him.

Godly wisdom requires humility and a willingness to turn from wickedness (Proverbs 3:7; 22:4). For believers, recognition that God’s wisdom and righteousness surpass human understanding and virtue should displace all hubris.

Like the rest of Scripture, Proverbs calls readers to heed God’s Word and turn from sin. After all, “to fear the Lord is to hate evil” (8:13).

This is the posture a person should assume when coming face-to-face with the infinite Creator of the Universe and Giver of Life. As theologian Tremper Longman III observes, encountering God “takes our breath away and makes our knees knock together.”

The proper response to God is not irrational anxiety or terror. Neither is it taking God for granted or treating Him with contempt or indifference.

Those who fear the Lord give Him the honor and glory He is due, worshipping, obeying, and loving God with all their heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4–5; Mark 12:30).

The apostle Paul said, “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others” (2 Corinthians 5:11).

May your life and ministry persuade others to fear God and hate evil.


This article appears in the Summer 2024 issue of Influence magazine.

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