A hundred other verses say essentially the same thing: We must have the fear of God in us. Nevertheless, many persist in believing that, in Christianity, the fear of God has been replaced by love for God.
There is no doubt that God wants us to fear Him. Notice that Psalm 34:11 says that the fear of God is a quality that we must learn, indicating that we do not have this characteristic in us by nature. The fear of God, then, is different from the fears we normally have in life. Thus, it must be learned.
Fear is a powerful motivator. Our normal understanding of fear spans from being a mild apprehension or awareness of anxiety all the way to outright, bowel-moving terror. As an extreme, it creates the "fight or flight" response. Why, then, does a loving God want us to fear Him? Would He not rather want us to snuggle up to Him with no thought of fear?
Many people have that conception, but it is a mistaken one. We must not forget that God is not a man; He is God. He reminds us in Isaiah 55:8-9 that He does not think like a man. Yes, He wants us to love Him, but even in that love the sense of fear should always be present.
Recall that Psalm 2:11 commands, "Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling." To a Christian, fearing and rejoicing seem to be an odd couple. Paul writes in Philippians 2:12 to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Ordinarily, we associate "trembling" with fear, of being frightened. What is there to fear and tremble about in taking salvation to its conclusion?
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 says, "Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." Within a Christian setting, we are much more comfortable with this command to love, yet notice verses 1-2:
Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the LORD your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess, that you may fear the LORD your God to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged.
Immediately preceding and following His command in verse 5 to love Him, He also affirms that we are to fear Him (see verses 2, 13). The sense of verses 1-2 is that this fear is produced as we keep His commandments, not before! Clearly, fear of Him and love for Him cannot be separated from our relationship with Him.
Isaiah 8:13 adds another interesting aspect. "The LORD of hosts, Him you shall hallow; let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread." Surely, we might think that someone as close to God as Isaiah did not need to fear Him, but here God commands Isaiah to fear him. Why? Because the fear gained within the relationship with Him always motivates movement in the right, godly direction, regardless of the intensity of life's circumstances.
What about I John 4:17-18? Does it not contradict the assertion that our relationship with God should contain godly fear?
Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
This passage does not contradict in the least, once we understand the kind of fear the apostle John is writing about. The clue to this fear appears in verse 17 in the term "boldness." John is referring to being bold in spite of the circumstances we face from life in this world once we are converted. The love of God works in us to dispel the fear of disease, oppressions, persecution, and death, but it does not drive out the fear of God. If it did, John would be contradicting what the Bible says elsewhere about the necessity of continuing to fear God. Christianity has not replaced the fear of God with the love of God, as many wrongly believe. Instead, the two work hand in hand.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sin, Christians, and the Fear of God
Notice that the fear of God does not come naturally; it must be learned. We are not born with it already existing within. It is a vital quality given through contact with God and someone qualified to teach it, as David surely was.
If we study and meditate on Him, the Scriptures will reveal that God is supreme in everything, including in qualities like love, power, wisdom, forgiveness, mercy, patience, kindness, etc. God is sovereign over all. These virtues alone provide multiple reasons for fearing Him.
In this church, the overwhelming majority of our messages address our responsibilities to the Creator, for this is always a need that must be filled in us. However, what about God? Has He no rights to be a solidly entrenched reality in our minds, always serving as the guide to our lives?
How can we possibly live by a truly vital faith if a strong and true awareness of the reality of His oversight and presence is not our guide in every aspect of life each day? After all, who is regulating affairs on planet earth today—God or the Devil? Intellectually, a person will quickly concede that God reigns supreme in heaven, but that He does so over the world is almost universally denied. How is this denied? Titus 1:15-16 provides the answer:
To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.
Despite their claims to be Christian, people's consistent disobedience discloses the falsehood that they are truly Christians and that God is a reality in their lives.
In our time, because of the influence of evolution in education and the weakness of religious teaching in the churches, it is not only commonly denied that God created everything by personal and direct action, but few also believe, as proved by their conduct, that He has any immediate concern about regulating the works of His own hands. Everything is assumed to be ordered according to the impersonal and abstract laws of nature.
The churches contain many members who are either outright Deists or incipient ones. A Deist believes God created the world and then stepped away, taking no interest in its operations. We must not allow ourselves to have this attitude. We have to know and obey what we know—that is our responsibility as a Christian.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and God's Sovereignty
The fear of the Lord is not something that comes naturally but that must be learned. It is in fact the essence of true religion. An "essence" is what makes something what it is; it is the real nature of a thing. The fear of the Lord is the real nature of the religion, the way of life, of God.
It is in us to fear instinctively when we are little children. We fear being left alone. We fear falling. We fear sudden noises. We fear the dark and lightning and thunderstorms. We fear many things almost instinctively because our first reaction is always to protect the self. Not all of these fears are wrong or negligible by any means, for they are what cause us to act to preserve our lives.
The fear of God does not come so naturally. We have to begin doing it consciously, and we have to learn to do it and grow in it. The Bible shows that it is not in man to fear God instinctively.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fear of God
David makes an interesting statement here regarding the fear of God. We must learn the fear of the Lord; it is not something we have by nature. We find the evidence of this in the conduct of all who have lived since Adam and Eve. Romans 3:18 is just as true now as it always has been: "There is no fear of God before their eyes." The reason it must be taught becomes obvious once we understand that it arises and grows from one's relationship with God.
The relationship begins with God's calling. Before that, we may have sincerely believed that He exists, but we certainly did not know Him. Respect cannot exist between two parties—especially the quality of respect God desires—when they do not even know each other. Knowing of someone is far different from knowing him. This is certainly true of God, as the world has been flooded with misinformation about Him. Psalm 34:8 supports this: "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!" David exhorts us to experience a relationship with Him, for only then will we know that He is indeed good.
David adds in verses 12-14: "Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it." He urges us to understand that the fear of the Lord grows as the relationship develops. The relationship develops when we follow through in submission to God in conforming to His way of life. As we do this, we begin to get a taste of what it would be like to spend eternity as His companion in marriage.
The desires to please Him, not to disappoint Him, and to strive to protect the relationship grow from abject self-concern to preserve one's life to reverential awe for His great goodness and zealous desire to preserve and glorify His name within an increasingly intimate relationship. We can see how this would motivate what we do with our life and time. It would drive and guide us in how we did things. If we truly respect someone, we try very hard to give him the best possible quality in all we do for him.
Consider this in light of the dating process and the feelings that bring couples together in marriage. As Christians, we are now in the courtship period preceding marriage to our Savior. Access to and fellowship with Him, coupled with submission within the relationship, feeds a growing respect for Him and His way. By this, we come to know Him, and we are motivated to reciprocate His loving respect and to produce growth and the fruit of God's Spirit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part One): Fear
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Psalms 34:11: