The Fear and Comfort of God: Your Marriage Needs Both

Comfort is something we welcome. Fear is something we…well…fear. But both are needed to have a blessed marriage. That is, when they find their source in God.

“Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.”  – Acts 9:31

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) translates Acts 9:31: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.” (Bold mine.)

The early church was enjoying peace, strengthening or being built up, and numerical growth.

The word translated “peace” is the Greek word “eirene.” It means harmony, tranquility, and divine favor.

The word translated “strengthened” or “built up” is the Greek word “oikodomeo.” Its secular meaning is the physical building of a structure. But the Bible uses it in its metaphorical meaning—to edify and encourage each other.

These are things we want to see in our churches today. They are also things we want to take place in our marriage, for these help us grow as a husband and wife and bring joy to our relationship.

God tells us in this verse how to achieve these qualities in our churches, lives, and marriages. He says they come out of the “fear of the Lord.” And they also come from “the comfort of” or being encouraged by the Holy Spirit.”

The Greek word translated here as “comfort” or “encouraged” is “paraklesis.” In fact, Jesus uses a form of this word to describe the Holy Spirit in John 14:16-17: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (bold mine). (See also John 14:26, John 15:26, and John 16:7.)

All of us desire comfort and encouragement. These are great for our marriages. That part is not hard to understand.

When we accept Jesus as our Savior, the Holy Spirit comes to live within us forever. When both of us as a married couple are Christ’s followers, we have the Holy Spirit guiding, comforting, and encouraging us individually and together.

So we can understand the comfort and encouragement we receive from the Holy Spirit and its importance to our marriage.

But how does “the fear of the Lord” fit in? How does fear fit into God’s recipe for a joyful marriage?

It will help us find the answer to those questions if we look at what the word means and how it is used in Scripture.

The word “fear” is the English translation of the Greek word “phobos” used in the New Testament. We get our English word “phobia” from it.

A phobia is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “an exaggerated, usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation.”

The word in Greek can mean something similar to that. It means to be terrified of or to flee from something or someone.

We see this, for example, when the guards find Jesus’ tomb empty after His crucifixion and burial. Matthew 28:4 says: “The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men” (bold mine).

We read why they were so afraid in Matthew 28:2-3: “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.”

Fear in the New Testament can also refer to astonishment or amazement.

We see an example of this as we continue reading about the account of the discovery of the empty tomb. Matthew 28:8 says: “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples” (bold mine).

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are “the women referred to in this passage (see Matthew 28:1). They would not have been both terrified and joyful. But they certainly would have been amazed, astonished, and also joyful to see angels and hear about the resurrected Jesus.

Fear can additionally mean reverence, respect, and honor. It can refer to having a deep sense of accountability to someone.

We see it used this way when Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:9-11: So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. 11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience” (bold mine).

We can observe in these examples the importance of context to determine the meaning of “fear” in specific verses. We decide if it means being terrified, amazed, or in awe and reverence of someone or something by how it is used. This is often the case in Scripture and a good lesson for us as we read and study it.

The Hebrew word in the Old Testament translated as “fear” is “yira.” Its meaning is very similar to that of the Greek word “phobus.” It can refer to the emotion of terror or to reverence or awe. Again, the context determines the meaning.

Many times in the Old Testament God tells His people not to fear.

As the Israelites prepare to follow Joshua into the promised land, Moses tells them: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6, bold mine). The word clearly refers to terror or emotional fear in this context.

We are told in Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Here the context tells us we should view God with awe and reverence.

This kind of fear—awe and reverence of God–brings us wisdom. This is because all true wisdom comes from God. It is this wisdom we find in His Word, and not in what the world teaches. It is His wisdom that will lead us to have the lives and marriage He desires for us.

So let’s go back where we began to Acts 9:31.

God wants us to enjoy His peace–harmony, tranquility–and His favor in our marriage.

Jesus tells us this in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

God also will strengthen our marriage. In 1 Peter 5:8-10 we’re told: Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (bold mine).

God tells us what we can do as a couple when we rely on His strength. Philippians 4:13 says: I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” He wants us to serve Him together in whatever way He calls us. And He gives us the ability to do so.

We will have this peace and strengthening in our marriage when we fear God–when we hold Him in complete awe and reverence. He must be first in our lives and marriage. And this must begin with each of us giving our lives to Him through faith in His Son Jesus. (For more information on what that means and how to do it, please read our Meet Jesus page.)

As we stated previously, when we give our lives to Christ, God sends the Holy Spirit to live in us. He is the Source of encouragement we’re told about in Acts 9:31. He is the Source we need to live for Him and to serve Him–individually and together.

In addition to giving our lives to Christ, we also must commit our marriage to Him. We need to learn and put into practice all of His Word as a couple. (Our free tool, Couple Connect: A Simple Weekly Plan to Stay Close for a Lifetime, has many suggestions to help you do this.)

Fear of God brings us wisdom that leads us to live His way. This allows us to love and serve each other in marriage. It gives us the ability to follow what He teaches in Ephesians 5:21: “Submit to one another out of reverence [phobus = fear] for Christ.”

This is the verse that leads into God’s longest and most in-depth teaching on marriage in Ephesians 5 22-33.

When we fear God it also frees the Holy Spirit to bring His comfort and encouragement to us. We in turn can serve God by taking His wisdom, comfort, and encouragement to others.

We read in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (bold mine).

The fear of God and comfort from God are vital to our marriage.

text divider


♦   Read this week’s teaching together. Discuss what God has taught you through it.

♦   What does “the fear of the Lord” mean to you? What did you learn about it as you read this week’s teaching? What does it mean to your marriage?

♦   What specific things you will do to increase your reverence fear of God.

♦   In what ways does God’s comfort help you to comfort each other?

♦   Close your time by praying together. Ask God to help you grow in your proper fear of Him. Ask Him to improve your marriage as you do so.

text divider

Next week we will look further at the fear of God and how it impacts our marriage.

May God bless you and your marriage in all His wonderful ways,

Other posts in the FEAR OF GOD IN MARRIAGE series:
A Stronger Marriage Through the Fear of the Lord
Dealing with Fear in Your Marriage

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB), Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Photo by Anneleise Phillips via (CC0), cropped/text added.

About David Penley

A devoted husband and father, former pastor and seminary professor, who longs to grow closer to the likeness of Christ each day and share God's love and truth with everyone.