Fear is a powerful emotion, given to us by God Himself. But do we really understand its place in our lives?
For the last three weeks we have been discussing emotions, what the Bible teaches about them, and how they affect our marriages. God gave us emotions to be an important and positive part of our lives. But sin can cause them to become harmful instead of helpful. Last week we began looking at specific emotions by studying LOVE. This week we examine FEAR.
We often think about fear as a negative emotion. And it certainly can be. Like love, God teaches us about fear in His Word. Therefore, fear must be important. And just as with love, to fully understand fear we must accept that it is more than an emotion. So let’s discover what God means when He uses that term in Scripture and how it impacts our lives and marriages.
THE TRUTH ABOUT FEAR…FROM GOD’S WORD
When we look at the words used for fear in the original languages of the Bible, we do not find the variety we did last week with the word love. There are ten nouns and eight verbs in the Hebrew vocabulary that are regularly translated “fear,” “to fear,” or “to be afraid.” But only one of the noun forms and one of the verb forms are used in the Old Testament, and they both come from the same root. In the New Testament Greek only one word is used in both forms–phobos as a noun and phobeo as a verb.
You might notice that we derive our English word phobia from the Greek word. In fact, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines phobia as “an extremely strong dislike or fear of someone or something.” This is a definition of fear we can all relate to.
So what does the Bible mean when the word fear is used? The fact is it can mean several things.
Fear can refer to the terror we feel in a frightening situation.
The disciples obviously felt fear in their boat in the midst of a storm, even though Jesus was with them. Matthew 8:26 says: “He (Jesus) replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm” (bold mine). Jesus is teaching His disciples, and us today, that even in frightening situations we can have confidence because He is with us.
Fear in the Bible can also mean the reverence or awe we have in the presence of greatness or someone of great power.
We see an example of this when Moses gave the Ten Commandments to God’s people. We read their response in Deuteronomy 20:18-19: “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die’” (bold mine).
Fear can also mean respect, in the same way a servant fears his master and serves him faithfully.
We see this meaning in the challenge Joshua gave God’s people: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14-15, bold mine).
Fear in the Bible and the fear of the Lord includes all of these things. The emotion of fear we feel when faced with a dangerous situation is given to us by God to protect us.
When I was a boy, I went fishing with my grandfather. As we walked through the Florida scrub brush to the fishing pond, we heard a strange rattling sound. My grandfather grabbed my arm and stopped me. Up the path, just a few feet, was a coiled timber rattlesnake. My grandfather’s fear of that snake and its warning sound saved what could have been a disaster. The fear of rattlesnakes stays with me to this day. And that fear may protect me from possible danger in the future.
On the other hand, we cannot let our fears control us and keep us from doing what God calls us to do.
controlling our fear
Emotions of fear can be powerful–in both positive and negative ways. We must learn to control them and always do God’s will.
That’s why God often reminds us not to be afraid. Jesus told His disciples (and us) 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” (bold mine).
Fear that recognizes God’s power and His justice that leads Him to punish sin is important. But so is fear that holds God in complete reverence, honor, and awe. The early church father and theologian Martin Luther wrote that there are two ways we are to fear God. One he referred to as “servile fear.” He wrote that this is the type of fear that a prisoner has for the guard or the executioner.
Luther called the other type of fear “filial fear.” He wrote that this is like the respect a child has for his father. He said that as God’s children we should have tremendous respect and love for our earthly fathers and even more so for our heavenly Father. We should dearly want to please Him. We should fear that we will offend and disappoint the One we so love, not because we’re afraid of punishment, but rather because we’re afraid of displeasing the One who loves us so much.
While this may not be a perfect description, it does help us gain a better understanding of fear in Scripture. This is why we can be told in God’s Word to fear Him and also not to be afraid.
In 1 John 4:18 we read: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (bold mine).
This is a beautiful passage that connects our study on love last week with this study about fear. When we give our lives to God through faith in Christ we fully experience God’s love for us. Then we do not have to fear Him, His wrath for our sin, or even death. We can be certain our sins are forgiven, and we will not have to face eternity in hell, but will spend eternity in heaven with Him. (To find out more about this wonderful truth, see Meet Jesus.)
When we experience God’s love, it also helps remove fear from our marriages. We don’t have to fear each other because we are now set free to love each other as God loves us. The verse that I quoted earlier from 1 John 4:18 is immediately followed in verse 19 with: “We love because he first loved us.”
We can have God’s love and overcome fear in our marriages when we develop a biblical fear of the Lord. In order to do this, we must recognize God for who He truly is. We must believe in His holiness, power, beauty, love, and grace. We must have a deep reverence for Him and a sincere commitment to know and obey Him through praying and studying His Word together.
When we do this we will fall down on our knees in worship of God. This then places us in the right position to gain wisdom. Remember: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10, bold mine). Wisdom is seeing life from God’s perspective and responding accordingly. This wisdom allows us to have the marriages God wants us to have.
We can gain knowledge of earthly things and make some practical decisions that seem right without the fear of the Lord. But we will be missing the one thing that makes certain those plans give glory to God and makes our marriage truly meaningful–God’s truth. We’ll be like the farmer in Jesus’ parable in Luke 12:16-21 who did not consider God’s wisdom in his plans. Luke 12:20 tells us: “God said to him, ‘You fool!’” This was because the farmer’s plans were made with no thought of God.
If we don’t have the fear of the Lord, we will make decisions based on our sinful, faulty understanding. We will be guilty of what God warns about in Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”
When we have the fear of the Lord, we make our decisions based on His truth from His Word and what He reveals to us through prayer. We then live out our marriages with the confidence that He is intimately involved in our every move.
Our fear of the Lord in our marriages leads us to love Him, honor Him, serve Him, and helps us stay away from sin against God and each other. The passage we quoted earlier from Exodus 20 concludes in Exodus 20:20: “Moses said to the people, ‘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’” (bold mine).
It is much like the difference between the wolf and the dog. In our modern culture we admire the wolf as a symbol of the complete and uninhibited life. But the reality is the wolf is a slave to fear, haunted by what hides in the shadow of the night.
A better symbol for our marriages is the dog. His wolfish nature has been tamed by his master. He is loved by his master without fear. His every need is provided. He has a fullness of life the wolf can never imagine. The dog, with his master, enjoys more freedom than the wolf will ever know.
We become the people God intended us to be and have the marriages He desires for us when we surrender to Him as our Master. We find true freedom–including from our fears–when we are willing give ourselves to Him.
Questions for Discussion
♦ Read this week’s Bible study together. Discuss what God has taught you.
♦ Are there things in your life or marriage that are causing you fear? Share honestly with each other about them. What truths from God’s Word help you deal with these? Pray with and for each other asking God to guide you to His truth about them and to help you overcome them.
♦ Do you have a biblical fear of God in your lives and marriage? If so, you will truly be seeking His guidance in EVERYTHING you do. If you do not have a genuine fear of God, you will be trying to do things on your own, not seeking Him in EVERYTHING. If you don’t have this fear of God, pray confessing this to Him and asking His forgiveness. Ask Him to help you to trust Him with EVERYTHING in your lives. Remember husbands, it is the responsibility God has given you to lead in this.
Next week we will continue our study of our emotions as we look at JOY.
Until then, may God bless you and your marriage in all His wonderful ways,
Other posts in the MARRIAGE AND OUR EMOTIONS series:
Part 1: More Than a Feeling
Part 2: What Can You Trust?
Part 3: About Love
Part 5: About Joy
Part 6: About Anger
Part 7: About Peace
All Scripture from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Photo by AndyTriggerRaw via pixabay (CC0), cropped/text added.