Proverbs 9: 10The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, knowledge of the Holy One is understanding
They’ve been called “Old School”, or more appropriately “Neanderthals”[i]. They are coaches who motivate through fear and intimidation. Playing on teams in the 70’s-80’s I had the non-privilege of being coached by a few. One was a high school volleyball coach. We only had a senior team, but I earned a spot as the only sophomore. I had no formal training in volleyball but had played recreationally for many years and it came naturally. Organized volleyball, however, proved to be different. I had to learn positions, receiving formations, and offensive formations. Instructions would be barked at me in practise with little patience, and most senior players clearly learned from the coach and gave me little help. So, I would try to learn from the bench during games for the day my name would be called. I had little excitement about that day though, as I saw what happened to others – the coach yelled, threw his clipboard and then pulled the player.
The day did come, however, when my name was called, along with the other “bench warmers”. We had a substantial lead so he felt confident we could finish the game. A sport that I was a natural at was no longer natural and no longer fun. Aside from trying to think about the correct positioning, all I could think was: “don’t make a mistake”. As a Power, that ball was going to be set to me and my entire body was stiff including my wrist. Not surprisingly, when I spiked that ball it sailed straight through the court even hitting the back wall. My bench-riding brothers had similar fates and after a few tirades on the bench, and the other team eating away at the lead, we were all pulled from the game in shame. Now that’s coaching!
I believe many Christians have this picture of a harsh dictator when they hear “the Fear of the Lord”. They picture God sitting up in Heaven with a stick in hand, leaning over watching us sinners and ready to punish. This unhelpful picture of God leads Christians to lead legalistic lives that are all about rule following, or in contrast, they dismiss the Fear of God altogether which leads to licentiousness. Both extremes are wrong.
If you find that you obey God because you fear punishment or you want to earn His acceptance then you need to understand Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephes. 2:8-9). Jesus did it all on the cross. God does want you to obey Him, but He wants that to happen out of your love for Him, out of the process of the Holy Spirit’s sanctification. Anything else is just stale religion.
On the other extreme, if you have been misled by teaching that says you can no longer sin as a Christian or God doesn’t even see your sin, then you need to read Paul’s letter to the Philippians “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philipp. 2:12). Or read the story Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5: 1-11). Like the relationship between a child and a loving, righteous father, we need to have a healthy (reverent) fear of our Father in heaven knowing that he has placed boundaries in our lives for our benefit and out of His love for us, and we can face significant hardship and discipline when we willfully walk outside of those boundaries. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Prov. 9:10a)