The Baptist Pillar © Brandon Bible Baptist Church 1992-Present www.baptistpillar.com
"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
K. David Oldfield
The title of my message this morning is: "The Business of Fear," and my text is Acts 9:31.
Somehow I have gotten on the mailing list of a magazine called "Your Church," and I've brought the latest copy with me today. I must admit that I am somewhat confused by this title: "Your Church." The magazine comes to MY mail box, in front of the church that I pastor, and it's called "Your Church" by the editors, but the articles inside these pages aren't even remotely related to MY church. The lead article this last issue is about a church auditorium that looks like expensive garden with fountains, live trees, a pool, flowers, maybe even the sound of birds. And this is called the "Church of the Future."
Well, the little Baptist church where I serve is never going to be like this. There are articles in these magazines about chandeliers, specialized track lighting and sky-lights, but MY church auditorium has two dozen - 8' florescent tubes made by Phillips. There are articles in here about $15,000 stereo speaker and video systems, but MY church has a borrowed microphone system that doesn't always make it to the services. This material doesn't reflect MY church at all. The only reason that I haven't asked to be dropped from the mailing list is cartoons; it has really good cartoons.
The theme of the Bible Conference this year is "The Real Business of the Churches," and just to be honest the design of this kind of magazine runs contrary to that theme. As Christians, should we be looking for a church where we are comfortable? Where the lighting is celestial and the air-conditioning is Edenic? As pastors, is it our responsibility to make our members as cozy as possible? Should we have fireplace chats and garden rooms filled with orchids, goldfish and palm trees? What should we do about miserly church member, who refuses to tithe and hates missions? What is our responsibility towards a member who is abusive to his wife and children? And what about that drunkard and social drinker?
Our job is to preach the whole counsel of God, reproving, rebuking and exhorting. And that means that the miser, abuser, muck-raker, & trouble-maker better beware. We ought to get fearful, not comfortable, when our hearts & lives run contrary to the Lord.
May I submit to you this morning that part of the real business of God's churches is to teach godly fear? Let me try to prove to you that this should be a part of this conference. I think that we all-too-often skip over the NEW TESTAMENT references to this subject. We are guilty of relegating this to the Old Testament regime, declaring it offensive to the day of grace. But for every magazine that shows us how to air condition our buildings we need two papers like the Plain's Baptist Challenger to tell us how to set them on fire. We don't need to be more comfortable, we need to be uneasy, homesick, and restless. We don't need more gadgets in our churches, we need more spiritual concern.
May I give you three things to think about this morning? Meditate on them and take them home to your churches, if you agree. See if they aren't Biblical and a part of the Real Business of the Lord's Churches
(1) The fear of the Lord is not an Old Testament theme; its a Biblical theme. And
(2) it's not a constricting, strangling emotion either; It is in fact, highly liberating and uplifting. And therefore,
(3) it is not negative; it is positive.
The Fear of The Lord is Not Just an Old Testament Theme
It is neither a heathen superstition, nor a Israelite leftover.
Let me quickly take you through a New Testament survey. Where in Bible do we find the most specific teaching about the doctrine of church? Isn't it the book of Ephesians? What was the text of last year's Bible conference? "Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen" (Eph. 3:21). Isn't Ephesians 5:22-27 critically important to our doctrine and who we are? And what is the context of that passage? "....Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God" (5:18-21). If we're going to get our ecclesiology right, we have to have the Fear of the Lord.
Then another question: Was there a period in church history when the Lord blessed us more than in the days of Acts? Remember the text from Acts 9:31? ("Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.")
And isn't it a part of our ministry to teach our people godly living? "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (II Cor. 7:1).
Don't we love to teach about the humiliation and eventual exultation of our Saviour? "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus....And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Wherefore, my beloved...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:5-12). The word "wherefore" in v.12 directly connects our people's fear of God to the glorification of Christ.
Brethren, don't try to suggest to me that the fear of the Lord is purely an Old Testament precept. It's a part of Godly Christian living. It's a part of the doctrine of the local church. It's a part of the greatest days of church history. And it's connected to the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Himself; i.e. to salvation. We cannot have proper godliness without proper fear of the Lord. We cannot have the blessing of God on our churches without the Fear of the Lord. And we cannot properly teach ANY New Testament doctrine if it doesn't humble us; if it doesn't put us in our proper place before God. We are not preaching the whole counsel of God if this is not one of our subjects. As you preach the word, preach THIS word.
The Fear of The Lord is Not a Constricting, Limiting, Demeaning Subject
It does not make us slaves, wimps, cowards, or even sissies.
Come back with me to Acts 9. This is the chapter of Saul's conversion. God removed one of the early church's greatest enemies and hindrances, but he wasn't "taken out" the way some of the members wanted him "taken out." That enemy was made one of the greatest friends that Truth could ever have.
Now notice the melding of emotions & conditions in Acts 9:31 after Saul's conversion. We find fear, edification, rest, and comfort all in the same verse. How does that mesh with our common definitions of fear and faith? How does that harmonize with verses that suggest that perfect love casts out fear? This is where we begin to separate the fear of the Lord from every other kind of fear.
If I was out hiking north of Priest Lake, Idaho and I ran into a grisly bear, I would probably freeze with fear. Some of you brethren would simply stand and preach a good, SHORT gospel message. You vowed to die with your boots on and the Bible in your hand; this may be your last chance. But as for me, you could probably cool your soda by touching it to the back of my neck. Many kinds of fear, have a paralyzing effect on people.
And when the lost stand before God's ivory judgment throne, there will not a word be uttered. One reason for that silence will be the fear strangling their hearts. Our God CAN BE, and WILL BE, and IS a terrifying God.
But the Christian kind of fear of the Lord is not like either of those. There is a fear which the Christian is to cultivate, and there is a fear from which he should shrink. In other words, the fear of the Lord doesn't stifle speech; it releases it. It fills the servant of God with praise. It gives him a desire to share what he knows of the Lord with others.
The fear of God is not the end of all hope; it is the beginning of hope. Read Ps. 147:1-11. The fear of the Lord doesn't kill initiative and personal growth, it stimulates it. Then had the churches of all Judea, Galilee and Samaria edification, along with their fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord doesn't make God's people worry about punishment and broken fellowship; it creates an atmosphere conducive to best kind of comfort of the Holy Ghost.
A study of this subject reveals that this kind of fear is a partner to a dozen wonderful things: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom - Prov. 14. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life - Prov. 13. The fear of the Lord is a cradle of joy - Prov. 23. The fear of the Lord is the accompaniment to praise - Rev. 19. It's a perfect partner for humility - Eph. 5:21. Fear of the Lord keeps us from presumption. It stands like one of the four musketeers in I Pet. 2:17, "Honour all men, Love the brotherhood, Fear God, Honour the King."
Nevertheless, preachers have struggled with this subject for centuries. We've had preachers who taught their people a noxious paralyzing terror. And we've had others who were nothing but captains of the Love Boat. Some haven't preached fear because they have mistakenly made it synonymous with godly living. Some have reduced its definition to a mere "reverence" for God. We have defined it as "awe" of the Lord. And some of the synonyms of "awe" are respect, esteem and admiration.
We NEED reverence and awe towards the Lord, but brethren, that definition doesn't leave much room for "trembling." "Wherefore my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). After the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, did the church have greater "reverence" for Lord? "And great fear came upon all the church, as well as upon as many as heard these things."
How can this fear be reconciled with rest, comfort and edification? That leads to my last point.
The Fear of The Lord is Not a NEGATIVE Subject
I greatly enjoy teaching and PREACHING to the children of my church. I have opinion that if I can make them understand, then even adults will understand. To this end I have been preaching, a rather sporadic series I'm calling "Doctrine 101." And one of my greatest challenges in this series is finding illustrations that can grab and keep the attention of everyone who has ears to hear. How can we illustrate the positive nature of the fear of the Lord, and still maintain the fear and trembling aspect? I've found that there is no such thing as a perfect illustration of God's perfection. How can we illustrate the nature of Deity or the doctrine of the anthropic person? We can only make approximations. May I use an approximate illustration for the fear of God?
The fear of the Lord is as negative a subject as ELECTRICITY. I've grown accustomed to electricity during my nearly 50 years in this world. It powers my computer. It puts light in the cave in which I live. It cooks my food and helps to keep me warm in the winter. You might say there is a sense in which I love electricity and what it can do for me. But at the same time I have a very healthy respect, if not fear, of electricity too.
We have a new member of our church, whose father works for a electric utility company. Every once in a while this gentleman visits with us, and he is always a joy, but it took me a while to learn how to greet him at the door. He doesn't have a right arm, so I shake hands with his wife with my right hand, and I shake hands with him with my left - sometimes at the same time. One day I asked him what happened to his arm. He told me that he was working one day and touched the wrong thing at the wrong time and literally fried off his arm.
I used to pastor a couple whose granddaughter was electrocuted by simply opening a door on a metal workshop.
Electricity is a wonderful thing when used properly, and electricity is a deadly thing when misused. And the Fear of the Lord is something like that electricity Why is there so much sin in our churches? Why is there so little dedication, so little Bible study and Bible memorization? Why do so few actively share their faith with others? Why do we need conferences to remind us to keep first things first in our spiritual lives? Isn't it because we have so little fear of the Lord?
When you preachers enter the pulpit there should be godly fear in your hearts. This is the Holy Word of God that I am handling. This is God's people for whom I am responsible. Remember Nadab and Abihu, remember Korah and his company. As I look across the rank and file of Fundamental Independent Baptist Churches, I fear because I don't see the real fear of God.
When Christians sin it is because they don't fear the Lord as they should. We have too little AWE of Him, too little RESPECT for Him and too little FEAR. If we did fear Him, we'd think three times before we transgressed his Word once. The fear of the Lord is therefore a very good thing, if it accomplishes good things. I have nothing to fear in turning on a light switch. I have nothing to fear in the Christ who commanded the fig tree to wither and die when my life has fruit on it to His glory. I have nothing to fear when I take the Lord's talent and multiply it, but if I bury it and hide it, or use it for my own selfish greed, then the Lord is indeed a severe and austere master.
Our churches have nothing to fear when we are doing the Lord's will, but the church in Laodicea, the church in Sardis and the church in Pergamos better beware. When the Lord has a few things against us, the fear of God takes on a new nature.
Brethren we need to reconsider the importance of the fear of the Lord. We owe it to our churches to re-preach the fear of the Lord.
I hope you don't think I'm out of line in saying that it is part of the real work of God's churches. I find in the Bible that it is a part of the church that God is blessing. I find that it is vitally connected to the scriptural doctrine of the ecclesia. And it's a critical part of true Christian living.
Brethren, preach THIS word, when you preach THE Word.