Walking in the Fear of the Lord
Robert Wurtz II
Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea 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. (Acts 9:31)
Our passage in context gives revelation of the state of the churches immediately following the conversion of Saul, who had vexed the people of God persecuting them until they had no rest. Four things can be said about the churches at this juncture:
1. They were edified (built up)
2. They were walking in the fear of the Lord
3. They were walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit
4. They were being multiplied
The reaction to the radical change of Saul to Paul was so great that the people once again were walking in the fear of the Lord. This one reality stands out in the list because it came about as a spontaneous reaction to the awesome wonder of the transformation of this man Saul, but is also dependent upon individuals to fully acknowledge what God had done. This was nothing short of the marvel that captivated the people of the city when they saw Legion clothed and in his right mind after a lifetime of nakedness and self-mutilation. They knew that the Finger of God was in their midst. For only God in all of His regal power and authority could have changed the Chief of Sinners into a Chief Apostle in an instant of time. Selah.
Unity attained and maintained
In our last three entries (Obstacle to the Outpouring, Obstacle to the Outpouring (Part 2), and The Sin of Uzzah) we explored the teachings of Christ as He prepared the disciples and the people for the outpouring of His Holy Spirit. We emphasized the utter importance of unity and forgiveness from the heart. The disciples were held together by the Prince of Peace whilst upon the earth, but when Christ ascended they would need to hearken to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in order to maintain that same unity. If the disciples would have had a falling out we would have never read a ‘book of Acts’. They were men of different perspectives that were at times at total odds with one another. A great example of this was Matthew the Publican and Simon the Zealot. Simon would have hated publicans and likewise publicans probably hated Zealots. Why? Because their political and religious views made them mortal enemies. It was nothing for a Zealot to desire to kill a publican, but when Jesus was near the men did not strive. They forfeited their mind and agenda and adopted Christ’s. In an environment like this it’s not about who is ‘right’ or who is ‘wrong’ it’s about endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
When God came near the reaction was fear
The fear of the Lord is a most unpopular subject, but a cursory study of the Book of Acts reveals that the people were many times brought to fear the Lord because He was near. Sometimes people think, ‘that was all in the Old Testament and we live in the dispensation of grace, etc.’ That is not what the folks in the book of Acts believed. Beginning in Acts 2:43 we read, And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. The Greek verb for ‘came’ is egineto and it is in the imperfect middle voice, meaning that fear kept on coming upon every soul. Waves of the fear of the Lord kept sweeping over everybody. This kept the people in check. There was no place for flippancy. Nobody built a golden calf after this move of God; but they did have a Nadab and Abihu moment when Ananias and Sapphira were smote dead back to back in Acts 5. The result? And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things. (Acts 5:11) The renowned Greek scholar A.T. Robertson added this comment to the verse, “The whole body of believers in Jerusalem and all who heard of the fate of Ananias and Sapphira (beautiful, her name means) were in awe and dread. It was already a dangerous thing to be a follower of Christ unless one was willing to walk straight.” (RWP) Then we have the dreaded event in Acts 12:23 where Herod had set himself against the churches as if he were a god. And although Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula (also known as Gaius), Claudius, and Nero were acting out doing the same things or worse in Rome, presuming themselves to be as gods, the Holy Spirit had not been out-poured in Rome and God’s presence was not near. When God comes near judgment is swift.
And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.
If tradition is to be believed Herod lived 5 days after he was smitten, as his flesh produced worms leading up to his death. (Josephus Antiquities 19.8.2) Why? He gave not God the glory. We have a key statement that helps us understand this event in 1 Cor. 1:29 when we are told that God suffers no flesh to glory in His presence. The key here is ‘in His presence’. Men may covet their own glory and boast of their own achievements, but when God is near He moves swiftly upon those, to whom like Satan, exalt their throne above the stars of God. The very fact that people keep on acting out in our times must surely be evidence that God is not near as He was in the book of Acts. Men do not fear Him as they once did. The focus is on almost everything ‘but’ the fear of the Lord. All evidence of the times we are living.
Fear when near
When God is truly near, that is to say, when a person is filled with His Holy Spirit in the genuine article they will greatly fear the Lord. And fear is not too strong of a word. It doesn’t need to be qualified or balanced. It needs to stand once and for all on its own feet. We try to balance these things with words like love and grace and mercy and end up making the concept of the fear of the Lord of none effect. God doesn’t need us to balance or qualify His concepts. This is an important thing to say because believers often cannot entertain two equal truths such as the love of God and the fear of God at the same time. One is usually preached at the expense of the other. This ought not so to be.
The people in Acts 2 experienced an ongoing flood of the fear of God upon them. It effected how they thought and how they lived. One problem we do not have today is people paralyzed with the fear of God. No need to straw-man a concept and do service to the Devil. Fear has often been replaced with arrogance and flippancy; the very things that God spent some 1500 years teaching us not to be in his presence. And ‘in His presence’ for a Christian does not mean ‘in the meeting’; it means 24 hours a day and 7 days a week as we are the very temples of the Holy Spirit. This is why it is said of them in Acts 2 they were walking in the fear of the Lord. It was their manor of life. It is the beginning of wisdom.
The Danger of Jesting
This entry would not be complete unless we made an application to show what is meant by the fear of the Lord. An old time preacher from the 1800’s one stated that “God never uses a jester to search consciences.” A jester is a person that makes jokes about things they should never joke about. Let me quote a passage from Ephesians to demonstrate.
Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. (Ephesians 5:1-7)
The first part of our passage summarizes the first 3 blog entries I linked to in the beginning of this article. We are then given a list of several sins that are not to be named among us either “one time after we have become saints” or “once we have become saints.” In either translation, we need to reverence as we read these words as these things are unbecoming of saints. The list is as follows:
1. fornication (sexual immorality)
2. uncleanness (impurity)
3. covetousness (lusting for _____)
4. filthiness (obscenity)
5. foolish talking (corrupt communication that does not edify. speaking as a fool)
6. jesting (immoderate talk to make a joke)
To show that God is in view in these passages as the offended party Paul adds, but rather giving of thanks. Who deserves our thanks? God. Who is listening to our words? God. We must never joke about God or the things of God or speak of Him in an irreverent way. God is not a man. Solomon the great man who built the Temple and witnessed the Glory and Fire of God stated, Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few. (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2) Solomon went on to say in the very end that Fearing God and keeping His word are the whole duty of man. God is the Judge of all the earth. God will not always move in spite of foolishness. He demonstrated this in Israel. He will bring judgment in some way- the worst of which is to depart all together.
The sin of irreverence
The world has a concept that says the solution for polution is dilution, but in the Kingdom of God one cannot speak of God irreverently and then dilute it with hours of praise. It is a total contradiction. Moses did not sanctify the Lord in the eyes of the people and as a result was disqualified from taking the people into the land. He gave the people the impression that God was as a man that can be trifled with. God said it plainly to him:
And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them. (Numbers 20:12)
Moses disobeyed God before the eyes of the people. This situation is exemplary. A man was raised up to fulfill a purpose and after 120 years of God working with Moses, had to disqualify him. Why? He defied a direct order from God and it sent the wrong message to the people. Jesus said in one place, “Remember Lot’s wife.” Why? Because Lot’s wife defied God as judgment was falling over her head. Peter told us to sanctify the Lord always in our hearts. (1 Peter 3:15a) This means that God is exalted into His rightful place in our heart- separate and other from anything and anyone else. If we fear the Lord we will be prepared to face men giving an answer for what we believe with meekness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15b). Reverence begins in the deep recesses of our own hearts.
Irreverence is a terrible sin and one to be feared as one would fear being a fornicator or an idolater. Just because God is among a people does not mean He is approving all that is going on. When The Lord truly comes His people will walk in the fear of the Lord. They will sanctify the Lord in their own hearts FIRST and then sanctify Him before the eyes of the people second. Flippancy and irreverence is like a dead fly in a bottle of priceless ointment. May the Lord once again come upon His people to the place to where they experience a reverential fear like those of Acts 2:43, Acts 9:41 or even an Acts 19:17 that we might rightly exalt Him in this evil and adulterous generation. Amen.