The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
I watched a movie recently where a person always read the last chapter of a book first to determine if she wanted to read the entire book. That’s how Ecclesiastes should be read—last chapter first. Solomon drives hard to his conclusive point after “all has been heard.” Fearing God and keeping his commandments are the heart of his message— “the end of the matter”—“the whole duty of man.”
Fear God. Scripture uses that phrase (or similar phrases like “the fear of the Lord”) three hundred times. It sounds a bit ominous, doesn’t it? How do I approach One I am to fear? Can I truly love a person I am afraid of? How do living in fear of God and loving God mesh? And how do grace and fear fit together?
Martin Luther, the great reformer, struggled with the idea of fearing the Lord. His religious framework taught that fearing God was living in terror of him. He understood God as distant and One who might smack you over the head if you got out of line. In fact, some in his community practiced “self-flagellation.” They whipped themselves with straps thinking that somehow that was pleasing to God. But then Luther learned about God’s grace and mercy. Jesus took all the punishment for sin in his body on the cross. Our sins were paid in full. So, how could fearing God fit into God’s great love?
Luther made a distinction between what he called servile fear and filial fear. Servile fear is the emotions of a prisoner in a torture chamber. When their torturer or executioner approaches, terror fills their heart. This dread is experienced when the captive is in a posture of submission to a person who desires to inflict pain or death.
Filial fear (a Latin word for family) is quite different. Filial fear is the healthy respect that a child has for their caring parents. The child loves their mom and dad and wants to please them. The child’s desire to please their parents is not based on punishment. It is based on the security of the parent’s love.
So, when we read in Scripture that we should live in the fear of the Lord, it means that we are to live in awe and respect for our heavenly Father, who demonstrated his unconditional love to us by sending his Son to die for our sins. We live in awe of his grace, his greatness, and his power. We embrace him as our loving Father, even “Abba, Father.” We cling to him, and he holds us like a loving parent holds a child (Psalm 63:8).
Take some time to thank God for his love and grace.
Thank God for holding you like a loving parent holds their child.
Ask God to help you honor him today in all aspects of your life.
Confess to God that the desire of your life is to honor him and keep his loving commandments.
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