The wicked flee when no man pursues; but the righteous are bold as a lion.
Those who work in corporations know the autocratic middle-manager who throws around threats and loud curses in order to intimidate his employees and his coworkers. Obviously, this fellow is afraid of something. More often than not, he is afraid of losing his position in the company. He motivates others by fear because he is himself a fearful man. But the Christian has no business fearing this manager or any other human being. When tyrants get a little power in a corporation, with a police force, or at the head of some huge empire, they can do some damage. There is no doubt about that. But the righteous cannot fear these men. To fear a man instead of God is blasphemous.
There are two kinds of fear, which explains why the wicked are so fearful and the righteous are bold. It is impossible for a man to completely avoid the reality of God. He may pretend that God doesn’t exist by “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness,” but he cannot escape some faint notion of His Creator. The worst thing a man can do is pick a fight with the Creator of the Universe, and this is what the wicked man has done. He is at odds with his Creator and Judge. In spite of all his arrogant rhetoric and loud bravado, there is a horrible fear and a silent dread that ever enfolds him. This is more than fearing the loss of a job, a position, or a relationship. This is the ultimate fear: the fear of falling into the hands of the living God who is a consuming fire (Heb. 10:31, 12:29). This fear puts him on the run constantly. He has a consummate fear of death and anything that might threaten his life. Preeminent among the proud wicked men who scorned God was the great Roman Emperor, Caligula. Yet he was also known to be more paranoid of every storm or political stirring than any other emperor.
The righteous man fears God too. Unlike the wicked man, however, this fellow would gladly admit that he fears God. This fear is fundamentally different in nature and form. He fears God as a sovereign, as all-powerful, as all-wise, as all-just, and as a Father. So his fear is based on the relationship. Because the ungodly man lives in proud rebellion against the God he knows exists, he fears impending judgment from divine retribution. Conversely, the godly man lives in peace with God, having been reconciled to Him by the blood of Christ. He lives the life of repentance and humble service to God. He fears God with a reverent awe as he sees judgment fall upon the wicked. But he doesn’t fear that impending judgment upon himself! Hence, this fear is liberating, invigorating, and empowering. In whatever ferocious battle he engages, he knows that the worst thing that can happen to him is his death, and then he goes to heaven! As with those Christians facing the full opposition of the beastly powers in John’s Revelation, they overcome by the word of their testimony, and by the blood of the Lamb, and they do not love their lives even unto death (Rev. 12:11)! For the Christian then, the fear of God renders courage. He couldn’t possibly fear men who can kill the body, because he fears Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt. 10:28). But for the unbeliever, fear brings about uncertainty, horror, paralysis, and constant efforts to escape. He will attempt to escape reality through addictive drugs, stories, entertainment, sports, and games. He carefully avoids any contact with the preaching of the Word of God, preferring to listen to 1,000 heretics than to countenance one honest man who testifies to God’s truth. One thing you can be sure of: wicked men are very afraid. If you are held hostage by wicked men during a bank robbery, you can be sure that these men are extremely fearful individuals.
To make matters worse, the wicked man has not dealt with his own guilt, and this makes it difficult for him to face his accusers. He knows that God and everyone else have a case against him. He must therefore be on the defense all the time. The righteous, on the other hand, has addressed his fundamental ethical problem. He can face others because he has already dealt with his sin by humbly confessing before God and others whom he has offended. This gives him standing to interact with those who take issue against him. He can fearlessly speak with the enemies in the gates (Ps. 127:5).
1. How is the fear of God invigorating to us? How does the fear of God turn wicked men into wimps?
2. Put yourself in the position of John the Baptist, who confronted the wicked King Herod with his sin. Would you fear Herod or would you fear God?