Have you ever wondered what it means to “fear” God? I have. Even when I can give an answer, and perhaps a good one, I still wonder, “What exactly does it mean to fear God? What does such fear feel like?” Lately, during a study of Luke 4:1-13, I came across an answer to this question that seems to me quite helpful.
In Luke 4:1-13, Jesus encounters Satan in the wilderness. This is the famous temptation scene. During one of the three times he rebuffs Satan’s assault, Jesus says the following: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (Luke 4:8; English Standard Version). In the Greek, this statement is a slightly edited quotation from the Septuagint’s rendering of Deuteronomy 6:13 – “It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.” Don’t forget, the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX) is the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament).
Even in the English, perhaps you can see the interesting change that Jesus makes. The word fear from Deuteronomy 6:13 becomes worship in Luke 4:8. In the Greek, this is a change from φοβεω (to fear) to προσκυνεω (to worship). The Hebrew word that underlies φοβεω is ירא, which generally means, “to fear.” But, as noted in Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, “Used of a person in an exalted position, [ירא] connotes ‘standing in awe.’ This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect.” We move then, from ירא (Deuteronomy 6:13 in the Hebrew), to φοβεω (Deuteronomy 6:13 in the LXX), to προσκυνεω (Luke 4:8). Along the way, the real meaning doesn’t change at all. That said, I find Jesus’ word choice strikingly helpful. In short, even as Jesus quotes the text (namely Deuteronomy 6:13), he also explains (or exegetes) its meaning.
All of this boils down to a simple point. To fear God is to worship him. If you worship God from a heart that is genuinely surrendered to him, then you, by definition, fear him. Of course, for the moment our fear is imperfect, even as our worship is imperfect. But, we know that God is at work to change this reality in us. The work won’t be done until we see Jesus face-to-face, unhindered by sin. Nonetheless, as we grow in our heart-centered understanding of what it is to worship God, we will also grow in our thrilling, heart-centered fear of him.
We truly fear God when we truly worship him; when our whole lives rise up before him as a song of praise and a testament of his goodness and glory.
(Note: Just by way of truth in advertising, I am not enough of a Greek and Hebrew scholar to do this kind of thing on my own. I use resources! In addition to the one mentioned above, my resources for this post include:
Logos Bible Software (Version 7)
Biola University’s Unbound Bible program
A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3rd Ed.)
A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament)