The most important sentence in the book of Proverbs is likely 1:7: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” We want wisdom. We want to navigate through this life with skill. What do we need? Fear.
Not the first word that would come to mind for me. When I think of fear, I think terror. Here’s the first definition for ‘fear’ that pops up in a dictionary: “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” So having an unpleasant emotion toward God because he’s likely to cause me pain is… the beginning of wisdom?
That’s one way the Bible uses the word. But there is another way, much more common. One use of fear causes us to run away from God; the other toward him. If Christ and the gospel were not true, the former is the only kind we’d have. When sinful people stand before a holy God, they should be afraid. But when sinful people stand before a holy and gracious God, they can approach with confidence.
It’s God’s love and grace through Jesus that cause us to fear, love, and trust him. Psalm 130:3-4: “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” It doesn’t say, “since you, O Lord, punish us for our sins, who can stand? With you there is no forgiveness, that we may be afraid of you.” Rather, it says that God does not punish us for our sins. Because of God’s love and grace for us through Christ, we fear him not with terror-fear, but with awe, love, joy, reverence, and worship.
John Bunyan: “Godly fear flows from a sense of the love and kindness of God to the soul. Where there is no sense of hope of the kindness and mercy of God by Jesus Christ, there can be none of this fear, but rather wrath and despair, which produces a fear that is… devilish;… But godly fear flows from a sense of hope of mercy from God by Jesus Christ.”
The more we have God’s love pressed into our hearts, the more we fear him. When coal is compressed with intense pressure, it turns into a diamond. In the same way, when our hearts of coal are pressed more and more with God’s love, they’re changed. We fear him.
And the wise life flows from this kind of fear. So if we want wisdom we need to look at the cross. There we see a holiness so great that Jesus had to die in our place for our sins. And there we see a love so great that he did it willingly. When we see this kind of holiness and love, we fear him. And when we fear him, we become wise.