Jesus told the disciples to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit before doing ministry. From the Day of Pentecost, when they had been baptized by the power of the Holy Spirit, they were equipped to go into the world. Signs and wonders followed their ministration, and they were continually filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. One major characteristic of the early church that made a major impact in their communities, nations and wherever they went was the fear of God in the church. Unbelievers who hear them were gripped with the fear of God and got converted. If the church of today would experience the power and manifestation of the Holy Spirit in larger proportions, then the church must learn to fear God.
The fear of God brings boldness to serve. Oswald Chambers has said that “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else” There is boldness to preach the word of God because the fear of God keeps one from sin. For “he who does not fear God has need to fear everything else” (Anon). The fear of God should therefore be the preoccupation of every Christian. “If Jesus in his humanity delighted in the fear of God, surely we need to give serious thought to cultivating this attitude in our lives” (Jerry Bridges). This presentation will look at what the fear of God is and offer suggestions as to how to stoke the fire of the Holy Spirit in the church.
2. THE FEAR OF GOD IN THE LOCAL CHURCH
2.1 What is the Fear of God?
The fear of God means having a deep respect, reverence and awe for God’s power and authority. It is to honor God with your life in such a way that you would not do anything in word or deed to displease him. The following are some of the description of the fear of God in the Bible.
- Obedience to God’s Word
In Genesis chapter 22:1-12, God told Abraham to go and sacrifice his only son as a burnt offering to him. Abraham obeyed without any reservation and the following morning he set off to go and do exactly as the Lord has told him. Whiles in the act of his sacrifice, God intervened and said “Now I know that you fear God.” At this instance, God equated Abraham’s total obedience to his fear for God. When Christians or the church of God totally obey God at His every instruction and word, it gives an indication of the fear of God in the church.
- Unconditional Sacrifice
When the local church is willing to sacrifice unconditionally their substance, self, time, energy, resources to building the church of God, it can be said that, the church is living in the fear of God. In Genesis 22:12, when God commended Abraham for his fear for him, he gave the reason that “because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” The church must, therefore, understand that God desires our whole self as a living sacrifice to him as admonished by Paul in Romans 12:1
1” Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship (Rom. 12:1, NIV).”
- Compassion for Others
The fear of God can also cause people to deal kindly and compassionately with others. When people fear God, they tend to treat others with godly kindness. In Genesis 42:1-18, when Joseph had the opportunity to revenge his brothers selling him into Egypt, he rather said “Do this and you will live, for I fear God.” He did not pay evil with evil because he feared God.
- Refraining from Evil
Those who fear God refrain from evil and stop sinning. Referring to Job 1:1, “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil,” it is noted that Job shunned evil because he feared God. He was therefore blameless and upright. He was a man of integrity. When members are full of the fear of God, society can be impacted positively.
Those who fear God do not condone to sin even if it will cost their life. In Exodus 1:17, the midwives who were commanded by the king of Egypt to kill the Hebrew boys refrained from doing so because they “feared God.” God was pleased with them and blessed them with children of their own. The fear of God, therefore, means keeping away from evil and sin not when it is convenient and easy to do so but when it is dangerous and there is the threat of death. But take courage and stand your ground as Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
- Keeping the Commands of God
The fear of God demands keeping all of God’s decrees and commands.
These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life (Deut. 6:1-2, NIV).
- Walking in the Ways of God
12 And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? (Deut. 10:12-13).
- Loving God
12 And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?
- Serving God with Heart and Soul
20 Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes (Deut. 10:20-21).
14 “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD (Josh. 24:14).
- Fearing God or Being Afraid of God
The fear of God actually involves having deep reverence or respect for God, exercising careful obedience to His word, having a feeling of awe, that is, respect combined with fear or wonder and being sincerely afraid of God.
Moses became very much afraid of God anytime the children of Israel sinned. Even though Moses could speak face to face with God and was a friend of God, he had seen how God had dealt with them when they became disobedient and worshipped other gods as he indicated below.
18 Then once again I fell prostrate before the LORD for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the LORD’s sight and so provoking him to anger. 19 I feared the anger and wrath of the LORD, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the LORD listened to me.
20 And the LORD was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him, but at that time I prayed for Aaron too. 21 Also I took that sinful thing of yours, the calf you had made, and burned it in the fire. Then I crushed it and ground it to powder as fine as dust and threw the dust into a stream that flowed down the mountain (Deut 9:18-21).
From the above, Moses had to fast for forty days and nights pleading before God because he feared the Lord might destroy the children of Israel for their sins. This understanding of the fear of God creates the awareness that there are consequences for sin and, therefore, the believer must live a holy life before the God of love who is also the God of justice.
- The Fear of God in the New Testament Church
In the New Testament, God is more revealed as the loving and forgiving Father, who gives to men the spirit of sonship, thereby becoming his children. We are not to fear since we have become co-heirs with Christ and can call God Abba Father (Rom. 8:15-17; 2 Tim. 1:7; 1 John 4:18). We are also to come before him with boldness to the throne of grace with confidence and assurance that God will receive us (Heb. 4:16; Heb. 10:19-23).
This position often times overshadows the total nature of God and reduces genuine fear of God among Christians today. Some have incorrectly overstretched the doctrine of grace and thought that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament and therefore deals differently with people under different dispensations. We will be more accurate when we talk about the God of the Bible who is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Let us examine an incidence in the New Testament Church.
3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him (Acts 5:3-6, NIV).
This was a fundraising program in the Early Church. Jesus had died, resurrected, ascended and interceding for the church and yet this happened to a member of the church. Peter made Ananias aware that he had lied to the Holy Spirit. God struck him dead, and later his wife Sapphira, and that restored great fear of God in the local church. So, as family of believers we are to fear God in the church and at the workplace (1 Pet. 2:17-18). The following is how Hebrews put it when grace is abused.
26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:26-31)
The church is entreated to fear God.
6 Then I saw another angel flying in mid-air, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth–to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (Rev. 14:6-7)
3. THE FEAR OF GOD AND THE FIRE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE CHURCH
Among the many factors needed to be employed to keep the fire of the Holy Spirit burning in the local church is the fear of God. The absence of the fear of God in the church breeds sin and all forms of impurities, and such grieve the Holy Spirit and eventually quench the Spirit’s fire in the church (Eph 4:30). Members would therefore have to be taught to carry the fear of God into all their pursuits of life, eschewing all forms of evil.
- The Fear of God and Baptism of the Holy Spirit
- The Household of Cornelius
Acts chapter 10 narrates the story of a centurion at Caesarea called Cornelius. He is described as a devout man and God-fearing who gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly (Acts 10:2). He is also commended for instilling the fear of God among his entire household. His worship to God was recognized by God and was rewarded with the gift of the Holy Spirit at the time the Jews were skeptical in bringing the fire of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles. It is important to note that those who fear the Lord are always remembered by the Lord and nothing can obstruct their blessings from the Lord.
- Cornelius’ Vision
Cornelius received a special visitation from an angel sent by God and commended him for his good works. He acted on the instruction given by the angel of God. This act of obedience commensurate with the fear he has for the Lord. Even though Cornelius, at this time, had not received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, his fear of God and love of God caused him to see visions as prophesied by Joel that young men will see visions when the Spirt is poured on all people (Joel 2:28).
- Peter’s Vision
Cornelius prayer also caused Peter to receive a corresponding vision as he was praying. Peter initially was not willing to obey what God was telling him until God made him to understand that he should not discredit what he has sanctified (Acts 10:9-15).
- Peter and Some Jews Visit Cornelius at Caesarea
Before the arrival of Peter and friends, Cornelius had gathered his household together with his relatives and close friends. Cornelius was ready for God and did not want to experience him alone. Peter was still not sure why he had entered the home of a Gentile and told the gathering that it was 2727unlawful to be in their midst but God had instructed him to be there (Acts 10:23-29). When there is the fear of God among members, the unexpected happens.
- The Baptism of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles
While Peter was presenting the gospel message to the congregation, the Holy Spirit poured out on them, and they spoke in tongues and praised God. Peter had earlier remarked that “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35). This is a clear indication that the fear of God can stoke the fire of the Holy Spirit. The local church should, therefore, be concerned that members live in the fear of God to allow the fire of the Holy Spirit to be exhibited in the church.
- The Fear of God and Signs and Wonders
Signs and wonders were marks of the early church. In Acts 2:43, Luke records that “Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.” Being filled with awe meant that there was a godly fear, that is, the fear of God with the consciousness that sin brings displeasure and judgment of God amongst members in the local church. Furthermore, there was a holy sense of God’s presence and the consciousness that God was working amongst the church.
This virtue in the church caused the apostles to perform many signs and wonders. The crippled walked, the blind saw and the dead was raised. The fear of God in the church may bring about the manifestation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the church. According to 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, there are gifts that must be manifested in the church.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
Where there is fear in the church the gifts of revelation, of power and of faith are constantly in operation.
- Stoking the Fire of the Holy Spirit in the Local Church
Just as God instructed Aaron and his sons to ensure that the fire on the altar keeps burning, without going out (Lev 6:8-12), so should be the fire of the Holy Spirit in the local church. The following regulations were to be followed by Aaron and his sons.
- Keep the burnt offering on the altar hearth always
- The priests to wear linen clothes and linen undergarments
- Remove ashes from the altar
- Throw out the ashes outside the camp
- Add firewood every morning
- Keep the fire burning day and night
In providing the New Testament perspective of these regulations, the following may be considered in stoking and keeping the fire of the fire of the Holy Spirit in the church at all times.
- Christ has been eternally offered to the church (Heb 7:27; 1 Pet. 3:18). The gospel message must be preached always. Christ who died and was raised to atone for our sins must be preached always. Salvation message in the church is key for members to understand their salvation. This is the beginning point in dealing with sin in the church.
- The linen clothes symbolize the clothing of righteousness, the righteousness of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21; Rev. 19:8). Ministers of God must keep themselves holy and pure, wearing the righteousness of Christ in order to lead other members in righteousness and holiness in the church.
- All forms of sins (ashes) must be removed from the church. Sin must be dealt with. Church discipline must be encouraged for ashes have the ability to quench the fire as sin has the ability to quench the manifestation of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 5:6-8; 1 Thess. 5:19).
- Ashes outside the camp may refer to Jesus Christ who bore the penalty of sin outside the camp. Through him, sin has been removed and taken away (Heb. 13:13). Sin must therefore not be entertained but members must be taught to lead holy lives.
- The daily activities of the New Testament church were: devotion to teaching and preaching, strong fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer (Acts 2:42). These were the activities that preceded the fear of God that stoked the fire of the Holy Spirit. The local church must therefore daily practice these activities to always keep the fire of the Holy Spirit burning.
- Keeping the fire burning always means subjecting all activities of the church to the work of the Holy Spirit.
A careful examination of the activities of the early church reveal the following.
- Evangelism was done through the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4)
- Working of miracles were manifested through the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 3:1-10).
- The church defended the faith by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8-13)
- Church finance was subjected to the direction of the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4)
- Church administration was under the direction of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:1-7)
- Decision-making was led by the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28-29)
4. THE FEAR OF GOD CREATING MAXIMUM IMPACT IN THE CHURCH AND NATIONS
The Holy Spirit continues to manifest himself in various ways in the local church. We continually see sinners being saved and added to the church. We see signs and wonders being manifested in the church. But it is time to create maximum impact by stoking the fire of the Holy Spirit in bigger proportion through the fear of God. People were gripped with fear when they saw the miracles of Jesus. “Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today” (Luke 5:26). Similarly, fear came over the church when they saw the solemn demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit displayed by the apostles concerning Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:5, 11).
The fear spread to the unbelieving community through what was seen, and it brought honour to God. Many people got converted and the word of God grew in power. People, therefore, come to fear God when the word of God is preached in power with signs and wonders following.
17 When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power (Acts 19:17-20).
The local church is also admonished to act in the fear of God when dealing with the wider society. “Now let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Judge carefully, for with the LORD our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery” (2 Chron. 19:7). Men who fear God are needed to lead society. “But select capable men from all the people–men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain–and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens” (Ex. 18:21).
The Psalmist continues that “In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him” (Psalm 89:7). Furthermore, everything that is done in this life must be done with the fear of God as the guiding principle. “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12:13).
The church of God is admonished to live in the fear of God. When the teaching of the fear of God is downplayed in the church, there is the tendency for sin to thrive. Also, the understanding and the teaching about the grace of God sometimes overshadowed reasons for the church to live in the fear of God. When the fear of God is in operation in the church, the fire of the Holy Spirit is always rekindled and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit becomes more prominent.
To the believer, the fear of God brings wisdom and understanding (Prov. 1:7; 9:10). The fear of God saves us from trouble. It is a fountain of life that turns one from the snares of death (Prov. 14:27) and keeps one from immorality (Prov. 6:24). It keeps the believer closer to God (Psalm 25:14; 1 John 1:7) and brings untold blessings (Psalm 31:19; 33:18). The believer who fears God seeks to honor and please him at all times. The fear of God in the church is able to translate into our communities when they see the power of God at work in the church. The fire of God must be kept burning always.
R. T. Kendall, Understanding Theology: The Means of Developing a Healthy Church in the 21st Century, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, 2000.