Walking in the Fear of the Lord
October 23rd, 1977 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-23-77 7:30 p.m.
And once again and with deepening appreciation, thank you, choir and instrumentalists, for making our evening hour so fully worthy the praise and name of the Lord. On the great radio station of the Southwest, KRLD, and on the radio station of our Bible Institute, KCBI, we welcome the throngs of you who are sharing this hour with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Walking in the Fear of the Lord.
In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 9. And let us read outloud together verses 26 through 31. Acts 9:26-31, Acts 9 beginning at verse 26 and reading through verse 31. Now, all of us together, reading it out loud:
And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.
But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.
And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem.
And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but when they went about to slay him.
Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus.
Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, were multiplied.
And our text: that characterization of Dr. Luke of the churches after the conversion of the great arch-persecutor, Saul of Cilicia: "Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea, Galilee, Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied" [Acts 9:31].
Could you think of a more typical characterization, using Bible words and imagery and thought, than you find in this word: "Walking in the fear of the Lord?" The word "fear of the Lord" is a phrase that the Bible loves, and approves, and uses so frequently. For example, there are more than three hundred instances in the Old Testament where that phrase, "fear of the Lord," is used or referred to.
Do you remember that the wisest man who ever lived closed the Book of Ecclesiastes with that word: "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter." Namely: "Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man" [Ecclesiastes 12:13]. Sum up all of the relationships of this earth with God above, and it is said in that brief word, "Fear God and keep His commandments; this is the whole duty of man." You have it also no less in the New Testament. In the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts, for example, Cornelius, this worthy centurion in Caesarea, the capital of the Roman province of Judea, he’s described as a man who feared the Lord with all his house. And that commended him to the grace and mercy of God.
What does that mean in the Bible: "the fear of the Lord?" You can see its meaning in the one hundred thirty-ninth Psalm, when the psalmist says: "I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am fearfully and wonderfully made" [Psalm 139:14]. That is, it is awesome how God has constructed this human frame.
There is no miracle seen in the stars above or in the earth, the planet that swings around this sun, like the miracle of the framing of a human life. All of those little engineers and all of those little carpenters and all of those little bodies put together, working day and night in the unseen womb of a mother, building a new frame, a new life: an anatomical miracle; that’s what that word means. An awesome wonder; I am fearfully and wonderfully made, awesomely constructed. There is no part of it but that the more the anatomists will study it, the more miraculous and wondrous it seems.
Look again at the use of that word in the Book of Hebrews. Speaking of the atoning death of our Lord, the author writes, "Our Lord, who in the days of His flesh, offered up strong crying and tears unto God who was able to save Him out of death, and was heard in that He feared" [Hebrews 5:7].
That is, when the Savior, who learned obedience by the things which He suffered [Hebrews 5:8] – when the Savior offered Himself unto God, He did so in that reverent awe of God the Father, who is able to save Him out of death, giving Himself on the cross; committed Himself to the Lord God in heaven, who was able to save Him out of death, to raise Him out of death, to lift Him out of the grave, to raise Him in glory [Hebrews 5:7]. And this Son of God was heard, in that His awesome reverence before God was accepted in the presence of the Almighty as a gift of love and praise and obedience. It is a marvelous phrase. It is a wondrous phrase: "Walking in the fear of the Lord" [Acts 9:31]; the awesome wonder of God Almighty. And now our message tonight will be that word: "The fear of the Lord," walking in His presence.
First of all, according to the Word of God, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," Psalm 111:10, and that is the text of the Book of Proverbs: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" [Proverbs 9:10]. Now, what does he mean by that? It is something that is very apparent and very beautiful: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Now, you look. What is the difference between wisdom [Proverbs 9:10] and knowledge [Proverbs 1:7], or science or logic?
Well, knowledge is just a collection of facts, all of these things we know. That is knowledge. Science is the arrangement of those facts. Here they are in this position and this position and this position. That is science. Logic is the relation of facts. This and this and this: that is logical and reasonable. But wisdom is in altogether a different category. Wisdom comes from God. Wisdom is the sensitivity to the hand of God in all of the phenomenon and all of the facts that we observed in human life and in the world of nature around us, below us, and above us. And without God, there is no purpose and no meaning and no ultimate in any fact that we know in the universe. It is God and the hand of the Lord that gives facts, pertinency, and purpose. That is wisdom.
Now, the psalmist says and the text of the Book of Proverbs: "The fear of the Lord – the awesome reverence of the Lord – is the beginning of wisdom." And when we stand in the presence of the Almighty God and look at His hand in history and in human life and in the whole universe, we stand in reverential awe, and I can almost say terror, in the presence of the omnipotent and almightiness of the great God Jehovah.
For example, in the word of His mouth, He can destroy a whole civilization. It says that in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews: "Noah, being moved by fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house" [Hebrews 11:7]. With just a word from God, a whole civilization, the antedeluvians, was destroyed [Genesis 7:21-23]. With a word from God, cities are destroyed. When Lot came to his sons-in-law and pled with them in Sodom to escape the judgment of God, Genesis says that, to his sons-in-law, Lot was as one who mocked [Genesis 19:14]. He jested. Surely, he couldn’t be serious. God is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? And they laughed and scoffed.
Oh, the terror of the judgment of God! The Lord in a word can destroy a great army. In the thirty-seventh chapter of the Book of Isaiah, in one night with one angel, just one – think of what a host of angels could do – just one angel passed over the Assyrian army that was encompassing Jerusalem, and the next morning one hundred eighty-five thousand dead corpses lay in those forsaken and judgmental tents [Isaiah 37:36]. Ah, the awesomeness of God. Just with a word of the Lord, a whole nation can be destroyed. The little Book of Nahum is a description of God’s judgment upon Assyria.
Ah! what God is able to do, "walking in the fear of the Lord" [Acts 9:31]. And it is no less so with a king and with a queen. Jehovah God sent Elijah to confront Ahab and Jezebel in the stoning to death of Naboth [1 Kings 21:17-18]. And the Lord God, through Elijah, said to Ahab: "In that place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall the dogs lick up thy blood, even thine" [1 Kings 21:19]. And turning to Jezebel, he said, "And dogs shall eat ueen Jezebel at the entrance of the gate into the city of Jezreel" [1 Kings 21:23]. The awesomeness, the terror of the omnipotent judgments of Almighty God!
You know, sometimes you could wonder, why don’t men tremble before the judgments of God? Listen to the Word of the Lord, and you’ll see why:
Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
Though a sinner do evil a hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them which fear God, which fear before Him.
But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, because which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.
Look at that. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily." Because the judgment of God does not fall immediately upon an evil man, "therefore his heart is fully set to do wrong" [Ecclesiastes 8:11]. Ah! does God allow time and a day to temper that ultimate judgment? No! He said to Adam: "In the day that you eat thereof thou shall surely die" [Genesis 2:17]. And that day his soul died, and 930 years later, Adam died [Genesis 5:5]. The judgments of God inevitably fall. Though not maybe now, yet some day, they inevitably fall.
Take Nahum. Nahum delivered that prophecy against Assyria [Nahum 1-3]. But it was a full generation, a whole generation, before it came to pass. When Elijah said that to Jezebel: "Dogs shall eat your flesh at the entering in of the gate of Jezreel" [1 Kings 21:23], that prophecy did not come to pass until twenty years later [2 Kings 9:30-37]. But it came to pass. That is the fear of the Lord: the fear of God in a man’s heart; the fear of God in a woman’s heart. And that is the beginning of wisdom [Acts 9:31]. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the almightiness of God, reverential awe as we stand in the presence of Him who holds our life and our breath in His hand.
Look again. What is this "fear of the Lord?" It is, the fear of the Lord is, to hate evil [Proverbs 8:13]. Isn’t that an unusual word, but you will find that thought much elaborated in the Bible. Listen to the psalmist as he says: "Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate Thee?. . .I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them my enemies" [Psalm 139:21, 22]. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.
Well, how do you interpret that placing it in human life? I can easily illustrate it. Never could I forget the first time I ever saw a child with polio. It was in my first pastorate out of the seminary. It was a disease to which I had never been introduced before. And in our own congregation was a sweet, dear, and precious family. They had a boy who was fourteen years of age. And I went to see the boy. He was in the home and there in a room, separate and apart. And I stood there and looked down into the face of that fourteen year-old boy. He had gradually, gradually, gradually, gradually, gradually, almost imperceptibly each day and hour, moved toward final destruction and death: disintegration and corruption.
And when I looked upon him, he was a living skeleton. And the suffering of the lad and the length of time of that illness, oh, it was terrible to me! And as I stood there and finally knelt there by the side of the boy and prayed, I felt in my heart a welling up. I hate evil and sin, and Satan and the devil that brings such sorrow and such tragedy and such suffering upon the human race. God never intended that. God never planned for its death. He never planned for disease and wasting and corruption. God made us to live forever. But Satan has deceived us, and Satan has brought sin, and sickness, and sorrow, and suffering, and death into the world. And it is an awesome thing: "To fear God is to hate evil" [Proverbs 8:13].
Think again. In Kentucky, where so much of our distilleries are located, these instruments of death that are located in the limestone hills of Kentucky. There was a man in my little congregation there who hated the liquor traffic. He did not just hate the liquor traffic casually or summarily or indifferently, he hated with a vengeance. And one day, in visiting with him, I asked him why the vehemence by which he hated the liquor traffic.
And he said, "I’ll give you an instance." He had a friend, who what you now call an alcoholic, who was a drunk. He had a friend who was a drunk. And late on Saturday night, when he had spent his money, they kicked him out of the saloon. They pushed him out; didn’t have any more money to spend, drunk in debt, so they pushed him out. And that drunk staggered down the road and finally fell face down in the ditch on the side of the road. When he didn’t appear by the next morning, they sought to find him. And in the cold wintertime, they found him lying there, face down in the ditch, frozen to death. And the man described to me his friend, as they pried him up and stood him up, and the mud and the dirt on the face of the image of God [Genesis 1:27]. And he said, "I hate it."
That is the fear of the Lord: to hate evil. When men compromise with evil, they affront God. When Christians play footsy with iniquity, they disgrace the name of the Lord. When we live in our own self-compromised life, we do dishonor to the name of the blessed Jesus. This is the fear of the Lord: to hate evil [Proverbs 8:13].
Look again at a beautiful way that the Lord shall present this fear of the Lord. The psalmist writes in Psalm 34:9: "O fear the Lord, ye saints, for there is no want to them that fear Him. They shall not lack" [Psalm 34:10]. Or, may I read it again, turning the page in the thirty-seventh Psalm?
The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and He delighteth in his way.
Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: the Lord upholdeth him with His hand.
I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.
What do you think of that? "O fear the Lord, ye His saints: for there is no want to them that fear Him" [Psalm 34:9]. "I have been young, and now am old; yet have I never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread" [Psalm 37:25]. God will take care of those who love and fear Him. If I had time, which I don’t, I’d like to just expatiate on why it is that a man that loves God prospers in this life. There is a reason for his prosperity. There are a thousand evil habits to which he never gives himself, never.
Last week, preaching in the Bahamas, the only reason the hotel is there is because of the casino. And as I stood there in the hotel and watched those people, all day and all night, I cannot understand the make-up of a man’s mind who goes into a robber’s den, where he himself knows that every machine is rigged against him. How could the hotel be there and how could the casino prosper if they didn’t make money on the idiots, stupid, who come in there and throw their money away? Why, that’s just as plain as day. I never lost any money in a casino. I came back with it all in my pocket. There’s a thousand ways that I could illustrate that.
There is a reason why God will prosper the man who is walking in the fear of the Lord, who gives a tenth of what he has to Jesus, who gives an offering above to the Lord. God prospers that man. His way is known to Jesus. There is no want to those who walk in the fear of the Lord [Psalm 34:9]. Now, I want you to come to the pastor’s study, and I want you to be behind the door. And I want you to listen and, if there is a little crack in the door, I want you to watch. And this is what you’ll see: in the pastor’s study, there is an old broken gray-headed woman, a widow of many years. And she’s come to tell the pastor of the want and the need in her life.
And as she says, "My sole support" – now this has been years ago – "my sole support has been my only daughter, who takes in sewing and has supported me and her. And now my daughter is sick and in the hospital, and we have no means, no way. And we are in want, but I don’t know what to do."
And the pastor says to that old gray-headed woman, "What? What? You are in want? You are in need? Why, I cannot understand. Your Father is rich."
"Oh, no," says this old gray-head woman, "My father is not rich."
"But He is. But He is. But He is. He has all the wealth of the world in His hands. He is rich, your Father is."
And she remonstrates, "Pastor, no, my father has been dead for years. And he died a poor man. My father is not rich."
And the pastor says to that old gray-headed widow, "Your Father is rich in houses and land. The cattle on a thousand hills are His [Psalm 50:10]. All the gold and silver are His" [Haggai 2:8].
She says, "Oh, you mean God."
And the pastor says, "Yes, I mean God our Father is rich. Why don’t you ask Him for your need?"
And she says, "I never thought to do so."
So the pastor says, "Let us bow our heads and let us ask the Father. Tell Him all about our want and our need." So that old gray-headed widow bowed her face before the Lord and told God all about it.
You know what your pastor did? The next Sunday morning, I told our people about that dear old woman. And I said, "I’m going to stand back there at the door. And I want all of you when you go by me, I want you to take a dollar bill and you put it in my pocket."
Did you know when I got through shaking hands with all of those people, I looked like a decorated Christmas tree. They stuck those bills in my collar, down my neck. They stuck them in my shirt. They stuck them in my pockets. They stuck them in my shoes. They stuck them in my belt. They covered me. They showered me with those sweet, kind remembrances. And I put them all together, and I gave them as a beginning of a remembrance of love for that old gray-headed mother.
"God will take care of you. Through every day, o’er all the way, God will take care of you" [from "God Will Take Care of You," Civilla Martin]. Trust Him for it. Ask Him for it. It is in the Book. There is no want to them that fear the Lord: "I have been young, and now I am old: and yet have I never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread" [Psalm 37:25].
My time is gone. Let me read just one other passage. One of the most beautiful and precious in the Bible, listen to it. This is in Malachi:
Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another; and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and caused the book of remembrance to be written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name.
And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord, in that day when I make up My jewels; and I will spare them, as a father spare his own son that loveth him.
[Malachi 3:16, 17]
"They that feared the Lord spake often one to another" [Malachi 3:16]. It is a part of that inwardness of the Christian life itself that makes us want to be together and to talk about the rich mercies of the blessed Jesus.
I want to tell you something. You know, a little boy goes through lots of things in growing up. My family went to church all the time. We went to Sunday school. We went to BYUP, then. We went to church Sunday morning. We went to church Sunday night. We went to church Wednesday night. I even went with my father to the choir on Thursday night. And every time the church was opened, why, my family went to church. So, I came to the rich conclusion as a growing up young man that that was idiocy and foolishness: to go to church all of the time.
So, when the next Wednesday night came, I said, "I’m not going. I’m not. Enough is enough. Go to church Sunday morning and go to church Sunday night, enough is enough." So, our home was cater-cornered across from the church, just like that. So, my father and my mother and my brother went to prayer meeting. Not I. I was going to stay at home. All of that church-going – enough is enough. So, I was there, trying to read some kind of a sorry book. I don’t know what it was, it was so sorry. But I was there, trying to read some kind of a sorry book. In a little town, there wasn’t anything to do but to read a book. So I was there trying to read that sorry book.
Well, here I am trying to read that no-account book, and I hear the people began to sing. Oh, dear! And I turned the page and try to see what that no-account author was saying in that no-count book and, there, those songs of the Lord coming to my ear. And then, when it was quiet, I knew they were praying. And then, I’d hear, wafted through the window and across the street and to the house, the songs of the Lord. Did you know, that’s the last time I ever tried it? I closed that book. I stood up, walked out the door and came to the house of the Lord.
I don’t go to church because I have to. I love to be here. If I were the janitor of this church, I’d be right here out of the love of my soul. I love to mingle with Christian people. I am most awkward and most ill at ease where people are taking God’s name in vain, where they live trashy and sorry and worldly lives. But I love being with God’s saints, to pray, to sing, to listen to the expounding of the Word of the Lord, just to be here in God’s place. O Lord, how happy and how pleasant has the Lord cast my life and lot that I should be here with you.
And that is our precious invitation to your heart, to open your heart Christ-ward and God-ward and heavenward; to be with us in the fellowship of God’s redeemed; to join yourselves to the household of faith; to be one with us, come, and a thousand times, welcome! A family you, a couple you or just one somebody you, in the balcony round, down one of these stairways; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles; on the first note of the first stanza, come. When you stand up in a moment, stand up walking down that aisle, walking down that stairway. Make the decision now in your heart, and when we stand up to sing that first stanza, you stand up, walking down that aisle. God bless you. Angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
WALKING IN THE FEAR OF THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The fear of the Lord
A. Expression the Bible loves, approves and uses frequently
1. Over 300 instances in the Old Testament(Ecclesiastes 12:13)
2. Often used in the New Testament (Acts 10:2)
B. The meaning
1. To an awesome degree(Psalm 139:14)
2. Savior offered Himself in reverent awe of the Father(Hebrews 5:7)
II. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom(Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7)
A. Difference between knowledge and wisdom
1. It is God that gives facts pertinence and purpose
B. Reverential fear before awesome power and judgment of Almighty God(Hebrews 11:7, Genesis 19:14, Isaiah 37:36, 1 Kings 21:19, 23)
1. Judgments of God inevitably fall(Ecclesiastes 8:11-13, 2 Kings 9:37)
III. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil(Proverbs 8:13)
A. Perfect hatred (Psalm 139:21-22)
1. First polio case I ever saw
2. Kentucky man who hated liquor traffic with a vengeance
IV. There is no want to them that fear Him (Psalm 34:9)
A. God will take care of those who love and fear Him (Psalm 37:23-25)
B. Old gray-headed widow – "Tell God our Father about our want and need."
V. They that fear the Lord speak often to one another(Malachi 3:16-17)
A. God’s people together
B. Love being with God’s saints