In the first reading from yesterday’s (Sunday) liturgy from the Acts of the Apostles (Full text here) we encounter Apostles and see that they are changed men. Prior to Pentecost, these had been frightened man, men who fled at the sight of trouble, en who could not be (except for John) found anywhere near the foot of the Cross. Even after the resurrection, these were men who gathered only behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews.”
But in this reading, which took place at yesterday’s liturgy, we see men who are no longer afraid. The Holy Spirit has quickened their faith and courage. In this passage, having been arrested for speaking of Jesus, then miraculously released by the angel of the Lord, we find them right back in the public square announcing Jesus. The temple leaders having apprehended them yet again, say to them, We gave you strict orders [did we not?] to stop teaching in that name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching (Acts 5:28). In response to the is second arrest, the Apostles once again display courage, also known as “Foritude,” one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which they had received it Pentecost. But, in effect, they root their courage in another of the seven gifts, the gift of the “Fear the Lord.” They say, We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)
Note therefore how their confidence, their courage, is paradoxically rooted in Fear. It is not a cringing fear, but rather, a holy Fear, the Fear of the Lord. In effect, the Apostles fight fear with fear. More specifically, they conquer unholy fear with Holy Fear.
What is the fear the Lord? It is, as we have already noted, not a cringing fear, a fear merely rooted in servile anxiety about consequences or punishments. Rather, the Fear the Lord is the gift to hold God in awe. It is a gift, rooted in love of Him. Because I love God, love him with all my heart, I want to please him, obey him. I hold him in loving awe and respect, and I fear offending him who has loved me so, and done so much for me. We do not have time to fully set forth here the biblical basis for this definition of the Fear the Lord. But I have written elsewhere on this and have analyzed quite extensively a biblical understanding of what is meant by the fear of the Lord. You can read it here: Understanding the Fear of the Lord and here: Studying the Fear of the Lord in the Psalms
Our context in this post, is that to Fear the Lord, as is counseled and commanded of us in Scripture, is not some mere egocentric demand of of a demanding God. Rather, it is his loving way of both simplifying our life, (making it about one thing), and also, by this Holy Fear, of helping us to cancel and diminish all other fears.
For if I truly fear the Lord, and to the degree that this becomes a reality not just a slogan in my life, but I really Fear him, I do not need to fear anyone else, and my life also becomes simpler because I do not have to please ten thousand people, but only my loving Father in heaven.
But as it is, many of us struggle to experience this magnificent gift of the Holy Spirit, called the fear the Lord, because we either have resisted it or have not laid hold of it. And on this account, our fears are many, our lives are disordered and focused on many things, rather than one thing. Because we have not received the gift and the desire to please and Fear God, we end up trying to please everyone, and our fears multiply because there are many contradictory and contrary demands by the ten thousand voices we seek to please and pacify.
Jesus speaks to this grave condition by saying, No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money (Mat 6:24). To be frank, our condition is far worse than simply trying to serve two masters. Most of us have many more masters, and our lives are too easy dominated by many anxieties and fears, rooted in many contradictory, complex and conflicting priorities, given by the many different people, groups, and ideologies we seek to please, placate and serve.
The book of James says, The double minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). Would that we were simply double-minded, but in today’s complex situations we are often divided fifty-fold, even a hundredfold: so many things to do, so many people to please. Frankly, too many of us are afraid of everyone and everything. What if person A is displeased with me?! But what if pleasing person A displeases person B, and how will I explain things to person C?!! And thus our lives are divided, anxious, full of fears.
The Lord’s plan is to fight fear with Fear. His plan is to fight unholy fear with Holy Fear. God’s loving plan is, in effect, Fear me, reverence, respect and seek to please me out of love, and you will be less obsessed with what others think. “Yes,” says the Lord, come to know me, not as some stranger, some abstract Deity running the universe, come to know me as your Father, someone who loves you, someone whom you deeply reverence and want to please. And to the degree that this happens in your life, that you receive this anointing of the Holy Spirit, this gift of the Holy Spirit called the Fear the Lord, you will be set free from ten thousand other fears and anxieties.
And this leads us back to the Apostles in Sunday’s reading. A mere few weeks ago they were frightened, even terrified men, behind locked doors. Now they boldly go about preaching Christ and him crucified. What happened to them? The Holy Spirit has happened, and in particular, His gifts of courage (fortitude), and the Fear the Lord. And thus the apostles are boldly able to speak to those who demand their loyalty, demand obedience, and they say We must obey God rather than men.
They say this with serenity because they’ve come to know the Father, have come to know Jesus and the power the Holy Spirit. Fearing God, they no longer fear any weapon waged against them, they no longer fear any man. And this is how fear is fought with Fear. One Fear eclipses all others fears. It is Holy Fear, loving Fear, yes, even a joyful Fear. When I fear God I need fear no one else. When I kneel before God, I can stand before any man.
Here then is the gift of the fear the Lord. Seek it, lay hold of it, allow it to have its effects. If we can do this, so many other fears go away, so many other conflicts are resolved. When we need to please only One, we no longer need to please many. When we Fear one, the fear the others goes away.