What does it really mean to fear the Lord? Michael Reeves answers that question in Rejoice and Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord. Not only does he answer that question, but as the title suggests, he shows us why fearing the Lord should lead to rejoicing. I know. That’s a bizarre concept in our contemporary culture. Rejoice and Tremble recaptures and beautifully illustrates such this important concept that has long been neglected in the church.
Fear of the Lord
What do you think of when you hear the phrase, “The fear of the Lord?” Most churched people would probably think of Proverbs 1:7— “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Or maybe they would think of Proverbs 9:10 — The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I grew up in the church and heard those verses preached. I don’t remember ever getting a deep, satisfying explanation of what fearing the Lord actually means.
It’s odd when you think about it, because the fear of the Lord is mentioned throughout scripture. Reeves points out that David prays about it in Psalms. Solomon writes about it in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The prophets mention it repeatedly. Mary sings about it after being visited by Gabriel. Paul mentions it to the Colossians and Corinthians. It’s all over the place. Yet, we don’t hear much about it today, because the idea of fear confuses us. It seems negative. We mistake it to mean being afraid of God.
Rejoice and Tremble gives the deep, satisfying explanation the church has often left wanting. Reeves writes:
My aim now is to cut through this discouraging confusion. I want you to rejoice in this strange paradox that the gospel both frees us from fear and gives us fear. It frees us from our crippling fears, giving us instead a most delightful, happy, and wonderful fear.
Culture of Fear
Reeves begins by addressing the culture of fear in society today. We live in a strange paradox. Research shows we live more safely than any group in history. Yet, anxiety and fear permeate our lives. When you have more to lose, you fear losing it more.
There is a ‘moral confusion’ in our society as well that contributes to our anxiety. Reeves writes, “When your culture is hedonistic, your religion therapeutic, and your goal a feeling of personal well-being, fear will be the ever-present headache.” We’ve removed the fear of the Lord from our culture, only to fear the idols we’ve set up in his place.
Sinful Fear & Right Fear
Reeves spends the next two chapters contrasting sinful fear with a rightful fear of God. It is sinful fear that drives us away from the Lord. He uses Exodus 20, the parable of the ten minas, 1 Samuel 12, and some great quotes to illustrate “a contrast between being afraid of God and fearing God: those who have the fear of him will not be afraid of him.”
In contrast, a right fear of God “as Charles Spurgeon put it, ‘leans toward the Lord’ because of his very goodness. Reeves starts with Jeremiah 33, but he uses so many great examples from scripture to illustrate a right fear of the Lord, I had to make myself stop highlighting. I was simply highlighting the whole book. I’ll give you this quote:
The living God is infinitely perfect and quintessentially, overwhelmingly beautiful in every way: his righteousness, his graciousness, his majesty, his mercy, his all. And so we do not love him aright if our love is not a trembling, overwhelmed, and fearful love.
Radical Renewal, Not Self-Improvement
The book then examines fear of God as creator and fear of God as redeemer. It looks at how to grow in a right of fear of God. Reeves writes, “What we need is a radical renewal—not self-improvement but a profound change of heart—so that we want and love and long differently.” How do we get that change of heart? Through faith in Jesus’ work on the cross.
The final chapters look at growing in the knowledge of the Lord, which leads to a right fear, rather than the inward self absorption society promotes. The book concludes with a look at how we will rejoice and tremble in eternity: “But on that last day, the glory of the Lord will fill the earth, and his people will fall down in fearsome wonder, delight, and praise.”
Throughout Rejoice and Tremble, Reeves supports every point with scripture. He weaves in insightful quotes from puritans, Spurgeon, Lewis, and the reformers. As I mentioned previously, I found myself highlighting and underlining so much, I had to stop. I was looking at entire pages highlighted. It is a relatively short book, so obviously there could be more in depth exegesis. However, I found Rejoice and Tremble to be the best and most accessible explanation of the fear of the Lord I’ve read. I highly recommend it. You can pick up a copy here.