Beginnings are important. How we begin can determine whether we wander around in the wilderness for 40 years or take the direct route to the Promised Land. A good start can save us lots of backtracking, and a good foundation means that our work will have much greater longevity. So shouldn’t we build on the most sure foundation? And that foundation is the Fear of the Lord!
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)
We are far too quick to dismiss or explain away ‘fear of the Lord.’ It sounds old-fashioned, and it’s not cool to preach fire and brimstone anymore. We have decided that love and gratitude should be our only motivations, leaving no room for godly fear. Never mind that there truly is a day of judgment coming and we would do well to flee from the wrath to come! (Matthew 3:7)
I remember a small group meeting where we were discussing the parable of the Prodigal Son, and someone remarked how sad it was that the son returned groveling rather than confident in his father’s love. I thought about it a little and said that I thought the son had just the right attitude and that his feeling of unworthiness was very appropriate. Stunned silence ensued– they looked at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears and finally continued the discussion without comment. I had attacked a sacred cow. But I still think that the son did have faith in his father’s love and mercy. He believed that his father would receive him, but he also knew what his actions deserved and that he had no real right to expect any kindness or mercy. I still think it would have been the height of presumption to come back announcing, “I’m home!” expecting all to be forgotten.
Skipping the foundation of repentance and fear keeps us from appreciating the fullness of our heavenly Father’s love and mercy — freely given, though totally undeserved. It is only in comprehending the depth of our sin and its dire consequences that we can truly experience the forgiveness He wraps us in as we run to His arms. God would be holy and just and good if He took one look at us and pronounced judgment, consigning us to the fires of hell. This is the God we are approaching — the God who can ‘destroy both body and soul in hell.’ (Matthew 10:28) Jesus tells us to fear this One, so when we approach this God, it is better not to waltz in rejoicing with no thought for our offense against the One who created us and gave all for us. Instead, we should come as the Prodigal did, humbly taking the lowest place. And that is just the person God exalts to the highest place. (Luke 14:7-14) God humbles the high and exalts the low.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount ends with the advice to build our house on the Rock. Look to your foundation, and make sure that you do not find yourself before God hearing the horrific words “I never knew you, depart from me, all you who practice iniquity.” (Matthew 7:23) Begin with wisdom — build your house on the Rock — and let the winds blow and the rain pound. Your faith will stand, and no flood will be able to carry it away.