Be Afraid of Not Fearing
Be Afraid of Not Fearing
You need to look the other way, pastor. This is business. You're not cut out for this. My friend had been pastoring this church for a few years. He was really excited. Things were happening. The church was growing. They had a piece of property. They were going to sell it and buy another piece of property. They were going through the process for that because the original piece of property wasn't going to be big enough for what was happening at the church. But in the selling of that property the men who were leading that sale were hiding some information to get more of a price. My friend, who was the pastor, said, "We need to tell them everything." And that's what they said, "Preacher, this is business. You don't understand how to deal with this stuff." He came to me devastated. We talked about it and what he had to do. I remember telling him, "Those men do not fear the Lord, but you better." So he went and confronted them. He spoke openly and called them to repentance, and he was fired. He was dismissed.
A lot of men tend to think that way. Men are prone to compartmentalize their lives as though they've got a church life, a family life, and then they've got a different life out in the business world. So they have to function based on the real world, they tell themselves. There's a way they've got to handle themselves there that's different from their church life, different from their family life. A lot of men have a personal life, and they tell themselves, Well, this doesn't really have anything to do with what I'm doing here, as long as I'm providing for my family, as long as I'm allowing them to have the things that they want to have. So their life is compartmentalized, it's segmented. That's why a word in our text this morning is so important. It's the word fear. The fear of the Lord. "The man who fears the Lord."
(Read Psalm 111-112)
I want you to see how this psalm works. This is a wisdom psalm, a psalm that would have been used for teaching. The psalm this morning in Psalm 112 talks about what it means to be a man who fears the Lord. The psalm begins actually not in 112; it's set up by Psalm 111. In Psalm 111 we have a psalm that's praise to God, and its praise to God for his mighty acts and that he is the Lord of redemption, and that he is the only One who brings redemption. Because of his might, his power, and his purposes, he has committed himself to be the Redeemer of his people. It's all about the character of God, the acts of God, the redeeming works of God.
We have A-Z, if we would use the English alphabet, A-Z of praise to God in Psalm 111, and in Psalm 112 we have A-Z of praise for godliness. This is about God. This is what it means for a man to lead a God-centered life. This is a psalm of praise to God for who he is and what he's done. This is a psalm of praise for the man who would live his life based on the promises of God, the character of God, the work of God; a man who desires to live out his redemption.
The transitional verse is verse 10 of Psalm 111; "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding." Notice this. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning …" It's the foundation of wisdom. Without it you will not be wise. But for the wise person who is living based on the fear of the Lord they are practicing it. They're a practitioner of the fear of the Lord.
The fear of the Lord
So God is worthy of praise for his mighty acts, for his redemption. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom." We are to practice it. "Praise the LORD!" Blessed, the word means happy in God, the favor of God, the pleasure of God is upon this man. He's taking his delight, his satisfaction, his happiness not in what he can do for himself, but in God and what God has done through his mighty acts, through his redemption. Therefore, because he lives by faith, the favor of God is upon his life, and he "greatly delights in his commandments."
Fear. It's an important word that we have to understand. You see, this fearing of the Lord is a way of describing faith. You see, this fear is a fear of faith. It's a sense of awe at the greatness of God. It's a sense of wonder at the redeeming grace of God, and you're in such awe of God for his greatness and for his grace towards you that it controls your life in every category, not part of your life. It doesn't control your church life and family life, but when you're in the workplace you're driven by something different. Faith is the controlling reality of your life, the shadow of the fear of the Lord. Your faith in his greatness, his sovereignty, his might, his redeeming grace is what governs your life. It's how you make decisions. You see, the man who wants to compartmentalize his life he has faith but it's faith in himself not God.
The psalms borrow language from one another. In verse one of Psalm 111 it talks about the upright. In verse two of Psalm 112 it talks about the upright. In verse four it talks about the upright. In Psalm 111 it talks about works; it talks about that in Psalm 112. It talks about delight in Psalm 111; it talks about that in 112. There are a couple of phrases that are exactly the same. For instance in 111:3: "His righteousness endures forever." In 112:3: "His righteousness endures forever." In Psalm 111:4: "The LORD is gracious and merciful." In Psalm 112 about the godly man: "He is gracious, merciful, and righteous." You see, the man who fears the Lord is governed by the reality of the greatness and grace of God. So he reflects God in his life, though not perfectly. That's why he needs the grace of God. But nonetheless, he reflects God in his life.
Notice Psalm 112:1. "He is one who greatly delights in his commandments." That means that he is not looking to the commandments of God as a path to earn the favor of God, as a path of salvation, as a path of proving his righteousness, because if he read the commandments of God believing that they were the way he climbed his way to God, he would not be driven by delight; he would be driven to despair.
No, his faith is in the saving, redeeming work of God. In light of that he looks at the commands of God and he hears them as God graciously bidding him forward so he can do a better job of reflecting him in the world. Like a father who has committed his love to his son but says, "No, no, come over here. This direction." He understands these commandments as a delight for his good because they condemned him as guilty, and he turned to God for his grace.
But look down at verse 10. I want you to see how this psalm is structured. When we understand how it works we can understand the middle. So we have Psalm 111 in praise of God, Psalm 112 in praise of the God-centered life. We've seen that this is one who fears the Lord. He delights in his commands. In verse 10 you have the complete contrast.
Blessed man vs. wicked man
The blessed man is one who delights in the commandments of God. The commands of God are eternal. "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God endures forever." That's what he delights in. That's what he desires.
The wicked man looks at the life of the blessed man and he is driven, because of the way he gets his identity from what he does, he's driven to comparison and he's driven to jealousy, and it makes him angry. His own pursuit of making much of himself and trusting in himself makes him miserable. There is no joy. He gnashes his teeth and he wants to tear down the blessed man. He's on a path of self destruction, providing for self instead of being generous to others because providing for others would be a form of self-sabotage.
You see, if you get your identify from your own resume, from what you do, then you compare yourself to others. Look at me! I'm a better person because I do this, or they don't do that. So for you to come over here and help them, love them, serve them, they might outshine you. If they outshine you your identity shrinks. So the wicked man he wants to build himself up, but that involves tearing others down. What he desires, providing for himself. It will perish.
Contrast him with the man who fears the Lord and delights in his commandments. You see, the dividing line between the blessed man and the wicked man is not their resume. The wicked man might have a better resume. The dividing line between them is how they respond to the Lord—whether they come to the Lord by faith, whether they trust him as their only hope of redemption, or whether they are trusting in their own strength and wisdom. That is the dividing line. Does he fear the Lord? Or does he fear not trusting himself? Which means does he fear not being Lord?
It's not a question of whether or not that by outward examination you're a good person who does good things, whether you're a nice person who tries to help others. If you do not bow before God by faith, you are living a life of rebellion. You are acting as though you are Lord. Do you fear the Lord? Or do you fear not being lord of your life?
Characteristics of the righteous
Now what is in the middle between those two things—the blessed man who fears the Lord, the wicked man who does not and trust himself—are the characteristics of the life of a man who fears the Lord. They are trajectories, directions. They are not to be trusted in his performance to be offered to God. That's been repudiated by the fear of the Lord. But his life is set on a trajectory because of the reality of God's greatness and God's redemption that hovers over all of his life.
Now we've got to pause right here and we've got to remember what's going on. Psalm 112 is a wisdom psalm. It is a teaching psalm. It functions a lot like Proverbs. What we have here are representative blessings. What we have here are those things that everybody would acknowledge is a blessing—children, having sufficient provision for your home. Everybody would agree those are blessings. These are generally recognized blessings. It is not promises for every individual to claim. In fact, he's talking about children in the context of their families, but beyond that he's talking about things that are generally true. In other words, the man who fears the Lord is blessed. Here are some agreed upon blessings, and so they're imputed to this one who fears the Lord. But they are not promises to each individual so you can say, "Well I don't feel rich so I'm not blessed." or "We haven't been able to have children yet, so I'm not blessed." No, it's governed by the fear of the Lord, bowing before him, trusting in him. The message is God blesses his people.
Grace, not superiority
It's not all breezy for the man who fears the Lord. There is darkness, but the promise is that because of God's grace light dawns for him in the darkness. God has not left him alone. There is light for him even in the midst of difficulty. But remember Psalm 111:3, it says about God, "Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and he's righteousness endures forever"? Then in 111:4, "He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; for the LORD is gracious and merciful."
It says that the man, who lives a God-centered life in fear of the Lord, his righteousness endures forever. "He is gracious, merciful, and righteous." Why? Because he is united by faith to God through Jesus Christ. So the blessings of the grace of God, the reality of the character of God begins to form and to shape his life. It's not that he is righteous outside of God and offers God's righteousness to say, "Now will you accept me?" It's the fact that God's grace has enveloped him and is transforming him, so there are imperfect ways where his life actually reflects God. Because of God's grace in his life, his life will matter for all eternity.
The key words here is "He is gracious." You know the only way that you can be gracious is to not try to get your identity from the things that you do? If your identity is found in figuring out ways in which you can convince yourself that you're superior to other people—Well, I may not be perfect, but I do this, this, and this; and this person does not do this, this, and this.—that means that you cannot be gracious, because that would be to work against yourself. Without fearing the Lord we use our blessings as proof of our superiority. It's only when we fear the Lord and we use our blessings as proof of his superiority that we can be gracious to others.
The New Testament puts it like this. "What do you have that you have not received?" The danger with all people is that they work hard and they pray for God to bless them, and then when God blesses them they stand up to say "Look what my hands have done." It is the pull on people to get their identity by the things that they do and by their work. You will not be gracious if you see the world that way. The only reason you can work is because a sovereign God has put life in your body. He's enabled you to work. When you fear him, when you are governed by his strength and his grace, you look at the world and say, "I have nothing to offer except the grace of God."
So you use your strength for the good of others. Without faith we will not love, in the biblical sense. Now I say "in the biblical sense" because some people define love by their own feelings, their own emotion, their own longing. The Bible defines love by not receiving but by giving. If we do not fear the Lord, if we do not live with faith, we will not love. We will not be generous to others because to lift them up would lessen ourselves. Grace, not superiority.
Leadership, not self-protection
In verses 6-8 I want us to see leadership is not self-protection. To help you think through what it's talking about here, Proverbs 10:7 says, "The memory of the righteous is a blessing." It's talking about the lingering reality of a righteous life, because it's infused with the purposes and plan of the eternal God, who is bringing about his kingdom that will never be shaken.
We can see this in Hebrews 11:4: "He being dead, still speaks." Do you want your life to matter? If you live to make a name for yourself, your life will matter very little for eternity. If you live a God-centered life in the fear of the Lord, we will celebrate the way God used your life for his glory for eternity. That's your decision, but you cannot have it both ways. That doesn't come from a compartmentalized life that puts God in a church-family box. It comes from a life that is surrendered and given over to God.
You don't fear the Lord at church and in your family but not fear him in the workplace. That's not faith in God; that's faith in you. Leadership is rooted in the reality that we believe that by God's grace we are infused into his kingdom purposes, and his kingdom will never be shaken. It will last forever. Christ will return and consummate his kingdom, and he will remove his people from the very presence of sin. In verse seven we see the beauty of this reality. He will not be afraid when he hears bad news because he's afraid of the Lord, and the Lord's news is good. Isn't it glorious?
What we celebrate in church when we come together is the triumphant march of the gospel. Nothing can stop it. No matter what you hear on the news. That's the reason why men stop running around acting like we're on the losing side. Stop saying, "Oh, I can't believe I have to raise kids in a world like this. It's never been worse. Aren't things terrible?" Stop it! The "blessed man" is not afraid of bad news. The news on the news does not triumph the good news! Quit acting like it does. It is not the worst time in the world to be alive. It is the greatest.
The Bible divides history between the age that was, the present age where the glory of the age to come has come, and the age of consummation. We are those who live in the age in which the end of the ages have come in Jesus Christ. We've tasted the reality of the glory. This is the greatest time to be alive in the history of the world up until now! That's what you have to believe. The strength and might and grace of God overshadows everything else in your life. That is what it means to be a gospel leader. No matter what goes on around us nothing changes the truth of the triumphant march of the gospel and the grace of a sovereign God who redeems guilty sinners in Jesus Christ. That is gospel leadership.
I was at a graduation recently at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I look out at a group of guys, many of whom I've taught, and I realize God's going to scatter them around the world. Some of those people are going to be in dark, dark places. Some will be persecuted, and some may very well lose their lives. Why would they do it? Because the purposes of God are invincible. They go out from that place on an invincible mission. It can't be stopped. Even through the barrel of a gun. The gospel will triumph. Period.
So when we infuse our lives in the midst of that reality it changes everything. That's the leadership your home needs. Complaining and grossing and acting like what happens in Washington, D. C. leaves you depressed. Hear it! For the one who leads a God-centered life "He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm." It's rooted in the gospel. Dump the psychologized, therapeutic way of thinking about the world. The sort of inner personal focus that's all worried about feelings and emotions. You're stealing the vitality of your home. Stop thinking about yourself in a psychologized, therapeutic way. Think about yourself in terms of the way the Bible talks about you and your role. You are a soldier. If a soldier sits in the barracks and just say, "Oh man, this is so dangerous and I can't believe this," the general comes and says, "Guys, let's go." Somebody's going to say, "Stop it!"
In all kindness and gentleness I tell you today, Stop it! Stop it! Hear the Word. "He is not afraid of bad news." Stop being self-protected and self-oriented. Stop viewing the world from yourself out, and start viewing the world from the mission of God in. Husbands and fathers who allow bad news to bring fear to their life are casting an anti-gospel atmosphere in their home. We are to be marked by leadership governed by the gospel, not self-protection.
Generosity, not selfishness
Verse nine calls us to generosity, not selfishness. That means by the grace of the Lord his strength surrendered to the gospel is infused in the internal purposes of God, and it honors and glories God. "He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor." If there's anything that the gospel does it's birthed in generosity.
The Apostle Paul quotes this very verse in 2 Corinthians 9. What the Apostle Paul does is he takes this verse out of Psalm 112 and he also takes the overall theme of Psalm 111, the sufficiency of God, the sufficiency of God should make us generous, and he puts them together.
(Read 2 Corinthians 9:6-11)
Our gifts are rooted in the inexpressible gift of God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, taking on human flesh to be crucified and die as a guilty sinner. To be made poor, it says, that we might be made rich. Why might we be made rich with the blessings of God? So that we can bless others. Jesus used his advantage as the sinless Son of God for the advantage of guilty sinners. The message is this: If you're going to reflect him in the world, then you use your advantage for the advantage of others.
There are certainly appropriate ways to help the poor and ways that are less appropriate. I fear that in conservative evangelical churches we just stop on the reasons not to help the poor and the ways not to help the poor. They ought to do for themselves. We don't want to create a culture of dependency. That way we don't have to give to the poor.
Understand that your feelings, relationship, and attitude towards your treasure is a gospel issue. For you to say, "Oh, I can't be sacrificial. After all, that would be unsafe. That would make me feel uncomfortable. I've got to provide for myself." That's the way the world thinks. One who's been transformed by the generosity of God, should be scheduling counseling appointments with some of our members to say, "Would you stop giving people so much? Good grief. You're not going to have enough to eat." We don't have those counseling appointments. You know why? Very few people give to the point it hurts. Very few people give to the point where it changes their vacation plans, much less that it changes their menu. This is what he says. We're trying to bless ourselves, which cuts us off from living in the blessings of God.
Jesus, sinless becomes the sin-bearer, and because he pays the penalty for our sin offers us his righteousness. See, the only one that ultimately fulfills these verses is Jesus. Jesus is the blessed man, but in Christ there are blessed men. You can't be blessed apart from Jesus. But for those who come to Christ by faith, who are granted his righteousness, we have the indwelling Spirit of God to reflect his righteousness in the world. Jesus is the blessed man.
Grace? All the glories of heaven he left to die and be crucified as a criminal cursed by God. Leadership? Have you ever noticed that when Jesus came he wasn't born in fancy surroundings, and he didn't go to a mansion? He didn't have any place to lay his head. His followers were not the elite and the noble. He was living based on the kingdom that he was bringing. He said things like, "Let not your heart be troubled." Remember the gospel! He didn't live on the basis of bad news because he came as the good news.
Generosity? He gave himself. He held nothing back. The sinless Son of God crucified, dead, and buried, but raised again because he paid the penalty for sin. He says to us, "It is finished. The debt is paid in full. I grant you my righteousness. Now come to me by faith." Be governed by the reality of the gospel. To the degree that you trade, that you live based on superiority rather than grace, self-protection rather than leadership, and selfishness rather than generosity, we do not reflect him in the world.
Men, these truths apply to all but he speaks to men here in the way Proverbs 31 speaks to women. You should be the chief practitioner in your home of fearing the Lord. You're the one. You're the leader. You ought to be bringing grace to your home. You ought to bring gospel leadership to your home.
Yeah, those things are true. It's hard. But don't forget the good news! You are the one that caused the atmosphere of your home to be pervaded by good news. Your wife and children ought to pray because you're so generous they're worried. They're worried that you might give it all away. If you worry them in that way, in the end you will not worry them. You will bring security to their souls. Be afraid not to fear the Lord. God has called you to be a man in the environment he's placed you, and it starts with fearing the Lord.
David Prince is Pastor of Preaching and Vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, KY. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Christian Preaching at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He is the author of In the Arena: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship and he blogs at www.davidprince.com.