1 Peter – Chapter Two XXXII

by Ed Urzi

“Honor all people, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17 NET).

In modern-day usage, the word “fear” often serves to communicate a sense of apprehension, or a state of being afraid. The New Testament book of Hebrews highlights this idea when it tells us, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). But here in 1 Peter 2:17, this word is associated with the qualities of reverence, honor, or respect. Therefore, our responsibility to “fear God” means that we should maintain an attitude of respect and reverence for Him.

For instance, Proverbs 9:10 tells us, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Thus, a healthy fear of God can help restrain our inclination to engage in behaviors that are inappropriate and displeasing to Him. Ideally, that fear should be anchored in a loving relationship with God in Christ, rather than a desire to appease Him and avoid the corrective measures He might impose on us.

One scholar clarifies these differences in his analysis of 1 John 4:18, a passage that tells us, “…perfect love casts out fear”

1 JOHN 4:18—If love casts out all fear, why are we told to fear God?

PROBLEM: John affirms here that “perfect love casts out all fear.” Yet we are told that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7) and that we should “serve the Lord with fear” (Ps. 2:11). Indeed, Paul said, “knowing … the terror [fear] of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11).

SOLUTION: Fear is being used in different senses. Fear in the good sense is a reverential trust in God. In the bad sense it is a sense of recoiling torment in the face of God. While proper fear brings a healthy respect for God, unwholesome fear engenders an unhealthy sense that He is out to get us. Perfect love casts out this kind of “torment.” When one properly understands that “God is love” (1 John 4:16), he can no longer fear Him in this unhealthy sense. For “he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). Nonetheless, at no time does proper love for God ever show disrespect for Him. Rather, it is perfectly compatible with a reverential awe for Him, which is what the Bible means by “fearing God” in the good sense (cf. 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Peter 2:17). (1)

(1) Norman L. Geisler and Thomas A. Howe, When Critics Ask : A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992), 540.