In Philippians 2:12-16, the Apostle Paul commands the brethren in Philippi to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” This concept in connection with God is not popular today. People prefer to hear about God’s love and mercy. When we point out God’s righteous wrath, holiness, and justice, people reply, “My God is not like that!” Therefore, let’s consider what it means to serve God with fear and trembling.
The word “fear” is often used to describe “respect and reverence; an awesome and terrifying thing.” Therefore, a proper “fear of the Lord” (Acts 9:31) would include “reverence and awe” and “being afraid to offend God in any way.” It is a “trembling” if one knows they have offended God and have not obtained forgiveness, because Hebrews 10:26-27 warns, “If we sin willfully… [there is] a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation…” So, as Christians, we are to “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28-29).
The value of this kind of attitude is seen in the book of Proverbs. There we learn that the “fear of the Lord” is the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 1:7); will cause one to hate evil (Prov. 8:13); will prolong life (Prov. 10:27); is the way to riches, honor, and life! (Prov. 22:4), and so much more. Therefore, without the “fear of the Lord,” we cannot please God (Isa. 66:1-2). Only the person who “trembles at His Word” enjoys His promise to receive His tender mercy (Ps. 103:17-18).
The “fear of the Lord” comes through the word of God, just as “faith comes by hearing the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Consider Deuteronomy 31:10-13, where the children of Israel were told to gather every seven years to read and hear the Word, and notice Moses’ emphasis, “…that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God!” Therefore, as one reads the Word of God, they should gain a healthy degree of the “fear of the Lord” (Rom. 2:4-11; 2 Pet. 3:7-14).
Some read only the portions which reveal God’s love and mercy and have no “fear of the Lord.” Others emphasize the “fire, hell and brimstone” passages and know nothing of God’s everlasting loving-kindness. It is important to emphasize to avoid extremes because we must read ALL of God’s Word. Even in the passages we considered above, the context of each speaks much of God’s grace and forgiveness for those who will repent. Therefore, we must be careful how we use the Word of God, but we must use it!