Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Fear of God & Fear of Man

A friend from church made some interesting comments about fearing God above man recently. It got me thinking, so decided to post some more thoughts on the general subject (very general, my mind started wandering!). My basic thought was that we see a kind of paradox here. Normally we are told to fear those in authority over us. It is only when those in authority abuse their authority (when we might actually be inclined to be afraid!) that we are told not to fear them. Really, this is very strange, but that is part of the glory of the gospel.

In other words, when a husband becomes abusive, a wife is to put her fear and trust in the Lord. When an employer becomes irritable or problematic, we are to put our fear and trust in the Lord rather than our employer. When a government becomes oppressive and unjust, we are to put our fear and trust in God rather than man.

Otherwise, we are instructed to fear (Gk. phobeo, from which we get our English word phobia) those who are put in authority over us. So, wives are instructed to fear their husbands (see Ephesians 5:33, the word "respect" is a weasel translation!) and slaves are told to obey their masters "with fear (phobeo) and trembling” (see Ephesians 6:5).

Paul also instructs us to fear our governing officials:
Romans 13:3-7 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, FEAR to whom FEAR is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Peter uses the same language:
1 Peter 2:18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.
In fact, the only time we are told not to fear those in authority, is when those in authority are abusing their authority and perverting justice. In that case Peter says:
1 Peter 3:14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be
blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.

As I see it, we are to fear those in authority over us at all times. When they begin persecuting us for righteousness sake, then, and only then, we are to fear God rather than man.

By the way, I’m familiar with the argument that goes, the Greek verb phobeo and noun phobos are not so harsh when used in the context of one man to another. The argument goes that we should use a softer word like respect or reverence in such cases. The problem with this line of thought is the very context of two of these uses above.

First, in Romans 13:3, it would not work to interchange respect for fear. Paul’s argument would simply not make sense: “Would you have no respect for the one who is in authority?” Certainly Paul is not advocating disrespect for authority. He is saying that rulers are rightly terrifying to bad people, and therefore we are to fear them. Again, look at verse 4, we simply can not substitute respect in this case either: “But if you do wrong, be respectful,” as if he were saying, “In general, good people don’t need to show respect, but if you do wrong, then you should be respectful.”

Finally, Paul has a Greek word for respect that he can use, and he in fact chooses to use the word in this very context. In verse 7 he says, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, FEAR to whom FEAR is owed, HONOR (or reverence or respect) to whom HONOR is owed.” In Paul’s mind and in his usage, he does not use these terms interchangeably. They are distinct and he means something different by them.

The second problem text for such an argument is Ephesians 6:5. In this case, we see again that respect can not even be in Paul’s mind. For Paul says that slaves are to obey their masters with fear and trembling. The second word in this possible hendiadys (trembling), forces us to see that Paul means fear, not respect.

1 comment:

Archie said...

My immediate wandering thought upon reading your post, Chris, was that our fear is to be rendered unto the authority of the Lord in all cases. When a husband or civil leader is exercising his authority under the authority of the Lord, we are to fear him as this authority is of the Lord. When, however, man's authority begins to be abused and is not flowing from the authority of the Lord but rather from sin, we are to render our fear back to Him from whom all authority flows.

We place ourselves under the authority of the Lord and fear Him at all times recognizing that at times, His authority flows through men.

Just train of thought. Haven't thought through it enough to draw theological implications from it. Thoughts?