The Right Kind of Fear


Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.

“On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” (Malachi 3:16 – 18 NIV)

When the prophet Malachi was in business, his nation was in bad shape. 50,000 exiles had returned to Judah from Babylon (538-536 b.c.). The temple had been rebuilt under the leadership of Zerubbabel (516 b.c.) and the sacrificial system reinstated. After being back in the land of Palestine for century, the ritual of the Jews’ religious routine had become cold and empty; they were merely going through the motions. The hardships they endured led to hard heartedness toward God’s great love for them and to a widespread departure from His law by both people and priest. The people felt they deserved better. They believed they had been short-changed by God.

The mission of the prophet Malachi was to deliver stern rebukes to the people and priests and to call them to repentance. The prophet reminded them that in spite of the hardships now, future blessings were in store for the faithful. The big theme of Malachi’s book of prophecy is that God loves His people even though they sin and their worship was not what it should be. The behavior the “the Lord’s people” brings to mind a few statements made by Jesus in Matthew:

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:16 – 18 NIV)

In other words, even though Malachi’s people were doing everything they were supposed to be doing in regards to their religious obligations, they were doing everything wrong.

Their hearts were not in it. They had become spiritually lazy. They had become hypocrites.

But not everybody in Judah had become a religious slacker. There were, in fact, some who still feared the Lord and who actually paid attention to the prophet’s messages. There weren’t many, but there were some. There were some whom God paid attention to because they were paying attention to Him.

We can learn a lot about the kind of people God takes notice of and pays attention to by looking at this paragraph in Malachi 3. We can also learn some important things about the Lord, as well.

Three things about God’s people

A great many people claim to be Christians. Sometimes they go to church. They take Communion. They talk about God’s blessings and how much they love Him. But are they really Christians? Are they true believers? You may wonder what business is it of ours to question and judge the veracity of another’s faith. Actually, we’re supposed to be doing just that. One of the biggest problems in the Church today is that we don’t! Too many Christians are way too trusting. Jesus said this:

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15 NIV)

Uninformed people love to say, “The Bible says we’re not supposed to judge.” That’s clever but wrong. The Bible says not to judge another’s heart or motives. Paul said this:

The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:15, 16 NIV)

But most importantly, he also said this:

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. (1 Corinthians 5:12, 13 NIV)

So, then, to help you judge correctly, here are three important things unique to the Lord’s people.

They are reverent. True believers reverence the Lord. They fear God. What does that mean? Martin Luther struggled with the idea of “fearing God,” and he famously came up with a distinction between a the right kind of fear and the wrong kind. The wrong kind of fear he referred to as servile fear. This is a dreadful fear; the kind of fear a death row prisoner has for his jailer, the guards, the date of his execution. It’s a feeling of fright that comes between two people. This is the wrong kind of fear. It’s not the kind of fear we should have for God.

The right kind of fear Luther called filial fear. It comes from the Latin concept of the family. This is the kind of fear we need to have toward God. It’s the fear a child has for his father. It’s not that a child is frightened of his father, it’s that he respects him and wants to please him. He’s not scared of being punished but afraid of disappointing his father. This is why God wants us to think of Him as, among other things, as our Heavenly Father. That’s one aspect of our relationship with Him. True believers want to live lives that please their Heavenly Father. They are concerned that they are not. True believers hold this reverence for God and take it very seriously. They have a healthy awe and respect for the majesty of God.

They are thoughtful. The KJV looks like this:

...them that feared the Lord…thought upon his name. (Malachi 3:16b KJV)

True Christians actually think about Jesus when they’re not in church. They engage in conversations of a spiritual nature. They talk about Scripture during the week. Can you imagine? Can you imagine a faith that is not just for Sunday morning? True believers can, and that’s how they live.

One time, a small group of disciples was walking along the road to Emmaus, talking about Jesus. Here’s what happened:

As they talked about those things, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them. (Luke 24:15 NIrV)

When Jesus is on your mind and part of your conversation, He’s right there, in a very real way. When Jesus is on your mind, you take care in where you go, how you speak, and in the attitudes you hold. Thoughts of Jesus’ nature and character will help to shape your nature and character. Jesus is never far from the thoughts of a true believer.

They aren’t ashamed of Jesus. Malachi wrote that those who fear God “talked with each other.” What were they talking about? It certainly wasn’t the weather. It wasn’t sports. The context is clear. True believers talk to each other about godly things. This is very closely related to the above point. A true Christian isn’t afraid to bring up his faith and he isn’t afraid of who’s listening.

Those who love the Lord, love each other, feel close to Him and talking about Him is natural and brings them joy.

Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul. (Psalm 66:16 KJV)

If your faith is important to you, how can you NOT talk about it?

Those three points are three important aspects of the Christian life. But we can also learn some things about God, too.

Three things about God

The Lord is interested. Malachi wrote:

…and the Lord listened and heard…

There is a common view of God that is wrong and dangerous. It says that God is real but that He is afar off; He made the material world but leaves it alone. Nothing can be further from the truth. God is vitally concerned with His creation, especially with man. God pays attention to man; He hears what man says and takes it to heart. That makes you want to watch what you say, doesn’t it?

The Lord is interested and He does care and He does step in to help. But there is a caveat. This help isn’t for everybody:

For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. (2 Chronicles 16:9 AV)

Only those whose hearts are completely His does the Lord watch over and help.

The Lord is careful. Who knew that the Lord has a “scroll of remembrance” in Heaven? He makes note of those who belong to Him. Over in the New Testament, we read about, not a scroll of remembrance, but a Book of Life:

My true companion, here is what I ask you to do. Help those women. They have served at my side. They have helped me spread the good news. So have Clement and the rest of those who have worked together with me. Their names are all written in the Book of Life. (Philippians 4:4 NIrV)

Deeds are important and so are words. According to the Bible, every word is noted because by his words a man is justified or condemned.

But here is what I tell you. On judgment day, people will have to account for every careless word they have spoken. By your words you will be found guilty or not guilty. (Matthew 12:36, 37 NIrV)

Now maybe you understand why true believers freely talk about the things of God. They’ve been justified and forgiven. They’ve experienced the justice of God firsthand. True believers have been found “not guilty.”

Let Christ’s word live in you like a rich treasure. Teach and correct each other wisely. Sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing with thanks in your hearts to God. Do everything you say or do in the name of the Lord Jesus. Always give thanks to God the Father through Christ. (Colossians 3:16, 17 NIrV)

The Lord is faithful. The Lord makes it clear that His people are His “treasured possession.” Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd, said this:

And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them to eternal life at the Last Day. (John 6:39 TLB)

The faithfulness of God is beyond compare. He is far more faithful to us than we are to Him. Jesus said that He would never leave or forsake us. In our darkest hour, He is the light that shows us the way. He may be depended upon when everyone else has given up on us.

When a person fully understands what he has in a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, how can he be anything other than a genuine, true believer?


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