The Fear of the Lord is Humility
Proverbs 2:1-5 teaches us the very first step in the fear of the Lord is humility
1 My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
2 making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
3 yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
4 if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
Do you see the logic of the passage? Notice the word “if”: “If you receive my words,” “if you call out for insight,” “if you seek it like silver.” Those “if” statements are funneling down to the “then” statement of verse 5 where the fear of the Lord is found. We cannot reach the “then” without the “if”, but we cannot reach the “if” without humility. In the pursuit of the fear of the Lord, humility comes first. Our hope begins with the realization of who God is and who we are.
And who are we, really? Verse 1 tells us: “My son.” That’s not a throw-away phrase. The book of Proverbs is a gift from the open-hearted Father to his open-hearted children. God offers us freely, through Christ, a place in his heart. The question for us is simple: will we go there?
If we will, the passage shows us what to do: “receive … treasure up … making your ear attentive … inclining your heart … call out … raise your voice … seek … search …” God calls us to humble, hopeful action.
Now, you might say, “Wait a minute. Isn’t that works-based?” No! As Dallas Willard said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.”
Do my sons earn their way onto the family walk at night? No! They’re in just for being my children. But to be with me on the walk, they must put their shoes on and come. That’s what the wisdom of Proverbs offers us—a chance to walk with God, a hopeful humility that assures us God will take us where we long to be with him. But we must put our shoes on. We must listen to him, open our heart to him, revere him for who he is. God is not the hold out!
If we want to understand the book of Proverbs, we must understand that wisdom isn’t automatic, and the fear of the Lord isn’t either. God is making the first, and most significant, move, but he’s asking us to respond. If we want to get traction with God, if we want to grow in his grace, if we want to go further with Christ than we’ve ever gone before, here’s what we must do. We must humble ourselves as his beloved children who know his purposes toward us are good. We must receive his word. We must treasure it up. We must listen. We must incline our heart. We must call out to him. We must seek and search. And if we’ll do that, we’ll understand the fear of the Lord because we’ll begin to see him as he really is. In fact, we’ll find the knowledge of God. We will see his grandeur and majesty. We’ll behold his glory. And the heart of every child of God longs for that.
The first step in fearing the Lord is humility. Humility is the currency of God’s kingdom, not because it’s easier to get but because it’s more joyous to have—and God’s kingdom is a kingdom of joy. True humility is true freedom because it looks beyond one’s self to the only Wise Person in existence. Pride says you don’t need God. Humility says you can’t live without him. Pride says you must learn the ropes of this world if you want to succeed. Humility says this world isn’t ultimate, because God has something better out ahead for us. Pride is cynical. Humility is hopeful.
When Jesus comes back to restore this broken world, we will live in a humble, hopeful state of the fear of the Lord that leads to perfect wisdom forever because we’ll draw forever from the fountain of Wisdom itself in Jesus Christ, and Jesus just wants us to get a head start right now.
I can’t help but notice that Proverbs often shows that humility and the fear of the Lord are parallel terms—they go hand in hand. For example, Proverbs 15:33, “The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.” Honor is not ours for the taking. What is honorable about us apart from Christ? Honor is ours for the receiving. It’s the result of humility and the fear of the Lord because we receive honor by beholding the honorable, by being in the presence of Majesty. When we put ourselves in the low place before God where we belong, he lifts us to the high place with him where we only belong because of his grace.
As it always is with God, we get more than we deserve. Proverbs 22:4 says, “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.” God is no miser. He’s a big spender on his children. And he never runs out of riches and honor and life for you because Jesus’ victorious resurrection opened the door to it all. The Bible says all things are yours, whether the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (1 Corinthians 3:22). How is that so? Because Christ humbled himself to the point of death on a cross for you. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)
In Jesus we see that he not only gives wisdom, he fulfilled Wisdom in his earthly life. He lived the only truly humble life full of the fear of the Lord for us so that we, by the power of his Spirit, can have the life he came to give.
When we see that—when we really see it—we have the fear of the Lord, because it's impossible to behold the dying love of Christ for you and not feel it, not revere him, not be in awe of him.
This is an excerpt of a sermon from Proverbs preached at Refuge Church Franklin.