Although I taught children’s Sunday School for several years, I can’t recall once teaching the basic Bible lessons that I heard as a child (in a liberal denomination, at that). “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Evangelicals generally have an aversion to teaching children to fear the Lord. Frankly, we don’t even teach it to ourselves. Yet the Bible explicitly states:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. ~~Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)
That standard Sunday School verse taught in the 1950s shouldn’t be downplayed, explained away or outright ignored the way it is in our postmodern evangelical culture. Perhaps a main reason that we now equate discernment strictly with polemics comes from our hesitancy to embrace the idea of fearing God.
Yet both the Old and New Testaments contain several verses urging people to fear God. Holy fear doesn’t require feeling terrorized by Him, nor does it negate His love for us. At the same time, His love for us doesn’t negate our proper response of approaching Him with an acute awareness of His holiness and our sinfulness. The apostle Paul told us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:13).
I loved my mother. Until my late teens, I pretty much thought she could do no wrong. But when I misbehaved at school, the absolute worst punishment my teacher could inflict was telling Mom what I’d done. She never treated me harshly, but that initial look of anger and disappointment always shook me to my core. Loving her compelled me to fear her.
Loving God, then, should compel Christians to fear disappointing Him. The fear of the Lord actually encourages us to love Him by keeping His commandments (John 15:10). Rather than avoiding talk of fearing God, we should cultivate holy fear and let it teach us to live in ways that please, honor and glorify Him.
The fear of the Lord leads us to the wisdom that helps us discern His will from the pages of Scripture. Fearing Him, as an aspect of loving Him, develops discernment in our day-to-day lives.
If we desire to be women of discernment, we must begin by developing a healthy fear of the Lord. Maybe our churches and Sunday Schools need to return to teaching this basic principle.