Revelation 19:5: And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” (ESV)
There is something striking to me about the idea of fearing the one for whom I live. A moment's thought leads me to consider that the fear of God is one way of describing the entire motivation for living for him in the first place. If there is a supreme reason for living our lives and an ultimate aim to which they ought to be directed, then it stands to reason that not living for him should strike the greatest fear in our hearts by definition. What could be more fearful than missing the entire purpose of our existence?
And yet, there is something positive here as well. It is not just that we fear the lack of God, but that we fear God himself. The fear of God is not fundamentally one of privation ("What if I don't have God?"), but is intensely God-directed. It is not the absence of God that we fear, but God himself.
And not only that, but it is a fear that is marked not by servile subjection but by heart-filled praise. The fear of God is a wondrous thing! It is the first step in an entire economy or ecosystem of dynamics in the relationship between us and God, us and each other, and us and the rest of creation.
Fear and Worship
This train of thought, combined with continued meditation on this passage, leads me to something closer to the reason why fearing the one for whom I live is so striking: fear and worship are inseparable. This may not break new ground for many, but I have never explicitly drawn some logical inferences which now present themselves to me: if fear and worship are connected, then our fears and our gods are also linked. We cannot separate what we fear from who or what we worship.
Nevertheless, we do this often enough. We prefer to limit our conception of worship to lip service. There may be a root of motivation in laziness here. Worship is so intrinsic to our being and nature, so deep in the well of our hearts, that it takes work to draw it out and know it. Oftentimes, we prefer to leave our hearts on autopilot to taking hold of the controls and attempting to steer in the proper direction.
It is all too easy to convince ourselves that we are fearers and worshipers of God because we attend church and sing songs. Yet Scripture clarifies for us that external shows of worship do not always reflect the heart: "...this people honors me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men" (Isaiah 29:13).
There are several important aspects for our purposes in this verse.
First, their fear of God was a commandment taught by men. The fact that it is taught as a commandment must be in contrast to something, but what? The most obvious contrast to my mind is to say that their fear of God was not derived from their own apprehension of God's majesty, glory, and sovereignty, but was a secondhand fear. They had learned to show fear of God without actually having fear of God. Fear of God derived from man is an inadequate substitute for the fear of God derived from God himself.
Second, God also observes that the people's words did not match their hearts. The problem with this is related to honor. God is not content with honor whose deepest source is our lips. He desires, demands, and is infinitely worthy of, honor from the furthest reaches of our hearts.
Third, God notes that their hearts are far from him. This may mean something close to what Jesus says when he observes that our hearts are wherever our treasure is (Matt. 6:21). If the same principles are at work here, then God's complaint is not only that they do not really honor him, but that at an even more basic level they do not treasure him. No wonder God is offended!
Fear and Closeness
The fear of God is not marked by a scared distance from him but by honor-filled proximity to him. This brings us back to our passage in Revelation with which we began. It is not that all people everywhere are commanded to praise him. We see commands for all people everywhere to worship God in places such as the Psalms. But here we see something different. There is a condition placed on those who would praise God. It is that the people who praise God should be people who fear God.
So here notice again the connection between the fear of God and the worship of God. It does not matter whether you are small or great. If you fear God, praise him. The fear of God is something that ought to drive us to worship him. Thus, the fear of God is not a phobia we desire to avoid, but a reverence that drives us to our knees, but as close to God as possible. The fear of God does not detract from living for God; the fear of God grounds living for God.
So, when we consider the fact that the one for whom we live is the one whom we most fear, we hold in tension two basic reactions to God. The first reaction is to God as sovereign God and almighty Creator, terrible in judgment and gloriously, terrifyingly, other than us. And the second reaction is to God as heavenly Father, gracious Savior, and merciful Spirit. While to the first we may be tempted to run from God, or to live for him due mostly to the threat of punishment, the second balances our view of God by drawing us close to him with absolute assurance and hope that not only does he demand our worship, but that we find him so marvelously worth of it. Our fear of God grounds and balances our affection for God, and that is a wonderful thing.