Is there anything you’ve confronted lately with fear and trembling? Perhaps a confession to a friend or family member? Maybe you’ve been put in a position of leadership without quite knowing what to do? Sometimes we find ourselves in physical circumstances that cause us to shake, such as an automobile accident, the death of a loved one, or learning that we have a severe illness. Where I live, the Department of Transportation is rerouting temporary and permanent access roads while major construction continues on a highly used highway overpass. For all of us who live on this side of the highway, we must navigate the new roads to get to our local stores, businesses, schools, doctors, and homes again. Confident, younger drivers find it challenging to find the best way across the new bridge and back. However, older drivers are overwhelmed with the changes and tremble at them. I had used the new roads for about a week and observed learning how to get home easily, but I wasn’t confident about it until I saw a new little right u-turn off the new access road. Having approached the new routes with some nervousness, I now know how to traverse them easily. My desire for the completion of the permanent roads and the bridge doesn’t lessen my appreciation and respect for the Texas Department of Transportation. Metaphorically, I am reminded of constantly being “under construction,” trying to find the “right way” to live. I approach God with fear and trembling—the good kind—but still shaking. But as I learn to do so more readily, I also relax more as he responds with loving forgiveness and comfort. The more I embrace his strength to repent and take refuge in him, the more I can reverently and joyfully serve him by serving his people. And yet I must continue to serve him with “fear and trembling.” (Psalm 2:11)
Fearing God, Our Refuge
The Book of Psalms opens with a description of the two ways of life: walking with God, blessed by Him with renewal, or going the way of the wicked and scoffers, bearing God’s reproach. (Psalm 1) Immediately following, in Psalm 2, the writer warns the kings of the world against presuming their independence from the Lord. Instead, they should “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalms 2:11-12) God’s people are to serve our Lord with godly fear and great joy, seeking refuge in him. We are not those who openly rebel against God’s authority (like the kings in Psalm 2). Still, we do presume upon God’s grace and forgiveness, neglecting personal unholiness. And we are unable to serve God effectively and joyfully if we are wracked with guilt and preoccupied with unconfessed sin. But when we love God’s refuge of peace and blessedness, we are driven to destroy that in us, which prevents us from enjoying him. As those who serve God in significant ways, we should confess and repent regularly to serve God with reverence and joy, taking refuge in his strength. “To fear the Lord is not to be scared of Him. It’s to adore Him. Worship Him. Honor Him. It’s to put Him in the right place in our thinking. The fear of the Lord is in many ways to honor the first commandment: ‘You shall have no other gods before me’; and to honor the Great Commandment: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. Our response to our Creator is rejoicing, gratitude, and reverential fear. ‘Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire’ (Hebrews 12:28–29). (1)
How Do We Serve God with Fear?
“Kings and judges are not required hereby to lay aside their crowns and sceptres, and leave their seats of justice, and become preachers of the Gospel; but in acting according to the will of God revealed in his word, and in the whole worship of him, both internal and external: and this is to be done ‘with fear,’ not with fear of man, nor with servile fear of God, but with a godly and filial fear, with a reverential affection for him, and in a way agreeable to his mind and will; with reverence and awe of him, without levity, carelessness, and negligence.” (2) “To reverence God and to stand in awe of him. This is the great duty of natural religion. God is great, and infinitely above us, just and holy, and provoked against us, and therefore we ought to fear him and tremble before him…We must serve God in all ordinances of worship, and all instances of a godly conversation, but with a holy fear, a jealousy over ourselves, and a reverence of him. Even kings themselves, whom others serve and fear, must serve and fear God; there is the same indefinite distance between them and God that there is between the meanest of their subjects and him.” (3) Given this distance between God and us, shouldn’t we try to reduce it with our confessions of presumption of God’s graces and mercies, as if we deserve them? God and those we serve are blessed when we recognize and appreciate every small and remarkable act of forgiveness and patience on the Lord’s part.
How Do We Serve the Lord with Trembling?
We may have a working definition of the “fear of the Lord,” but trembling makes us, well, tremble. We associate it with pain, shock, and devastation. However, our faithful Christian fathers offer a different understanding for shaking as we serve God. “Whatever we rejoice in, in this world, it must always be with trembling, lest we grow vain in our joy and be puffed up with the things we rejoice in, and because of the uncertainty of them and the damp which by a thousand accidents may soon be cast upon our joy. To rejoice with trembling is to rejoice as though we rejoiced not.” (4) While Matthew Henry relates trembling to the warning against dependence upon and joy for the world’s provisions, John Gill relates trembling with humility. “[Serving God] with modesty and humility; in which sense this word, when joined with ‘fear’ as here, is used Philippians 2:12, and stands opposed to pride, haughtiness, and arrogance; men should so rejoice in Christ as to have no confidence in the flesh, or assume any degree of glory to themselves, or have any rejoicing in themselves, but wholly in Christ, giving all the glory of what they have to him.” (5) The psalmist advises kings to serve their Lord with godly fear and great joy, seeking refuge in him. Believers are all royalty in Christ and called to serve him with reverence and joy, taking refuge in his strength.
We Kiss the Son
The psalmist continues, “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (2:12). While we who are in Christ have already been given the desire and grace to “kiss” Christ (through our regeneration), Matthew Henry advises us, “To welcome Jesus Christ, and to submit to him, is our wisdom and interest. Let him be very dear and precious; love him above all, love him in sincerity, love him much, as she did, to whom much was forgiven, and, in token of it, kissed his feet, Luke 7:38. And with a kiss of loyalty take this yoke upon you, and give up yourselves to be governed by his laws, disposed of by his providence, and entirely devoted to his cause…he is our Lord and Master, and we are bound to serve him, our friend and benefactor, and we have reason to rejoice in him…With a kiss of agreement and reconciliation, kiss, and be friends, as Jacob and Esau; let the quarrel between us and God terminate; let the acts of hostility cease, and let us be at peace with God in Christ, who is our peace. With a kiss of adoration and religious worship. Those that worshipped idols kissed them. Let us study how to honor the Lord Jesus and give unto him the glory due unto his name.” (6) What unconscious quarrel with God may be lurking in your heart? Are you ready and wiling to tremble, letting the Spirit tear down your old, ineffective way and make a new path to serve God with renewed joy? Are you ready to repent of taking God and his benefits for granted? “I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble. Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.” (Proverbs 4:11-13)
Related Scripture: Jeremiah 3:10; Hosea 13:2; Luke 7:38; John 5:26-27; Philippians 2:12-13; 4:4; Hebrews 12:28-29.
- L Newbell, Trillia J., Fear and Faith, Chapter 9, p. 120, Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalm 2:11, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-2.html
- Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” Psalms 2:10-12, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/psalms-2.html
- Henry, ibid.
- Gill, Psalm 2:12, Ibid.
- Henry, Ibid.
October 28, 2021