The house next to mine is being remodeled. With the exception of a few walls, it’s been stripped down to the foundation. In fact, the owners want to enlarge the house, so they’re pouring an additional foundation. When completed, it will be a beautiful ranch-style home.
Living well is a lot like building a house. You need skill to do it. The Book of Proverbs teaches you wisdom, which is the skill of living. But no amount of skill can build a beautiful house if the foundation is bad. And no amount of wisdom can build a good life if the foundation is godless. Instead, as Proverbs 1:7 says:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
The Book of Proverbs highlights the fear of the Lord in a number of places.[*] The basic point of is that fearing the Lord has positive results, not fearing him negative ones. For example:
The fear of the Lord adds length to life,
but the years of the wicked are cut short. (10:27)
The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
turning a man from the snares of death. (14:27)
The fear of the Lord leads to life:
Then one rests content, untouched by trouble. (19:23)
Blessed is the man who always fears the Lord,
but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble. (28:14)
Why fear? Why not love? Doesn’t 1 John 4:18 teach us that fear and love are contradictory? “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” Is Proverbs 1:7 an Old Testament idea that’s been refuted by a New Testament revelation?
Not obviously! In the passages quoted above, fearing the Lord is connected to life, contentment, and blessing, not judgment. In Proverbs 16:6, it is connected to love and faithfulness:
Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for;
through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil.
The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom,
and humility comes before honor.
Humility and the fear of the Lord
bring wealth and honor and life.
The fear of the Lord, then, is a love of God based on humility before him that results in blessings from him. John’s use of the word fear is 180 degrees opposite to Proverbs’ use of that word.
Why is this loving fear the beginning of wisdom? (The word beginning here means not merely “start” but also “foundation.”) Because God is the all-wise Creator of the universe. When you go with the grain of his wisdom, life is smooth. When you go against it, life gives you splinters. Fools are people who prefer the splinters.
So, if you want the good life, get wisdom. And if you want wisdom, get God. He is the only foundation upon which life can be built, and when necessary, rebuilt.