The Fear of God (5) God’s Judgment (2)
“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear” (1 Pt 1:15-17)
We’ve been talking about the fear of God. For the first few weeks, we’ve focused on the relationship between the fear of the Lord and His glory. Recognizing God’s glory and seeing Him as He is are essential to our relationship with Him because these are what inspire our reverence and awe toward Him.
Last Sunday, we started to talk about another important attribute of God that’s closely related to fear of Him—God’s righteousness and His judgment.
The Scriptures describe God not only as a Father who loves His children unconditionally but also as “a righteous judge, who displays his wrath every day” (Ps 7:11)
Since these two concepts seem to contradict each other, some Christians have a tendency to think of God only as a Father, while ignoring the other image. However, we should humbly acknowledge that both aspects of God are equally important and accept both as truth so that we can maintain balance between loving God and fearing Him.
We talked about some examples from the Old testament in which God brought severe judgment on His people in the garden of Eden, at Mount Sinai, and in the tabernacle.
There’s a cycle that gets repeated in these stories. God reveals His glory to His people and gives them many blessings. But rather than glorifying Him and standing before Him in awe, His people soon turn away from Him and show disrespect to Him by disobeying Him.
Nadab and Abihu’s story was an example of this. They were the priests appointed by God to serve in the tabernacle, but they showed disrespect by offering ‘unauthorized, profane’ fire before the Lord.
They became too familiar with God’s presence and exhibited a lack of reverence. They came with irreverence into the presence of the Lord and God’s judgment on them was severe.
“So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.” (Lv 10:2)
This story teaches us how important it is not to become too familiar with God’s presence but to go before Him in reverence at all times because that’s what makes us careful to obey God’s word and worship Him in holy fear.
Now, let’s look at an example of God’s judgment in the New Testament.
Before ascending to heaven, Jesus promised His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit and that they would be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and become His witnesses to the ends of the earth.
After Jesus ascended to heaven, the disciples joined together constantly in prayer. And on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit filled them. Pentecost means ‘fiftieth,’ meaning that it happened 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus.
So, given the fact that Jesus stayed with His disciples for 40 days after His resurrection, this means the disciples received the Holy Spirit 10 days after Jesus’ ascension.
After the day of Pentecost, the church grew quickly in the presence of God and His power. Thousands of people heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, saw the power of the Holy Spirit, accepted Jesus and were saved.
As a result, the first church started in Jerusalem.
Let’s read Acts 2:44-47 together,
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Ac 2:44-47)
This is a beautiful description of what the first church looked like. No one lacked anything because everyone shared what they had. Church members sold their possessions and brought the proceeds to the apostles for distribution to those in need.
Acts 4:32-35 also said,
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had... God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” (Ac 4:32-35)
The uniting work of the Holy Spirit was so intense that all the believers became one in heart. No one told them to do so, but they willingly and joyfully sold their possessions and shared everything. As a result, there were no needy people among them.
But, this passage implies that God’s grace was behind the believers’ amazing generosity. The church members’ joy and willingness to share was actually the result of God’s grace.
Barnabas From Cyprus
One of the church members who sold their possessions, including their land, was Barnabas, who became one of the important leaders of early Christianity along with the apostle Paul.
Acts 4:36-37 says,
“Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.” (Ac 4:36-37)
Cyprus was an island famous for its flowers and fruits. Wine and oil were produced there in abundance. What’s more, Cyprus was rich in resources such as silver, copper, and iron. So, the land value in Cyprus was high. If you owned land in Cyprus, you were probably wealthy.
Barnabas was from Cyprus and owned land there. But he sold the field he owned and brought the total amount of the sale to the apostles. It was probably a very large sum.
It seems that the other church members knew what he had done and likely showed their respect to him because of it. And, even though it was the work of God’s grace, Barnabas deserved it because what he did showed his deep, sacrificial love for God and for those God loves.
What he did was commendable and naturally drew admiration from the other church members.
But Barnabas certainly didn’t do it for his reputation or for people’s admiration. What moved his heart was solely God’s grace. He sold his property not to earn fame. It was just how he responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ with a humble spirit.
As Acts 11:24 says,
“He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (Acts 11:24)
So, to Barnabas, the people’s admiration was just a result of his obedience, not the purpose. But it seems that not everyone had the same mindset. Among those who gave up their possessions, there were some people who valued praise from others over doing God’s will.
Ananias and Sapphira
Ananias and his wife Sapphira are introduced in Acts as the representatives of those people.
Acts chapter 4 ends with the story of Barnabas’ generosity. But in the very next chapter, we read an opposite story.
Let’s read Acts 5:1-2 together.
“Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.” (Ac 5:1-2)
Ananias and Sapphira saw the attention and admiration Barnabas got as a result of his large offering.
Barnabas’ offering likely caused the couple to react by selling something they owned. They made the decision to sell a piece of property and give the proceeds to the apostles just like Barnabas did.
But Ananias changed his mind after he sold the property. He kept back part of the money and brought the rest to the apostles, while pretending to offer the whole price of the land. His wife also knew about it and didn’t stop him, which meant she agreed with what he was doing.
It actually wasn’t wrong to keep some of the proceeds from the sale. It would have been okay for them to change their minds and offer only a portion of the money they got from selling their property, depending on their financial situation.
What was really wrong wasn’t that they kept a portion of the money—it was that they said they had given all they had received. They should have been honest with the apostles, but they lied because they cared about their reputation.
This shows that the purpose of the couple’s offering was different from Barnabas’. They were more interested in getting people’s attention and admiration than following God’s will or helping church members in need.
They appeared to give the offering to God, but their offering wasn’t really for Him. The offering wasn’t for God’s glory, but for their own fame and reputation.
In other words, they lost the fear of God because they desired the praise of people. The same thing still happens today. If you desire praise from people, you will fear people more than God and end up losing the fear of God.
Ananias and Sapphira feared people more than God. As a result, they stopped being afraid of God. If they were really afraid of Him, they would never have lied before His presence.
When Ananias brought the portion of the money to the apostles, Peter said to him,
“Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” (Ac 5:3-4)
And, the next verse says,
“When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died.” (Ac 5:5)
And the same thing happened to Sapphira a few hours later. She said that what they had offered was the total price they got for the land and died immediately.
This is actually a very sad story given the fact that the couple hadn’t always been that way. They had received salvation through grace. They may have been among the biggest givers in the church. They once offered what they had with pure joy.
But over time, their hearts became thick and insensitive. And when they were filled with jealousy and the desire to be admired by others, they lost their passion for God, and their hearts were filled with evil desires and lies instead.
So, God sent His severe and immediate judgment on the couple, and as a result, Acts 5:11 says,
“Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” (Ac 5:11)
What happened to Ananias and Sapphira shook the church. Fear came upon the believers, but the event also brought awe to all who heard what had happened to the couple. And, that’s the awe we should also find in this story.
This story is very similar to the one about Nadab and Abihu who offered profane, unauthorized fire without reverence before the Lord. In both cases, God’s judgment was severe and immediate.
I don’t think it’s any different today because God doesn’t change, but remains the same yesterday, today, and forever. These stories keep warning us not to be too familiar with God’s presence but to constantly go before Him in reverence and awe.
Live Out Your Time in Reverent Fear
Later, Peter, who witnessed God’s severe judgment, wrote this. Let’s read it together again.
“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.” (1Pt 1:15-17)
He doesn’t say “live out your lifetime in love.” He said, “live out your lifetime in reverent fear.” I’m not saying that fear is more important than love. What I want to emphasize is that both are equally important and that we must pursue both in our relationship with God.
We are called to have a personal relationship of love with our Father, but Peter reminds us that we should balance that with the fear of God. Because, like we discussed before, without the fear of God we can’t truly love Him.
In other words, our love for God is limited by a lack of fear of Him. If our image of God falls short of who He really is, then we only have surface-level knowledge of the God we love. A shallow understanding of God and weak commitment to Him can’t really inspire love for God in us.
Psalm 25:14 says,
“The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes his covenant known to them.” (Ps 25:14, NRSV)
God wants to have a close, intimate relationship with us, but we can’t have that kind of relationship with God without fearing Him.
We must remember both of these unchanging attributes of God. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8), and “God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29).
It is easy to quickly develop an attitude of irreverence when we only come to the Lord for what He can do for us or give to us, not what we can do for Him and how we can love Him. When our relationship with God is only based on blessings, we will certainly lose our faith when things don’t go our way.
We’ll be like spoiled children who only ask their parents for what they want, without fearing them. And God will never allow us to be spoiled children. He will constantly rebuke us through the Holy Spirit and discipline us with His word. What’s important is whether we listen to Him or not.
I hope and pray that all of us here can be God’s true, obedient, humble children who truly love and fear Him and follow His will in this world.
Heavenly Father, we repent of our lack of fear toward You. Please show us Your glory and who You truly are, and let us know that You are not only our loving Father but a righteous judge so that we can truly love You, worship You, and live our time in holy fear of You.
Please teach us how to stand in awe of You at all times and allow us to walk with You in humility and obedience.
We love You Lord.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
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