Fear and Preaching: Part 2–Fearlessness and the Fear of God

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.  (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; NASB)

He was the greatest preacher I would ever hear… he was sure of it.  He walked into my advanced preaching class to deliver the greatest sermon any of us ever had, or ever would hear—and he failed.  Not only to live up to his own view of himself, but even to fulfill the requirements of the assignment.  When he found out he would have to re-preach his sermon, he nearly quit the class.  In that moment, he had to decide if he already knew it all, or needed something more.

Though fear can certainly have a negative impact on preachers (as I discussed in my previous article), so can the complete absence of fear… a reckless fearlessness.  These preachers are already legends in their own minds.  Rather than acknowledge their inabilities and depend upon God for empowerment, proud preachers presume upon God’s empowerment or ignore the need for it altogether.  Jim Shaddix finds this to be a gospel issue, noting that

when the preacher’s method of presentation or the way in which the human mind manages information is emphasized to such a degree that it overshadows the message itself, the preacher commits spiritual treason.[1]

In such recklessly fearless preaching, however bold it may seem, there is a contradiction between the gospel message, which denies the human ability to save ourselves in favor of dependence on the grace of God in Christ through faith, and the attitude of preachers who depend on their own eloquence to convert and sanctify others.

This kind of arrogance is wholly unjustified, and is nearly blasphemous. As God asked Job, “Have you commanded the morning, or caused the dawn to know its place” (Job 38:12)?  Likewise, it is not man, but only God who has the power to cause the light of the gospel to shine in the darkness of human hearts (2 Cor 4:6).  As long as such pride persists, the preacher stands under the curse of God, who decreed

Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant.  (Jer 17:5-6; NASB)

The antidote to both fatal fears and foolish fearlessness is the fear of God.  God is worthy of be feared and held in awe, for it is He who spoke all things into existence (Gen 1; Ps 33:8-9). God is the judge of those who speak falsely (Prov19:5), and God is the judge of those who refuse to confess the truth (Ezekiel 33:8; 1 Cor 9:16).  In short, fear of God’s wrathful judgment and stern discipline puts the fear of men and the reckless fearlessness of self-sufficiency into proper perspective.  The one who truly fears God will not twist or pare down the message that God has given, nor “shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27; ESV).  God will also judge those who do not believe in Christ (John 3:18).  This fear for others is part of what motivated Paul to persuade people to embrace the gospel (2 Cor 5:11).

Yet fear of God’s judgment is only part of what is meant by the command to “fear the Lord.”  This concept also includes a sense of awe at the unfathomable greatness of God.  The one who fears God in this way has started down the path of wisdom (Prov 9:10), and will find that fear of God unlocks the treasures of stability, salvation, wisdom, and knowledge (Isa 33:5; ESV).  Preachers should always be in awe of God’s ability and willingness to empower His preachers and speak through them (see John 14:26; Luke 12:11-12; 1 Cor 3:5-9).  When combined with an appropriate fear of God’s judgement and discipline, such fear of God will prevent the hearts of preachers from turning away from God (Jer 32:40).

Preachers may always feel a little nervousness at stepping into the pulpit.  Perhaps we always should.  But destructive fear and foolish fearlessness can be overcome when we see God for who He really is, and ourselves and our listeners for who we really are in light of His majesty and grace.


[1] Jim Shaddix, The Passion Driven Sermon: Changing the Way Pastors Preach and Congregations Listen (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 31.

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