Today’s world looks on the concept of reverence with disdain as inauthentic and actually puts a premium on irreverence as signaling authenticity. But reverence is central to the heart of Christian worship. So I want to ask the question “what does reverence look like in the assembly?”
First, let’s consider reverence in respect to God’s nature.
Reverence for God results from considering his nature and all that he has done. Believers should revere God by meditating on his deeds: 1Sa 12:24. Meditation on God’s works is an expression of reverence that is central the act of praise: Dt 10:20-21. Meditating on God’s nature secures our reverence exclusively for God: Isa 8:13; Rev 15:4.
Second, let’s consider reverence for God’s word.
Reverence for God is foundational to worship because his word calls us into the heights of worship. We should revere God’s word: Isa 66:2; Ecc 3:14 ; Psalm 119. The works of God as revealed by his word inspires reverence for his mercy and compassion: Ps 5:7; 22:23; 130:4. These verses present the posture of sincere worship as a form of “reverence” towards God, which, when lifted into New Testament theology of worship (i.e. “spirit and truth”), we can understand that it is not just our physical posture of a bended knee, but the posture of bended hearts that expresses reverence in worship towards God. Likewise, in our contemplation of God’s word, we gain reverence for his judgment: Ex 14:31; his holy anger: Dt 6:14-15; Ex 20:20.
Thirdly, let’s consider our reverence in respect to obedience.
Reverence towards God in worship must begin with conforming our lives to his will: Rom. 12:1-3. Our contemplation of God’s word is the foundation of our obedience because because it is through his word that we gain insight into his mercy, to which we are meant to conform our lives to as our sincere act of spiritual worship. Likewise, our “commitment” to God is a form of reverence in worship: Jonah 1:16. Reverence in worship is frequently depicted through bodily posture, which reflects various attributes of our heart’s disposition towards God: bowing Ex 12:27; Ps 95:6; prostration Ge 17:3; Da 10:15; Rev 5:14; removing shoes Ex 3:5; covering the face Ex 3:6; kneeling: Ezr 9:5; Eph 3:14; lifting holy hands 1 Tim 2:8. Our reverence for God then motivates us to avoid sin: Pr 16:6; 2Co 7:1. And our reverence leads us to obey God’s will: evangelism 2Co 5:11; mutual submission to one another Eph 5:21.
Perhaps most striking to me was how sharing a meal in God’s presence teaches reverence for God and the parallel between this point and the Lord’s Supper: Dt. 14:23; Mk 14:22-29; Jn. 13:1-4; 1 Co. 11:23-26.Tweet
Lastly, let’s consider our reverence in light of our public witness.
Reverence for God leads to proper respect for others and unity within the Church: Eph 5:21; 1Pe 2:17; as well as in social situations: Lev 19:14; 25:17; Eph 6:5. Reverence for God dictates how we treat the vulnerable: Lev 19:14,32; 25:14-17,35-36; Ps 15:4. Our witness in this world is an act of worship towards God and therefore is compelled by our reverence for him.
Reverence is inspired by God’s divine nature. In fact, God’s nature is so impressive that the fear of the Lord actually occurs in Scripture as an epithet of God himself: Jacob describes Yahweh as “the Fear of Isaac” (Genesis 31:42, 53), suggesting that Isaac had such reverential submission to Yahweh that the Lord was the embodiment of fear itself to him. That this is nearly inconceivable to so many Christians today is symptomatic of our very low view of God. Our God is one who we can dress up with pretty bows and cuddle with, but he is not the kind of God that causes “mountains to quake” (Nahum 1:5).
When Christians are blind to the majesty and magnitude of God to the point that we become comfortable with him, our faith cannot endure the times of real testing when we are tempted to turn away. Reverence is essential to perceiving “the beauty of his holiness”(2 Chronicles 20:21), which inspires the kind of thanksgiving that is the gateway into his holy presence (Psalm 100:4).
Reverence to God and his mighty deeds is, therefore, an important pillar of biblical faith and Christian life. The fear of God is essential to successfully living in the world as Christians because it is the beginning of wisdom and equated with the “knowledge of the Holy One” (Prov. 9:10; cf. 1:7; Ps. 111:10). Reverence enables one to praise God (Ps. 22:23; Rev. 14:7); to enjoy benefits and blessings at his hand (Pss. 34:9; 103:11, 13, 17); to rest in peace and security (Ps. 112:7–8); and to experience length of days (Prov. 10:27; 19:23). Conversely, for those who refuse to live according to God’s will, the fear of God also produces fear of wrath and judgment, which is why those who have not truly experienced the transforming love of God despise the fear of the Lord so much (1 Jn. 4:18).
Irenaeus (180 AD) wrote:
Now “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The recognition of sin leads to repentance, and God bestows His compassion upon those who are repentant.
Reverence is the basis for Christian holiness. We esteem God as worthy of holy living and, therefore, strive against our carnal appetites for sin. We resist sin, not because we believe doing so earns our place in God’s presence, but because we believe God is worthy to receive our holy praise!
Therefore, Clement of Alexandria (195 AD) observed that there were two kinds of fear:
There is a twofold species of fear. The first kind is accompanied with reverence. This is the type of fear that citizens show towards good rulers, and that we show towards God. Rightminded children show this fear towards their fathers.… The other kind of fear is accompanied with hatred. This is the type of fear that slaves feel towards harsh masters and that the Hebrews felt. For they made God a Master, not a Father.
Christians possess the kind of reverence that esteems the beauty of God’s holiness as worthy of receiving holy-worship. Our fear of God is not what slaves or oppressed peoples feel towards their masters or tyrants, but the awe that God’s mighty nature inspires.