18. Motivation by Fear

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 18 : Motivation by Fear

Acts  5:11    Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

Fear is not something that habits the modern church unless, as we considered in the previous meditation, it is fear of what people think. No, the fear I refer to is the ‘fear of the Lord’. That seems in short supply. Perhaps if we were a little more astute in terms of the Lord’s reality, we might be a little more careful.

The reason for the fear that we find in the verse above is the fact of the death of Ananias and Sapphira who both appeared to drop dead at Peter’s words. The thought of a God who held people publicly accountable scared the church – understandably so – but why don’t the rest of us, the modern church, think similarly? Is it in fact because our belief in the authority of Scripture has become so weak that we no longer really believe those things in Scripture that seem inconvenient?  We are beginning to be good on the belief that God is a God of love but perhaps we have only a one-sided view of that, we only believe in soft, mushy love.

The thing about disciplinary acts of judgment is that they need an announcer to be effective. If Mr. Brown suddenly drops dead, we just attribute it to a heart attack, but if a prophet stood before him and declared, “The Lord says repent right now or he will take you to heaven,” and then he dropped dead, we would all be checking out our lives a little bit more carefully. I did have occasion to meet a prophet of whom it was said that he went into one church and prophesied over two deacons who had been at loggerheads for years and declared that unless they repented they would not see the week out. One repented and the other was dead within the week. I have to say that when we were told that this man was coming to our church, we all started checking our lives very thoroughly. (In the reality I received a life determining word from him.)

Now the more edgy among us will possibly start muttering about, “Where is the God of love in all this?” The father who never disciplines his children fails to lay down boundaries for them and as a result they are both insecure and ill-behaved and are set for self-destruction. A loving father disciplines, and God is a loving father. There were clearly occasions in Scripture when God stepped in sovereignly and death followed, times where He obviously considered the only thing that would have effect and save His people from their stupidity would be the apparently drastic action of shortening a person’s life. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves of some of these times.

Let’s put aside destructive judgment on unbelievers such as Pharaoh in Exodus, or the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, for our subject here is the fear of the Lord in the Church or among God’s people. David came under discipline at least four times in his life as king but because he was a man after God’s own heart (still able to get it wrong) and because God still wanted him to be king, that involved other people mostly.

A better example is that of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20 whose life was threatened and his death was only averted by his repentance.  We should remind ourselves at this point of the Lord’s word through Ezekiel 18:23, Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” and 18:31,32 “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!”

Yet the fact is that the Lord does sometimes bring premature death but, from Paul’s words to the Corinthians, it may not always be dramatic: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” (1 Cor 1:29-32) They clearly had not realised what was happening yet Paul attributes some of their deaths to the Lord’s disciplinary judgment. I don’t think I’ve ever heard those verses read out at Communion! Abusing the body of Christ by being self-centred and unconcerned for others in the local church meant that the Lord was taking disciplinary action, and so some were experiencing weakness and sickness as He sought to bring them to their senses, and others were actually dying as they refused to heed the warnings that were coming through their sickness.

Death for Christians is simply moving into the literal presence of the Lord. It is not the end but a moving on. Sometimes it will come through simply old age and your time is up. At other times it comes slowly and maybe the Lord has a hand in it, allowing it to bring us to a new awareness of Him and the goodness of His world and the things He wants to do in and for you. Correction and discipline are the acts of a loving Father and with this awareness comes ‘the fear of the Lord’, a healthy respect that motivates us to check out our lives and not be casual with the Lord. Perhaps we need more of it in the modern church.

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