Properties of Worthy Fear

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“And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” Acts 5:11

Most of you are familiar with the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who suddenly and unexpectedly took their final breaths within hours of one another after disobeying the Lord. But very few of us fear similar circumstances or maybe even committing the sin which produced their demise. Why not? This was a historical event that impacted the church in the first century.

As many others have repeated the deceit of this husband and wife through the intervening years since that particular occurrence, we are not told of the same thing happening to those who choose to lie in a similar public vein. Consequently, the fear of new perpetrators is greatly diluted; when it originally happened, it grabbed the soul in a firm grasp and captured the mind of those who thought they might do the same and get away with it. Does rereading this historical account do anything to stir up worthy fear in you? Or does it just slide away as something long past and probably not repeatable.

What kind of fear rose in the minds of those who saw or heard what happened on that fateful day? Initially, a simple reading of the text of Acts 5 will not necessarily raise much concern or consternation in any of you as to the particular sins this couple committed. Ananias and Sapphira sold some property, kept some of the profits, and apparently brought it to the church and laid it at the apostles’ feet as though they were doing exactly as the many other givers: selling assets and donating all the proceeds to serve the common good of the entire congregation. In explanation, Peter expressed that the property was truly entirely theirs, therefore the profit was theirs and they were under no obligation to give it all or even part of it, yet they wanted everyone to be under the impression that they were giving it all just as the others had given. They desired this particular praise, along with keeping some of the profits for themselves unbeknownst to all the others.

But their gift and desired impression on all was a lie certainly to the whole congregation, but especially and primarily to the Spirit of God, who could actually see their hearts. It was as though they did not consider who God really is; they essentially said, “You are not who you say you are! We can pull the wool over your eyes, too. We can keep a secret from you that only we know.” Their faith was not real; it did not consider the whole reality of God.

The rest of the congregation was moved to worthy fear. What is worthy fear? It is not a cowing fear that bows under a tyrant who whimsically and unjustly punishes his subjects to keep them in line. Their fear was worthy because it understood what had really happened, and they were reminded of the character and power of the holy God they served, worshipped, obeyed, and loved.

He is a righteous God who does not wink at sins as though they are nothing. These worshippers were reminded of their own possibly unconfessed or unacknowledged sins that had gone unpunished by God’s grace, and there but for the grace of God would they have faced the same consequence. They were reminded that sin is a matter of natural course because they all possessed a sin nature and that God does not take it lightly. It is the purpose of every believer to take God at His word and strive to live holy lives, walking in the light as Jesus is in the light.

The real sin of Ananias and Sapphira was a diminished or feigned faith that did not acknowledge the truth of who God is, as well as living like He was no more than just another person in their lives, able to be conned and lied to, without His word or character worthy of being believed, honored, or obeyed.

Worthy fear exhibits a faith which believes God is who He says He is, that He will do what He says He will do, that His Word means what it says, and that punishment for sin is real, even though by grace it is not always enacted. Worthy fear accepts the revelation of God in the Bible as a true definition of the one true God. It does not accept anything more or anything less describing who God is or what He by His Spirit has revealed in the Scriptures of Old and New Testaments – in other words, what Paul calls “the faith once delivered to the saints.”

Then, it seeks with all heart, soul, mind, and strength to follow, love, and obey this One acknowledged as Master and Lord. It knows there is nothing that they can say or do or think that is beyond His knowing. All is done before His ever-watching eyes. There are no secrets or unknowns to God who judges everyone’s actions fairly and justly but always in concert with His grace and love. When we sin, we always have an advocate to call upon that our sins might be forgiven: Jesus Christ, who is always willing and ready to pardon the truly repentant sinner.

When we do sin, and we will, it is always good to remember the words of the Savior to the woman taken in adultery: “Go, and sin no more.” Such, if taken with all seriousness, is “worthy fear.”


“My sins, my sins, my Savior! They take such hold on me, I am not able to look up, save only Christ to Thee; in Thee is all forgiveness, in Thee abundant grace, my shadow and my sunshine the brightness of Thy face.”

(1st verse of John Monsell’s hymn, “My Sins, My Sins, My Savior!,” 1863)

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Stephen Leonard

Paul Anderson Youth Home