Based on Notes Presented by
Professor Robert Owens of
Manhattan Christian College
September 4, 1975
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. 11 Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.” (2 Cor. 5:10-11)
Our scripture is from the second letter to the church at Corinth, chapter five, verses ten-eleven.
Until the day of his execution, the great heart of the apostle Paul beat with a passion to do the work of Christ. As with the prophet Jeremiah, the compulsion to bring the Word of God to men was as a fire in his bones. “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16)
That irresistible compelling power did not spend itself in an initial flash of emotionalism. Paul was not like a comet that blazes across the sky and then burns out. He was like a star, born to be placed in the crown of God’s glory, the Church, to shine throughout the ages.
Paul did not come back from Arabia to begin a flamboyant missionary escapade that would end when the excitement and novelty wore off.
The motive force behind Paul’s ministry must be ours, because it is the power which sustained him through years of disappointment, fatigue, sickness, failure, and sometimes treacherous opposition. That spiritual power kept him from being side-tracked by success. That power moved him to resist the easy, and the sensational, in favor of a careful, intelligent strategy, which would maximize his efforts.
The Church has always stood in awe of the great apostle Paul, and well we should. Has the Lord ever sent a more devoted laborer into the harvest? No.
After conversion, Paul looked to Jesus Christ, true man, true God, as Savior and Lord. Paul held as the goal of his life to make known to all men everywhere, in all walks of life Jesus Christ, and to tell them about the gift of God’s salvation. (Rom. 6:23) That is our commitment, is it not? That is our mission, is it not? That is our belief, is it not?
To accomplish that mission we too must lay hold of the compelling power of God which motivated Paul. “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord we persuade men.” (2 Cor. 5:11)
Observe if you will the phrase “the fear of the Lord.” This is a phrase which is used in different places of scripture with slightly different meanings.
Often in the Old Testament, for example, it is used simply as a general description of the worship of God, as in Deuteronomy 10:10, “What does the Lord require of thee, but to fear the Lord your God.”
Other places, as in Proverbs 1:17, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The fear of the Lord simply refers to belief in God as the necessary premise for any true learning and understanding. However, Paul had something different in mind when he wrote, “Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.”
What Paul refers to when he mentions the fear of the Lord, is the fact that one day every man and woman must stand before the great tribunal of Christ and give an account of himself. It is that Judgment Day, it is that day of wrath, it is that day of the Lord which stands in the background of this phrase, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord.”
The fear of the Lord refers to the awe which the great apostle Paul felt when he thought of the final judgment of men that was coming. The Doctrine of the Judgment of God has fallen on hard times in contemporary theology. Still, no clearer truth emerges in Scripture then that every man stands accountable to a Creator who is both loving and righteous.
A cardinal article of the faith of the Old Testament was that Yahweh judges. From Sodom to Jericho, from Nineveh to Jerusalem, the holy wrath of God descends upon the godless. John the Baptist began his ministry, and continued it, with the urgent expectation of the coming judgment of the Lord. “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the tree,” he said. (Luke 3:9)
All that Jesus taught does not make any sense, unless we remember what He taught about the coming judgment of God. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and is thrown into the fire.” (Matt. 7:19) And hear Him when He says some “will be thrown into the outer darkness where men will weep and gnash their teeth.” (Luke 13:28)
Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus called men and women with urgency to repent. “Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2) Jesus continually tried to impress on men the seriousness of the coming Day of Judgment and its eternal consequences. He insisted that God is Lord, that man is responsible, and that no human defenses will be adequate in that day when we stand before Him. The only ground of deliverance when the day comes, is not man’s achievement, but God’s remission of sins. All of this Paul understood, and was moved with fear to tell others.
There are two aspects of the fear of the Lord, as it pertains to the great judgment of God which should motivate our ministry, and give us a compelling power which will not quit. First, there is the fear of the Lord in relation to what the judgment will mean to those whom we do not reach with the message of Christ. Those who never receive that righteousness, which is in Christ, stand before the judgment of God, condemned. The state of condemnation leads to eternal confinement in hell.
Jesus, when He speaks of hell and the fate that awaits the lost, usually uses the word Gehenna.
Gehenna refers to that valley of Hinnom, that scene, where once upon a time in ancient days, children had been sacrificed to the pagan god Moloch.
Later, in the New Testament times, Gehenna was a place where garbage was thrown and burned.
To speak of hell in these terms is to connote what is condemned, what is corrupt, decaying and rotten, what is to be thrown away.
To speak of Gehenna is to speak of that which awaits the man or woman who never comes to knowledge of God through the gospel. Hell then is an eternal existence of loss: it is a perpetual never-ending state defined best by what is not there: light and hope and love, purpose, joy, beauty. A continual existence, if you can imagine it, where one is always dying and feeling the lights go out, and yet the satisfaction never comes of having it completed.
The poet Milton wrote of hell as the place, “Where all life dies, death lives and nature breeds perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things, abominable, unutterable, and worse than fables yet have feigned or fear conceived.”
Do you understand? The Biblical picture of hell is one of interminable spiritual non-being, incessant psychic disorder within an eternal self abhorring solitude of darkness. It is the loss of everything good.
Hell is a place full of beings that have gotten their way. It is a life in which men and women are trapped for eternity with a whole multitude who have said and lived, “Not thy will but mine, oh God.”
Christian author Cal Linton has written so powerfully, “No more screamingly irrational an idea has ever been foisted onto a gullible public by the father of lies than the view that hell will be a place where the roistering [noisy celebration] of good fellows will raise the roof with gaiety and cheer. Fellowship is exactly what cannot exist there.
Eternally dark communion with a contemptible and corrupt self is not conducive to gay companionship.”
Christopher Marlow (1564-1593), in one his works has one of his chief devils ask, “Thinkest thou that I who saw the face of God, and tasted the eternal joys of heaven, am not tormented with ten thousand hells in being deprived of everlasting bliss?” (Mephistopheles in Dr. Faust)
Hell and punishment simply includes, I suggest from the Scriptures, everything that man’s rebellion against the moral order of God brings upon him: suffering for his body, hardening for his heart, and a blinding of his conscience. Therefore, understanding this fear of the Lord compels us to go and witness because that is what waits for the world if we do not.
Up to this point we have been speaking about hell and judgment, the fear of the Lord in terms of that day of God, that Day of Judgment which is yet to come. We need to realize that even now those who do not know, those who have not heard, or those who have heard and have rejected the gospel have already begun their judgment. The Bible says, “He who believes in Him is not condemned, He who does not believe is condemned already.” (John 3:18)
One of the great truths that Paul had latched onto and may be we have not, is that the hope for culture, the hope for the world order in which we live is in Christ and the gospel, now. The judgment of God stands now. And it is oh so obvious.
Over whole culture, whole segments of the world’s society, the judgment of God stands now. We live in the field where a thousand Cains kill a thousand Abels. We live in the field where the tares are growing faster than the wheat.
There is a second aspect of the fear of the Lord as it pertains to the great judgment of God. The Bible teaches that every Christian must one day stand to give an account of the deeds done in the body for good or for evil.
You remember the passage in First Corinthians when Paul speaks about having laid a foundation and taking care how he laid the foundation. And he says, “Now anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, or wood, hay, and stubble, each man’s work will become known for the day, that is the day of judgment, will disclose it because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If any man’s work is burned up he will suffer loss though he himself will be saved but only as through fire.” (1 Cor. 3:12-15)
Paul is talking about the judgment. We stand, you see, not on the threat of losing our souls because we have laid hold of Jesus and His grace suffices.
But, nevertheless, we stand under the threat of coming before Christ who has loved us so greatly and, looking back on everything we have done in this life discover that we did it wrongly, it was on a wrong foundation. And it really does not count for anything after all.
Therefore, the fear of the Lord which Paul talks about, which motivated him, which should motivate us, which compels us into the power is not the fear of a dog who dreads the beating from his master.
But rather, it is the reverence of a man who cannot stand the thought of doing something which hurts the One he loves.
Dear people, the world waits. Millions still do not know Christ. The fear of God which looks to what will happen to those that never hear compels us to go.
The fear of God as we think about giving an account of our ministries to Him one day compels us to go. Now may God be with you and with me as we go…compelled by fear.