The Fear of the Lord Is the Beginning of Wisdom

So, What is the end of wisdom?

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The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 1:7a)

We want to suggest that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but that it is not the end of wisdom. The end of wisdom (in other words, wisdom's goal, and aim) is not to fear God, but to fear what God fears.

Breaking Down Fear of the Lord

Let us put it this way. For a toddler, the beginning of wisdom is to fear daddy and mommy. Knowledge of their love and the natural love that comes up to us in response is good and wholesome. But wisdom, the constructive side of the "knowledge of good and evil," consists in more than the knowledge of love (Colossians 1:3-4, 8-10). Wisdom is the ability to discern what is edifying from what is harmful, what is safe from what is dangerous.

There is important knowledge to learn about what is safe and dangerous, and not all of it is best to gather from direct experience. Some such knowledge comes from those who have been around before you and know more. It is certainly possible to find out some quick facts about the dangers of electric sockets by putting a paper clip into one. But when you're too young to understand concepts like electricity and electrocution, the beginning of wisdom is the fear that drenches you when mommy suddenly shouts at you, leaps mightily over the coffee table, and slaps your hand away, saying, all red-faced and intimidating, "Never, never, NEVER DO THAT!"

Running into the street, climbing up high on the bookshelf, and poking your sister with a rat tail comb all get something of an equivalent reaction from both mom and dad. Exactly why these particular actions should call forth such ferocious responses remains a mystery for a long time — a mystery that preys on your mind, so that mommy will sometimes see you meditating on it in a quiet moment. "Naughty, no, no no!" you'll repeat in a kind of solo role play, lowering your brow, pursing your lips just so, and lightly slapping your own wrist. You're trying to fathom the meaning of this sudden, inexplicable transformation that comes over those great parental powers who are generally so congenial to you.

Fear of the Lord Is the First Step

The fear of Lord is the beginning of wisdom. God is our father, our mother, the father of our fathers and the mother of our mothers. It may be a major positive step to fear God's disapproval over things that seem innocuous to us in our biological adulthood and spiritual toddlerhood. But beyond the first step in wisdom is the maturing of wisdom. When you come to understand later why God disapproves of many things — and you see that God loves you and wants to protect you from harming myself, harming others, and harming your environment. The end of wisdom is that you come to join God in hating what is harmful, not because you know you will "get in trouble" with God if you do what is harmful, but because you learn two things:

  1. First, in accepting God's love, you grow to love your own well-being and the well-being of all that God has made.
  2. Second, you grow to discern what kinds of behaviors and attitudes tear down that well-being, and what kinds of behaviors and attitudes build it up.

You can see this pattern in Colossians 1:7-10:

Epaphras ... has told us about your love in the Spirit. And that's why we haven't stopped praying for you, from the first day we heard about you. We've been asking that you'll be full of understanding about God's will—with total wisdom and spiritual insight. That way, you'll live in a way that's worthy of the Lord. You'll please him completely, doing all kinds of good things. You'll be bearing fruit and growing in your understanding of God.

The Colossians have love, the first and foundational part of mature wisdom; Paul prays that they may be completed in the knowledge of what is best, the second part, so that they may be fully equipped for God's effective service.

Fearing What God Fears

Through wisdom, you have come to understand that your mother does not have two opposite sides and that she did not have a habit of suddenly turning against you. For the very reason she loved her children, she feared for your safety and the safety of your sister, therefore she rescued you from yourself and rescued your sister from you. The beginning of wisdom was to fear her reaction; the end of wisdom is to fear what she fears.

Dear friends, we're children of God now, and it hasn't yet appeared what we're going to be. We do know that when Jesus appears, we're going to be like him, because we're going to see him just as he is. (1 John 3:2)
We've come to know and trust the love that God has for us. God is love, and when a person lives in the love that's in God, God lives in them. That's how love is brought to completion with us, so that we can be confident on judgment day—because as God is, so we are in this world. There's no fear in love. Just the opposite: perfect love kicks out fear. Because fear has to do with punishment, and the person that fears hasn't been perfected in love. We love because God loved us first. (1 John 4:16-19)

All New Testament quotations are from the Spoken English New Testament, translated by J. Webb Mealy.

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Your Citation
Mealy, J. Webb, Ph.D. "The Fear of the Lord Is the Beginning of Wisdom." Learn Religions, Aug. 25, 2020, Mealy, J. Webb, Ph.D. (2020, August 25). The Fear of the Lord Is the Beginning of Wisdom. Retrieved from Mealy, J. Webb, Ph.D. "The Fear of the Lord Is the Beginning of Wisdom." Learn Religions. (accessed July 31, 2021).