Appear before the Queen of England and you will quickly discover a clear list of dos and don’ts. Call it royal etiquette. For instance, you stand when she enters the room. You don’t speak, unless first spoken to. If spoken to, you address her in a proper manner worthy of Her Majesty. You certainly don’t initiate physical contact. If she deems your hand fit to shake, your handshake should be brief. You also dress in a particular fashion, depending upon the occasion.
Appearing before the Queen is serious business, requiring careful attention to detail, because she shall be revered. Reverence is a big deal. If appearing before Her Majesty warrants such attention, how much more should appearing before the King of Kings (Revelation 19:16)? What does it mean to show God biblical reverence befitting our King—in our actions, our words, and our very thoughts?
In exploring reverence, we will consider its basic definition, some principle-oriented implications, and finally some down-to-earth applications.
Definition: What Is Biblical Reverence?
Ask three people what reverence is, and chances are you’ll get three different answers. I did. One pointed to the natural wonders of the created order, another to that amazing miracle of birth, and still another to church worship. Which is correct? Are all three correct? If nothing else, these answers indicate that biblical reverence is a difficult concept to nail down.
Part of the difficulty stems from the sheer scope of the topic. For instance, about half a dozen Hebrew and Greek words (and their cognates) may be translated to reverence (or some form or tense of the word). As if that isn’t difficult enough, those very same roots, which translate to reverence sometimes, may also translate to other closely associated words, such as awe, caution, fear, piety, respect, and veneration. In effect, this means that many passages speak about reverence, even if some translations don’t use this particular word. Add to that the fact that these roots occur literally in hundreds of verses and in nearly every context, and we begin to see why biblical reverence is a difficult concept to define.
Difficulties aside, what are the key points of biblical reverence? Biblical reverence is godly fear that acknowledges God as God in every aspect of life. Perhaps the best way to think about it is as our disposition before God. This refers to the prevailing qualitative tendency of our character, lived day-in and day-out. It is a general attitude and filter through which we approach the whole of life.
Hence biblical reverence inspires a conscientious walk, resulting in a life-encompassing outlook of admiration, awe, honor, praise, respect, wonder, and worship for God.
Implications: Principles in Reverence for Approaching God
Having defined reverence, what does it mean for how we approach God? Do we approach Him as we would our best friend or the Queen of England? Certainly we see both approaches exemplified when we consider how Christians live and observe church. But which is correct? Are some too rigid? Are others too comfortable? Our answers will hinge significantly on our original definition of reverence. Acknowledging God as God requires knowing something of His character, demonstrated especially though salvation history.
Above all else, God is holy. In the beginning, perfect reverence characterized sinless man’s disposition before Him. However, with the arrival of sin, mankind exchanged reverence for rebellion. Because God is holy, He must judge rebellion (sin). Since sin extends to all and hence judgment (Romans 2:12; 5:12), the idea of appearing before holy God was no longer a happy prospect. In fact, it was a quite terrible one! It’s no wonder men like Moses, Job, Solomon, and Isaiah approached God in near-silent and solemn awe, fear, and wonder (Exodus 3; Job 38-42; Ecclesiastes 5; Isaiah 6). Now we see why Scripture continually reminds us to revere God (Revelation 14:7), and why words like caution, fear, and even terror are closely associated with reverence.
However, from God’s holiness flows yet another attribute of His character: love. Although God judges sin, He provides an escape from its punishment through Jesus Christ in whom believers may appear before God’s throne, not in fear, but with boldness and confidence (Hebrews 4:16; 1 John 4:16-19). This is good news!
This narrative tells us much concerning God’s character. As God sanctifies us in Christ through the Spirit, we will increasingly reflect His character of holiness and love as we are transformed from youthful rebellion to mature reverence—in our actions, words, and thoughts. When we think about approaching God, we don’t do so with carelessness, disregard, or flippancy, but with careful, joyous reverence worthy of our King. The apostle John’s example is instructive: When faced with the risen Christ, John fell at His feet in holy reverence (Revelation. 1:17). Yet how might these principles apply in believers’ lives today?
Applications: What Should Biblical Reverence Look Like in Our Lives?
The Bible, Prayer, and Humility
First, let’s note that we learn reverence by humbly reading God’s Word (Deuteronomy 17:19-20) and praying for it (Psalm 86:11). It’s amazing how the simplest things are often the most important! One of the clearest ways we see people expressing reverence in Scripture is by bowing prostrate (Genesis 18:2; 2 Samuel 9:6). Whether we do this literally or figuratively, we should exercise similar humility in our Bible reading and prayer life, eagerly anticipating what God may teach us.
As God teaches us reverence through the Bible, what we learn is countercultural obedience in every aspect of life—from sin to obedience, and from evil to righteousness (Job 1:1; Proverbs 3:7; 16:6; 2 Corinthians 7:1). We move from simply asking, “Is this sinful?” to, “Is this best?” In fact, Solomon concluded Ecclesiastes, a book about a man who sought everything under the sun to sate his thirsty soul, by simply encouraging readers to fear or revere God and obey His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
Admittedly, such obedience can be difficult, especially if accompanied with ridicule. Take Noah for example. In Genesis 6, God instructed him to build an ark because a flood was coming. As Noah built a huge boat, perhaps with no apparent access to water, we wonder whether those around him mocked him, as they must have asked him what he was doing. Peter at least implied that very idea (2 Peter 2:5; 3:3-7). Whatever the case, reverent obedience was a key factor in Noah’s obedience (Hebrews 11:7).
Likewise, reverent obedience should characterize our lives too. It might even be countercultural, like Noah’s. No doubt, the world will ridicule us. Other Christians might even mock us—calling us names, telling us to loosen up, and talking about us behind our backs. But that’s the cost of countercultural obedience sometimes and, to some extent, Jesus warned us about it (John 15:18; 1 John 3:13).
Are we serious about countercultural obedience and holy living? Is the trajectory of our lives moving from rebellion to reverence? How is this reflected in our choice of clothing, entertainment, language, worship, and beyond?
Let’s take speech for example. Is our speech irreverent? Do we use God’s name in a vain or flippant manner, belittle others (even in the name of a “joke”), speak with ungodly language, or tell crass jokes? Neither we nor other Christians should do so. And even if we don’t use such speech, we shouldn’t laugh at or even tolerate it from other Christians.
THE POINT IS THIS: If we’re pursuing countercultural obedience, we must not participate in irreverent behavior or even shrug it off, especially from fellow Christians. To do so is commensurate to effectively revering the god of self or tolerance over God. Instead, we allow His perfect, pure Word to shape our every sensibility in all manners of life.
Equally important to these concerns is what reverence means for worship. Do we enter our times of worship in a fantastic hubbub as we might a coffee shop, or do we enter it with an attitude of reverence honoring a king? If the examples of Moses, Job, Solomon, Isaiah, and John are any indication, we should do the latter.
Yet we must remember to do so in an honest, transparent fashion, forsaking any pretense. From the condition of our heart and mind to our physical appearance to the way we do our singing and preaching, everything should be impacted by reverent worship and service to the glorious, holy, majestic, and powerful God of creation (Exodus 14:31; Deuteronomy 31:12-13; Psalm 2:11; Hebrews 12:28; Revelation 19:5).
Much more could be said about the Scripture’s teaching regarding reverence. Certainly if earthly royalty such as the Queen of England warrants such respect, then how much more does the King of Heaven and Earth? As is often the case, the difficult question is knowing how to apply it in our lives and churches. Regardless, in great humility and countercultural obedience, we should daily practice a godly fear that acknowledges God as God in every aspect of our lives, as He sanctifies us from rebellion to reverence.