In 1906 the British Navy developed a ship which became the catalyst of modern naval warfare. The HMS Dreadnought was the first battleship to carry all heavy cannon and was developed largely under the vision of Sir John Fisher. Sir John chose the motto of the ship – “Fear God and dread naught” – on the basis of the many places in scripture in which we are commanded to “fear not”. Both “naught” and “nought” are archaic words meaning “nothing”. With a ship as well-armed as this and a God as powerful as the God of the Bible, Sir John Fisher saw little around him which could lay claim to his fear.
When we ask ourselves what is at the heart of our fears we find different answers. There are fears of real harm, whether our own or that of the people we love. There is a fear that is more revulsion than true fear (think of finding a dead body which cannot harm you but still strikes fear in the form of recoil at the unnatural). There is also the fear of others and this will be found behind so many of our fears of, say, “failure.” We must ask, “What happens if I fail?” and “If I was the only one who knows I have failed would that be different than failing publicly?” Our fears are often really just forms of fearing men which comes from not fearing God.
Fisher understood how the fear of God and the command of God to fear not fit with one another. Proverbs 14:27 says “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death,” and Proverbs 29:25 says “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Taken together we see that we trap ourselves in the fear of man when we do not fear God. There is therefore freedom in the fear of the Lord.
In 2 Corinthians 5:10-12 Paul writes: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart.” He is secure in his identity in God and knows that he will answer to God and not men (compare his words in Galatians 1:10). Knowing his identity in and responsibility to the Lord, Paul is able to lead others. This is where grace produces bravery, love casts out all fear, and fearful obedience produces peace. Let us fear God and dread naught.