Scripture says, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 9:10). But how should we understand ‘Fear of the Lord’.

‘Fear of the Lord’ is a virtue that helps us to use God’s gifts well and can be understood in two ways. ‘Imperfect fear’ is the fear of punishment and the loss of Heaven. By contrast ‘perfect fear’ is holding Him in awe, revering Him, having a deep love and appreciation for Him as the source of all that we are and all that we have. Out of love, reverence, and a sense of awe, we fear giving any offense to Him, who is Holy, God, and deserving of all our love.

The differences between these two types of fear are made clear in the Parable of the Talents

The Parable of the Talents

A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. 

To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one—to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 

Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them and made another five. 

Likewise, the one who received two made another two. 

But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money. (Matthew 25: 14-18)

Note here that the first two servants prospered:

1. They Received Talents 

One gets five talents; the other, two—each according to his ability. While the ‘inequity’ may offend modern sensibilities, note the explanation in the passage itself: the men had different abilities.

Before considering this unfair, consider what good manager does not give greater responsibility to a higher performing worker than to a poor one? Later in the same Gospel, we receive this fundamental rule: We must prove ourselves worthy is small things before being given greater responsibility. (Matt 25:23).

2. They Took Risks 

Their relationship with the master allows the men freedom to take risks. They view him as a reasonable man, one who would applaud their industriousness. Though they are taking a risk, they believe that even if there were to be losses, they will not be dealt with unmercifully. They seem to experience the freedom and courage to step out and make use of the talents entrusted to them. Notice that the text says they ‘immediately’ went out and traded. They are eager to work for their master and take the risks on his behalf in order to please him.

3. They were glad to be held to account 

Upon the master’s return the men appear joyful as they report, ‘Master, you gave me five (two) talents. See, I have made five (two) more.’ There is an enthusiasm for the opportunity they were given and a joy for the harvest.

4. They Rose in the Ranks 

The men’s presumptions of the master’s fairness and reasonability are affirmed in his response: Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’

The two good and faithful servants see the owner of the riches as a man with whom they can deal. They have a healthy respect for him but not an immature fear. They receive the funds gladly and with gratitude go to work, motivated and enthusiastic about the opportunity they have been given.

The posture of these two servants is a portrait of a holy and more perfect fear of the Lord. With this sort of holy fear, we love God and are enthusiastic to work for Him, realising that He shares His blessings and is both reasonable and generous. Confident of His mercy (though not presuming it), we go to work in His vineyard.

Within the designated boundaries, there is both room to manoeuvre and safety from the thickets of sin. Mature fear of the Lord is joyful and encouraging, not cringing or hiding from Him. To fear the Lord more perfectly is to hold him awe, to rejoice in His power and wisdom, to accept His authority as saving and helpful. In this way we yield an abundant harvest with His gifts.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love (1 Jn 4:18).

We are counseled to grow out of this imperfect fear through deepening love of God. Grow in love; mature in your fear of the Lord and reap the abundant riches of a faithful servant and child of God.


Edited and adapted from Msgr. Pope’s ‘Community in Mission’ blog.

This article can be found in Mirror 0817.