The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)
These words confront us with life’s big questions. What is life all about, anyway? Why am I here? What’s the point? What should my life look like? Is there any meaning to it at all?
These are questions we all must answer. It’s so important that we face them head-on—don’t hold these questions at arm’s length. They are big questions; they deserve thoughtful answers.
The second to last verse in the book of Ecclesiastes can help us. It addresses the following question: After a thorough exploration of the complexities of life in this world and the reality of our quickly-approaching death, what is the end of the matter? Can we sum it all up?
The author of Ecclesiastes answers with these six words: “Fear God and keep his commandments.”
That’s it. It’s a very simple answer. It’s not complex; but it is profound. “Fear God and keep his commandments.”
Can we figure out life in this world, with all of its ups and downs, and unexpected twists, turns, and sufferings? No. So we focus on this simple reality: Fear God and keep his commandments.
But how do we do this? Let’s ask and answer three questions to find out.
Is It Important to Fear God?
Biblically, the call to fear God is of utmost importance.
We don’t need to look any further than our passage here in Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes 12:13 says, “this is the whole duty of man” (Translated literally, this say: This is all—the whole—of man).
Fearing God is also a central theme to the content of wisdom books in the Bible, like Proverbs and Job. For fearing God is the essence of wisdom.
- “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7 ESV).
- “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30 ESV).
- “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1 ESV).
- “And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding’” (Job 28:28 ESV).
The theme of fearing God pervades the rest of the Bible also.
- (What is the heart of our sin problem?) “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18 ESV).
- “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28–29 ESV).
Hear God’s Word! God’s Word tells us that fearing him ought to be central to our lives.
What Does It Mean to Fear God and Keep His Commandments?
First, fearing God means that we have a fundamental awe and respect for God.
We may not always feel this, but we have a deep awareness that God is holy and righteous, unwilling to tolerate evil (Hebrews 4:13; Psalm 5:4). He will always keep his Word to punish sin.
This awe of God is a key piece to our attitude, which our secular culture and the western church have nearly lost. We need an awe of God, a sense of his majesty, that drives us to hate sin, and turn away from evil (Proverbs 3:7).
The fear of God is the beginning of all wisdom—it is the beginning of living life as we were created to live it, in personal relationship with our God.
Second, fearing God does not mean that we can’t enjoy life.
There’s another command in Ecclesiastes: eat, drink, and find enjoyment in your toil (or work) (Ecclesiastes 2:24).
When we hear “fear God and keep his commandments” we may think that’s a rather strict and somber way of living. When we hear “eat, drink, and be merry” we instinctively think that’s a far better, more enjoyable life. But the Bible doesn’t intend for us to choose between these two commands. We must be people who obey both. So how do we bring the two together?
Part of fearing God and keeping his commandments is learning to enjoy (and not idolize) God’s good gifts in God’s presence: food, drink, marriage, friendship, work, and every other good gift of creation (James 1:17).
My family was on a vacation in north-western Michigan. And we had good food, good drink, time with siblings and parents, great conversation, relaxation, sunshine, beach, sports, books, swimming, mountain biking, watching kids play, sunsets, cool evenings, star-gazing—all wonderful gifts. One test of my fear of God is if I’m learning to deeply enjoy those simple gifts of life with thanksgiving in my heart to God, without being controlled by them, and without enjoying them in place of God himself.
So, you may want to ask yourself, how am I handling the good gifts God has given me?
Third, fearing God means that we live life in light of the reality of God’s presence.
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:13 NIV)
We live, at every moment, in the presence of God. That’s the reality. Every part of our lives, from our actions to our thoughts and motivations, are seen by God.
We forget this truth. We often live as functional atheists, as though God did not exist and didn’t have his eye on our actions, or his ear to our words.
So when we’re eating dinner with our family, this is done in God’s presence. When we’re at church singing worship songs, we sing in God’s presence. When we’re alone with our computers or phones, we browse in God’s presence. When we’re at work, or at school, or at home, or at the store, or in our room, or at church, or in the hospital, we are in the presence of God.
To fear God is to live all of life before the face of God.
Why Should I Fear God?
One of the reasons Ecclesiastes gives for why we should fear God and keep his commandments is this: “God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
The book of Ecclesiastes starts and ends with “vanity of vanities.” And if we’re tempted to think that means that our lives are meaningless, Ecclesiastes makes very clear that every detail of our lives matters immensely. God cares deeply about our lives. Which is why he will bring our lives under judgment.
We also ought to fear God because it’s good for us. Proverbs says it like this, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones” (Proverbs 3:7-8 ESV).
Do you see how profound this is? We should fear God because “it will be healing to us.” There is so much packed into this short statement: the acknowledgment that we need healing (we’re sinners), the truth that healing isn’t found within us, and that God offers it to us (salvation).
Fearing God works for your ultimate good because it will lead you to seek healing in God from your sin. It will lead you to believe God’s Word that you’re a sinner in need of salvation from his wrath, and that in his love Jesus, God’s Son, died for you on a cross so that you might be reconciled to our Holy God, and live in the obedience and joy and holiness he created you for.
Living a Life that Matters
So how do we live a life that matters? The Bible teaches that we not only recognize the existence of God, but we fear God. This means we delight in the good gifts he gives, but never worship them in his stead, that we recognize his holiness and desire for moral purity, and live our lives as if he is with us at every moment.
If we’re honest. We know this is impossible. We do just the opposite, and that’s why our lives are so empty. We are thankless towards God, do what we want, knowing it displeases him, live according to our own moral standards—not his—and choose to worship his creation over him (Romans 1:21-23).
But then we remember that Jesus Christ died for sinners like us. He died and rose again so that we might no longer have the fear of punishment in God’s presence, but instead be humbled by his great love for us and motivated to live in a way that pleases him.
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:16-19 ESV)
God has loved you by offering you total forgiveness, if you put your faith in his Son. He did this so that you could live a meaningful life where you are in awe of the one who made you who offers healing and wholeness—enabling you to truly enjoy the good gifts of this life and to know God’s favor on you.
So, do you fear God?