What Is the Biblical Meaning of Reverence?
Certain biblical words take on extra spiritual “weight” in the light of their object. Reverence is one such term. When we think of fear, something scary or frightening comes to mind, such as being stranded in a crime-infested neighborhood or having a deer jump in front of your speeding vehicle. That type of fear is defined as an emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger. Conversely, reverence (reverent fear) is an emotion expressly reserved for God, accompanied by an act of worship (prostrating oneself either spiritually or physically). In the Bible, reverence is intense, worshipful, awed respect. God is the only One Who deserves such acclaim—such respect and worship. Reverence then is godly fear and is used as both a verb and a noun. We reverence Him and hold Him in reverence (Leviticus 19:30, Hebrews 12:28). In many instances, the word fear is used interchangeably with revere or reverence (Job 4:6).
How Do You Show Reverence?
The Bible is our ultimate source of instruction, and it presents God’s command to us to reverence all things pertaining to Him. It also displays numerous illustrations of how to show reverence, and how certain biblical persons reverenced God. Following are key highlights of each:
God’s command to reverence Him (approach Him with godly fear), persons from the Bible who displayed godly reverence, and how we are to show Him reverence. The following lists are not exhaustive yet show us a litany of truths from the Bible.
God’s Commands (emphasis in verses added by author):
Through Moses, God said, “You shall keep My sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:30).
Deuteronomy 13:4 tells us to walk after the Lord our God and fear Him and keep His commandments.
Psalm 22:23 addresses those who fear the Lord, that they should praise Him, glorify Him, and stand in awe of Him.
Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 12:13, bids us to “…hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments. For this is man’s all.”
The command Peter shared is direct. Fear God (1 Peter 2:17).
Biblical examples of persons who reverenced God:
Abraham, in Genesis 22:12, garners a commendation from the Lord when he offers up his only son in sacrifice. God told him, “…now I know that you fear God…”
Joseph told his brothers to follow his orders and live, “… for I fear God” (Genesis 42:18).
Job was a man who “feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1).
In the New Testament church, Christianity multiplied because they walked in the fear of the Lord (Acts 9:31).
In Acts 10:2, Cornelius is described as a “devout man who feared God…”
How we are to show reverence to and for God:
One key passage is Hebrews 12:28, “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.”
Numerous other Scriptural passages demonstrate the act of living in godly fear, including:
Psalm 89:7, which tells us to fear (reverence) God above all others
2 Corinthians 7:1 commands us to “cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit” so we may bring holiness to completion in the fear of God.”
One of the many Proverb passages which speak of the fear of the Lord bringing wisdom is Proverbs 2:3-5.
2 Chronicles 19:6-9 gives an account from Jehoshaphat to the judges that they take care in what they do for “there is no injustice with the Lord, for He is not partial, nor does He take bribes.” He then charged them, “thus you shall do in the fear of the Lord, in faithfulness, and with your whole heart” (Italics added by this author).
Everything Jesus taught serves as commands for us to reverence the Lord. Also, the rest of the New Testament, especially the epistles to the Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, Galatians, Philippians, Hebrews, Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Jude, 1, 2, and 3 John, Thessalonians, and Revelation (are you noticing a pattern, here?) give us instructions in godly, holy living, giving reverence to our Father in heaven.
Exodus 20:20 is a good conclusion to this list, “Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.’”
Why Is Reverence Important?
God’s commands are never to be taken lightly nor for granted. When the Bible says, “Fear God,” we are to fear God. Some have a greatly mistaken impression/understanding of what this means. They perceive God as One who exacts judgment on all sinners without considering His complete attributes. God is just, yes, but He is also loving, compassionate, faithful, and true. God cannot act without all His traits working together. This is known as divine simplicity. We as humans have a hard time understanding that, because often our overarching current emotion overwhelms the others, depending upon the circumstance. At times, we get so angry we throw love and compassion aside. He is unchanging (Malachi 3:6) and forever faithful (2 Timothy 2:13), no matter how much we change—no matter our faithlessness.
Our motives are manifold, and our reverence of God is important because of Who God is and what He exemplifies.
He is holy (Revelation 15:4).
God is great (mighty) (Deuteronomy 10:17).
He is forgiving (Psalm 130:4).
Is This Trait Possible in Today's World?
Let’s look at this first from a secular worldview with a symbol that is the standard for nations all over the world. Wherever we live, a country’s flag is looked upon as an object to revere—not usually the flag itself, but the meaning behind it. Citizens look at their flag and usually salute it in some fashion, whether it’s a hand over their heart or an arm raised in salute. The flag signifies what it took to secure the nation for its peoples, the beliefs and constraints of the country’s governing principles and leaders, and the pride of belonging. Citizens reverence all the flag represents, and when a crowd member refuses to stand when our flag is displayed at a public event, they are looked at with disdain by their seatmates (usually). In the USA, it’s a criminal offense to desecrate our flag, with a penalty of up to a $1,000 fine and/or imprisonment up to one year.
The biblical worldview requires a stark difference. As Christians who seek to bring glory to the Lord, our reverence is devoted first to the Lord God. To us, reverence is awe-inspired, holding God above all else, including the flag of the country in which we live. We do submit to government authorities (Romans 13:1-7), but when it comes to a choice between following a law which commands evil, is in direct violation of God’s laws and commands, and/or besmirches our witness or seeks to sway our obedience to Christ, we may choose to defy the law (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29), leave the country, or seek to change the law and/or government using godly means. By these acts, we obey the One to Whom we will give an account one day (Romans 14:12). What Christians offer our nations, its symbols, and governing authorities is respect, not reverence.
As a further look at what the world reveres, today’s vernacular includes words that should be reserved for God alone, such as holy, glorious, and, without wanting to be legalistic, the word “awesome.” Awesome is applied to everything from a new haircut to a song. Merriam-Webster defines awe as “an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime.” When we regard the meaning of the word, awe, do we really think a haircut or a movie brings us to our knees in reverent fear (dread)? Are we bowing to something which is irreverent—the opposite of sacred? Care with even our words displays our reverence for the Lord God.
For the world, biblical reverence is possible only if one surrenders to Jesus as Lord (that means a person who surrenders is no longer of the world.
For us Christians, the trait of reverence must be lived out by who we are and what we do. Jesus commanded us in Mark 12:30 to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And with all of that, He told us in Matthew 28:19-20 to go into all the world and make disciples. To obey Jesus is to reverence God.
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Lisa Loraine Baker is a rock & roll girl who loves Jesus. She and her husband, Stephen, inhabit their home as the “Newlyweds of Minerva” with crazy cat, Lewis. Lisa is co-author of the non-fiction narrative, “Someplace to be Somebody” (End Game Press, spring 2022). She has also written for Lighthouse Bible Studies, and CBN.com,