What Does Reverence Mean and What Can it Look Like Daily?

Do you have a reverent attitude toward God? And does it impact the way you address Him, refer to Him, and worship Him?

The question is worth asking in a culture that casually refers to God as “The Man Upstairs” and among believers who see Jesus as their “Homeboy” or “bud.” Reverence for God is elevating Him far above a mere exclamation like OMG and approaching Him with an attitude of WOW.

While reverence might sound to some like legalism or stodgy behavior, it flows out of a relationship of knowing Who God is and responding appropriately. And reverence is something God commanded and still expects from us today.

What is the biblical definition of reverence?

In the Old Testament, reverence occurs as the translation of two Hebrew words, yare' and shachah. The root idea of the former is fear. It is used to express the attitude toward God – as in Psalm 89:7: “God is greatly to be feared...” (KJV) – or toward His sanctuary – as in Leviticus 19:30 and Leviticus 26:2. The word encompasses the concepts of fear, awe, and reverence.

The root idea of the second Hebrew term is "falling down," as in prostration of the body. It is used to express our position toward another who is considered superior. The concept of this “falling down” encompasses honor and reverence.

In the New Testament, reverence occurs as the translation of three Greek words (aidos, phobeomai, and entrepomai) and encompasses the ideas of modesty  (Hebrews 12:281 Timothy 2:9), subjection, and considering oneself inferior and subsequently giving another honor (Matthew 21:37Mark 12:6Luke 20:13Hebrews 12:9).

Therefore, reverence is having a humility toward God and recognizing, as well as expressing, His awe and greatness.

Reverence for God:

The Bible uses reverence and fear interchangeably. To revere God is to fear Him in the fullest sense of the word. To fear God is to have a wholesome dread of ever displeasing the Lord. That implies our love for Him, as well as our awe of Him.

 

To simply respect Him is not strong enough. We are to fear disappointing Him because He’s a Holy God and revere—or worship— Him for His holiness.

In the Old Covenant Law, the Israelites were commanded to have a reverence for the sanctuary of God (Leviticus 19:30; Leviticus 26:2) and for God Himself: “Worship the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11, NASB). In Psalm 5:7, the Psalmist proclaimed “But as for me, by Your abundant lovingkindness I will enter Your house, At Your holy temple I will bow in reverence for You.”

Reverence for God is also expressed through obedience to Him. Hebrews 11:7 tells us, “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (ESV, emphasis added). And Hebrews 12:28 tells us to worship and serve God “with reverence and awe.”

Reverence for God is also equated with wisdom. Proverbs 1:7 tells us the fear (or reverence) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Reverence for Christ:

We show reverence to Christ by accepting the words of Jesus that He is “the way, and the truth, and the life” and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6, ESV). It’s popular today (and politically correct) to be tolerant of other religions and “open” toward other beliefs and ideas, to the point of not insisting one belief is more correct than another. Yet, Jesus clearly stated He was the only way to heaven and eternal life. Reverence for Christ is adhering to that, defending that, and boldly proclaiming that.

Yet, wealso show reverence to Christ by presenting Him to others in a gentle, non-judgmental, and respectful manner. We can do this by following the instruction in 1 Peter 3:15 to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

Reverence for life, ourselves, and others:

Only God can give life or take it away. In the book of Job, Satan had to ask God’s permission to touch Job’s possessions, family, and even Job, himself, and was never given permission to take Job’s life. Therefore, we are to revere not only the Creator of life, but respect all that He has created by not taking it into our hands to maim, abuse, or treat with deference.

While God allowed the killing of certain animals for food and sacrifices under the Old Covenant, He never gave us authority nor permission to take life – any form of life – for the sake of power, anger, revenge, or simply because we can.

As man was created in the image of God, our bodies—believers or not—are precious to God and are not throwaway shells. The bodies of believers are considered the temple or “dwelling place” of God (1 Corinthians 6:19), and God speaks highly of the reverence for His sanctuary. Likewise, as He dwells in believers, we are to care for, nourish, protect, and show awe for the fact that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

Reverence for nature:

Some Christians don’t believe they have a responsibility to be good stewards of the earth because “this world is not my home” or “it’s all going to burn anyway.”

Yet, Psalm 24:1 tells us “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,the world and those who dwell therein.” Anything created by God—the physical earth included—is considered sacred and is to be revered, respected, and considered under the ownership of God, not ourselves.

As with our money, our attitude toward nature and the earth should be that we are stewards for the true owner, God, the creator of this world.

False reverence:

False reverence is when we put on a persona that we are “God-fearing” people, but live in a way that shows a carelessness toward His commands. Jesus called the Pharisees out on this for making a show of the money they gave to the temple, yet they were failing to take care of their own aging parents or others in need (Matthew 23:23).

False reverence is an outward show of righteous or religious behavior yet an inward contempt or disregard at what God commands. For instance, do you profess to be a recipient of God’s forgiveness, yet harbor resentment or bitterness in your heart toward another person, including a believer or former spouse?

Are you claiming to be a follower of Christ, yet oppressing the poor or remaining sexually active outside the parameters of a marriage commitment?

Jesus called the religious leaders of His day “whitewashed tombs” for paying attention to their outward appearance but sinning grievously in their hearts (Matthew 23:27-28). Make sure you are practicing what you preach, and genuine in what you say you believe, or you’ll be one who is practicing false reverence for the sake of appearing righteous.

Having a genuine heart toward God, instead of going through the motions outwardly, allowed Jesus to be heard by His Father in heaven. Hebrews 5:7 tells us: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (ESV, emphasis added).

How can you practice reverence daily?

1. Treasure His name.

We can revere God today by refusing to use His name in vain (Exodus 20:7). Many people think this means we are not to use His name in anger or attach it to expletives. But it goes much further than that. To take God’s name in vain literally means to say it meaninglessly and without honor.

To say God’s name as an exclamation (Good God, what was that?) or out of exasperation (Jesus Christ!) or as a casual expression or acknowledgement (Oh God) is using His name without proper respect and reverence.

We revere God today when we use His name only to praise Him, proclaim Him as the Savior, or pray to Him. Any other use of His name is abusing His name and not treating it reverently.

In Matthew 6:9, Jesus taught His followers to begin their prayers by addressing God as “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name” or “Let your name be treated with reverence.”

2. Treat yourself and others respectfully.

We don’t have a temple today because God dwells within the believer. Therefore, because our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), we can revere God by keeping our bodies pure physically (by what we eat and how we treat our bodies), and sexually (by giving our bodies only to our spouse within the context of marriage).

We can also revere God by treating others as well as we treat ourselves. Furthermore, Ephesians 5:21 tells us to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” implying our preferred treatment of others is a form of worship and reverence to God’s Son.

3. Live holy and blameless lives.

In Matthew 5:14, Jesus told His followers: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” And Philippians 2:15 instructs us to be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”

To be light and to be set apart, revere God and His Word against the backdrop of a world that doesn’t. Shine brightly as you live carefully, blamelessly, and reverently for Jesus.

A prayer to demonstrate reverence for God:

Lord God, Thank You that You are a Holy God who still makes yourself approachable to those who come to You in the name of Your Son, Jesus (Hebrews 4:16). Remind me daily that You are worthy of all my praise, You are the One whose life I need to imitate, and You are the One who deserves my love, allegiance, and worship. Create in me a heart that reveres You above all so others may see You high and lifted up. In the name of Your Highly Exalted Son, Amen.


headshot of author Cindi McMenaminCindi McMenamin is a national speaker and award-winning author who helps women and couples strengthen their relationship with God and others. She is the author of 17 books, including When Women Walk Alone, When God Sees Your Tears, When a Woman Overcomes Life’s Hurts and When Couples Walk Together, which she co-authored with her husband, Hugh, a pastor. Cindi and her husband of 30 years live in Southern California and have a grown daughter. For more on her books, ministry and free resources to strengthen your soul, marriage, or parenting, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.

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