But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much." And she said, "Yes, for so much." But Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out." Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.
The comma is the culprit. We place it there to give us a break, a moment to gather our rationalizations. We've grown so accustomed to the work of the little mark that we cringe in its absence. You see, the Scripture teaches that, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10). But very often, it seems, what we actually believe is, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but fear doesn't really mean fear." We tell ourselves that it means awe, or reverence, or high regard, or any number of things, but certainly not clear-eyed, unvarnished fear. "After all," we think, "how are we going to evangelize if the Bible says we're wise to fear God Almighty?"
When the evangelist physician Luke writes the account of Annanias and Sapphira, he mentions twice in short order that "great fear came upon all who heard." Not just fear, but great fear. And Luke was an articulate man. He knew all those other watered-down words. He could have let Theophilus off the hook. But make no mistake—fear gripped the early church. The disciples certainly remembered their storm-tossed fright. That fright melted into frightened wonder as the power of the Lord's word took the teeth from the wind and waves.
We are indeed wise to fear the Lord; but not because He is a capricious despot who may at any moment burst into rage or fling us away. We are wise to fear the Lord because in understanding more of God's fearsomeness, we recognize more fully His marvelous grace. As we contemplate the majesty and holiness and power of the sovereign Lord, we bow at His mercy and rejoice in His care. The God at whose name the demons tremble has invited us into His presence and enjoined us to call Him "Father."
So how do we think about John's words that, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18)? Perfect love does indeed cast out fear. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And the fear of anything else is the beginning of folly. When we fear the rebuke of men or the loss of status or the unmasking of our true selves, we make much of everything unholy and denigrate the holiness of God Almighty. Jesus was very clear about this.
I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Luke 12: 4-7)
So as we grow up in the fullness of Christ, may we leave the calm repose of the misplaced comma and learn again the holy fear of The Lord.