Love, Fear, and Business Leadership

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. But it is just the beginning, not the end.

Different cultures tend to have different perceptions of what an ideal father-son relationship looks like. And it’s easy to project our own view of what our relationship with our Heavenly Father should look like BASED upon what our relationship with our earthly father was like.

I grew up in Japan, and I got what we call “Asian tough love”. My father would beat me and then he would tell me that he loves me. That’s traditional Asian tough love. But my Swedish friend had a completely different experience with her father growing up in Stockholm. When she threw a tantrum, her father would say, “Oh, you have a beautiful voice!” or “Would you like to take a walk outside with me?” That’s all she would get! If my parents saw it they would shake their heads saying, “What is wrong with these people?!” There is this Indian comedian who jokingly said, “White people, beat your kids! Because you know what? With the Asian and African populations growing so quickly, your white kids are becoming a minority. Everybody else beats their kids except you. Do you want your kid to become a social outcast? No? Then beat your kids.”

I first learned to FEAR my father. That was the beginning. And THEN I learned to love him. So when I read Proverbs 9:10, I always tended to focus upon the word “fear”.

But there is another very key word there that completes the wisdom of this verse. It is the word “beginning”. Fear of your Father in Heaven may be the beginning of wisdom, but it is merely the BEGINNING! It is definitely not the end. The end, the goal, is what Christ answered when asked “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment of all?” Christ said:

…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.”  

Matthew 22:37-38

In the entrepreneurial journey, success and failure are often very accentuated. When you fail, you often do not just fail small; and when you succeed, your world changes. When you fail, what do you say to your Father and when you succeed, what do you say to Him? If He is like a traditional Japanese dad, when you fail, you do not go to him. You are scared to report to him anything other than outstanding success. You want him to say, “I am proud of you”. And he will only say that once in 30 years!

If that is your relationship with your Father, if fear of your Father is the only or even main definition of your relationship with Him, then you are going to suffer in your entrepreneurial journey. Because only fearing God is not going to see you through the truly tough stretches of your journey when you face big obstacles, when you are lonely, or when you experience crippling failure. When you fail, do you believe that you can go to your Father and tell him that you are hurting? Or do you (even subconsciously) think He going to tell you to “suck it up”?

Perhaps because I’m Japanese, growing up, I’ve always tended to view God as my sovereign, my boss, and my captain. He commands, I obey. My relationship with God was first and foremost about submission and obedience. But there came a year when I went through the hardest season in my life, where I faced challenge after challenge, failure after failure. And then the effects of only fearing God without truly loving Him hit me in two devastating stages. Stage one, I thought I was being punished for something, or that maybe I was at odds with God because of something I did wrong. Have you ever felt that before? It’s devastating. Stage two, in all my scrambling around to somehow get on God’s “good side” again, I realized one day that I no longer could hear His voice. It destroyed me, and I sank into depression. But then, I came across this verse:

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends.”

Matthew 15:15

He is our FRIEND! My sovereign is also my FRIEND! Obviously then, He does not want you to only fear Him. He wants you to love Him too. Merely fearing God will not see you through this journey. In fact, in a sense, fearing Him without loving Him can be more crushingly devastating than not fearing or loving Him at all. It robs you of the joy of fellowship with your loving Father, and multiplies the terror of being punished or disciplined by the wrath of the Almighty.

So, love the Father. Love God.

But you know what, that’s actually so much easier said than done. Fearing God is far easier. If you notice, most religions in the world possess the aspect of fear; you fear the consequences. Call it whatever you like – Karma, perhaps. If you do something bad, the universe might slap you back. If you do something that angers whichever spirit or god, they might curse you. And so you fear the gods. That is a universally accepted aspect of humanity’s relationship with deity, or deities. But Christianity is the only religion that also teaches us to “love God”. It even says that it is the most important commandment of all. It says that it is the sum of the entire law and all of the prophets (Matthew 22:40). This is what makes Christianity unique. We love our God. Or do we?

How do you love God? It’s hard enough to love something you can see. It is so much harder to love something you can NOT see. Interestingly, the opposite is true of fear. Do you know what humans fear the most? Why, things they can’t see! That’s why many people are afraid of the dark … because they can’t see. Many people are afraid of deep or dark water … because they can’t see how deep it is or what’s lurking inside. Many people fear doing new things … because they can’t see what will happen if they take that first step. Not being able to see is none other than the very essence of human fear. So fearing God is easier than loving Him, because it is within our nature to fear Whom we cannot see. But loving the God whom we cannot see … that, my friends, is hard!

So, I would like to challenge all of you to think today, how do you love God? This God whom you cannot see but who you know is there. This God whom you know loves you. This God who says He is going to take care of you. As the Apostle Paul said:

Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Romans 8:38

If you are leading a company or starting your business, it is critical that you love God, that you know that you love God, and that your words and your actions show that you love God. Because ironically, if you only fear God, then believing in Him is only going to make you crumble that much faster under pressure. Believing in God is only going to add to the anxieties and terrors of starting your business.

On the other hand, the more you love God, the more you will see Him. And the more you see Him, the more you will love Him; the more you will enjoy Him; the more the work of your hands will glorify Him. That is the end, the goal. After all, the fear of God may be the beginning of wisdom, but the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Originally published at our sister organization, www.africanbusiness.institute

Jun Shiomitsu

Founder & President at AVODA Group

Founder & President of AVODA Group. Prior to this, Jun was a banker for 13 years in Japan, the UK, and Switzerland, initially as the Assistant Vice President of the Treasury Department of Citibank Japan.

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