Job: Sermon 10: Part 2: Job’s Friends

Job 2v11 When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathise with him and comfort him.

We now turn to Job’s friends, who came to comfort him. The men went with the intention of comforting Job. God sent men who had pity upon Job and gave all appearance of having the skill and wisdom to comfort him. By their discourses, we see that they were exquisite persons. And so we might suppose that in sending these men, God was stretching out his hand to Job, to deliver him from the miseries that he had sent. But we see that this visit, by his friends, was intended to increase his misery and to plunge Job to the bottom of endless waves. From this, we should conclude that if at any time we have hope that we will be drawn out of our afflictions, we must not think it strange if the matter does not fall out as we conceived it. For we see how Job was disappointed of any hope that he may have had when he saw his friends approaching. We see how they became as devils to torment him more than he had ever been tormented before.

Of particular note here is that their mind was to comfort Job. They came with good, sincere motives and they did not intend to be the instruments of further torture. They did not come with the intention of mocking Job, although that is what they ended up doing. Perhaps they brought no malicious purpose, nor wicked intent with them. Rather, they possessed true good will and love towards him; it is stated clearly and plainly that they intended to have compassion upon him, but as all people know from their own experience, our own ego blinds us to our own faults and these men suffered from the psychological problems associated with ‘magnanimous men’.

We see the purpose of their visit and we see that nevertheless, Job had his affliction grievously increased by their visit.

We now look at this from the other side, from the point of view of those who came to visit Job, for it yields invaluable lessons concerning the application of pastoral care. Let us take warning from this example. Although we may be well minded towards our neighbours and desirous to comfort them in their miseries, yet God must guide us, or else our good intent will avail us nothing. In fact, when we see a fellow Christian afflicted by God, it behoves us to understand that our finite minds are invariably incapable of understanding either the state of mind of the individual in question, or why God is so working with this individual. We only know that God’s judgement is perfect and that ultimately ‘all things work to the good of those who love God’ (Romans 8v28). We must not allow ourselves to fall into the grievous sin of imagining that we understand something of amateur, or professional, psychology and start making judgements based on this; we must guard ourselves against the grievous sin of assuming “there’s always water where the turkey drowns”.

Job’s ‘friends’ made the cardinal error of making precisely this assumption; ‘there’s always water where the turkey drowns.’ Namely, since Job is suffering extremity, they assume that therefore he must have offended God in some way and therefore, he deserves what is coming to him. But the discourse between God and Satan demonstrates that the clean contrary is the case. Since Job was minding his own business, giving the outward appearance of leading a quiet godly life, they conclude that therefore it was his attitude towards God that was sinful and that God is displeased with his inward heart. They conclude that his current sufferings are proof of God’s displeasure at some part of Job’s sinful nature.

This underlying assumption is the characteristic error of many who train for the Christian pastorate. The students are taught how privileged they are to be entering the pastorate and emphasis is made on the superiority of the call to the pastorate over any other vocation. Then, in order to emphasise their own goodness and suitability for their calling, the teachers and principles will ascribe such slanderous motives to others in order to assert their own spiritual superiority and, by this, to prove that their own calling was genuine and that the world has special need of them. They  arrogate themselves above scripture when they play the ‘amateur psychologist’ act to produce a positive assessment of candidates whom they believe to be truly exquisite examples of God’s calling. They prove that their own calling was genuine by the remarkable abilities that the good Lord has given them to judge such issues. The devastating negative assessments that they make prove to them that their flock is in such great need of them, through the slander and character assassination (all carried out under exquisite words, with the very best of Christian intentions) of those whom they imagine to be the flock that God has entrusted to them.

When we see our neighbours in any danger or necessity, it behoves us to have compassion on them. It also behoves us, as Christians, to offer any assistance that we can, which will be of value to them. But here we ought to take great care, so that we do not fall into the trap of proceeding in a way that is guaranteed to do more harm than good; we ought to beseech God for the grace not only to be compassionate towards our neighbours, but also for the spirit of wisdom. If we attempt to show compassion while lacking wisdom, it is guaranteed that Satan will make the most of the opportunity and use our intervention to compound and increase the misery. He will make the most of our intervention as an instrument to drive the victim to despair.

There are many zealous persons, very earnest and desirous to show themselves charitable towards their neighbours, who only succeed in bringing a new torment to some poor creature who is already afflicted. We may note that Job’s friends were men of intellect and sincerity, as their speech shows. If we want to be of real assistance to somebody under extremity, it behoves us to take serious consideration of the words of the apostle Paul,

1 Thessalonians 4v11 Make it your ambition to ….. mind your own business.

This verse is particularly appropriate, because human nature proves how easy it is to fall into the very wicked sin of assuming ‘there’s always water where the turkey drowns’, or framing the situation that someone else finds themselves to one’s own limited and inaccurate understanding. It also appears to be human nature to fall into the sin of believing that God has worked miraculously so that, by the grace of God, one is truly gifted at offering pastoral care.

Most importantly, the Holy Scripture is quite clear that when a fellow Christian is suffering extremity, God Almighty himself has already equipped the believer to deal with it.

1 John 2v27 As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you and you do not need anyone to teach you.

Again,

1 John 4v4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

Of course, to consolidate their own position as super-apostles, they are so wise that they are able to shrug off 1 John 2v27 with the trite and arrogant remark ‘after all, John himself is teaching when he writes this’. This seems to be the standard line taken on this verse, in commentaries used by theological colleges, in order to dismiss anything that may be inconvenient for their line on training for the pastorate. Having castrated the Holy Scripture of its power and rendered it impotent, they then proceed with all the arrogance of people who believe that they have been given the gifts of a super-apostle.

1 Corinthians 4v8-10 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings – and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings, so that we might be kings with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of a procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to all men. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honoured, but we are dishonoured!

The ‘wisdom’ of these super apostles, described by Paul, very often manifests itself in the following way. Those super-Christians, the magnanimous men who have been especially endowed with marvellous insights to read the characters of others, demonstrate their remarkable savvy when their vicious imagination devises an utterly poisoned explanation of events that have taken place, which bears no relation to reality. The ‘wisdom’ of Job’s friends is a good illustration of this. The community, in front of whom the super-apostles are performing, then deem them to have the most marvellous insight and shrewdness. This reputation for insight and shrewdness continues even after the slander and character assassination on a particular occasion is proved to be just that; this occasion is considered to be the exception, where events did not turn out in the normal way. On the rare occasion that the wise, magnanimous man is proved right in his pronouncement, this is taken as the occasion that proves the point. This is the occasion that is remembered; the manifold other occasions where the dark pair of eyes simply produced an unjustified slander and character assassination are simply forgotten.

Of course, the magnanimous man who so arrogantly overshoots himself in this way is acting in all sincerity and fails to see that he is overshooting himself. He will be the first to accept that he is sinful and that, by the grace of God his sin has been dealt with at Calvary, but for him this is only a theoretical consideration. He does not own to any specific sins. His own ego blinds him to any manifestation of his own sinful nature. He sees those around him through a dark pair of eyes, for which he is warmly commended as a wise and shrewd man, and thus elevates himself, gaining the moral superiority over those around in his own mind and in the minds of those around him.

People may hold to their own moral superiority without expressing it. They take seriously the exhortations to bridle the tongue, but fail to understand that this is supposed to be a means to bridling the whole being and conforming it to godliness. One occasionally encounters ‘Christians’ who take their faith very seriously and have even underlined important verses in their bibles, such as Ecclesiastes 4v2 ‘God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few’ which indicate their own moral direction. They do indeed let their words be few, but when they do utter anything, it is so full of poisoned judgements that one wishes that they had let their words be even fewer.

We see in the discourses that follow that there was something of this in Job’s friends. They were clearly wise and eloquent men. They came with the best of intentions. Yet, they exhibited all the faults that those who are trained for the pastorate at an evangelical theological college are trained to have.

By the grace of God, we ought to learn to understand our own limits and not to go beyond them. If we encounter anybody who is afflicted, we bridle ourselves so that we do not add to the anguish.

Most importantly, we should pray that God not only gives us wisdom, but that he also put a loving kindness in us, if we are to be of any comfort at all. As the apostle Paul states,

1 Corinthians 13v7 Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always preserves.

Note that love always trusts, so the assumption that ‘there’s always water where the turkey drowns’, which is characteristic of the three friends who visited Job, indicates that there is no real Christian love present within them, although they give all the outward appearance of being Job’s loving friends.

We should note, from the remarkable discourses that follow, that those who come to comfort Job are no ordinary men. They are men of remarkable intellect, as their discourses, and the eloquence with which they delivered them, show. They are well advised on all points. Yet they proceed in such a way that there is no respite in them; they appear to beat Job relentlessly down into hell. And why is it so? God intended to show us how there is neither wisdom nor discretion in the mind of a person, nor any rule or measure in him, except that God himself gives it. Furthermore, even when we may believe that we are exercising true, Christian compassion and kindness, and we may even have a diploma or degree from a leading theological seminary to prove it, nevertheless, we may still be suffering from the powerful delusion spoken of by the apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2v11, exalting ourselves in arrogance above the position in which God has placed us. We may have a false understanding of the gifts we believe God has given us. We may have failed to understand the missions of Christian charity that the Lord has sent us on.

Let us be assured, then, that unless we are governed by God, we shall be of no comfort to those who are afflicted. For if Job’s friends, who were such excellent men, did overshoot themselves, how much more likely is it that our own efforts be utterly dismal, if we do not submit entirely to the will of God and earnestly pray for the loving kindness that the apostle Paul writes of.

It is said that ‘they took counsel to have compassion on him and to comfort him’. This shows us the duty of those who see themselves as the friends and neighbours of those who endure adversity. What does this entail? First and foremost, it requires a wisdom that can only be given by God, to let us see whether or not any comfort that we may try to bring may be of value. Secondly, although we may employ ourselves to the uttermost to be of use to those in need, yet it shall amount to nothing if we do not have the heart to be as they are and to join ourselves with them as though their grief was our grief. We may give all our material goods to the poor, and yet if we have not love, it is nothing, as the apostle Paul states.

1 Corinthians 13v3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

In so saying, the apostle Paul shows that we may well do many fair things, but these will nevertheless be but vanity, unless they are guided by love.

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