26. Job

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 26.  Job

Job 2:3    Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”

We are getting near the half-way mark in the 39 books of the Old Testament, Job being the 18th and I have pondered why exactly am I writing this particular series? (apart from the fact that I prayed and this seemed to be what the Lord was putting on my heart.) What am I trying to do, what do I feel is the aim of each study? Well perhaps as far as each study goes it is to lift up for inspection some of the gems found in every book of the Bible. As far as the entire Bible is concerned it is to see that although books vary in what we might call weight or significance, every book is part of the canon which the apostle Paul said was seriously useful for bringing us up, (2 Tim 3:16,17) and every book has gems within it worthy of our reflection and meditation.

Job is a book that for many is hard going. I did a series of meditations on it years ago and it is heavy stuff. If we are honest, I think many people think of Job as a valley covered with mist, so difficult is it. Now if that is an accurate analogy, then I would say as I come to it now, I come as if standing on a mountain looking down on this mist-covered valley and as I look various rockets burst up through the mist and explode in the clear air above producing a beautiful display. These rockets or highlights come at various places in the book and they bring light or clarity to the whole. The problem we struggle with is that the book largely comprises arguments between Job and his three friends about the reasons for Job’s state and, and here is the difficult part, so much of the time these three friends get it wrong, either partially or completely! That’s what makes it hazy or misty. So, all I intend to do is highlight these ‘rocket verses’ and make the briefest of comments.

1:1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” The start of this story is to describe Job as blameless and upright etc. Hold on to that when you read the book.

1:8  “Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” We are shown into heaven where the angels (and Satan is a fallen angel but is included here) parade before the Lord and it is the Lord who initiates discussion about Job. All that happens is because the Lord initiates it.

1:12 “everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Satan challenges whether Job will be so righteous if he is put under pressure and so the Lord allows that in a limited way. And then later (2:3) we get our verse above where the Lord points out that Job had NOT failed despite being under awful pressures.

2:10 “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” With all that Satan brings about, the record is clear: Job had not sinned.

Now those are the key starting ‘rockets’ that reveal what the whole book is about. Job is put under the most severe of physical and mental trials but has not sinned. For the next 29 chapters we have the debate between Job and his three ‘friends’. In the midst of these confusing pages, Job makes a most remarkable declaration:

19:25,26 “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” As this is thought to be one of the earliest books in the Bible with so little revelation existing beforehand, this is a most remarkable declaration.

In chapters 32 to 37, a young man, Elihu, presents a further viewpoint. Then in chapter 38 the Lord speaks:

38:1-4  “Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.”  Ooops!  Job you may have been right about being blameless before all this, but when you start declaring about God you are on tricky ground! In the chapters that follow (38-41) the Lord demonstrates His knowledge and His power. When the Bible describes God as ‘holy’ it means He is utterly different from anything else we know, and the lesson God brings Job is that when it comes to talking about God we need to guard our lips sometimes.

42:1-6 “Then Job replied to the LORD: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted….. Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know….. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job is humbled by his encounter with the Lord.

42:7 “After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” That is a remarkable affirmation of Job. Not only has he not sinned but he hasn’t spoken wrongly about God. It appears that if God has a problem with Job (as He previously chided him) it was simply that he had not maintained a humble spirit when he talked about the Lord. That needed remedying.

42:10,12  “After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before…. The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.”  The Lord didn’t just leave him but totally restored him and blessed him twice over.

There it is. Rocket after rocket being fired up out of the mist that shed light. It is both a strange and amazing book. The lessons are incredibly challenging. First, the enemy does NOTHING without the permission of God first. Second, God is thus supreme over all. Third, the Lord looks for faithfulness to Himself and to themselves, in each of His people. Remain true to God and be true to who He has made you and don’t let other people try to tell you that you are something else! Fourth, because the Lord has given us free will, He knows that in this ‘Fallen Post-Genesis 3 World’ things will go wrong and He will be working to ultimately put them right. There may be a variety of reasons for those things and they do NOT necessarily mean we got it wrong. Some things are down to our own folly, some to that of others and some to the works of the enemy, and sometimes, just sometimes, the Lord allows or even provokes those things to come about simply to discipline us for our good, but it is ALWAYS for our good. Rest in that and rejoice.

7. Qualifications for Elders (2)

Meditations in Titus: 7:  Qualifications for elders (2)

Titus 1:7,8  Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined

Here is the second time Paul says an elder or overseer must be blameless. The first time we saw was in respect of family relationships; this one is about general behaviour. The reason for this call to have a good reputation is given: “Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work…..” It is often said that every person who is a Christian is on God’s work  but the Bible emphasises that church leaders are in a way that others are not. We have suggested before that spiritual warfare is bruising and that the church leader is at the forefront of the battle that the enemy brings against the church. To be a church leader is to be called by God to a specific and difficult role.  It is a public role in that the member of the local church see him, but so does the onlooking world. For this reason he is both a representative of God and of the church and therefore must have a spotless reputation. Now to the specifics.

“not overbearing”. The dictionary definition of this is ‘acting in a dictatorial manner; arrogant; domineering.’ We sometimes speak of ‘the minister’ of a church but the word simply means a servant. Sadly I am afraid I can say I have seen spiritual leaders acting in a dictatorial manner, being arrogant and domineering. It is especially common where you have a large church with a large leadership team and a large staff. The temptation is to become ‘the boss’ in the way of the world and so often these descriptions are what are seen in the world. They should not be so in the church.

“not quick-tempered”.  A person who has a short fuse, we sometimes say, lacks self control and is impatient with people. Anger is right in unrighteous circumstances but getting angry with people is not the way of the servant. He is to treat people graciously. Both of these first two are about holding right attitudes towards other people, holding the attitude of a servant, as Jesus did.

“not given to drunkenness”. This is another lack of control issue. Alcohol is not wrong in itself but drinking in excess means you are no longer the person you are when completely sober. Observing a drunk can be a scary thing because you can never be sure how they will act. Loss of control means things can be said that would otherwise not be said. This is not to be the way of God’s servant.

“not violent”.  This is the natural follow-on to thinking about drunkenness but it can also have a wider application. In particular this man must not be violent with his wife or children. He is supposed to be an example to the flock. This is also linked to being overbearing and quick tempered. This is a man out of control and such a man should not be an elder.

“not pursuing dishonest gain”. This man is called to a holy profession and God will be his provider. The thought of ‘pursuing’ dishonest gain goes beyond a one-off mistake to an outlook that looks to get benefit and is not bothered how that comes. In whatever form this comes, whether it be in dubious business practices or in other things, it disqualifies a man from being an elder.

So far these have all been negatives, things we should NOT find in an elder and if they are, then I suggest the elder should step down or be stepped down. Now Paul comes to a positive list of things we should find in such a leader.

First, “he must be hospitable.”  A hospitable person is one who welcomes visitors or guests and cares for them making them feel at home and looked after. I would also suggest that this makes him approachable and warm.

He is also to be, “one who loves what is good.” Now this might sound obvious but it speaks of one whose heart is sold out to the good, given over to look for and pursue what is good. In reality there are lots of people in the world of whom this could not be said. Goodness is a characteristic of God and it is to be of our leader as well.

Third, he is to be “self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.”  I link all these together because the first and last are very similar  Discipline is simply another  way of speaking about self-control. Now they are linked with being ‘upright’ and ‘holy’. ‘Upright’ speaks of ethical correctness and ‘holy’ speaks of spiritual correctness. This man is in control of his life and ensures that he is right ethically and spiritually. As we have said he is to be an example to the flock and to others, a representative of God and of the church before the world. In all these ways he is to be seen to be ‘blameless’.

6. Qualifications for Elders (1)

Meditations in Titus: 6:  Qualifications for elders

Titus 1:6,7  An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.

If I may shorten the recap within the previous meditation to remind us what elders do: elders are to be men of maturity, who go ahead by example, who care for the flock, teach and challenge the flock to grow into maturity, resisting wrong teaching, and who should have spiritual authority and spiritual power. They are therefore, conduits of God’s blessing to His people.

Now if you think that is too high a calling, you are beginning to realise the reality of it. It IS a calling and a gifting and it is only able to be carried out with the grace of God. If that is the nature of the ministry, what must be the nature of the vessel bringing the ministry?

First, “an elder must be blameless.” He must seek to be a man of impeccable character because he represents God and is to be God’s channel of blessing. Now please, be realistic, none of us are perfect and so your man will have feet of clay the same as the rest of us. There will be times when he isn’t perfect, nevertheless generally he must be a man of good reputation. Now twice in this list Paul says the elder must be blameless, In verse 6 it would appear to be blameless in respect of family life and then in verse 7 in respect of personal character and personality. We will look at verse 7 in the next meditation and restrict ourselves here to considering family life because it is so important.  Now I realise we are about to move into contentious issues and so simply ask that we consider these things as the Bible says them and not as modern culture would try to make us go along with.

So, second, “the husband of but one wife.” Note he is a man and a man in a stable enduring marriage relationship. Let’s deal with the ‘male issue’ first. Where we have a society functioning as God designed, it we will have committed relationships (marriages) and children born to them.  I have been tempted to expand on the psychological reasons why in general God decrees that leadership will be male but will simply leave this statement which is true: in the Bible leadership is invariably male although there are rare exceptions. This has nothing to do with culture or history, I suggest, but more to do with God’s wisdom.

I realise we are living in an age where godless culture does not understand this and parts of the church are conforming to that culture’s norms but time will tell the truth of this before too many years pass. This is not in any way to demean women or restrict their gifting. Spiritual warfare can be bruising and elders are at the forefront of that. As I have heard someone say, “When you look at the realities of spiritual leadership and realise how tough it often is, you are crazy to want to be a leader unless you have God’s clear calling into it.”  Doctors and psychologists often say that church leadership is one of the most stressful jobs going. The injury rate or the casualty rate is phenomenal. If this is strange to you, count yourself fortunate that you have not seen this or been part of it. Most of the church leaders that I know are damaged in some way by the ministry; as we said spiritual warfare can really be bruising, and that is an understatement.

The call to be blameless here, I believe, is a call to be accusation free wherever possible and in respect of their marriages spiritual leaders are always vulnerable. If the truth was known about many marriage relationships, many wives might well disqualify their husbands from that role (or husbands disqualify themselves). Is this a reason why the church is so often powerless and impotent?.

Third, “a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.” He is thus a father who has been fully involved with his family and taken part in the training and brining up of his children, including their spiritual teaching.  In the letter to Timothy, Paul includes in this same list, “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)” (1 Tim 3:4,5) This element is an important one. A man who has not been able to train his children appropriately so that they are not disruptive and disobedient is lacking. It is a sign of maturity that he is able to do that. How we deal with our children will be a sign of our maturity and its absence is revealed in the way our children respond in life I believe.

When we pray for our leaders, I wonder do we pray for their families? I have mentioned spiritual warfare more than once and as I have observed the families of leaders, there are some beautiful ones to behold but at the same time there are ones where the enemy is causing havoc. Husband and wife relationships and parent and children relationship can be, if we are not very careful, major battlefields where the enemy seeks to lead astray or pull down individuals.  Any parent will at times anguish for their children and cry to the Lord for help and an entire study could be written on the ways the enemy seeks to upset relationships and subsequently ministries.

If we are a leader honesty is vital. We must face the reality of our marriages and our relationships with our children and their relationships with us, with one another and with God. These are areas of major vulnerability that require us to think much, pray much, and do all we can to enable us to be leaders who are full of grace and truth, have families that are full of grace and truth, and establish churches that are full of grace and truth.

68. Final Comment

Meditations in Job : 68. A Final Comment

Job 1:1, 2:3, 42:7 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil…  Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”……         the LORD .. said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

So, we have come to the end of what has been quite a long and difficult book. The first two chapters were all-important to our understanding; they show us the reason why Job was suffering – and it wasn’t anything to do with his sin. In the arguments that follow the three ‘friends’ declare again and again that it must all have happened because of Job’s sin.  Their arguing is like the waves on the shore, coming in one after another and trying to encroach up the beach.  But Job won’t have it.  He looks back and he is certain in his mind that he has done everything he possibly could to be righteous: I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.” (Job 27:6)

In this he surely challenges those of us who are modern Christians, for rarely does one hear this being spoken about, this possibility of living a righteous life where we can be called ‘blameless and upright’. The New Testament is clear on its teaching, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us,” (1 Jn 1:8) and that is all most of us hear! Righteousness doesn’t deny that we are sinners, but it does declare that we can be all out for God and, as much as we are that, we are living according to His will and are righteous.  Righteousness, Paul tells us, is believing God, not living according to the rules but in harmony with God: “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.” (Rom 3:20) and “God will credit righteousness–for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Rom 4:24). In one of the meditations in this series we concluded that ‘the righteous’ are those who walk with God and follow His ways and are morally upright. From our New Testament perspective they are those who walk with God in a clearer relationship than ever before because of the coming and the work of Jesus on the Cross on our behalf.

The battle that is seen in Job is whether he will hold on to the truth or whether he will be diverted and curse God. Twice Satan maintains he will be able to get Job to curse God and once Job’s wife exhorts him, “Curse God and die!” (2:9) but instead we read, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” (2:10). The worst Job can eventually be chided for is speaking into a situation that he did not understand: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” (38:2). Neither he nor we know what is going on in the courts of heaven. Sometimes we would do well to heed Solomon’s wise counsel: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Prov 10:19).  Moreover, it is probable that our words are never perfect and we come short in understanding.  The lesson is very clear: when we do not know what is going on, may we just continue to be faithful.  If we cannot see the way ahead or we do not understand what is happening around us, let us simply declare the foundational truths that we who live in New Testament times should know: God loves me, Jesus died for me, and God is working in all that happens for my good.  There may be many more things we can give thanks and praise for, but those are always foundational basics that we should be declaring.

Job did not live with the revelation that we have and so it makes it all the more wonderful that in the midst of his anguish and in the midst of fending off the guilt inducing comments of his friends he can declare some amazing truths: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (13:15). That is a great statement of trust. But see what follows: “Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend.” (16:19-21). In heaven there is one who will speak up for him. How could he known about the Son of God???? But he continues: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes–I, and not another.” (19:25-27)   What an amazing declaration of truth of his eternal destiny was that!  These are some verses that almost defy our understanding. They appear as pure revelation. They are absolutely true but come in a time when no such knowledge was available.  As such they remind us that when we are living in relationship with the Lord, He will share things by His Spirit that can be known in no other way than directly from heaven.

If you are like me, the complexity of the words and the arguments are so great that you are left thinking, what was that passage all about, and that simply means that we will need to go back over and over this book until we are familiar with it.  I think it will be well worth the effort.  Enjoy – again and again.  For myself, I am left feeling very much aware that what I have written through this series needs rewriting again and again for there is so much more to be seen.   So, of you come back here in six months time, the words may be different, but isn’t that what learning is all about.  May Job challenge us to be learners, going to new depths of understanding. Amen.

34. Security

Meditations in Job : 34.  Security in God

Job 13:13-15 “Keep silent and let me speak; then let come to me what may. Why do I put myself in jeopardy and take my life in my hands? Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him”

There are religious people who get upset at any wrong word spoken before God. The God they know is harsh and judgemental and who will strike out at anyone who says a word out of place. That is not the picture of the God of the Bible. I have always marvelled at Moses’ willingness to argue with God. His two-chapter dialogue (Ex 3 & 4) is an amazing example of someone making excuses before God, but then his knowledge of the Lord is very limited so he gets away with it. But after all the Exodus happenings, the deliverance from Egypt, the journeying to Sinai and the revelation received at Sinai, you might think Moses has learnt to hold his tongue before an Almighty and Holy God but when the Lord threatens to destroy the makers of the golden calf, we find Moses arguing with God not to do it. As a young Christian I was always fascinated by preachers speaking of Moses ‘importuning’ God. It means soliciting Him or persistently pressing Him. It becomes clear that this is exactly what the Lord wanted of him. When God comes in the flesh in the form of His Son, Jesus, there are lots of interactions between Jesus and his disciples, especially Peter who was always opening his mouth to put his foot in it. Having observed that at length, I conclude that Peter felt utterly secure in Jesus’ presence and felt quite able to speak his mind. When we come to Job, we find something very similar.

See how he starts out in this next part of our study: “Keep silent and let me speak;” (v.13a). Come on, guys, give me space, allow me to say what is on my heart, is what he is saying. But note how our verses above continue, “then let come to me what may.” (v.13b). Wow! In other words, let me speak my heart and I’ll take whatever comes. Now those are either words of careless folly or they are words spoken out of immense security, and I suggest it is the latter. In one sense, perhaps, he’s already received so much suffering and sorrow that perhaps he thinks there is nothing more that God can do, but the words that follow seem to have more assurance behind them than that somewhat negative and fatalistic view of it. He asks a question about his actions: “Why do I put myself in jeopardy and take my life in my hands?” (v.14). He realises that speaking rashly before God is a dangerous and foolhardy business, but then he speaks out words of immense confidence in the Lord: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (v.15a).

Those must be some of the great words of this book. God can take my life if that is His desire, yet I will trust Him for whatever comes after that, I will hope in Him, I will put my entire future into His hands and feel utterly secure in what He will do with me. Some of these Old Testament saints were incredible!  I always marvel at the way the writer to the Hebrews spoke about Abraham being willing to offer Isaac, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead.” (Heb 11:19) These men shame our often weak faith. Job has such confidence in the Lord and his relationship with Him that he is not afraid to say, “I will surely defend my ways to his face.” (v.15b) To His face? Job is willing to look God in the eye and defend himself!

But his confidence goes on and on: “Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would dare come before him! (v.16). This will turn out for my deliverance? In this he trusts in God’s loving goodness and His faithfulness to what Job knows about Him, and then also in his own godliness. It is not pride to be able to look the truth in the face when it is about yourself. The apostle Paul taught, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Rom 12:3). Humility is the ability to see yourself as you are, to see your limitations AND to see your grace that God has given you. Job knew that he had been godly and wasn’t ashamed of it, and so also trusted that God would honour that godliness. In fact as he goes on, he builds on that certainty: “Listen carefully to my words; let your ears take in what I say.” (v.17). I’m happy to enlarge on this, is what he infers.

He continues, “Now that I have prepared my case, I know I will be vindicated.” (v.18). I’ve thought about this, is what he is saying, and I trust God and trust what I know about my own motivation and actions, and I believe I will be vindicated by Him. Indeed, when we come to the end of the book, as we’ve noted before, the Lord declare to the three friends, you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7). Job concludes his case, Can anyone bring charges against me? If so, I will be silent and die.” (v.19). Look, he says, as I look back over my past life, I have examined myself and I am not conscious of having stepped out of line and having sinned, therefore you won’t be able to find anything legitimate to say against me; you can make these generalisations about me being a sinner, if you like, but I challenge you to find specific wrong things that I did. That is an amazing claim. It is similar to Paul’s claim to the Thessalonians: You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.” (1 Thess 2:10). It’s not a pride thing to be able to say this. It is a simple statement of truth spoken in humility. We should not be ashamed to say, “With God’s help I have been righteous this day”. Job actually has some lessons in humility for us. May we heed them!

26. Need for Focus

Meditations in Job : 26 :  A Need for Focus

Job 9:22,24 It is all the same; that is why I say, `He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’ ……… If it is not he, then who is it?

We struggle to understand our world. Science, in its simplest form, is simply the observation of what is and how it works. We make great endeavour to find out and sometimes it is not easy. A scientist comes up with a hypothesis but then finds they have to readjust it in the light of new evidence.  We have ‘world views’, personal outlooks on how the world works. Some people have a world view that the world is purely material and there is nothing else. Others, such as Christians, realise the world is both material and spiritual and we understand that God exists, angels exist and demons exist. We believe in Satan and sin, and these help us understand some of the things that happen in life, but it is all about observing what is, and drawing conclusions from it. The only trouble is that we don’t have all the evidence and so we jump to wrong conclusions, and those are seen in the forms of other so-called world religions. Most world religions are mankind reaching out for the unseen God. When we come to Judaism and Christianity we find God reveals Himself. The fuller picture only comes with revelation.

One of the difficulties about revelation is that you have to go looking for it, so here is the whole Bible available to us, but few of us take the time and effort to read it and find out what is being revealed through it. If the commentators are right, and the book of Job is one of the oldest books in the Bible, then Job had a problem – he didn’t have all this revelation that we now have through The Book.  Job is looking at the world through the fuzzy eyes of pre-revelation, and he needs to have his eyes focused by The Book so that he can see more clearly. It is because he didn’t have this revelation, I suggest, that God didn’t hold it against him what he says in these passages. As the apostle Paul said, where there is no law there is no transgression.” (Rom 4:15) and sin is not taken into account when there is no law.” (Rom 5:13)

Let’s see what Job was saying, picking up from where we finished in the previous meditation: Although I am blameless, I have no concern for myself; I despise my own life.” (v.21). He comes to the point where essentially he says, “I’m sure I’m blameless (I’ve searched myself) but to be quite honest, I’ve just given up and I’m past caring about myself and I despise my life and wish I were dead.” It’s then that he makes this rather strange comment:It is all the same.” (v.22a). Do you see why I spoke about ‘focus’ earlier on, because if a person is short sighted and they lose their glasses, everything becomes a blur and it is all the same, nothing is distinct, nothing is in focus.

Now he continues, that is why I say, `He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.” (v.22b) Without revelation, this is his eventual conclusion, having observed the events in his life, that God seems to destroy both the blameless and the wicked, everyone seems to come under the same hammer. He observes what he sees in life: “When a scourge brings sudden death, he mocks the despair of the innocent.” (v.23).  When the Black Death, as it was called, came to London in the Middle Ages, it swept away all before it, innocent and guilty. Albert Camus wrote The Plague, a book that struggled with this problem, that God seemed to be a killer God who did not discriminate. Indeed Job goes further as he thinks about it:When a land falls into the hands of the wicked, he blindfolds its judges.” (v.24). In other words, when unrighteousness takes over a land, there is no justice and the innocent suffer alongside the guilty. Around the world in a variety of countries there is persecution against the church, and the innocent are imprisoned, beaten and killed. When there is no focus, it is all blurred and it seems like this is all the work of God, for as Job concludes, If it is not he, then who is it?” Now THAT is a good question!

It is here that we come face to face, yet again, with the great dilemma that faces us as we observe the world. Is this the work of God to sweep away the innocent, or is He powerless to stop it happening?  It is at this point that we might be helped to think of God’s inactivity as ‘voluntary self-control’ or even some of his activity as ‘loving anguish’. Let’s take the former first. Of course God could step in and stop all evil. He is God and He has unlimited power, but that doesn’t mean He always uses it. If He did we would cease to be human beings. We would cease to be beings that can make choices, make decisions and take sovereign action – and this independence we value very highly. Where would we want God to draw the dividing line? With murders and rapists, with thieves, with people who beat and abuse their children, with those who cheat on their taxes, with those who tell lies, with those who speak slander, or with those who think wrong thoughts? Where do you draw the line? It is an impossibly for this line to be drawn. You either permit free will or you create a race of robots. It IS as simple as that.

But you say, this isn’t all about God sitting back and doing nothing! Job’s situation is provoked by God. It may have been Satan who did it, but it was God who authorized it! Well yes, God authorizes everything that happens and sometimes He authorizes distress and even death but whenever He does, the Bible hints that it deeply distresses Him. The parent who goes to smack his child for a serious and dangerous rule infringement is heard to say, “This will hurt me more than you.” The child doesn’t believe that but then he doesn’t understand the anguish of the loving father who hates to see anything painful happening to his child, but who yet knows that for the child’s further safety this is the only way that the child will remember and stay away from the harm. We venture out onto a whole new area of thinking here, if we dare to stretch out our minds and realise that in a fallen world, sometimes the difficulties and pain work for a greater good – and the Cross is the classic example of that.

Make sure you get the focus of the Scripture. God does not create evil or do evil. God does not tempt us into doing wrong. Those things come from Satan and from sin in human beings. If sin never existed, none of the rest would follow, but ultimately everything goes back to the subject of a fallen world. This side of heaven we live with it, but we have the comfort that comes through the revelation that, Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb 13:5). The Lord is always there with us in it, and He feels (see Jn 11:35) with us in it and, moreover, His grace (His resources) is there for us (see 2 Cor 12:9, 2 Cor 9:8, Phil 4:19) in it. The day may be difficult, but the Lord is in it with us, feeling it with us, and there to help us in it. That is the clear perspective of life in this fallen world.

23. Trial or Rejection

Meditations in Job : 23 :  Trial or Rejection

Job 8:20 Surely God does not reject a blameless man or strengthen the hands of evildoers.

We commented previously that not only is Job being tested, but so are his three friends and so are we when we read about him – and them! In fact the truth is that we are being tested – and revealed – every time we encounter another human being. How do we ‘cope’ with other people? How easy it is to be defensive about other people, or judge or assess them if they don’t quite match up to what we think a ‘nice’ person is, or even ‘our kind of person’ is. If we are Christians it is even easier to find ourselves assessing or judging people because of how they appear to us. We each of us have our ‘theological viewpoints’ (even though most of us would deny we are theologians), because we have certain understandings and those direct us how we should think about others.

Bildad is no different. We’ve seen him throughout Chapter 8, directly challenging Job, and about what has happened to his family. We saw his assessment of what had happened to Job’s children (v.4) even though there was no indication whatsoever that they had been sinning. How often, I wonder, do we jump to conclusions when we don’t have all the facts? One of my favourite short stories by Adrian Plass is about a poor man who wouldn’t take Communion in an Anglican church. The vicar jumped to the conclusion that there must be sin in his life until, when pressed, he confessed he had a hole in the sole of his shoe and didn’t want to kneel at the communion rail so that people would see the hole!

The implication that went with what happened to the children was that Job was to blame for their bad behaviour, because Bildad then went on to explain to Job (as if he needed it explaining) that if you straighten yourself out before God He will forgive and restore you (v.5-7). Of course it was being said as a general principle but Job knew that it was aimed at him. He then called on previous generations (tradition) to confirm what he was saying (v.8-10) and went on to explain that if we drift away from God we can be snatched by the enemy (v.11-19). In all that he is saying, there is either a direct or indirect link between sin and judgment (suffering).  This is Bildad’s world-view and there is a lot of truth in it. The only problem is that chapters 1 and 2 reveal to us that actually sin wasn’t at the heart of all this! This is not happening because Job sinned, because he didn’t!

This is why Bildad now comes to this condemning piece of logic: Surely God does not reject a blameless man or strengthen the hands of evildoers.” God doesn’t reject a blameless man and so wouldn’t dream of judging him with suffering – that’s the implication – so what should follow but which remains unsaid is, “And so, Job, the logical conclusion has got to be you are a sinner and we all know that the only hope for a sinner is that they repent of their sin.” That’s all wrapped up in the implication of what has just been said, and now what follows it: He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy. Your enemies will be clothed in shame, and the tents of the wicked will be no more.” (v.21,22) Yes, if you repent of your sin then God will make everything right again.

See it yet again, that we have truth applied to a wrong situation. He’s absolutely right, God does not reject a blameless man, but who’s to say that what is happening is God rejecting Job?  For us as Christians the New Testament bears witness that the Lord will never leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5). If we stumble and fall, Jesus is there interceding for us (1 Jn 2:1). Yes, we can purposefully walk away but while our hearts are inclined in His direction, even weakly, He is there for us and nothing can separate us from His love (Rom 8)

So why is all this happening if it isn’t God rejecting Job? We’ve seen it before a number of times but we need to say it again and again until it has utterly permeated our hearts. God doesn’t reject us but He does try us. Yes, He does put us through trying times so, as James says,the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:3,4) That is what more often happens when things are ‘going wrong’; the Lord is allowing us to be tested so that we will learn to stand and be strong and remain faithful. Little children want to keep on giving up when things are difficult, but the mature person settles in for the duration, determined that with God’s grace they are going to see this difficulty through.

Trials or tests come in lots of ways in life. In fact one might say they are a necessary part of life. A piano tuner tests all the keys of a piano to ensure they are in tune. A doctor puts a stethoscope to your chest to test that your heart is functioning properly, and takes your blood pressure for the same reason. When a piece of electronic equipment breaks down, the engineer carries out a series of ‘diagnostics’ to find out what has happened to stop it working properly. In each of these instances, a test is being carried out to ensure that whatever it is, is working properly.  We are being tuned by life to function as Jesus. Paul said we are being changed into his likeness gradually by the working of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 3:18).

The Bible speaks about maturity as something that we are working towards (e.g. Eph 4:12,13, Col 4:12, Heb 5:14). This is what God is doing with our lives – helping us grow up into maturity. How does He know how well we are doing? By putting us through a test! That is what is happening to Job and the only trouble is that his three friends don’t realise that, which is why they keep making a wrong diagnosis. When things go wrong in our lives, do we realise that this is a diagnostic test being carried out in heaven? God’s desire is that a) we learn through it, and b) we pass it with flying colours!  May it be so!

3. Chosen

Ephesians Meditations No.3

Chosen & Predestined

Eph 1:4,5 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.

There is a simple word at the beginning of these verses that tells us something significant: “For”. A longer way of putting it would have been, “Because of this…”. ‘For’ takes us back to the previous verse that we saw in the previous meditation: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (v.3). We saw then that Paul praised God because God had blessed us. Now he expands on that blessing. He goes right back to fundamentals. Let’s look at these fundamentals.

First of all, “he chose us”. We are what we are as Christians because God chose us. It wasn’t the other way round, as we so often think it is. But it isn’t that He just chose us a week before we turned to Him. Oh no, He chose us “before the creation of the world.” This is amazing. This is God who Created this world and before He created it He looked into the future, saw what would happen, saw sin, saw the need for the Cross, saw us coming into the world and (I suggest) saw that we would be those who would respond to the good news of Jesus Christ and at that point said, “Yes, they will be my children.” We see this sense of God’s planning before the world came into being, a number of times in Scripture – Jn 17:24, 1 Pet 1:20, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2.

But there are two crucial words that we have missed, “in him” – “he chose us in him before the creation of the world.” Jesus is the way God chooses who will be His. As we noted above, it is those who will respond to the good news of Jesus who are saved. Therefore in the planning before God made the world, He looked into the future and saw that when you heard about Jesus, you would respond. THAT was the crucial means of assessment. Right back then, God had it in mind that you would become His child at this point in history and your response to Jesus was the way that would happen.

But there is a further explanation. We were called with a purpose: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” That is the end product of the work of Jesus and you responding to the wonderful news that he has died for your sins, guilt and punishment, means that God may declare you holy and blameless in His sight! Because you have surrendered your will to God, declared your belief that Jesus has died for your sins, and sought His forgiveness and lordship, He has declared you forgiven
AND cleansed so you ARE holy and blameless in His sight. Yes, we know there is a practical day by day righteousness to be worked out and that will be a process of change that goes on until we die and go to heaven, but as far as God and justice is concerned, you ARE holy and blameless NOW . That is the wonder of this salvation of ours. Yes, we know there is an ongoing work of change to be continued throughout our lives but we are not having to focus on getting right in God’s sight, we are not having to earn His approval, because He has declared it already. That is why the Gospel is GOOD news! How wonderful”

But Paul isn’t content with saying it once; now he repeats it: “ In love he predestined us.” Now because the original didn’t have punctuation, you will find a note in your Bible that the words “in love” may come at the end of the previous sentence. It doesn’t really matter where they come because both sentences say the same thing, but it is important to note that this work of God is a love work, something He does because He is love (1 Jn 4:8,16). This is all about God’s love being expressed to whoever will receive it.

But now he uses the word ‘predestined’. Some of us get very caught up in the sovereignty of God with the use of this word. Yes, the Lord is sovereign but, I suggest, the Bible does include our free will in this. There’s no room for boasting in this. I have no idea why I responded to the Gospel and a friend didn’t, but free will is suggested when Peter uses the expressions about God knowing beforehand: “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.” (Acts
2:23) and “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God.” (1 Pet 1:2). Predestination, we suggest, therefore is more about God choosing the ‘method’ of choice and knowing who would respond, rather than making people believe or not believe, which would lead us into a cruel God scenario.

The things we have been starting to consider (and they will come up again) are seen widely in the New Testament, e.g. “we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.” (1 Thess 1:4), “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose . For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Rom
8:28 ,29) and, “from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thess 2:13). So there we are, chosen by God, for a purpose and it’s all about blessing and love. How wonderful!

A Lamb without Blemish

Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household…. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect Ex 12:3,5
he must bring to the LORD a young bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed. Lev 4:3
God made him who had no sin to be a sin offering for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor 5:21
We have already thought about Christ coming as a sacrifice, as the Lamb of God, but we now focus on one aspect of that so that we may wonder even more at God’s goodness to us.    There are a variety of pictures in the Old Testament history of Israel‘s life with God that say things about sacrifice.   We have already considered the Passover lamb but let’s remind ourselves that the requirement for the lamb was that it was ‘without defect’.   Similarly in the Law of Moses, in Leviticus, in chapter 4, wherever an animal was to be a substitute for sin,  i.e. a ‘sin offering’, whether it was a bull (v.3,14), a goat (v.23,28) or a lamb (v.32), each creature was to be ‘without defect’.
Why ‘without defect’? Well possibly for various reasons. The first reason would be so that the giving of this lamb for God’s purposes would not be done casually.  The owner would have to take care in choosing.
The second reason is that having taken care, he now has to commit his very best to the Lord. (Cain was chided for being casual with his offering – Gen 4:3-5).
The third reason is that this sacrifice has no need to be put to death – there is nothing defective about it that should warrant its death.
Fourthly, there is a sense whereby we might say that it had no sin to deserve its death and so its perfection highlights the awfulness of what is happening to it – a totally blameless creature is taking the sin of completely guilty people.
Now, if you look at these reasons and apply them to Jesus, you see something wonderful. His coming as The Lamb was carefully decided in heaven, the very best that heaven could commit to the task, and there was nothing about him that was defective, nothing that warranted his death.   Heb 7:26 tells us that Jesus was ‘holy, blameless, pure.’   Peter tells us that he came as this lamb, ‘without blemish or defect’ (1 Pet 1:19 ).   What point are we making?   That you and I were redeemed by a perfect being.   He didn’t deserve it, but we did.    The one who stepped into your ‘condemned cell’ was utterly perfect.   If you imagined him as a cup, he was empty of sin, so would take all your sin, every single drop of it.   There was no element of your sin that he didn’t die for.
Lord, I am beginning to realise the completeness of what Jesus did. There is no sin of mine that hasn’t been taken by him. I am utterly cleansed. Thank you so much!