54. Righteous?

Meditations in Job : 54.  How can a Man be Righteous?

Job 25:4 How then can a man be righteous before God? How can one born of woman be pure?

Job has been protesting his righteousness and the three ‘friends’ have been struggling with that!  Bildad comes in, for the last time, with an attack on that assertion. It is in fact the last of the words from the friends. In the remainder of the book we will see Job speaking, then Elihu an outsider speaking, and then the Lord.

To start this last argument, Bildad exalts the Lord: “Dominion and awe belong to God; he establishes order in the heights of heaven. Can his forces be numbered? Upon whom does his light not rise?” (v.2,3) i.e. God is the supreme ruler who brings peace (implied)  and order to heaven. He calls upon countless angels to serve Him and His glory shines on all of creation. This is the God with whom we have to deal. So far, so good! Implied within all this is God’s perfection, perfection in His being and perfection in all He does. Before Him, Bildad continues in our verse above, how can any man stand righteous? How can any human being claim to be righteous?

He then sets up a strange comparison: “If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is but a maggot– a son of man, who is only a worm!” (v.5,6) If the moon and the stars are not bright in comparison to His glory (implied), how much less be a mere human being, who is but a maggot in God’s order of things?  I have heard the same being said in the sceptical derision of modern day atheists: If God is so great how could he possibly worry about such mundane and minute figures such as we are? And there is a great mystery – the love of God!

When we seek to examine Scripture as a whole, we come across two amazingly different pictures of mankind. The first puts us down:

  • For instance the apostle Paul wrote, “death came to all men, because all sinned.” (Rom 5:12) and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23)
  • David said, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me,” (Psa 51:5) and “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one,” (Psa 14:3) and, agreeing with Bildad, “no one living is righteous before you.” (Psa 143:2).
  • Jeremiah spoke similarly: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” (Jer 17:9)

So, this first position shows mankind as utterly sinful and in that respect, in their original state, there is nothing good about them. But there is a second view of mankind:

  • “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honour and put everything under his feet.” (Heb 2:6-8 quoting Psa 8) – this is mankind who God made to rule over the earth.
  • Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (Prov 8:30,31) i.e. God delighted in mankind when He made us!
  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn 3:16,17) i.e. God still loved this world – the people on it – even though we are sinners.

This latter position shows that we were created to a position of authority and rule and honour and even though we are fallen, God still loved us enough to send His Son to die for us. So, can we be righteous? That is Bildad’s concern. Can we be righteous apart from Jesus, we might add?

Consider: Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (Gen 6:9) and “Return his cloak to him by sunset so that he may sleep in it. Then he will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the LORD your God.” (Deut 24;13) and “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.” (Psa 1:5) and “But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God (Psa 68:3) and “Thus you will walk in the ways of good men and keep to the paths of the righteous.” (Prov 2:20) and “The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry” (Prov 10:3). ‘The righteous’ in all of these cases (and very many more in the Old Testament) are those who walk with God and follow His ways and are morally upright.

Let’s move on a step: Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6) and “to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” (Rom 4:5). Here we see ‘righteousness’ clarified as that which God declares over a person when they simply believe Him! Where there is faith, there is righteousness.  Can we be righteous? Yes, by walking with God – by receiving His salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, and being led by His Holy Spirit. This IS righteousness. We could say so much more on this subject but space forbids for the moment. Bildad, you’ll  need to see the wider testimony of Scripture and realise that although we are fallen, we are loved and, being loved, we can enter into a living relationship with God whereby He declares us righteous for believing what He has done for us and then for what He is doing in us.

Woe to Respected

Readings in Luke Continued – No.21

Lk 6:26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

The world is often a very deceitful place. All is often not as it seems, and especially so when it comes to people. Because of the sinful nature that we all inherit, there is this tendency in us, to be for us but against everyone else. We call it self-centredness and it produces behaviour in us whereby we show one thing on the outside but think or feel something else on the inside. We like to portray lives that are in control, we like to show ourselves as nice, sociable people, people who are good to be with, and therefore we often put on masks to pretend we are what we are not!

The verses we have been considering in these last few meditations are all about reality, about how only those who recognise their spiritual poverty can enter God’s kingdom, about how only spiritual hunger provides access to God, and about how tears of repentance pave the way to receive salvation. On the other side that reality has been about how affluence can be a real hindrance to realising our real needs, about how being well fed can be a real hindrance to creating a spiritual hunger, and about how laughter can cover up or even prevent revelation of our true state. Each of these three pairs of verses that we have considered so far, challenge us to face reality if we are to go on with God.

The counterpoint to today’s verse says, “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.” (v.22). That is the reality of knowing Jesus: you will be hated by some, excluded by some, insulted by some and rejected by some, and that is because they hate, want to exclude, insult and reject Jesus, and because you are his follower, the same comes your way! THAT is just how life is. Because of Sin and of Satan that IS how life is. That is the reality which we would prefer to forget. I have used the word ‘some’ in respect of people because it won’t be all people, for some will come looking and searching for him, but some will be all out against him, as we see in the case of modern crusading atheists.

Now we have been saying that our primary verses each day in the previous three mediations have been the counterpoint or opposite side of the preceding verses. Thus our verse today warns, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” The earlier verse warns that people will speak badly of us and now this verses warns against people speaking well of us. Why?

Jesus’ answer is because people only speak well of those they feel an affinity with, or those who do no upset them, or do not threaten them. He cites the false prophets of old. They said things bringing false assurance: “they are saying, `No sword or famine will touch this land,’” (Jer 14:15) and false hopes, “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They keep saying to those who despise me, `The LORD says: You will have peace.‘” (Jer 23:16,17).

No, the truth is that the Gospel IS Good News but it first calls men and women to repentance, to surrender to God, to acknowledge their sin, their godlessness and their unrighteousness. Without that it is not possible to receive God’s salvation through Jesus, and people don’t like to hear that. The Church of the twenty-first century is learning to build bridges to people, to soften people’s hearts with the love of God brought in practical ways, and yet still each person has to face their sin and their need and come humbly to God through Jesus – and many do not want to do that, and so they will speak out against us. It’s just how things are. The warning that Jesus gives us through today’s verse is essentially saying, “Beware when people are saying nice things about you, because they haven’t yet been challenged by your holy lives, and they haven’t yet been challenged by their own need.” There is potential deception here, the deception of thinking we are sharing the Gospel by our lives, when in fact we may simply be accommodating the world and making them feel nice.

We need to be careful here because many Christians have turned potential seekers away because of their arrogant, “I’m right and you’re wrong” attitude, or their insensitiveness to the plight of people and their lack of care and compassion for them. If people turn away because of our poor attitudes and behaviour, that is not what Jesus is talking about. We need, as we seek to present the Gospel by word and deed, to be loving, caring, accepting, respectful and compassionate and not condemning. We allow the Holy Spirit to convict, which is very different from condemning. Condemning writes people off so they give up and walk away, while conviction brings a need to act to bring the necessary change, to receive salvation.

No, we shouldn’t, as some sects do, use Jesus’ former words to excuse our bad approaches to people. And we shouldn’t use people’s reactions to our bad approaches to excuse us from the import of today’s verse: “Oh no, people don’t speak well of us! We’re all right.” If they speak badly of us because of our unloving and ungracious attitudes and approaches to non-believers, that is NOT what Jesus is speaking about. Our role is to present the Good News in as gracious and loving a way as possible, feeling for, understanding, sensing the anguish and need in people’s lives as Jesus did. When we do that we can rest and be at peace if people still speak badly of us, because then, and only then, it will be because of the challenge of Jesus. Let’s make sure that is how it is.

My Deceitful Heart

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?   Jer 17:9
We are considering in these early meditations in this series, that the starting place for understanding Easter and the Cross, is seeing our own state and our need. When I see myself as I  truly am, then I will see my need, and when I understand the Cross, I will understand that is it God’s answer to my need.
Now the Bible says a lot about ‘the heart’.   Of course it doesn’t just mean that muscular valve that pumps the blood round our body.  Vines Expository Dictionary identifies ‘heart’ as meaning, the ‘inner man’ (Deut 30:14), and the seat of:
·         ‘desire or inclination’ (Ex 7:14),
·         the ‘emotions’ (Deut 6:5),
·         ‘knowledge and wisdom’ (Deut 8:5),
·         ‘conscience and moral character’ (Job 27:6),
·         ‘rebellion and pride’ (Gen 8:21). 
  Consider some of those for a moment: desire or inclination, emotions, knowledge and wisdom, conscience and moral character.  Do you trust these things?  Jeremiah said the heart is deceitful; we can’t trust these things!  Now consider these descriptions in the light of this verse, one by one.
Your desire or inclination is deceitful?  Of course!  Do you know why you want to move in a particular direction always?  No, the driving force is often way below the conscious level, and should it surface we realise our motivating force is not a good one! We may think our motivation is good, but when we genuinely see it, we realise that so often it is actually self-centred. We’re doing it for our own selfish benefit!
Your emotions are deceitful? Of course they are. Do we always know why we’re feeling what we’re feeling?  No, of course not!   Often they’re responding to deep-down issues we’re afraid to face. Do you sometimes feel churned up but don’t know why? Do you sometimes feel angry about a relational situation where you think the other person is wrong, but after a while you realise that it is you who are wrong, and that your anger was in fact, simply self-justification. Oh no, our emotions can definitely be deceitful!
Knowledge and wisdom?   You know and understand all things?  You know and understand what you feel, why you act?  You’re an unusual person, a unique person, if you always do.  No, we often act instinctively rather than out of knowledge, without thought rather than with consideration, and if we did consider what is happening, we might act very differently! We assess people and jump to conclusions, and then we find out some more about them and realise we were completely wrong with our assessment. Our knowledge was incomplete!
Conscience and moral character?   OK, maybe for most of the time this is all right, as long as we do keep letting conscience (and the Holy Spirit) check us.   But do you ever find yourself rationalising a course of behaviour, why it’s really all right?  That’s just you being tricky, deviously overcoming your conscience, so that the next time your conscience will allow that path to be followed without qualm.  Oh yes, conscience can be deceived and deceitful!
On a good day when we obey the word of God and the prompting of His Spirit, all may be well, but on the day when we trust our own inner motivations we’ll find our desires are haphazard, our emotions all over the place, unthinking or incomplete responses ruling, and conscience justifying.   No, we desperately need a Saviour to deliver us today and every day.  We are prime objects of these con-merchants! When Jeremiah said our ‘heart’ our inner drive, was deceitful, he was absolutely right!
Lord, I place no trust in my own desires or inclinations, I won’t let my emotions be the arbiter of truth, I confess my unthinking approach to life so often, and I ask for your Spirit to stir and challenge my conscience, that I may walk in your ways.  Please lead me and guide me today.  I cannot trust myself and so I want to trust you, indeed I trust you to save me from these deceptions.