Scripture: Job 38:1-11; 42:1-6
I want to make three points in today’s sermon: Point Number One: What Job’s friends got right. I’ll call this Point 1-A. As part of that point, I do need to say a word about what they got wrong. I’ll call this Point 1-B: the danger of words. Point Number Two: What Job got wrong. And Point Number Three: What about Jesus/
For five years I pastored the Hampton United Methodist Church in Hampton, Georgia, on the south side of Atlanta, where the NASCAR track is. Around Christmastime 2016, shortly after the presidential election, our church was inundated with angry phone calls and emails because a photo of our church sign—prominently displaying the words “Hampton United Methodist Church”—made the rounds on social media. And this photo showed the words of a tasteless, partisan political joke on the church sign.
People were irate that our church would have the nerve to place a partisan political joke on our church sign.
But here’s the thing: our church wouldn’t have the nerve to do that! If you know me, you know I simply wouldn’t dare to mix up something as trivial as partisan politics with the church—and, especially, the gospel of Jesus Christ. I don’t care how you vote, you need Jesus! So why would I risk offending you before you ever walk into the doors of our church? The stakes are too high. I would never do that!
Of course, as it turns out, the words of this political joke were photoshopped onto the sign. In other words, it was fake! Ugh!
But people from across the country were calling and emailing and leaving angry messages on our Facebook page because there was this photo, online, of our church sign! But we couldn’t convince anyone that the sign was fake! A graphic designer friend even told me that it was a bad photoshop job. But it didn’t matter: we couldn’t convince anyone it wasn’t true!
Anyway, I recalled that awful experience last week when I saw another church sign that was making the rounds on social media. It was a Baptist church this time, and I don’t know if it’s real. The top two lines of the sign read—in those same removable plastic letters—“God holds each accountable for sin and will punish.” And then the line right below it had the pastor’s name, Larry Wilhite. Maybe he was preaching a sermon on the topic of God’s judgment. Who knows? But putting all the words together, the sign read, “God holds each accountable for sin and will punish Larry Wilhite.”
If the sign is fake, I know from personal experience that that Baptist church is going to have a hard time convincing the world that it’s fake!
Now substitute the name “Job” for “Larry Wilhite.” “God holds each accountable for sin and will punish Job.” You’d have a devil of a time convincing Job’s three friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—that those words were not true. Because these three friends really, really believed that God must be punishing Job for his sins. That’s why Job was suffering so much!
We know from last week that that isn’t true. We know it! Job is not suffering because of his sins. On the contrary… He’s suffering because of his righteousness. But Job’s friends don’t believe it.
Here’s one very typical response from Job’s friends. This comes from Eliphaz in chapter 22:
Is it because you’re so pious that [God] accuses you
and brings judgment against you?
No, it’s because of your wickedness!
There’s no limit to your sins.
Then Eliphaz gives hypothetical sins that Job must have committed that led to his suffering:
For example, you must have lent money to your friend
and demanded clothing as security.
Yes, you stripped him to the bone.
You must have refused water for the thirsty
and food for the hungry…
You must have sent widows away empty-handed
and crushed the hopes of orphans. 1
You get the idea… Job is suffering, his friends say, because of his sins. He deserves to suffer because of his sins.
The three friends—not to mention young Elihu, who shows up later—are wrong about that, and there’s no convincing them otherwise… at least until God shows up at the end and sets them straight.
But… they’re not entirely wrong. And this is one reason Job is such a fascinating, yet challenging book. Because it’s steeped in ambiguity. All five people in this book are at least partly right and partly wrong… Again, at least God shows up at the end and sets everyone straight.
But in Point Number 1-A, let’s spend a few moments appreciating what Job’s friends get right.
So I invite you to turn in your Bibles to Job chapter 2, verses 11 to 13. It says:
When three of Job’s friends heard of the tragedy he [Job] had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him… When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him. Wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to show their grief. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.
Do you get the picture? The three friends showed up and they didn’t say anything. For seven days they sat on the ground with Job. And didn’t say a word… Because Job’s suffering was too great for words!
These friends did exactly the right thing. They said exactly the right thing: which was nothing at all. They showed up… and they shut up.
This is good pastoral care, by the way. Some of y’all are afraid to visit people who are suffering because you don’t know what to say!
That’s fine! Just do what Job’s friends do: Just sit there and say nothing. Your presence is enough. There’s even a technical term for this. Pastoral counselors call it the “ministry of presence.” So you’re not doing nothing. You’re practicing the “ministry of presence,” and that’s often the most important way to minister to someone who’s suffering!
Some of y’all will remember a dear sister in Christ—a nursing student at Toccoa Falls—named Jenna Lannuier [LAN-YER], who was a member of this church. She was a youth intern, too. Back in 2020, she had the nerve to get married to another dear member of our church, Jay Mullens, and move to Gainesville.
Back in the fall of 2019, my wife, Lisa, broke her leg in two places—which caused great suffering… for me. I’m kidding. It was very hard on Lisa, especially, but hard on our whole family. And Lisa needed to have surgery. It was kind of scary, I’ll be honest. Dr. Vaughan was performing the surgery and did a great job. But while the long surgery was going on, I was sitting in the surgical waiting room at Stephens County Hospital—and there was nobody else there for most of that time. I felt lonely and a little scared.
But Jenna showed up. She asked a few questions. She didn’t say much of anything. Didn’t quote scripture. Didn’t discuss the theological meaning of suffering, didn’t try to reconcile God’s goodness with evil in the world. She didn’t have to! She just sat there with me for a couple of hours while Lisa was in surgery.
And that’s all she needed to do.
Her love, her compassion, her kindness melted my heart, and I still remember it fondly.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2.
Just show up and shut up! That’s not hard for any of us to do!
Show up and shut up. That’s what these friends did right. And that’s Point Number One-A.
Before moving on, I need to point out that the friends did also cause great harm when they opened their mouths… I’m not minimizing that. And God isn’t either!What they said to Job was so harmful that in chapter 42, God made them seek Job’s forgiveness and to offer a sacrifice for their “sins of the tongue,” which were deadly serious.
And this is a reminder of how deadly dangerous our words potentially are. Remember what the Lord’s half-brother James says in his letter? He compares our tongue—the words we use—to the tiny rudder of a large ship at sea or the tiny bit in a horse’s mouth. These relatively small organs, he says, have the power to direct or steer or guide the very course of our lives. And James warns that for far too many of us—far too often—our words lead us astray. They lead us into sin. They cause great harm! He writes:
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell… no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 2
Jesus doesn’t take “sins of the tongue” any more lightly than James. He says that using words to insult one another is the spiritual equivalent of breaking the sixth commandment… It’s on the same spectrum, in other words, as murder.
So much for “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt he.” That’s a lie, according to God’s Word!
Think about it: We need a license to operate a car; we need a license to handle a firearm; we need a license to practice medicine. Why? Because of the potential harm that we can cause, even accidentally, by misusing these things. Yet… the Bible says the tongue is potentially a spiritually deadly weapon, which we Christians often wield carelessly, indifferent to the harm that it causes.
Brothers and sisters, please please please consider how you use words… before you start to speak them, or write them, or text them, or email them, or post them on social media!
And consider this counsel from pastor Ray Ortlund, which he posted on social media recently. These are good words, by the way:
I’ve never met anyone suffering under a crushing weight of over-encouragement. I never will. Encouraging one another too much is not our danger!
Before using a word of criticism, before complaining, before gossiping, before offering unsolicited and unwelcome “advice” that will fall on deaf ears anyway, before—God help us—“speaking the truth in love,” can we please encourage one another. Make encouragement a priority. Encouragement will never hurt anyone!
And please don’t say, “I don’t have the gift of encouragement.” I’m sorry, but do you have love in your heart. Everyone can encourage, whether that’s your “gift” or not! 3 In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, we’re commanded to do so: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
People are starved for encouragement. People will come to our church if they know that by doing so they will be encouraged rather than torn down!
Let’s please make that a priority!
Point Number Two: Job got some stuff right—we looked last week, for instance, at his initial response to his suffering, which was wonderful. He says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
That’s an awesome response, as I said last week.
But the Bible is realistic, have you noticed? Abraham, the man who fearlessly answered God’s call to start a nation, the man who believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness, fails to trust God time and again. Does many awful things! David, the “man after God’s own heart,” murders someone to cover up his adultery. Peter, the “Rock,” on whose confession of faith Christ would build his church, denies even knowing Christ three times.
The Bible shows us again and again that even our heroes of faith have feet of clay… Which is good news for the rest of us Christians who also have feet of clay, right?
But as I say, Job gets off to a great start… But of course, he would spend many more months not only grieving the deaths of his children, but many more months being physically ill, almost to the point of death. And during that time Job did sin.
His sin, however, was not the cause of his suffering—that’s where his friends kept getting it wrong. But he did “sin with his lips” during these months of his illness.
Listen to what Job says in chapter 9, verse 17: “For [God] attacks me with a storm and repeatedly wounds me without cause.”
Or chapter 9, verses 21 to 23:
I am innocent,
but it makes no difference to me—
I despise my life.
Innocent or wicked, it is all the same to God.
That’s why I say, ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’
When a plague sweeps through,
he laughs at the death of the innocent. 4
Or listen to Job’s words in chapter 16, verses 8 and 9:
As if to prove I have sinned, you’ve reduced me to skin and bones.
My gaunt flesh testifies against me.
God hates me and angrily tears me apart.
He snaps his teeth at me
and pierces me with his eyes.
Or listen to Job’s words in chapter 19, verse 6: “But it is God who has wronged me, capturing me in his net.”
Or consider chapter 30, verse 21: “You have become cruel toward me. You use your power to persecute me.”
These are not merely untrue or mistaken words: Job is impugning God’s character, calling into question God’s very goodness. Job is contradicting what God reveals about himself and demonstrates over and over: that he is a God “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” 5
Contrary to what Job thinks, God loves Job. As we said last week, God is allowing Job to suffer, just as he allows us—his children through faith in Christ—to suffer today… and God is transforming that suffering into something that will be good for us. By all means! What the devil intends for evil, God intends for good. I preached that last week!
God is simply not punishing Job for any particular sin or sins on Job’s part.
That’s what Job’s friends think God must be doing. After all, Job is suffering greatly. It must only be because of some hidden sin or sins on Job’s part. It’s Job’s fault that he’s suffering.
And it’s not just Job’s friends who think this… Job accepts the exact same premise as his friends: Job also believes that if someone suffers in this life, it can only be because of sin on their part. Job’s complaint against God isn’t that Job is perfect and sinless; no, Job doesn’t deny that he’s a sinner. But he knows that he isn’t any more of a sinner than his friends, for instance—maybe he’s less of a sinner. Regardless, Job knows that he isn’t guilty of any sin for which God should be punishing him… Therefore, Job believes, God is wrong to be punishing him. Therefore, if only Job could stand before God… and argue his case with God… He would prove to God that he should not be suffering in this way.
And that’s all Job wants: He wants to somehow prove to God that he doesn’t deserve to suffer like this! “I want to show you, God, that I’m not the terrible sinner that you must think I am. Because there is no good reason I should be suffering in this way!”
And that is the theme of Job’s argument with his friends from chapter 3 until chapter 38, when God finally speaks.
And the main point of God’s speech between chapters 38 and 41—when God asks Job a long series of rhetorical questions—is, “You have no idea, Job, what I’m up to. It’s not because you’re dumb; it’s just that, as a limited, finite, sinful human being, you simply can’t know all of my ways, you can’t discern all of my ways, you can’t discern all of my countless plans and purposes in this universe that I’ve created. At this moment, Job, there may be a billion reasons for everything that is happening in the world. You know very few of them. With that in mind, Job, you can’t imagine the good that I might be working even through your great suffering. And you badly underestimate my power to redeem even your great suffering… to transform into something incredibly good.”
And maybe that’s true of us right now: we can’t imagine what God is doing with our suffering. What good could God possibly be bringing out of my suffering right now? I can’t imagine how God is going to use this terrible thing for good! I simply don’t see how God’s promise to bring good out of bad for his children is going to be fulfilled in these awful circumstances!
Well, let me tell you about someone who has suffered and gone through some awful circumstances herself. Her name is Joni Eareckson Tada. Her name looks like “Joanie,” but she pronounces it “Johnny.” She’s an internationally known author of 45 books, she’s an artist, she’s a speaker. And… she’s a former athlete. In fact, she was voted “best athlete” in her senior class—a champion swimmer, diver, and tennis player. And fifty-four years ago, at age 17, she dove off a raft into the shallows of the Chesapeake Bay. She misjudged the depth, hit her head on the sandy bottom, and lost all sensation in her arms and legs. She was paralyzed. She has been a quadriplegic ever since.
Talk about Job-like suffering!
Eareckson Tada prayed hard for physical healing countless times. She attended three healing “crusades” led by Kathryn Kuhlman, a well-known Pentecostal evangelist back in the ’70s. Physical healing never came. Instead, in an article she published on The Gospel Coalition website on the fiftieth anniversary of her accident, she describes a deeper, better kind of healing. Listen to these words:
Does God miraculously heal? Sure, he does. But in this broken world, it’s still the exception, not the rule. A “no” answer to my request for a miraculous physical healing has meant purged sin, a love for the lost, increased compassion, stretched hope, an appetite for grace, an increase of faith, a happy longing for heaven, a desire to serve, a delight in prayer, and a hunger for [God’s] Word. Oh, bless the stern schoolmaster that is my wheelchair!
It’s all to the praise of deeper healing in Christ. 6
As hard as it is to believe, Joni Eareckson Tada thanks God even for her intense suffering!
She learned to treasure Christ in a way that she couldn’t before her accident… She learned to treasure Christ more than worldly treasures—including even her physical health and mobility.
And this brings us to Point Number Three: What about Jesus? Where is Jesus and his gospel in today’s scripture? As I said last week, every sermon in this year-long sermon series will ask this question.
And the first and most important thing I need to say is this: We who have been born again through faith in Christ can be absolutely confident about something that Job and his friends could only glimpse in passing shadows: When we Christians suffer—and we will—we are never being punished by God for our sins.
We can be absolutely confident of that because on the cross of Jesus Christ, Jesus took the punishment for our sin! He stood in our place and took all of the punishment that we deserved.
It isn’t that sin isn’t a deadly serious problem that separates us from God and places us under a death sentence of judgment, condemnation, and hell: it’s that through the cross of Christ God solved that problem for us! Amen!
Secondly, notice that when God shows up for Job, he never even answers the main question that Job asked… He never tells Job why. To be sure, there is a “why”: We learned some of that “why” question last week in Job chapter 1. But God doesn’t even let Job in on that secret.
But it hardly matters. Job doesn’t need an explanation so much as he needs an experience. He doesn’t need instruction so much as he needs an encounter. He doesn’t need for God to “show him why” so much as he needs for God to show up for him.
And here’s the good news: Because of what Jesus Christ did through his life, his atoning death on the cross, and his resurrection, God shows up for us. God shows up for every single one of us who believes in Christ as our Savior and Lord!
Because when we believe in Jesus and are born again, something miraculous and supernatural happens to us: We receive the Holy Spirit, which is the very Spirit of Christ. The Spirit now lives within us, which is the same as saying that God lives within us. And because Christ himself promises to be with us through the Holy Spirit, there’s a sense in which Christ himself lives within us.
This is what Paul means when he says in 1 Corinthians 6 that our bodies are now temples of the Holy Spirit. God himself lives within us. Christ lives within us.
When I went to the Holy Land the first time, back in 2011, we went to the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, which might possibly be the tomb in which Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus. This might possibly be the place where Jesus was resurrected—but we can’t know for sure. The tour guide—this wonderful English gentleman who showed us the tomb—said, “So… Is this the tomb of Jesus? We don’t know. But does it really matter? After all, Jesus was only here for two nights, and that was two-thousand years ago. What matters is that Jesus was resurrected, he ascended into heaven, and he has come down from heaven to live in you lot as you believe in him.”
I love that! He has come down to live in “you lot” as you believe in him!
But it’s true!
Brothers and sisters, by all means, God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, and that was amazing for Job.
But it’s not exaggeration to say that we Christians actually have something better that that!… Not a one-time mountaintop experience… but a living Person… an ongoing relationship.
And the reason I’ve challenged you to read the Bible through in this year ahead is in order to nurture that relationship. Christ promises to meet us here. To teach us here. To guide us here. To comfort and strengthen us. To apply his words to our lives and our situations. He promises to do that the pages of this book. As we read… as we reflect… as we discuss…
John Wesley said:
I want to know one thing the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be ‘homo unius libri’—a person of one book.
- Job 22:4-7,9 NLT
- James 3:5-6,8 ESV
- I’m not denying that encouragement (or exhortation) is a gift: Romans 12:8.
- Job 9:21-23
- Exodus 34:6-7 ESV, and there are many other citations of these words throughout the OT
- Joni Eareckson Tada, “Why Joni Eareckson Tada Praises God for Not Healing Her,” thegospelcoalition.org, 17 July 2019. Accessed 20 July 2019.