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Posts Tagged ‘Job’


If our wills are in bondage to our desires, which are corrupt, if there any hope for us?

This is the question we resume with from Calvin’s Institutes, the Essentials Edition. There is no hope in ourselves. Our hope has to be with God. The remedy is grace.

“Thus the Lord begins his work in us, inspiring in our hearts a love, desire and eagerness for what is good and righteous- or, more properly, inclining, training and directing our hearts to righteousness; he completes his work by giving us strength to persevere.”

This is not the same as a general removal of our depravity that leaves us in a state of neutrality that we find in some forms of Arminianism. This is the fulfillment of the promise of the new covenant (Ez. 36:26-27). This must precede faith, or we wouldn’t believe. The “human will must be wholly remade and renewed.” He aligns himself with Augustine that ‘grace precedes every good work.’ Grace is not a response to our will, but our will works in response to grace.

Calvin shifts back to Scripture, noting Jer. 32:39-40; Ez. 11:19; 1 Kings 8:58. These all address the stubbornness of our hearts, and the grace that overcomes that stubbornness. In other words, this is no ‘philosophical’ matter but one of life & death; salvation. This is not an Old Testament idea, but we see Paul also teaching this. We see this in Phil. 2:13 and 1 Cor. 12:6; 15:10. Jesus affirms this in passages like John 6:45.

“We must indeed teach that God’s kindness is open to all, without exception, who seek it. But because no one begins to seek it until he is inspired from heaven, nothing here should be allowed to diminish God’s grace in any way.”

He goes back to Augustine. “In yet another place he states that grace does not destroy the will, but changes it from bad to good, and that once it has been made good it receives help. By this he means only that God does not push man by outward force, unfeeling, as if he were a stone, but that he is impelled in such a way that he willingly obeys.” And again, “the human will does not obtain grace through its own freedom, but that it obtains freedom through God’s grace.”

Calvin shifts to the problem of continuing sin in the believer. Calvin, following Paul (Peter, John, James …), notes that our deliverance “is never so complete that no part of us remains under sin’s yoke”. Regeneration does not end conflict in our hearts, but initiates it (Rom. 7 & Gal. 5). There is a new principle moving us toward love and righteousness, and a retention of the natural inclination toward apathy and unrighteousness.

“This produces a conflict which sorely tries the believer throughout his life, because he is raised high by the Spirit but brought low by the flesh. In the Spirit he yearns fervently for immorality; in the flesh he turns aside into the path of death. In the Spirit he purposes to live uprightly; in the flesh he is goaded to do evil. In the Spirit he is led to God; in the flesh he is beaten back. In the Spirit he despises the world; in the flesh he longs for worldly pleasures.”

Our heart and will become a battle ground. The regenerate person mourns their sin, which pains him or her. They affirm and delight in God’s law as we see in Psalm 119.

Even in his day, there were people claiming a form of Christian perfectionism. Some of the Anabaptists advocated this position. They think that regeneration is complete, and we have no more fleshly appetites.

He returns to the idea of man as sinner in bondage to Satan. He mentions Augustine’s analogy (also utilized by Luther in Bondage of the Will)of the will as a horse subject to the rider’s control. Calvin finds it sufficient in the  absence of a better analogy. “What is meant is that the will, being deceived by the devil’s tricks, must of necessity submit to his good pleasure, although it does so without compulsion.”

He then discusses the doctrine of concurrence with reference to the story of Job. In concurrence, more than one person wills the same action but for different reasons or goals. God, Satan and the Chaldeans all willed the theft of Job’s herds, but for very different reasons. We see this as well in the story of Joseph. God’s intention was very different from his brothers’ even though both willed Joseph’s servitude in Egypt.

“Accordingly, it is not improper to attribute the same deed to God, the devil and man. But the disparity in both intention and means ensures that God’s righteousness always appears blameless, while the wickedness of the devil and of man is revealed in all its shame.”

The bottom line for Calvin is fidelity to Scripture, for the Scriptures reveal the sovereignty of God over events big and small. He brings up a number of passages to illustrate his point. Satan, much like Assyria and Babylon in the prophets, is His agent to unwittingly accomplish His purpose. They serve His righteous purposes, even as they pursue their unrighteous purposes. Calvin notes God’s sovereignty over the “mundane acts of life.” He held to a meticulous providence, as God brings about “whatever he knows is needful, but also to bend men’s wills toward that same end.”

Calvin then addresses a series of common objections. First, necessary sin is no longer sin. While they “necessarily” have to do it, since God ordained it, it is still voluntarily chosen by them. He does not force them to sin, but they want to commit that particular sin at that particular time. Second, reward and punishment no longer apply. God is so kind that he rewards the graces which he bestows on people. The voluntary nature of sin makes punishment just. Third, good and bad are no longer distinguishable. If this were so, it would be so for God who does good “by necessity” or in keeping with his immutable nature. Fourth, exhortation and reproof become superfluous. They are, rather, the means God uses to help shape our choices. He not only ordains what will happen, but how and why.

“God is active in us in two way: within, by his Spirit, and without, by his word. With his Spirit enlightening the mind and training the heart to love righteousness and innocence, he makes man a new creature by regeneration. Through his word he moves and encourages man to desire and to look for this renewal.”

Calvin then notes a variety of Scriptural evidences including, the law and its commands, the command to repent, God’s promises & reproofs, his punishments and more. In many ways Calvin rightfully goes back to Philippians 2:13- For God works in us to will and work according to His righteous purpose. We are to believe that we are dependent upon God, but also that being gracious and powerful he consistently works in us to accomplish his purposes, which are good. This is an important doctrine which humbles us, and grants us confidence.

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James notes something quite important about the effects of faith:

27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1

James is merely applying the message of the Old Covenant to the church. These priorities are there. Protestants have typically focused on the last of these, sanctification. In the 19th century a number of orphanages were built by leading figures like Charles Spurgeon and George Mueller. In recent days we’ve seen the focus on adoption arise, in part because of this verse.

But what about widows? We haven’t focused on that very much which is to our detriment in my opinion. Though I’ve been a pastor since 1998 and a number of congregants have become widows in that time, I surely haven’t cared for them as well as I ought to have. The subject really isn’t talked about much.

Recently our men’s study went through 1 Timothy and we spent a night talking about this. At about the same time one of our members became a widow. There just don’t seem to be any books on caring for widows.

Thankfully Crossway has just released Caring for Widows by Brian Croft and Austin Walker. It is not a very long book, and it is filled with very short chapters. In this way it can quickly help pastors, deacons and ministry leaders know why they should care for widows and provide some practical ways of caring for the widows in your midst.

The first section is written by Austin Walker. Austin focuses on the precepts, principles and examples found in Scripture to communicate that widows should be cared for and how they were cared for. As a result, he focuses on God’s love and concern for widows since they were among the most vulnerable members of society. Jewish law made provision for them (tithing, gleaning, Levirate marriage) so that poverty would not destroy them or tempt them to use sinful means to survive. God demanded justice and compassion for the widows, and if they failed He would hear their cries and bring curses on Israel.

Austin also points us to God’s work to provide for particular widows. There is a chapter on Ruth and Naomi. He also reminds of of the widows that Elijah and Elisha ministered to in miraculous ways to demonstrate God’s loving compassion. Jesus also cared for widows, raising one’s dead son and making sure His own mother would be cared for prior to His death. We also see how the early church provided for widows in the book of Acts.

As noted above, the chapters are short. Walker doesn’t waste much time. There is no fluff there, but he does a fairly thorough job making his point. Any church officer or ministry leader can’t avoid his point: we need to care for the widows that God has placed in our care.

Brian Croft writes the second section of the book which focuses on some particular ways we can and should care for widows. These include the private ministry of the Word, equipping the congregation to come along side them, what it means to visit in various situations (home, hospital and nursing home),writing notes and cards, and celebrating holidays with them.

Their needs are not simply financial. He could have spent a little more time on this, at least in helping churches evaluate which widows need financial assistance or working them through the process of downsizing so they can care for themselves. Ideally, husbands provide for their spouses through savings and life insurance. Here in America, Social Security provides some benefits. But these may be insufficient should health problems arise. The family should care for them, and then the church.

The church needs to show them compassion even if they are not helping them financially. They have emotional, relational and practical needs that used to be met by their husbands which are no longer being met. Particularly if family is not nearby, the church becomes important in meeting these needs. It could be as simple as a deacon coming by to change A/C filters to fixing leaky faucets or other repairs. It is also a ministry of friendship by men acting like sons to her, or younger women acting like daughters.

In terms of visitation, I was a little surprised by how short his hospital visits were. I’ve often found people in the hospital to be quite bored and willing to visit unless they were in great pain or other distress. He is right in that the dynamics change when someone is in the hospital. But whenever we visit it is important to include the ministry of the Word and prayer.

There are also times when a widow’s loneliness is more profound: anniversaries, holidays and birthdays. These are times to send notes and cards reminding them that they are loved by God and you.

He “caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy” (Job 29:13). That should be the aim of the church in ministering the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ to widows. It is not only the ministry the church should undertake, but it is an integral part of that biblical religion which James defined as “pure and undefiled … before God and the Father” (James 1:27).

Taking care of the widows among us does not make for a dynamic program. But it is an important part of church ministry. This little book helps equip us for this important ministry. This is a book pastors, deacons and leaders should read, and implement.

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In the first section of his book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, Tim Keller takes care of some apologetics in what he calls Understanding the Furnace. It is a survey of how various religions and cultures have viewed suffering and deal with suffering. The bottom line is that Christianity has the best, full-orbed approach to suffering even if many Christians don’t.

The second section, Facing the Furnace, is designed to help us to understand more fully how Christianity views suffering, the types of suffering and the types of sufferers. Christianity does not have a one-size fits all approach to suffering.

It is to the third and final section, Walking with God in the Furnace, that we turn our attention. While there are many aspects to walking with God in the midst of suffering, Keller rightfully does not want people to treat this a a series of steps as if this was a self-help book. Just as we should prepare for suffering by storing up truth to be used in that day when it comes, we should prepare to walk with God before we actually have to do it in the middle of suffering. If you are walking with Him before you suffer you are more likely to continue walking with Him when suffering starts.

“We are not to lose our footing and just let the suffering have its way with us. But we are also not to think we can somehow avoid it or be completely impervious to it either. We are to meet and move through suffering without shock and surprise, without denial of our sorrow and weakness, without resentment or paralyzing fear, yet also without acquiescence or capitulation, without surrender or despair.”

(more…)

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The first part of Tim Keller’s book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, is focused on apologetics: showing how Christianity has better and more complete answers regarding pain and suffering than any other way of looking at the world. The 2nd part of the book is called Facing the Furnace. It is about how Christianity looks at suffering, preparing us to enter the furnace. What does our theology say about suffering? That is an important thing.

“The world is too fallen and deeply broken to divide into a neat pattern of good people having good lives and bad people having bad lives.”

He begins with the challenge to faith. Christianity does not look at suffering simplistically like Job’s counselors. There must be answers that satisfy the heart and not just the mind.

(more…)

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The cycle of speeches between Job and his 3 friends has finished with Job’s final speech.  Their rather limited theological views couldn’t answer Job’s questions.  They ended up condemning Job.

There is one telling statement about Job in 32:1- “because he was righteous in his own eyes.”

Job shared their faulty theology.  Since he was certain he had not sinned, he thought he was suffering unjustly.  This book exists, in part, to let us know people suffer for a number of reasons, all under the soveriegnty of God.  It rebukes our presumption- but I get ahead of myself.

Elihu appears out of nowhere.  There is no prior indication that he was there.  And he isn’t mentioned at the end of the book either.  This has led some to speculate that Elihu is a later addition.  But the whole book is mysterious- suffering often doesn’t make sense.  So why should we expect the book to tie up all the loose ends.

Elihu’s contribution seems to be that suffering is a warning from God.  Job is being warned that he is in danger of departing from God.  He spends lots of time saying not much of anything.

Before we get to God’s response and the conclusion, I thought I should summarize the various reasons people suffer.  Some of those are found in this book, and some of them aren’t.  These are helpful to keep in mind when we suffer, and when people we counsel (formally or informally) are suffering.

  1. Our suffering is under the sovereignty of God.  This is the one consistent message of the book, and it is true.  Satan must seek God’s permission, and God held the Chaldeans and Sabeans at bay.
  2. Sometimes we suffer to test us.  This is why God permitted Job to suffer.  He knew Job would pass the test (as a result of sustaining grace), though Job didn’t always suffer well.
  3. (more…)

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Things take an ugly turn in Job 9-14.  Job’s friends continue to claim he suffers for his sin.  Job continues to declare his innocence.  This does not mean he thinks he is perfect- just that there is no sin he has hidden from God, no sin which he has refused to confess.  He upholds the righteousness of God, knowing he cannot argue (successfully) with God.  All he can do is plead for mercy.

Then we see an inkling of something:

“I despise my own life.” (9:12c)

“I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.” (10:1

Job has something of a death wish.  On the one hand he wants vindication.  On the other he fears that God will destroy him.

Zophar the Naamathite chips in with the incomprehensibility of God, … and Job’s obvious sinfulness.  If Job will just repent God will let up and restore him.

Job essentially responds, mockingly, “you are the man, and all wisdom will perish with you.”  He laments his lousy group of counselors.  “Come on, Zophar, show me my sin!”

Finally he returns his comments to God.

“If only you would hide me in the grave and conceal me until you anger has passed!”

Job basically wants God to finishe him off.  He can no longer bear the pain of this hardship and wants God to hurry up and end his life.

Have you ever felt that way?  No, not suicidal.  This is not Job wanting to take his own life.  This is Job wanting God to end his pain by ending his life.  Job is hitting bottom, and it is scary.  His patience and perseverence are on the verge of collapse.  He isn’t sure how much more he can take.

Thankfully, God doesn’t honor this request.  His plan is not to destroy Job- but to show that Job loves Him even when life isn’t grand.  He’s out to show that Job loves God more than he loved his kids, wife and possessions.  And Job is struggling with this, just like the rest of us.

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Job responds to Eliphaz’ claim that he is obviously guilty of some great sin, bringing this disaster upon himself.  Yes, Job admits that God has striken him.  In fact, he wants God to go all the way and put him out of his misery.  Job is losing perspective, but he sees he is in great danger of denying “the words of the Holy One.”

Job feels quite let down by his friends- they are like intermittent streams (wadis).  He asks them to show him where he has gone wrong.  They accuse him of sin generically, not a specific sin.  Their faulty theological formula means they must accuse him- but they know of no particular sin of which he is guilty.  As a result, Job continues to “speak out in the anguish of (his) soul.”  And it is in this anquish that he speaks the antithesis of Psalms 8 & 139.

“What is man that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention, that you examine him every morning and test him every moment?  Will you never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant?  If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of men?  Why have I become your target?  Have I become a burden to you?  Why do you not pardon my offenses and forgive my sins?  For I will soon lie down in the dust; you will search for me, but I will be no more.”  (7:17-21 NIV)

He’s not sure why God values humans so highly that he watches them and examines their actions and attitudes.  In his grief he does not reckon with our being made in God’s image.  We are meant to be like him- good and righteous.  In our fallen condition, God examines us and tests us.  And he finds us wanting.

Job somehow understands this, but still isn’t sure of what he’s done to offend.  He’s not sure why God, his God, has not forgiven him.  Just as he has sacrificed for his children’s sin, he most likely sacrificed for his own sin- by faith.  “Where, O God, is your mercy?” he asks.  Since there seems to be no mercy, he wants God to turn his gaze away.  Apart from mercy, the gaze of God is disturbing, discomforting and oppressive.

Enter Bildad the Shuhite.  His messages seems conflicting.  God is just so you wouldn’t suffer without just cause.  But he then says the unthinkable:

“When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.” (8:4 NIV)

He tells Job his children died because they sinned.  God, he says, brought them to justice.  If they were in some obvious, grievous sin this might make sense.  But, like with Eliphaz, no specific sin is mentioned- just a vague condemnation.

He seems to offer some hope for Job personally.

“But if you look to God and plead with the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your rightful place.  Your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be.  … Surely God does not reject a blameless man or strengthen the hands of evildoers.  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.” (Job 8:5-7, 20-22 NIV)

He is right … Job will be more prosperous in the future than he was in the past.  Job is blameless before God, despite his friends suspicions.  But this sliver of truth does not outweigh the pointed lies he speaks to his friend.  Not only are Satan, the Sabeans, Chaldeans, and seemingly God himself, against Job but his wife and friends have turned against him.

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