by Mike Ratliff
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:12-19)
When John Piper was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer in December 2005, he preached a wonderful sermon about prayer then he wrote an open letter posted on his web site. The letter was titled Don’t Waste Your Cancer. The sermon really got hold of me about the condition of my prayer life. Then I read that letter and was ashamed at how I was handling my little bit of suffering at that time.
The letter’s message was this, when we suffer, we must not waste the gift of a spiritual growth opportunity God has given us. Yes, that is right. Suffering is a gift from God that is a fantastic Spiritual growth opportunity. I posted links to both the sermon and the letter on my old blog. I had many other bloggers link to them and they received many comments. One of them stands out.
One man got very angry. He said that Piper must have a death wish or something. He thought it was crazy for anyone to have a positive outlook when it comes to suffering. I was struck at how no matter how well he was answered by me and others about what John Piper meant by his letter, he was obstinate about his resistance to suffering. He told me that I might as well go poison myself if I thought suffering was that great of a deal. In his mind any suffering could not be of God. A loving God would never do that to His children. With that view in mind, let’s look at the next section in Job, which is Job 1:6-22.
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. (Job 1:6)
The word translated “LORD” throughout the book of Job is “YHWH”, “the Almighty.” Who are the sons of God? Are these Angels? Are they men? I have heard it both ways. I believe, however, that this verse is a description of God’s people coming together to worship God. The sons of God are His children. Who are God’s children? They are those adopted into His family who have been regenerated. These are regenerated believers who have come to worship God just as we do when we worship together in church. Who was with them? Satan was there. Is Satan present in our church services when we are gathering to worship God? Sure he is. Much of his nasty work is done within professing believers isn’t it? Also, Job is probably within these “sons of God” as they worship. He could even be the priest leading the worship.
The LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (Job 1:7-8)
Satan is not omnipresent nor is he omniscient. God asks Satan from where he and come. He told God that he had been traveling all through the earth. Then God asks Satan an interesting question. He throws Job up into Satan’s face referring to Job’s faithfulness before the Lord. The scene is intriguing. Here we have believers gathered to worship God. The leader could possibly be Job himself. Satan is standing within their midst. God speaks to Him. I can almost picture God gesturing to Job and saying, “Have you considered my servant Job?”
Why do you suppose he did that? We must remember that Satan is a created being as we are. He was once Lucifer, the highest of the Angels. However, he rebelled against God and tried to overthrow His rule in Heaven. He and one third of the Angels lost the war and were subsequently cast out of Heaven. Satan caused Adam and Eve to fall into sin with his deception and lies. He has no concept of faithfulness. He is self-focused only and assumes that men and women are no different than him. When people serve God, Satan is positive that they do so only to get blessings from God. He cannot conceive of people serving the Living God from a motivation of love and devotion. I believe God told Satan to consider Job because He was preparing to use both Job and Satan for His glory by creating a spiritual battle where Satan would be defeated as Job remained faithful in the midst of a fiery trial by God’s grace.
Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” (Job 1:9-11)
We learn much from this passage. Does God prosper some people? Yes! How? He puts a hedge around them and all they has while blessing the work of their hands. Remember, God is sovereign. If He desires to do this for some people who can tell Him that it isn’t fair? Not me. Satan actually uses this fact about God and His dealings with Job to accuse God of creating a circumstance where Job is spoiled. Satan is convinced that Job serves God faithfully only because he is blessed. In fact, Satan believes that Job will actually curse God if the blessings vanish and suffering comes.
And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. (Job 1:12)
Please notice that Satan is powerless to touch Job or anything inside the hedge of protection unless God permits him to do so. Satan can never attack us indiscriminately. Whatever evil happens to God’s people is allowed by God. Why does God do this. Our fleshly focused minds rebel against this. How could a loving God allow cancer into my life? How could God have allowed those thieves to steal my identity? You get the idea. God is sovereign. There is not one thing that happens that is outside of that sovereignty.
Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” (Job 1:13-19)
Now that is is what I call a really bad day. Job lost everything that God had been protecting from the devourer before. All of his wealth was gone. However, tragically, all of his children and their families were killed. Notice how Satan arranged that the bad news came all at once. Each of the messengers came to Job one at time, and spoke one after the other. Their words would be like huge hammer blows on Job’s heart. Satan intended that the last blow would shatter Job’s faithfulness to His Lord. I look at this situation and I almost weep with Job. I can sense his loss and feel his grief. On top of that Satan is probably attacking him full time with condemnation while tempting him to curse God to His face. However, how did Job react?
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “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.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. (Job 1:20-22)
I tear up every time I read those three verses. Job has just found out in repeated hammer blows of bad news that all of his wealth is gone and his family is no more. He tore his robe and shaved his head in grief. However, did he curse or blame God? He recognized that God allowed it to happen and that God is sovereign and within His rights to do this. He cried out, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.” This is recognition that possessions are not our substance. He also recognized that all he had came from God, belonged to God, and God had the right to take it away. Job does proclaim that this trial was of God, but the passage says that it was not a sin for him to say that. God does allow suffering into the lives of His people to accomplish His purposes.
We leave this scene with Job on ground worshiping God. He is hurt. He is destitute in the world’s goods. He has nothing left but his health and most importantly, his faith. He doesn’t know it, but the worst is yet to come. We have the advantage of knowing of the conversation between God and Satan, but Job isn’t aware of it. He has only his faith in God, whom he loves and trusts. Genuine faith survives and deepens as it is tested. Job’s faith has been proven genuine in the fires of affliction. In this God is glorified in Job’s suffering.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
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