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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:The trial of affliction
Text:Job 23:10-12 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith Tested
 
Added:2013-12-18
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Old book of Praise (1984)

Ps. 99: 1, 2, 6

Ps. 93: 1, 4

Hymn 10: 1, 9, 10

Ps. 73: 1, 4, 5, 8, 9

Ps. 146: 1, 3

 

Scripture reading:       Job 1, 2, 23

Text:                         Job 23: 10 – 12

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


The Trial of Affliction                        15/12/2013

Ps. 99: 1, 2, 6

Ps. 93: 1, 4

Hymn 10: 1, 9, 10

Ps. 73: 1, 4, 5, 8, 9

Ps. 146: 1, 3

 

Scripture reading:       Job 1, 2, 23

Text:                         Job 23: 10 – 12

 

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

 

Job was blameless and upright, one who feared God and shunned evil (1:1).

The LORD Himself testified of Job, saying: there is none like him on the earth (1: 8).

Many centuries later the prophet Ezekiel mentions Job together with Noah and Daniel as a prime example of a righteous man.

 

That does not mean that Job was sinless.   Job himself says:

 

            “…how can a man be righteous before God?” – 9: 2

 

Job confesses that there is no man without sin before God, for who can bring forth a clean man from an unclean?  (14: 1 – 4)

 

Job was a righteous man, and in the language of Scripture this does not mean that he was without any sin, but that he trusted in God, feared God, and shunned evil.   He lived by faith.   He repented of his sins and obeyed God’s word.   He lived in holy covenant communion with God.

And it is added that he was not only blameless and upright, but that his righteousness excelled that of other men.   There was none like him on the earth.

 

Why then did he have to suffer so much?

Why did such a righteous man have to suffer such extreme suffering for so long?

If he was an ordinary man, characterised by much weakness, we would be quick to say: he was chastised by the Lord!   He needed such suffering to sanctify him!

But now it is clear that this is not the case.   Here is a man of whom God testified that he is more righteous than any other on the earth.

And thus the reason for his suffering becomes the great question of the whole book.   It is the one question around which all the conversation between Job and his so called friends revolve.   Will God allow a righteous man to suffer such severe sufferings if it is not for the sake of his sins?   Job’s friends say: No.   Job must be hiding some secret sin; otherwise God would not have dealt with him in this way.   Job says: No, God is not punishing me for any sin that I committed, nor is this the chastisement of correction.   God does many such things which we cannot understand, and we may not call God to account.   But even if everything seems to testify against Job and if even God seems to have changed into his enemy, he will still trust in God and hope for His deliverance.   I don’t understand, but God knows what He is doing.

 

This teaching is in accordance with the rest of Scripture.   The righteous suffer under much affliction.

           

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous…” – Ps. 34: 19

 

Moreover, while the righteous suffer under much affliction, the ungodly often seems to be very prosperous – Ps. 73.  

 

Dear congregation, when we experience various sufferings and hardships we also sometimes wrestle with this question:  “Why do I have to suffer these things?   What is the cause of it all?   Is God punishing me for my sins?”

 

To answer such questions we need some discernment and clear instruction from Scripture.

It is true that suffering entered the world because of man’s sin.   If Adam did not fall into sin we would never have experienced any suffering.   And thus all suffering is ultimately the result of man’s original sin in Paradise.  

 

But thankfully, by the grace of God, this is not the end of the story.   Before Adam and Eve left the Garden they received the gospel of the promised Seed, the Saviour that would come.   Through our Lord Jesus Christ the curse of our sin is removed.  

He bore our curse on our behalf.  

He bore the full curse, so that there is no curse left for us to bear.

And therefore the sufferings of the righteous, the sufferings of those who believe in Christ, are no longer sufferings that proceed from God’s wrath and curse.   Instead, the sufferings of the righteous are turned by God into pure blessings which proceeds from God’s love.  

Yes, our sufferings become pure blessings without curse.

 

When we speak about suffering, this is the first and great distinction we need to make.   Those who are without Christ suffer under the wrath and the curse of God.   They suffer under the curse that rests on fallen man and on this world because of sin, and they also suffer under the wrath of God because of their own personal sins.  

But the suffering of the righteous is something different.   Those who are in Christ receive no curse, but only blessing.   We receive all suffering from the hand of our loving and faithful Father who works all things to our benefit.

 

Now, while we receive all sufferings as blessings from the hand of our gracious Father, we still have to distinguish between the various reasons for our suffering in this life.  

God sends us much adversary and many afflictions in this life of sorrow, and we have to distinguish between the one affliction and the next.  

 

There are indeed sufferings which are chastisements by which our heavenly Father corrects and sanctifies us.   Such chastisements are meant to bring us to repentance and to train us in godliness.   When God scourges us, as we read in Hebrews chapter 12, the sufferings caused by God’s rod of correction are indeed often linked to specific personal sins, of which we need to repent.   Then the words of Proverbs apply where it says:

 

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor detest His correction; for whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.” – Prov. 3: 11, 12

 

But there are also sufferings which cannot be linked to specific personal sins for which we need correction and chastisement.   Our faith is often tested by trials which are not meant in the first place as chastisement, but as trials to put our faith to the test.  And in this regard Job is an excellent example.  

 

Job’s suffering cannot be rightly understood as correction and chastisement for specific personal sins.   Of course, an element of correction and chastisement might have been included, but that was certainly not the main purpose of his suffering.   He was not chastised for his sins – that was the wrong perception of his so called “friends”, who tortured him with their false accusations.

 

No, it pleased God to test and to vindicate the integrity of Job by means of suffering.   And we have many more such examples in Scripture.   When Joseph suffered under the hands of his brothers and was sold as slave to Egypt and later was imprisoned for years, God did not send him these sufferings and afflictions in order to chastise him for his sins.   These sufferings which Joseph suffered were trials by which God has tested and proven his faith and faithfulness.

 

Moreover, the believer also endures suffering for the sake of Christ.   A Christian also suffers under persecution, suffering evil for doing good.   And also this kind of suffering is called grace – 1 Peter 2: 19, 20

 

Of course there may sometimes be somewhat of an overlap of these various reasons for suffering, so that it is not always so easy for the believer to know the exact reason for his suffering.   Neither did Job know the exact reason for his suffering.   How much easier it would have been for him if only he knew!   

How much comfort it would have given him if only he knew God’s purpose with him and the final outcome!   But he had to trust in God without knowing.   He had to cling to God when nothing made sense to him anymore.   He had to suffer under false accusations that pierced his soul.   He had to cling to God when it seemed as if even God has turned into his enemy.

Job asks God:

 

            “Why do You hide Your face, and regard me as Your enemy?” – Job 13: 24

 

Job even says:

 

            “He tears me in His wrath, and hates me; He gnashes at me with His teeth…” – 16: 9

 

That is how it felt to him.   It felt to him as if God is acting as his enemy, tearing him to pieces.    He says to the LORD:

 

“You have become cruel to me; with the strength of Your hand You oppose me” – 30: 21

 

Also in chapter 33: 10 Job says that God “counts me as His enemy”.

 

What terrible suffering he must have experienced!   The worst of all was that it felt to him as if even God has turned against him and wants to destroy him.  

Yes, how much easier it would have been for Job if only he knew the exact purpose of his suffering!

  

If only he was allowed to see behind the curtain and could read the introduction of chapter 1 with us!    But no, regarding the purpose of his suffering he was left in the dark, for the very reason that his faith may truly be tested. 

 

He did not hear or see when Satan challenged God with the words: “Does Job fear God for nothing?”   He did not hear Satan’s insinuation that he, Job, is serving God only for the benefits of God’s blessings; that he does not worship God for God’s sake, but for his own gain.

Neither did Job afterwards receive an answer in which God pointed out to him the exact reason for his sufferings.   God did not tell him:  Look, these are the reasons why I allowed you to suffer.   No, God only said to him: Who are you, Job, to question My dealings with you?   The absolute sovereignty of the Almighty is emphasised throughout this book.  

We may not try to call God to account for His dealings with us; neither can we.

The book Job teaches us to trust God even when we do not understand His dealings with us.

 

Why then did Job suffer the terrible sufferings which came upon him?   It was not chastisement for specific personal sins.   Neither was it specifically persecution for Christ’s sake.   It was a trial by which his integrity was tested and proven to the glory of God.  

 

Brothers and sisters, while we may never suffer nearly as much as Job suffered, also our faith shall surely be tested, and needs to be tested, by affliction and suffering.

However, through the blood of Christ it is no curse.   Through Christ who died for our sins, our sufferings can never be curse, but are always pure blessing.   God turns it to our benefit and to His glory.

Yes, through Christ even our suffering is turned into gospel.

With this understanding I proclaim God’s Word to you with the theme…

The trial of affliction

 

We will note…

  1. Job’s trial
  2. Job’s faith  
  3. Job’s perseverance

In the first place we note…

Job’s trial

 

Satan comes and accuses Job before God.   He says:

 

“…Does Job fear God for nothing?   Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side?   You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.   But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”

 

Here we see that God indeed blesses the righteous and protects him as with a hedge all around him.   But Satan challenges God saying that His children serve Him only for the sake of the benefits.   Job serves You only because he finds it good policy; he serves You only because it pays so well!   He does not serve You for Your sake, but for his own sake.

Take away all Your blessings from him and he will curse You!

 

Now, there are indeed men, also in our own day who think that it is a bargain to be a Christian and treats the gospel like a beneficial business transaction.

The apostle Paul warned Timothy against such men, “…men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.  From such withdraw yourself.” – 1 Tim. 6: 5.

There are indeed many in our day, especially in the charismatic movements, who hold on to a prosperity gospel which they view as a bargain and a means of material gain.

 

But Job could not be charged with such error.   He served God because He is God, and for no other reason; much less for selfish gain.   And thus God takes the challenge on.   He says to Satan:       “…Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.”

 

Then everything was taken away from Job, but Job persisted in his integrity and blessed the name of the LORD:

 

“…Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there.   The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

 

Satan, however, does not accept his defeat.   He appears before God a second time.  

 

“Skin for skin!  Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life.   But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”

 

Satan received permission from God to struck Job in his bone and flesh.   He struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.  He did not leave one part of his body without pain.   Yes, he even struck Job’s soul with the torments of hell.

 

Will Job continue to serve the LORD when serving the LORD seems to hold no benefit for him?    When God’s dealings with him seem to be unfair and God crushes him without a cause, will he still persist in serving God?

 

            “Curse God and die!”, his wife advises him.

 

But he said to her:

 

            “…Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?”

 

Yes, the LORD knew Job’s integrity from the start, as He has already declared it in chapter 1, but Job’s integrity had to be manifested and to be publicly proven before men and angels – to the glory of God.

 

Dear congregation, this is not a book for academic interest to study the peculiar sufferings of an ancient individual; it has been written for our comfort.

The apostle James, who teaches us to rejoice when we fall into various trials, also exhorts us to heed this example:

 

“Indeed, we count them blessed who endure.   You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord – that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” – James 5: 11

 

The Lord did have a purpose with all the sufferings of Job, and His purpose was exactly the opposite of what Satan had in mind.   The Lord did not want to destroy Job, but decided to publicly vindicate Job and to bless him even more.   And Job did benefit from these sufferings and came even closer to God, so that he confessed in the end:

 

            “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You.” – 42: 5

 

The trial did not last forever, and God brought Job forth like pure gold from a furnace.

 

Now, Job’s trial was not just that he lost all his possessions and all his children, and not even that he lost his health and that he was plagued by constant terrible torment in his flesh – the trial became much worse when it was directed directly at his soul.   Job’s friends turned out to be his worst enemies, tormenting him with false accusations.

 

“Job, the LORD is punishing you for your sins!   Just acknowledge your sin and repent, and you will be prosperous again!”

“God is not unjust Job.   If He punishes you there must be a reason.   You won’t suffer all these things for nothing – you must be hiding some secret sin!   Repent and it will be well with you!”

 

But Job refuses to acknowledge any truth in their accusations.   His conscience is clean before the LORD.   As he says here in our text:

 

“…He (God, my Judge) knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.” – verse 10

 

Job is answering the false accusations of his so called friends.   He wishes that his case could be properly examined in a court case with God as Judge.   Then it will become clear that the accusations against him are false, and that he has indeed served the Lord uprightly.

But how could Job be so certain about God’s approval of his life?

Did he maybe trust in his own righteousness?  

No, the case is different.   First of all he holds up his innocence against the false accusations of his friends, but also: he clings to God’s revealed word while being lost in the maze of God’s secret will.  

He does not understand God’s dealings with him.   God’s providence is a mystery to him.   But in the dense darkness that covers God’s secret counsel, he clings all the more to what God has revealed to him as the way of life.

 

“…He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot has held fast to His steps; I have kept His way and not turned aside.   I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” – verse 10 – 12

 

He is not clinging to his own righteousness, but clinging to the path which the Lord has revealed to him.

We note that in the second place…

Job’s faith

 

Job lived in the time period of the patriarchs.   He was probably a contemporary of Isaac and Jacob, a descendant of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, living in the land Uz.   Uz was the firstborn son of Nahor.   We learn from the history of Rebecca and Laban that the LORD was also known to the house of Nahor and to his descendants.    In Gen. 31: 53 Laban does not call God only the God of Abraham, but also the God of Nahor.  

Also the very high age of Job agrees with the timeframe of the patriarchs in which men have indeed reached such an age.  

 

Job was not a descendant of Abraham, but he did come from a house where the LORD was known and feared.

Now, here in our text Job says that he has kept the way of the LORD without turning aside:

 

“My foot has held fast to His steps; I have kept His way and not turned aside.   I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.”

 

This was before the law of God was written by the hand of Moses.   The Bible that we know today was not yet given; not even one of the books of the Old Testament has been written yet.    But God did speak and reveal Himself.   Many prophets have spoken God’s word, but not all the prophecies of old have been preserved for us.   We do not have the prophecies of the prophet Enoch who lived before the flood – Jude 1: 14.   We do not have the sermons of Noah who was a preacher of righteousness – 2 Peter 2: 5.    We do not have a written record of the commandments and the laws which God has given to Abraham.   The LORD says of Abraham:

 

“…Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” – Gen. 26: 5

 

It is clear that the LORD revealed His commandments and statutes and laws also in the time of Abraham.   And here in our text it is clear that He revealed it also to Job.

Job did not live according to his own imagination.

He did not live according to his own mystic experiences of an unknown god.

He lived according to God’s revealed word in which God has revealed His holy will for Job’s life.

 

Dear congregation, we must not imagine that there is more than one true faith.  

There is only one God, one faith, one gospel.  

Job’s faith was not a different faith than Abraham’s faith.  

Job knew the gospel and spoke about his Redeemer:

 

“…I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.   How my heart yearns within me!” – 19: 25 – 27

 

Job shared the same hope as all the saints, as described in Hebrews 11.

Job believed the same gospel.

And he lived according to the same law that was later revealed more clearly to Moses, and later more clearly to us.

But the point we need to note here in our text is this: that Job lived according to God’s revealed word, and held on to God’s revealed will even while he could make no sense of his circumstances.   He held on to God’s revealed word, all the more when he was lost in the mystery of God’s secret will.

 

“I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.”

 

He regarded God’s revealed word of greater necessity than bread and water.

He needed God’s word more than food, and treasured it as the source of life.   And thus he kept the way of the LORD without turning aside, even in the midst of the labyrinth of God’s mysterious providence. 

And because he holds on to God’s word, he is also assured of God’s approval:

 

            “When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.”  

 

Job did not claim sinless perfection, but he knew for sure that his walk of life was according to God’s revealed will and therefore approved by God, even while it may seem as if God has turned against him.

 

Brothers and sisters, God’s providence is often dark to us and beyond our comprehension.   In the words of the apostle Paul:

 

            “…How unsearchable are His judgements and His ways past finding out!”

 

Or in the words of this book:

 

“Can you search out the deep things of God?   Can you find out the limits of the Almighty?   They are higher than heaven – what can you do?   Deeper than Sheol – what can you know?” – 11: 7, 8

 

Or as Job himself puts it:

 

“…how small a whisper we hear of Him!   But the thunder of His power – who can understand?” – 26: 14

 

It does happen sometimes that we are able to understand why God has acted in a certain way.  Sometimes we are able to look back at our own lives and say: Now I understand why God allowed this or that to happen.   Joseph could look back and say: God meant it for good in order to save us (Gen 50: 20).  

But after all, how small a portion do we really understand of God’s providence; and what can we know of His secret counsel?

God’s providence remains to a large extend a dense and dark mystery to us which we cannot penetrate with our mind.   What He has not revealed we cannot know.   As Moses said:

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” – Deut. 29: 29.

 

Job knew this.   He acknowledged that God’s dealings with him are beyond his comprehension.   His friends thought they understood it all.   They made their judgment and had their answer ready: Job, the LORD is chastening you for your sins!   Repent, and you will be blessed again!  

But God’s dealings with Job simply did not fit into their box.  

 

It should caution us not to draw quick conclusions when we see a brother or sister in Christ suffering.   We should not follow the error of Job’s friends, but rather with Job acknowledge that God’s dealings are often beyond our comprehension.

It should bring us to the point where we say: I don’t understand, but I know that God knows what He is doing; and His way is best.

And simply hold on to God’s revealed word which is a light on our path and a lamp to our feet.

 

I cannot comprehend God, but he comprehends me, and has shown me the path I should go.

“When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him; when He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him.   But He knows the way that is with me…”

 

I cannot watch Him and follow His dealings with me.   I do not know or understand, but He knows.  

Do you see Job’s childlike faith and trust in God.

God is Almighty and sovereign in all His work.   His providence may be a mystery to us, but it is not a mystery to God Himself.   He knows what He is doing, and He knows the way that I take.     

 

Those who keep God’s way shall be vindicated in the end.   Job trusted in God’s faithfulness and justice, that He will not act against His revealed word.   Therefore he sticked to the words of God’s mouth even when God’s dealings with him seemed to contradict His promises.

 

Dear congregation, there are indeed times when it may seem to us as if our circumstances contradict the gospel.   Sometimes it may seem as if everything testify against us and as if God Himself has turned into our enemy, and as if the ungodly are indeed prosperous while the righteous suffer under many afflictions.   But in the end God shall vindicate His own and bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday – Ps. 37: 6

 

And in this hope Job persevered.

We note that in the last place…

Job’s perseverance

 

“My foot has held fast to His steps; I have kept His way and not turned aside.   I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.”

 

Job acknowledged God’s sovereignty, but he did not say:  Ah, God in His sovereignty will do as He pleases, all will happen as He decreed, therefore I may just as well spare myself the effort to do His revealed will.

No, instead, his acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty and His providence was accompanied by the strictest adherence to God’s revealed will.  

The secret things belong to the Lord, but the things that are revealed belong to us to do them.

 

God preserved Job.

God cause Job to persevere.

But Job’s perseverance was manifested in the way of obedience; obedience to God’s revealed word.

Yes, when God’s rod strikes us in a severe and mysteriously way, then the saints cling all the more to God’s revealed word.   The more we are engulfed by sufferings that proceed from God’s secret counsel and providence, the more we should cling to the light that has been revealed to us.

And thus we are to treasure up God’s revealed will more than our necessary food.

 

God preserved Job.   It was all God’s grace and God’s doing.

God caused Job to persevere.  But this perseverance did not happen without Job being engaged with heart and mind and soul in the utmost and bitter struggle of faith, in which he actively had to hold on to God’s revealed word – His promises and commands.

 

Dear congregation, we see in the history of Job how fierce and how real this struggle can become.   God has not promised us an easy life here and now on this earth.

Neither did God promise us all the pleasures of this life to enjoy here and now.

Much rather did He reveal to us that we may expect our faith to be tested by many trials and afflictions.

 

Where is then our comfort? 

Our comfort is not that we will have an easy and fun-filled life here on earth.

That is not the gospel.

Our comfort is not a gospel without suffering, but a gospel whereby even our suffering becomes good news through Christ Jesus.  

 

We may be assured that whatever we suffer in this life is never the result of God’s curse and wrath, for Christ took our curse upon Himself and bore for us the wrath of God.   He bore the full measure of God’s wrath and emptied the cup of God’s curse.   There is nothing of God’s curse left for us to bear, or any suffering by which we are to appease God’s wrath.  

Whatever sufferings we may suffer in this life of sorrow come to us as blessings from a gracious Father who loves us; who works all things for our good (Rom. 8: 28).

 

We will not always understand God’s dealings with us.

 

“When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him; when He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him.   But He knows the way that I take…”

 

I do not comprehend God, but He comprehends us, and has set the way of life before us.

It is the way spelled out in His revealed Word, which is a light on our path and a lamp to our feet.  

 

Brothers and sisters, when we know for sure that we are accepted by God in Christ His Son, and that He approves of our life, and that even the worst sufferings serve our salvation, then we also experience the comfort and the peace of God in the midst of our sufferings.   Then we look forward to the day when God will appear as our Judge, not to condemn us, but to bring us forth us gold from the furnace of this life in which we are now tested and tried.  

I know that my Redeemer lives.  He has already redeemed us.   He is redeeming us.   And He shall redeem us completely from this life of sorrow and death.

 

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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