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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:How to be a friend to the suffering
Text:Job 2:11-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 95:1-3

Psalm 25:3 (after the law)

Psalm 25:7-8

Hymn 71

Psalm 30:1,2

Scripture readings:  John 15:1-17, Job 2:1-10

Text: Job 2:11-13

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Over the years in my ministry, I’ve had several sudden, tragic deaths involving congregation members.  One really stands out from one of the churches I served in Canada.  As I arrived at the home where all the family and friends were gathered, it was deathly silent.  There was just quiet sobbing.  No one was speaking.  There was nothing that could be said.  For a time, I just joined in the silence.

If you’ve experienced a tragic loss like that, perhaps you can relate.  Everyone gathers around you.  You say nothing.  They say nothing.  You just weep and grieve quietly together.  The shock of it all just overwhelms everyone into silence.

If this loss has happened to a friend or family member, how do you help them?  How do you comfort them?  Should you just continue to keep your mouth shut?  Is there any place for words?  And if so, what kinds of words should you speak? 

We live in a broken world.  This brokenness is in our own hearts and lives too.  When a friend or family member is grieving, we want to be alongside them.  We want to support them.  We love them and want to help.  But sometimes our brokenness gets in the way.  That’s what we see happening in our passage from Job this morning.  There’s Job who’s lost just about everything, including his health.  But he has these friends who care about him.  Yet their brokenness gets in the way.  Is there any way to overcome this?  That’s what we’ll look at this morning.  In our passage from Job God teaches us how to be a friend to the suffering.

We’ll see:

  1. The gift of good-intentioned friends
  2. The failure of fallible friends
  3. The sympathy and comfort of our greatest Friend

At the beginning of chapter 2, Satan was given permission to afflict Job’s health.  He did so in one of the worst possible ways.  Satan struck Job with loathsome sores from head to toe.  This was likely a disease known as elephantiasis.  Job’s limbs were swollen.  His skin hardened and thickened so that it looked like that of an elephant.  Job would have been in excruciating pain.  Over top of that, he’d also recently experienced the loss of his children and all his wealth.  Job was in a bad way, suffering horrendously.

Job has three close friends:  Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  Not much is known about these men or where they lived.  And it doesn’t really matter anyway.  What matters is that they’re friends of Job and they’ve heard what’s happened to him. 

Look with me at verse 11.  Notice how it speaks of “the evil that had come upon him.”  In verse 10, Job was speaking to his wife.  He said, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”  ‘Evil’ there refers to things we experience as being bad, troublesome, disastrous.  It’s the same thing here in verse 11.  The NIV captures that well.  The NIV speaks about Job’s friends hearing about “all the troubles that had come upon” Job. 

By the time Job’s three friends arrive it’s been months that Job’s been suffering.  It would have taken time for the news to reach his friends.  And it would’ve taken time for them to travel to Job.  Of course, in those days all those things went much slower than they do today.

Before Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar arrive on the scene, they meet up.  They have “an appointment together,” it says in verse 11.  They’re not going to go individually to their friend Job, but as a group.  Perhaps they’ve heard of how bad he’s doing and they realize that no one person can take all this by themselves.

Now the Holy Spirit tells us the purpose of their coming at the end of verse 11:  “to show him sympathy and comfort him.”  In the original Hebrew, the word for showing sympathy speaks of shaking your head as a way of showing you care for a suffering or grieving person.  That was the way sympathy was shown in the Ancient Near East of Job’s time.  It involved this non-verbal action of shaking your head.  That showed your concern without words

But then they also have the good intention of giving comfort.  In the Old Testament, this word refers to comforting with your words.  You give consolation to the one suffering or grieving by speaking to him or her.  Comfort can’t be non-verbal.  The three friends have the intention of going to Job to speak encouragement and support to him.  You can’t fault that intention.  It’s what true friends should do for one another.  True friends come alongside to speak kindly and lovingly, to lift you up in your time of grief and suffering.  As Proverbs 17:17 puts it, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

When you have such friends, it’s a gift.  Behind every gift is a giver. That giver is God.  In his mercy, God gives us friends who care about us.  When we’re suffering and we have such friends, we ought to give thanks to God.  We say God is sovereign – that means he rules over all things, no exceptions.  God was sovereign over Job’s suffering.  But he was also sovereign over Job’s relationships.  In God’s sovereignty, in his providence, he gave Job these three friends who were well-intentioned, who had a concern for him.  That in itself can be a blessing when we suffer, particularly if those good intentions translate into helpful actions and words.

But it also reminds us to be such a friend to those who are suffering or grieving.  When we hear about a friend who’s been hit by some tragedy, the friendly thing to do is to want to show sympathy and comfort.  The gospel brings us to this place.  The good news of Jesus Christ leads us so we can be this way.  Think of what the apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.  He speaks of the “God of all comfort.”  With the gospel, God comforts us in our afflictions, our sufferings.  God says that because of Christ and what happened on the cross, there is always a purpose behind our sufferings.  Because we know this, Paul says we’re “able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted.”  What God has done in the gospel of Christ makes us both willing and able to be a real friend to those who are suffering.

Job’s three friends had their hearts in the right place before they arrived.  They were well-intentioned.  But you know how good intentions can soon fall by the wayside.  Good intentions can fail us because of the brokenness still lingering in our hearts.  That’s what happened with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. 

We’re at verse 12.  The Holy Spirit tells us that the three friends saw Job from afar.  Job was sitting on the ash heap, so perhaps he cut a prominent figure on the horizon.  But the three friends didn’t recognize him.  Remember, Job has been suffering for months.  Likely having this elephantiasis, he would’ve been disfigured.  Job would’ve been swollen.  He didn’t look good, but horrifying.

Job’s appearance brings out this powerful emotional response from his friends.  They raised their voices and wept.  Their weeping was vocal and loud.  Like Job did back in chapter 1, they tore their robes.  That was a way of expressing grief in that culture.  Another cultural way of expressing grief is this sprinkling dust on their heads.  That was associated with grieving over death, perhaps connected with the idea that when you die you return to the dust of the earth.  They look at Job and they see someone who’s had his children die.  But they also look at Job and they see the walking dead.  Job has got one foot in the grave. 

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were shocked, horrified at what they saw.  It was far worse than what they’d expected.  As it says at the end of verse 13, “they saw that his suffering was very great.”  This isn’t just great physical suffering they’re seeing.  It’s also anguish of heart.  It’s a mental and spiritual agony too.  Job is broken right down, broken right down in every aspect of his being. 

And his friends don’t know what to do with it.  So they sit with him on the ground.  They sit with Job for seven days and seven nights.  During that whole time, no one says a word.  It’s deathly silent.  Perhaps Job’s friends don’t know what to say.  Maybe they do know what they want to say, but they’re afraid to say it.  Or it’s possible that they know what they want to say, but they’re just waiting for the right moment to say it.  At any rate, Job’s ash heap is the quietest place in the world.  All you can hear is the scrape, scrape, scrape of Job’s broken piece of pottery scratching his sores.  Not a word is spoken. 

Now to be sure, there’s a time to keep silence.  When you’ve experienced a sudden, tragic loss, sometimes there are no words that can be spoken.  Or maybe it’s better to say that there are no words which should be spoken.   There should be silence -- at least for the first little while.  If I think back to when my mom suddenly passed away, the best comforters were those who said the least.  The best comforters were those who’d just be there with you, who’d listen and say little.  But there comes a time when words need to be spoken too.  Particularly, we need to hear how God’s Word speaks to our grief.  Imagine a wordless funeral.  Imagine a Christian funeral where everyone just sits silently for an hour.  It’s unthinkable, isn’t it?  We go to a funeral service and we expect to hear words.  We expect to hear gospel words of comfort from the Bible.  We need the words.

But Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar speak no words.  Nothing.  They intended to come with comforting words.  But they fail.  They fail here and they’re going to fail later too.  There is not a single word of comfort that these three friends bring to Job.  They have nothing for him.  Instead, you can just imagine them staring at Job.  Job sees their eyes on him.  He wishes that they’d say something comforting.  Job wishes they’d say something to encourage him and help him through this.  But, no, just the eyes.  Even if they didn’t mean to say it at this point yet, to Job the silent stares would’ve said:  “What did you do to deserve this?”  Job felt that his friends were silently wondering about his relationship with God.  They were sitting with him, but staring at him.  They were near him, but he didn’t feel they were for him.  As one commentator says, Job had proximity to his friends, but no intimacy with his friends.  He would’ve been better off alone.

What’s really going on here?  Loved ones, we need to think about this in relation to God’s law.  Do you remember how our Lord Jesus spoke of the great commandment to love God with our whole being?  Then he added that another commandment was like it, the commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves.  By that God means to say that we should take care of others just the same way we instinctively take care of ourselves.  In another place, Christ taught the famous golden rule:  do unto others as you would have done unto you.  He said that this is the Law and the Prophets.  This is a summary of how God wants us to interact with others.  We’re to put ourselves in their shoes and then treat them accordingly. 

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar started off right.  They did care about Job and that’s why they came to him.  But upon arriving, sin took over.  Because of their sinful hearts, they couldn’t put themselves in Job’s shoes.  Their sympathy turned to shock.  The comforting words they were going to speak evaporated.  They failed to love Job, their suffering friend.  They failed to care for him as they would care for themselves.  They failed to comfort him as they would want to be comforted.  We need to see that this is a moral failure.  This is a failure for which Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were responsible.  They should have comforted their friend Job, but they didn’t.  They’re to blame for that.  They’re responsible for that sin before God.    

They needed a Saviour to rescue them from that sin and its consequences.  And so do we.  Aren’t there times where just in general terms we’ve not loved our neighbour as ourselves?  We’re responsible for that.  It’s on us.  And, in particular, aren’t there times when someone has been suffering and we don’t even try to put ourselves in their shoes?  We fail to show real sympathy.  We fail to offer real words of comfort.  Perhaps we’re looking at the person suffering and judging them in some way.  But even if we’re not, our failure to show a loving heart, to comfort and encourage, that could be perceived as a judgment by the person who’s suffering. 

In 1536 there was a battle between the French and the Holy Roman Empire.  It was called the Battle of Milan.  A young French soldier named Ambroise Paré watched in horror what happened to the wounded from his army.  The French killed their own wounded soldiers with a death blow.  It inspired Paré to become a pioneer in battlefield medicine.  These days shooting your own wounded in battle is unthinkable.  If you’re in the army, you do everything you can to get your fellow soldiers to safety.  You never shoot your wounded.  But isn’t that what Christian soldiers sometimes do?  Don’t we in the church sometimes shoot our wounded, so to speak?  It could be something done actively, by deliberately saying the wrong words.  Or maybe it’s done by not saying any words.  Either way, we’re hurting those who are already wounded, just like Job’s friends did with him.   

All of this is failure.  It’s sin for which we’re responsible.  All of this is sin from which we need to be rescued.  If we’re not rescued, we face God’s eternal judgment.  We’ve broken his law and we deserve his everlasting wrath in hell.

This story of Job and his friends calls out for the coming of Jesus Christ.  From our perspective, he did come.  He came and went to that cross where he paid for all our failures to love our neighbour as ourselves.  Jesus paid the penalty for all the times we’ve failed to show sympathy and really offer comfort to the downtrodden.  Through Christ, through the cross, the good news promises you forgiveness for all your failures, all your sins.  Whether you spoke nasty words, or you didn’t speak any words – Christ covers it with his blood.  Whether it’s a hidden judgmental heart or the failure to show a loving heart – Christ has it covered with his suffering and death.  Through Christ there is forgiveness for the times we’ve shot our wounded.  Brothers and sisters, God’s grace in Christ is there to forgive all our failures when it comes to being a friend to the suffering.  Accept that grace in faith.  Believe that Christ hung on that cross in your place, that he took the hell you deserve.

As we look to our Lord Jesus Christ in faith, we see the greatest Friend we could ever hope for.  As the old hymn says, “What a friend we have in Jesus!”  Now there are some who object to that idea.  They object to the idea that our Lord can be our friend.  They resist the idea that the Son of God, who is true God, can be our friend.  But, you know, our thinking always has to follow what the Bible teaches.  We read from John 15.  In that chapter, Jesus says that his disciples, who follow his teaching, are his friends.  Jesus says he has the greatest love imaginable because he is going to lay down his life for his friends.  Now just in earthly terms, it could happen that you consider someone to be your friend, but they don’t consider you to be their friend.  But usually that’s not the way it works.  Usually friendship is reciprocal – it goes back and forth.  That’s normal.  If Jesus calls you his friend, you can certainly call him your friend.  That doesn’t mean you respect him any less.  The one who is your friend is also your Lord.  He is the Son of God.  He is the King of kings.  You love him and have the highest respect for him.  But that just shows what an amazing thing it is that, even though he’s so highly exalted above you, he still calls you his friend.  And you can do likewise with him.  Our Saviour has a friendly relationship with us.  He’s the greatest friend we could ever want.

That greatest friend is also described in Scripture as our sympathetic High Priest.  He understands the broken human existence of his friends.  He feels for them.  Jesus has lived on this earth and he knows what it means to have a broken heart.  He’s been there, weeping at the tomb of his friend Lazarus.  Our friend Jesus understands.  He never fails to understand, to sympathize.   

And he also speaks words of comfort to his friends.  He never fails to do that either.  Jesus speaks words of comfort like those found in John 16:22.  He said to his disciples, his friends, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

Jesus is the perfect sympathizer and the perfect comforter, the greatest Friend ever.  Where Job’s three friends failed so miserably, Jesus succeeded so wonderfully.  Where we have all failed so deeply, Jesus succeeded to the maximum.  His obedience belongs to us.  His obedient sympathy and obedient comfort is part of how God can declare us right with himself.  The gospel promises that too, promises that to all who take hold of it.

And the gospel also holds out hope for change in our lives.  If we’re truly disciples of our Lord Jesus, we love him so much that we want to be like him.  We want to grow in being a real friend to those who are suffering anything, whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the pain of a physical illness, or the agony of a mental illness.  We want to really help.  We want to be like Christ and offer real sympathy and words of comfort.  We’re united to Christ, and we want our spiritual union with him to be evident.  The Holy Spirit is said in the Bible to be the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He’s the means by which we’re connected to Christ.  The Holy Spirit lives in him and he lives in us.  There’s a spiritual connection.  That’s how we’re united to Christ.  And the Holy Spirit is the Comforter.  If he dwells in us, he can equip us to be comforting friends too.  We can and we will be better friends for the suffering. 

But how does that happen?  How does that desire to be better friends translate into action?  It begins by remembering two key things. 

One is that real change comes from the inside out.  Real change starts in your heart, having a sympathetic heart, having a heart which can pour out real comfort for the afflicted.  Real change starts from the heart.  That’s the first thing to remember. 

The second thing to remember is that God is sovereign over our hearts.  God has the power to change our hearts with the Holy Spirit.  He’s the only one who can help us love our neighbour as ourselves.  God is the only one who can give us really sympathetic hearts, hearts which can rightly comfort the downtrodden.  So where does that leave us?  What can we do?  Think about it with me.  If real change starts in the heart, and if God is sovereign over our hearts, then we need to…pray.  Pray.  We need to pray for God to do this work of changing our hearts so we can be a true friend to those who are suffering.  Pray for God to help you not only have good intentions like Job’s friends, but also to have real comfort to offer. 

The content of that comfort can’t come from anywhere else other than the Bible.  If we’re to be real friends to those who suffer, we need to know our Bibles.  Personal study of God’s Word can make you familiar with the places in Scripture that speak to various types of suffering.  You can’t comfort others with what you yourself don’t already know.  We’re so privileged that we can read.  We’re so privileged that we can all have our own copy of the Bible in English.  Loved ones, don’t take these privileges for granted.  Be busy with the Scriptures.  There’s so much benefit to be gained, not only for yourself, but also for others who might be suffering.  The thing to remember is that the Bible is the Word of Christ.  If we’re bringing comfort from the Bible, we’re bringing the Word of Christ to the suffering, extending the comfort of our greatest Friend.

Life holds many uncertainties.  But one thing we can be sure of is that there’ll always be suffering on this side of glory.  In this age, suffering is to be expected.  If it doesn’t happen to you, it’ll happen to someone you know, someone you love.  And when it does, God’s Word shows us how to find our way through it.  Loved ones, the way is by looking to the one who suffered more than anyone else in the history of the world, our Saviour Jesus.  AMEN. 


Our merciful and loving Father,

We confess to you our failures to love our neighbour as ourselves, also when it comes to when our neighbour has been suffering.  We confess to you our failure to be a real friend to those who are hurting.  We admit to you that there have been times when we’ve not been sympathetic, when we haven’t offered the kind of comfort that can really help.  For all these failures, please forgive us through Christ our Saviour.  We thank you for our greatest Friend’s suffering in our place on the cross and his life of perfect obedience in our place.  Help us to live in union with him.  Help us to live as his disciples.  We know that you are our sovereign over our hearts, so we ask you to change our hearts to be more like that of Jesus.  With your Holy Spirit, please help us to become more like Christ, so we can be better friends to those who are suffering.  Teach us from your Word how to do this.  Show us Jesus and teach us to be more like him.  And for those who are suffering right now in our church family, we ask you to show them your mercy.  We pray that they wouldn’t suffer with a feeling of loneliness.  Help us as a congregation to be aware of the suffering around us, to love them, to comfort them.  Please build up the bonds of love, compassion, and concern in our congregation.                   

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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