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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:How do you speak comfort to a suffering friend?
Text:Job 11:1-6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 111:1-3

Psalm 71:1-2 (after the law)

Psalm 111:4-5

Psalm 34:1-3

Hymn 78

Scripture readings: Matthew 4:1-11, 2 Corinthians 1:1-11

Text: Job 11:1-6

* 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,

Imagine for a moment an 11 year old boy.  For 5 or 6 hours every day at school he’s able to get along with everyone most of the time.  He mostly gets along with his fellow students.  Most of the time he’s respectful to his teachers.  To everyone at school he seems like a nice kid.  But 3:30 rolls around each day and he becomes an entirely different boy.  He comes home from school and fights with his siblings.  He disrespects his mother.  He acts like a jerk to everyone.  This boy is just a troublemaker at home.

Or take a husband and wife, married for let’s say 30-some years.  Each of them goes to work every day.  At work, they usually get along with their co-workers.  They can be civil to everyone around them.  They have patience with co-workers who have annoying habits.  But when they get home and spend time with each other, all the pretenses of being civil fall away.  They say things to one another that they’d never say to their co-workers, sometimes quite nasty things.  Even though they love each other, they get impatient and frustrated.

Isn’t it true that sometimes those who are closest to us experience the worst of us?  We deal with our families in a way we’d never deal with others.  With our spouses, we might say words we’d never say in front of people at church.  They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, so what does intimacy do?  With those closest to us, we let our guards down, we let our hair down, we abandon our inhibitions and many times it’s not pleasant for anyone.  It’s true:  those who are closest to us often experience the worst of us.

Zophar was a close friend to Job.  When he heard about what happened to Job, he came to be by his side.  Zophar wanted to show sympathy and comfort his friend.  When he arrived, he sat on the ground with his friend Job, silent for seven days and seven nights.  Finally, Job broke the silence.  In chapter 3, Job cursed the day of his birth.  Following that, Job’s other two friends Eliphaz and Bildad speak and Job interacts with them.  Meanwhile, Zophar is listening, biding his time, waiting for his opportunity to speak to his friend Job.  That finally comes in our text in chapter 11.

Zophar’s friend is suffering horribly.  Zophar had come to show sympathy and give comfort.  But the kind of “comfort” he gives to his friend here is no comfort at all.  It’s abrasive and confronting.  Zophar probably wouldn’t have been so sharp with a stranger.  But with his close friend Job, he feels no inhibitions.  He just lets loose on Job, in the process inflicting even more suffering on him.  This morning let’s look at Zophar’s words here in chapter 11.  We’ll see that we can learn here about speaking comfort to suffering loved ones.  The Holy Spirit answers the question:  How do you speak comfort to a suffering friend?  

We’ll see that it’s:

  1. Not with Zophar’s foolishness
  2. But with God’s wisdom

When Zophar finally gets the opportunity to speak, he doesn’t hold back.  Compared to the first words spoken by Eliphaz, Zophar is brash and straight to the point.  To sum it up:  Zophar thinks that Job is not only sinful (and that’s why he’s suffering), but he’s also foolish. According to Zophar, Job is a fool, a sinful fool. 

The book of Proverbs tells us all about fools and what they’re like.  Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”  The implication is that if you don’t restrain your lips, you’re not prudent.  Instead, you’re a fool and you’re likely to be committing sin.  Wise people keep a limit on their words.  Similarly, Proverbs 17:28 says, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”  In other words, even though you might really be a fool, you can trick people into thinking otherwise by just keeping your mouth shut.  People are perceived to be fools when they shoot off their mouths.

Zophar thinks Job has been shooting off his mouth.  He’s been pouring forth a “multitude of words” as he puts it in verse 2.  He’s “full of talk.”  According to Zophar, everything coming from Job has been “babble” and mocking.  So follow Zophar’s logic:  a fool is someone who doesn’t restrain his lips, Job doesn’t restrain his lips, therefore Job is a fool.  The logic appears to be inescapable. 

That kind of foolishness demands a response, says Zophar.  You can’t just let that slip by.  That’s the point of the two questions in verses 2 and 3.  These are rhetorical questions, questions where the answer is obvious.  Obviously, Job’s many words need to be answered.  Since a “man full of talk” is a fool, he’s not going to be judged right.  You can’t keep silent when Job keeps babbling on with nonsense.  You have to speak and rebuke Job, shame him for his mocking.  Zophar thinks this is what a real friend would do.  He’d come alongside the fool and help open his eyes to wisdom.

But it’s not just the quantity of words that Zophar takes issue with.  He also thinks Job is a fool for the arrogance of the words he speaks.  Proverbs speaks about that too.  Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.”  If you want to be wise, you have to be humble.  If you’re prideful and arrogant, you’re a fool.  And what does Job say, according to Zophar?  Zophar says that Job has been saying, “My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in God’s eyes.”  Job is supposedly saying that he’s sinless and perfect.  That’s why he can’t figure out why he’s suffering.  Zophar thinks this arrogance proves Job is a fool.  After all, if Job was so perfect and sinless, he wouldn’t be suffering.  God would continue to bless him.  That’s how Zophar is thinking here.

That brings Zophar to his prayer or wish.  He prays or wishes that God would come and speak directly to Job and confirm what Zophar is saying.  Zophar wants God to come down from heaven and agree with Zophar in front of Job, prove Job wrong.  Prove Job foolish.  Zophar hopes for God to come and tell Job the “secrets of wisdom,” the things that Job is missing out on.  If only God would come and tell the things Zophar understands, but Job doesn’t.  After all, God has all the understanding, far more than human beings do.  If God were to come on the scene, all this would be straightened out for Job.  God’s wisdom would confront Job's foolishness.  Job would be ashamed and Zophar would be vindicated. 

Zophar concludes the introductory words of his speech with a slap to Job’s face.  He says in verse 6, “Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.”  Remember everything Job has experienced.  All his children are dead.  All his wealth is gone.  His health is hanging by a thread.  He’s experiencing physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual agony.  Now his friend comes and says, “Actually, it should be worse for you.  You’re so guilty, Job, that you deserve way more than this from God.” 

So look what’s going on here.  According to Zophar, Job is a fool.  Zophar has wisdom to offer that foolish Job needs.  According to Zophar, Job is guilty of sin.  Righteous Zophar has the rebukes that sinful Job needs.  In Zophar’s mind, we all need a friend like him, one who is so righteous and wise. 

Irony is one of the literary features of the book of Job.  Irony is what we see here at the beginning of chapter 11 with Zophar.  What is irony?  It’s when what appears to be the case actually isn’t.  On the surface, it looks one way, but when you dig deeper it’s quite another way.  That’s irony, and that’s what we see here with Zophar.  He thinks Job is a fool, but in reality he’s being the fool.  His response to Job is full of foolishness.  Let’s look at how.  There are four ways. 

First, fools don’t listen.  Fools are more interested in speaking than understanding what the other person is saying and experiencing.  Proverbs 18:2 says, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”  Fools don’t listen.  Zophar wasn’t listening to his friend Job.  That’s clear when he puts words in Job’s mouth in verse 4.  Job never said what Zophar attributes to him.  Job never said, “My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in God’s eyes.”  Job never claimed to be sinless.  If Zophar had been listening to his close friend, he would’ve known that.

Fools make assumptions and jump to conclusions.  Fools don’t seek out more information before stating their assessment of the situation.  They don’t ask questions.  Proverbs 18:13 says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”  Fools rush to judgment.  Zophar already had it in his mind that Job had sinned grievously and that was why he was suffering so horribly.  Fools make assumptions and jump to conclusions.

Next, fools are arrogant.  We already saw that as we looked at how Zophar assessed Job.  Zophar thought Job was full of pride.  But look at what Zophar is doing here in verses 5 and 6.  He thinks he knows God’s mind.  He thinks he knows what God thinks of Job and what God is doing to Job.  He knows for sure.  That’s arrogant.  When you think you know for certain what God is thinking and doing with a suffering friend, that’s prideful.  Zophar was actually the arrogant one here. 

Finally, we see Zophar’s foolishness in the fact that he has knowledge, but he doesn’t know how to apply it correctly.  He clearly knows some things.  Zophar knows wicked foolishness needs to be addressed.  That’s correct.  Zophar knows it’s wrong for a human being to claim sinless perfection.  Again, correct.  Zophar knows God has abundant wisdom to share.  True.  Zophar also knows God is merciful when he doesn’t give sinners the full measure of justice they deserve.  Zophar knows all these correct spiritual truths, but he doesn’t know how to apply them to life.  He doesn’t know whether they should be applied to Job’s life.  Listen carefully:  wisdom is knowledge properly applied.  Zophar didn’t properly apply his knowledge and that was his foolishness.

Moreover, there are apparently gaps in Zophar’s knowledge.  He seems to be ignorant of certain key spiritual truths.  If he’s not ignorant, then he’s neglecting them.  What spiritual truths?  Well, Zophar thinks that Job’s suffering is a sign from God that he needs to repent.  Job’s sins as an individual caused his suffering.  Therefore the answer for Job’s suffering is for him to repent of his individual sins.  Neither Zophar nor Job know the real story behind his suffering, the encounters between God and Satan in chapters 1 and 2.  But both of them might have known the real story of how sin came into the world and brought with it brokenness.  There’s suffering, there’s disease, there’s every type of physical and mental illness, all because of what happened in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve.  The answer to that isn’t the repentance of Job, but the fulfillment of God’s promises for a redeemer in Jesus Christ.  A world with heartache and trouble needs the Saviour.  It’s this Saviour who brings us peace with God now already, but also the promise of full restoration and glory in the age to come.  This is the Saviour who’d begin reversing the effects of the curse.

Our Saviour Jesus would also crush Satan, the one who’s really at work in our passage.  We have to look at Job 11 also in terms of the challenge that God put to Satan.  Satan was allowed to do anything he wanted to Job, so long as he spared his life.  That includes the way in which Satan is pitting Job’s friends against him.  These friends are supposed to be on his side, Zophar is supposed to be on Job’s side.  But here he is calling him a fool and telling him that his suffering is a call to repentance.  Zophar is crushing Job.  This is foolishness, but it’s also deceptive.  Zophar is speaking lies.  Whenever you see lies, you have to think of the father of lies, Satan, the great deceiver.  One of his greatest deceptions is to take spiritual truths and pervert them, take God’s Word and pervert it.  He did it successfully in the Garden of Eden.  “Did God really say…?”  Satan was perverting God’s Word, twisting it.  Satan did that in the temptations of our Lord Jesus too.  We read from Matthew 4 and there Satan even quotes the Bible to Jesus.  Like Zophar, Satan knows spiritual truths from God.  But he misapplies them in an effort to destroy God’s work.  Praise God that our Lord Jesus saw right through it.  Jesus resisted the Scripture-twisting of Satan and rebuked it with the correct understanding of Scripture.

As we look to this Saviour in faith, he helps us with his Word and the Holy Spirit to be wise in how we speak comfort to friends and loved ones who may be suffering.  Jesus is said in Scripture to be not only the Truth, but also the wisdom of God.  If we’re going to be wise and helpful in comforting those suffering, we need our Lord Jesus to equip us.  He has what we need:  truth from his Word and insight from his Spirit.  With his Word and Spirit we can be wise.  We can apply the knowledge we have of the comfort of the gospel.  The comfort we all need is in Jesus Christ.  As 2 Corinthians 1 reminds us, “through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”  The result of that is that we can in turn comfort others.  When others are suffering, we can bring them what we’ve received in Jesus Christ.  We go to them in union with Christ. 

That brings us to how we speak comfort to the suffering with God’s wisdom.  We look to our Lord Jesus and we follow his Word.  Let’s look at how, turning Zophar’s foolishness right side up through Christ the wisdom from God. 

A wise and helpful friend listens to those who are suffering.  Take your time and let them share their pain.  Let them talk about their questions.  Think of your Saviour and how he’s revealed in Scripture.  As a compassionate and sympathetic High Priest, he really listens to those who are suffering.  He genuinely listens to their prayers with interest and sincerity.  If we’re united to him, that’s how we should aspire to be.

A wise and helpful friend doesn’t make assumptions and jump to conclusions.  Instead, we keep an open mind until we’ve heard everything.  And we use what’s called the judgment of charity.  If we love someone, we don’t right away think the worst of them.  As God says in 1 Corinthians 13:7, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  As our Lord Jesus taught us, we do unto others as we would want done to us.  We’d want people to approach us charitably, so let’s do the same with others.    

Next, a wise and helpful friend wants to reflect the humility of our Lord Jesus.  The Son of God humbled himself by taking on a human nature.  The King of kings humbled himself even to death on a cross.  His humility is to be the pattern for our lives and for how we interact with one another.  With his Spirit living in us, we’ll be thinking of ourselves the way we should.  That means we would never claim to know the mind of God concerning someone who’s suffering.  Yes, there are certain things you can know about the mind of God because he’s revealed them in Scripture.  You can know the promises he extends to his children who are suffering – that it’s in his sovereign control and that it’ll all work out for our good.  You can know the hope God gives to his suffering children – that there’s a day coming when every tear will be wiped from our eyes and we’ll have relief from all our earthly cares and sorrows.  But we would never claim to know the mind of God to tell someone else God’s evaluation of them as an individual.  We would never claim to know what God is meaning to teach them through their suffering, whether that’s to repent, or whatever else.  We just don’t know.  We have to be humble about that and stay humble.        

Finally, we want to not only have knowledge of spiritual things, but also know how to apply that knowledge judiciously.  That’s real wisdom.  The knowledge part is relatively easy.  Many of us have knowledge of what the Christian faith teaches.  But how do you apply that when a friend is suffering?  That takes wisdom, doesn’t it?  If we look at Zophar again, there’s a time and place to tell people “Know that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.”  That’s a biblical teaching which ought to be taught at the right time and in the right way – perhaps in the context of bringing the gospel to people.  But when someone’s laying in a hospital bed suffering from cancer, that’s not the time to say, “Know that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.”  That’s the time for saying things like what it says in Psalm 34:18, “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”  Or 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”  Our Lord Jesus always knew the right words to say at the right moment – he knew how to apply his knowledge of God’s Word.  With his Holy Spirit living in us and uniting us to him, we can do likewise.  

Loved ones, we need wisdom in order to be helpful comforters to those who are suffering.  We don’t have it in ourselves, but God tells us how to get it.  He says in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”  Ask God for wisdom.  Pray to him to give you the wisdom you see in your Lord Jesus.  Pray for God to fill you with the Spirit of wisdom so you can bless others. 

We started by noting that those who are closest to us often experience the worst of us.  Sadly, that’s sometimes the reality.  Friends don’t comfort friends the way they should, much like Zophar didn’t comfort Job the way he should have.  Even though it’s reality, we shouldn’t accept it.  We shouldn’t accept it in ourselves.  It’s not the way things ought to be.  Whether family or friends, those who are closest to us should experience us as growing disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.  When they’re suffering, those who are closest to us should sense that Christ has drawn near to them in us and through us, as we speak his Word to them.  If we see that this makes sense, that this is something to be desired, let’s pray earnestly for it and trust that God will work it in us with his Spirit.  AMEN.                  


Our merciful God,

Though we live in a broken and sinful world, we thank you that you sent your Son Jesus to turn things right side up.  We again praise your name for the gospel and the hope it gives to sinners like us.  We worship you for never having forsaken us, for not giving us what our sins deserve.  Thank you for the hope we have that someday every tear will be wiped away, every disease healed, every wrong made right.  We look forward to that day and we pray for its speedy arrival.  Maranatha, come Lord Jesus. 

Father, as we live here in this age, please give us more wisdom from your Word and Spirit.  As we look to Christ in faith, please make us more like him.  Help us to reflect our Saviour, also when we deal with loved ones who are suffering.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit to be good listeners.  Help us to be charitable and humble.  Father, please guide us so that we have knowledge from you, but also know how to apply it properly. Give us hearts of wisdom to love you and to love those around us. Please teach us and use as instruments in your hand to bless and encourage everyone around us, especially those who are hurting.

* 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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