Do The Ordinary: Gospel Balance

In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them. (Ecclesiastes 7:15-18)

I admit my behavior swings constantly from legalism to liberalism and I get it right maybe two days a year. Balance is hard for me. Is it hard for you? Do you find it difficult just to follow Jesus? I do. I often want to add to what God requires and tragically, I subtract from it at other times. Solomon gives us three principles for living in balance before God.

  1. Don’t Trust in Your Own Pharisaic Righteousness: Solomon says, “Be not overly righteous and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?” Solomon is pointing to the self-righteous tendencies of the legalist, much like Jesus in Matthew 23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”
  2. Don’t Be Foolish With Your Freedom: Solomon warns us not to be overly wicked nor to be a fool. This is the other extreme from the legalist. While we acknowledge that sin is a part of our existence, even as Christians (Galatians 5:16-17), we must jettison the idea that because the presence of sin remains we have no responsibility to put it to death.  That’s not wise, nor is it safe. Christians put sin to death (Romans 8:13-14).
  3. Fear God: Reverence, worship God. Solomon takes the focus off of behavior and puts it on God. This is the journey of our existence as we seek to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Seek the balance between legalism and license: worship. We know that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10), and that Jesus Christ is to the believer “wisdom and righteousness” (1 Cor. 1:30), so we, as God’s people must avoid these extreme behaviors and seek to do the ordinary thing: worship Christ.

 

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God

The church has not been spending its energy to go deep with the unfathomable God of the Bible. Against the overwhelming weight and seriousness of the Bible, much of the church is choosing, at this very moment, to become more light and shallow and entertainment-oriented, and therefore successful in its irrelevance to massive suffering and evil. The popular God of fun-church is simply too small and too affable to hold a hurricane in his hand. The biblical categories of God’s sovereignty lie like land mines in the pages of the Bible waiting for someone to seriously open the book. They don’t kill, but they do explode trivial notions of the Almighty.  -John Piper

Recently, during my personal time in God’s word I read through the book of Job and was reminded what an incredible book it is. Believers can and should use the book of Job as a guide for understanding suffering, taking advantage of suffering and counseling others through suffering. God has given us this treasure in his word. Let us gain wisdom from its pages.

Why We Don’t Like Job

There are two reasons, in my mind, why we avoid reading Job. First, we have heard so often that our suffering is nothing compared to Job that our reading of it seems trivial. It would be like reading about Roger Federer winning yet another tournament (getting kind of sick of that guy, to be honest) and asking if that had any application in my life. He’s w world-renowned tennis player and I played when I was in high school and haven’t touched a racket since. No comparison. You have to see that the book of Job is not about comparison. The book of Job is about the sovereignty of God in suffering.

Another reason we shy away from the book is that we are superstitious. I think that most Christians believe more in karma than in the sovereignty of God. We think that if we read Job and accept that these things happen to God’s people, then maybe these kinds of things will happen to us. Job makes us uncomfortable because he is realistic about the reality of suffering in the life of Godly people. We still want to believe the common myth that if we are good then good things will happen. If we are bad, then bad things will happen. Again, that’s karma, not Christianity. Sometimes it rains on the just as well as the unjust and Job brings us to an uncomfortable confrontation with that fact.

Why We Should Read Job

We should read Job because it teaches us about the sovereignty of God in the context of suffering. While much can be doctrinally drawn out about the sovereignty of God in these chapters, some of the most shocking things in the book come from Job’s mouth as he reveals his understanding of the nature and purposes of God. Look at his words:

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. 1:21

He has just lost his family and all of his possessions and his only words reveal a reliance upon God as the source of all things. He acknowledges that God is the source of his life and the source of all that he has and that God has the authority to take away whatever he desires.

Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil? 2:10

His wife comes and tells him to forsake his integrity and curse God that he might die. (Awesome lady, apparently) Job responds to her with theological clarity: God is the sender of all that comes to me, whether positive or negative. God is the one who decides what is best.

He makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations and leads them away. He takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth and makes them wander in a pathless waste. 12:23-24

He reveals the reign of God over everything, including his situation. He acknowledges that God is the supreme ruler of the universe and that he has the ability and the authority to smite whom he wishes and to bless whom he wishes.

Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass…14:4-5

He declares that God is a God of decree. God has ordained everything that comes to pass, including the very footsteps and boundaries of men.

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. 42:5-6

After Job justifies himself as righteous and thereby unworthy of such treatment, God appears to him and extols the glory of his own name, causing Job to repent of his presumption and pride. That’s what I like most about Job. The man lost everything and sat in a pile of his own filth through most of the book, but when he is confronted with the pure whirlwind of the majesty of God he repents. This reveals right doctrine. Right doctrine pushes us toward the glory of God which inevitably results in our repentance. He viewed God rightly and viewed himself wrongly. Upon the correction of God, he repents rightly and worships God.

My Prayer

My prayer for us is that we will be the kind of people who believe the right things about God and respond to suffering in the right ways toward God and others. So often I am quick to complain about tiny inconveniences and small trials that my theology would be more than able to handle if I would prayerfully preach to myself about the character of God. Would you preach to yourself as I do? Can we look to the character of God and find hope in the reality that he reigns? Indeed we can.