In various different ways piety can lead to suffering. And because of that we can find ourselves facing a particular temptation — the temptation to not aim high; to not aspire after and seek after and labour in prayer after the kind of piety we see in a man like Job; to settle for much less than that in the hope that it will prove less costly; to shrink back from the pursuit of eminent godliness in order to avoid the pain.
Job’s three friends could not have been more wrong. They looked at this profoundly afflicted man and concluded that by his sin he had brought all this suffering upon himself. What other explanation could there be? But there was another explanation, one that lay at the opposite pole to the one these men so vehemently contended for — and that was Job’s piety. It was actually because he was so good, so holy, so outstanding a man of God that disaster befell him as it did.
None of this is conjecture. God could say at the outset of the story that there was no-one on earth like Job. He was blameless and upright, a man who feared God and shunned evil, the holiest man alive! Far from protecting him from suffering, however, his holiness is the very thing to which his sufferings were to be traced. God spoke warmly of Job’s piety to Satan. Satan responded by alleging that it was only skin deep and that, furthermore, he could prove it: if God took away from Job all the good things he had given him, Job would curse God to his face. And so the whole matter was put to the test. God permitted his servant to be placed in the crucible so that the true character of his piety might be revealed.
Godliness can lead to suffering in other ways. Take, for instance, the Old Testament prophets. Why was a man like Jeremiah so often in danger of his life? Why was he cast into prison? Why, if tradition is correct, was he eventually executed? Precisely because he was so unflinchingly faithful to God.
Think about Jesus. Satan makes him his target in the wilderness, plying him with temptations. So too at other times. Why? Because of the threat that Jesus poses. He is on a divine mission and is filled with the Holy Spirit — a dangerous man indeed! Satan attacks him, therefore, in order to stop him, and Hebrews tells us that the experience was painful: ‘He suffered when he was tempted’ (Hebrews 2:18). Doesn’t that have many parallels? Christians who are eager and determined to serve God inevitably find themselves assaulted by the evil one, just as Jesus was, and suffering because of it.
Or let’s approach it from one further angle. John Newton once wrote a remarkable hymn entitled ‘Prayer Answered by Crosses’. It begins,
I ask’d the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly his face.
Then he very movingly traces out the manner in which the Lord answered him — by affliction. It is often the way of it. The earnest believer pleads, as M’Cheyne did, that the Lord would make him as holy as a saved sinner can be, and the Lord answers him by bringing sorrows and trials into his life.
In various different ways, then, piety can lead to suffering. And because of that we can find ourselves facing a particular temptation — the temptation to not aim high; to not aspire after and seek after and labour in prayer after the kind of piety we see in a man like Job; to settle for much less than that in the hope that it will prove less costly; to shrink back from the pursuit of eminent godliness in order to avoid the pain. Do you know something of that temptation? If so then let me give you some reasons for resisting it and for seeking earnestly to be like Job notwithstanding the cost.
There is no life more beautiful. Who are the most beautiful people on earth? Those with film-star looks? Those with the fairest faces and the finest figures? Not at all. It is those whom grace has carried furthest toward its ultimate goal — the restoration of our fallen humanity to its original splendour and perfection. That grace had made Job’s life a thing of beauty! And the more conspicuous it is in our lives the more truly beautiful those lives will be.
There is no life more useful. Job’s godliness made him a friend to the poor, a defender of the innocent, a faithful husband, an honest businessman, a just employer, and an outstanding father to his children (Job 1 and 31). It made his life a blessing! It will do the same to ours. As it comes to expression in our prayers, our example, our counsel, our care for our family, our commitment to the church, in the way we conduct ourselves at work, we will be good and useful servants both of our Heavenly Master and of our fellow men.
There is no life more delightful to God. When God speaks to Satan about Job, it is with very evident pleasure: ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no-one on earth like him. . .’(Job 1:8). As at the creation, God is looking at the work of his hands and taking delight in it. It is no different today. God continues to take pleasure in his saints and the better, the more Christ-like, the more blameless and upright we are, the more pleasure we give him.
There is no life more worthy of God’s love to us in Christ. How often we have sung these words of Isaac Watts — ‘Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all’. That is exactly what it does! There is no life more worthy of God’s love to us in Christ than a life of unreserved devotion. Let there be no shrinking back from it!
Through a great swathe of the book of Job — from the beginning of chapter three to the end of chapter 31 — we are listening, largely, to Job himself. As we do so, one thing stands out more clearly than anything else: Job is a man who is struggling. He is carrying the most terrific weight of sufferings and is manifestly finding it hard.
His sufferings were heavy from the outset. In the course of a single day he lost almost everything that he had — all his livestock, all his servants, and, most tragic of all, all ten of his children. Who can measure such pain? Then his health broke down. Satan so afflicted him with painful sores that Job could say ‘My body is clothed with worms and scabs, my skin is broken and festering’ (Job 7:5).
Then there was the appalling way in which people treated him: ‘God has made me a byword to everyone’, he complains, ‘a man in whose face people spit’ (Job 17:6). Job became as universally despised as he had once been universally loved. And then there were his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. They came with the honourable intention of comforting Job, but they failed miserably. By their groundless accusations of wickedness, they simply made matters worse.