Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. And the Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (Job 1:6-8, NASB)
Now those were the words of God, not Job’s publicist or his mother. And God repeated them later in the book. Satan replied by asking, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” The word nothing in the Hebrew means “out of favor.” It speaks of an ulterior motive. In other words, the devil can’t understand why anyone would serve God in the first place. So when he sees someone serving God, he’s always suspicious of that person’s motives. So he said, “Yeah, I know about Job. I know that You’ve blessed him. I know that You’ve increased his substance in the land. You’ve made him the richest man in the East. Not only that, but You’ve also built a hedge around him so that nothing can touch him or all that he has.” The devil insinuated that Job wasn’t serving God for nothing—there had to be a payoff. He thought God had given Job “the Midas touch” and protected all that He gave Job.
Satan thought he knew the truth about Job. Basically he told God: “If You were to stretch forth Your hand and touch all that he has and reduce him to nothing, You would find out the truth about Job, and he would curse You to Your face. Nobody will serve God if there’s no payoff.”
I believe the theme of this book is not “Why do the righteous suffer?” but “Why do people serve God?” Will a person serve God for nothing—if there are no blessings attached or no payoff? I have to confess to you that the devil has asked a very legitimate question. It’s a question that all of us must face and somehow try to answer. Why do you serve God? Why do you go to church on Sunday? Why do you tithe?
I remember when I was in seminary, a fellow pastor nearby was having a thirteen-week stewardship campaign. They would mail letters every week to every member of the church to encourage them to give. In every Sunday School class each week, someone would testify to the blessing of tithing. The pastor preached on tithing. The whole thing was capped off with a stewardship banquet, and everyone on the church roll was invited. A dynamic preacher came in and encouraged the people to tithe, and then they all signed the pledge cards. I picked up this friend on the day after the banquet, and I could tell he wasn’t very happy. He was frustrated with the pastor who spoke—his first words to the congregation were, “The only thing I can promise you if you tithe is that you’ll have ten percent less than you did before.” The speaker proceeded by telling them they should tithe because God commands it, not because we want His blessings.
Of course, I believe God will bless us for giving. And I’ve always said that if God doesn’t get it through the tithe, He’ll collect it some way. Sometimes I tithe out of an unworthy motive that I’m going to get something back. Most of us believe that if we give to God and serve Him, that He’s going to bless us. But my question to you is: What if He didn’t?
What if you said, “I’m going to start tithing.” And you tithe with the expectation that God is going to bless you, and the minute you start tithing, you go bankrupt and lose everything. What about that? Will a person serve God for nothing? Is there such a thing as “disinterested piety?” In other words, is there such a thing as a person worshiping God without any interest in the blessings that might come? Or, is it true that we serve God knowing that if we do, He’s going to bless us?
It’s easy to be good when the good have the goods. It’s easy to serve God when everything is going your way. But here’s the question: Is God alone worthy of our service without any of His blessings?
The Book of Job is a book of questions. In many ways, it’s a frustrating book because it’s built of questions on top of questions. One question is answered by asking another one. I’m going to attempt to answer the question: Will a person serve God for nothing? And the way to answer that question is to ask three other questions.
1. Will a person serve God when his life turns tragic?
I’m using the word tragedy in the classical literary sense—tragedy, as opposed to regular suffering. Tragedy is when a good man or woman suffers undeservedly for no reason. Their suffering cannot be traced back to any cause, and it seems to serve no other purpose than to destroy the human spirit. Theologians call it radical suffering, as opposed to regular suffering. There is suffering that you and I deserve. But Job’s suffering was undeserved.
Now it happened on the day when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, that a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans attacked and took them. They also slew the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three bands and made a raid on the camels and took them and slew the servants with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “Your sons and your daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people and they died; and I alone have escaped to tell you.” Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God. (1:13-22, NASB)
What we have here is a wager going on between the devil and God. The devil said, “God, I’ll make You a bet. I’ll bet that if You were to put forth Your hand and touch Job and take away everything he has, that he would curse You to Your face.” And God said, “I’ll take that bet.”
Here is an interesting thing: we always talk about our faith in God, but sometimes God has faith in us. God had faith in Job. God said to Satan, “You may take and do whatever you want with him, but I have faith in My servant that he will serve Me for nothing.” So the Lord won the first round.
Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. and the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “From roaming about on the earth, and walking around on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil. And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to ruin him without cause.” And Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. However, put forth Thy hand, now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse Thee to Thy face.” So the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a potsherd to scrape himself with while he was sitting among the ashes. (2:1-8, NASB)
There he was. One day Job was sitting on the city council; the next day he was sitting on the city dump. Ashes is a delicate way of putting it—it was the dung heap, the sanitation fill. Everything was stripped from him, and he became an outcast.
When our first son died, we received an outpouring of support through cards and letters from people all of the country. One in particular caught my attention from a couple in Memphis. “Brother Dunn, we know that you are a man of God, and you have committed your life to serve Him and to preach His word, and we know that you are a faithful servant of God. We do not understand how something like this could happen to you.” I got the impression they were thinking, “We’re just mere people. This kind of thing can happen to us, but you’re a man of God.” I think the real fear that was in their hearts was this: “If this could happen to a man of God, what might happen to us?”
I don’t understand it either. It looks like it ought to count for something that we’re Christians who are serving God. Don’t you believe we deserve some kind of special consideration in this matter? It seems there ought to be a few “perks” that go along with this job. You’d think that when God passes out calamities and disasters, he ought to keep in mind that I’m His child and His servant. What’s in it for me? If there are no extra blessings or special protection or immunity, then why are we serving God?
The hard truth is that faith cannot be tested by prosperity. Anybody can praise the Lord as long as everything is going the way they want. Even a lost person can praise God. But what if the opposite is true? What if suddenly the life is filled with tragedy that you don’t deserve?
The prevailing theology of Job’s day was that if a man truly served God, God would bless him physically and materially. In the Old Testament, salvation is depicted more in terms of physical and material blessings than in terms of spiritual blessings. In the Old Testament, they had not yet developed enough spiritually to understand that the greatest blessings are spiritual blessings. When you read the Psalms, most of the times the writers are thanking God for physical blessings. When you come to the New Testament, you’ll find the opposite is true. You won’t find Paul thanking God for his three camel garage; he thanked God for the spiritual blessings he has in Christ Jesus in heavenly places. Those today who preach a health and wealth gospel base most of their teaching on Old Testament Scriptures.
I once got a newsletter from a colleague in the ministry, and he made this statement: “Your financial condition is a reflection of your spiritual condition.” That sounds good at the Hyatt Regency ballroom here in the states, but I’d like to hear him preach that same message in Ethiopia or Rwanda.
Job even believed this Old Testament theology himself. It was as if God were treating him as an enemy. Scholars have come to believe that the name Job meant “enemy” in ancient times.
2. Will a person serve God when he has to stand alone?
Will a person serve God when his friends forsake him, nobody understands him, and he finds himself standing alone?
Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (2:9-10, NASB)
Is that a testimony of faith or what? After Job’s wife’s disappointing statement, here came Job’s three friends.
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, they came each one from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite; and they made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him. And when they lifted up their eyes at a distance, and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe, and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great. (2:11-13, NASB)
I’d find that incredibly comforting, wouldn’t you? It reminds me of vultures perching on a limb, waiting for the fellow to expire. Finally, after the end of seven days and nights of silence, Job’s friends came to a conclusion. All three of them said the same thing: “Job, you’ve sinned. You’re going to have to confess and get right, or God is never going to return you to His favor.”
You see, suddenly Job had to stand alone. Nobody believed in his innocence—not his wife or his three best friends. It’s easy for us to serve God and stay true to Him when surrounded by encouraging friends and loved ones. But what happens when you have to stand alone and no one believes in you? When everybody looks at you with great suspicion and casts doubt on your integrity?
We’re quick to criticize Job’s friends. But the fact of the matter is they had no other choice. Why? Because their theology said to. They either had to admit their theology was wrong, or they had to condemn Job. They chose to hang on to their theology. We believe there is always a link between suffering and guilt. Job is a problem to a lot of people who believe that if you serve God and are right with Him, you’ll be healthy and wealthy. Job’s friends had the same problem and looked all over for a reason for Job’s suffering.
However, look back at verse three of chapter two: “And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to ruin him without cause.” There was no reason in Job’s life for God to have done this; God Himself said it. You could run a fine-tooth comb through the life of Job and find no reason for Job’s suffering. God had a reason, of course, but not a reason as far as Job was concerned. Sometimes things happen for no reason—they just happen.
As a preacher, I am warmly received and encouraged by people all the time. I have great admiration for people who work in offices that are godless, where there is no Christian support or encouragement. I wonder if I would be as faithful to God as you are. I admire our Christian men and women who work in a godless world and yet still stand for Christ. It’s not easy to stand for God when you’re alone.
Note that Job wasn’t only forsaken by his wife and his friends; he was also forsaken by God. Well, not really, but so it seemed to Job because God was treating him like an enemy. God wasn’t answering any of his questions, so Job began to lash out against God. Job’s problem wasn’t with God’s absence; his problem was with God’s presence. It was an oppressive presence.
Suffering isolates you. Everyone else’s world is in full color, but yours is in black and white. The loneliness will lead to bitterness. Look back at Job’s words in chapter seven:
Therefore, I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit. I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. Am I the sea, or the sea monster, that You do set a guard over me? If I say, “My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,” then You do frighten me with dreams and terrify me with visions; so that my soul would choose suffocation, death rather than my pains. I waste away; I will not live forever. Leave me alone, for my days are but a breath. What is man that You do magnify him, and that You are concerned about him, that You do examine him every morning, and try him every moment? Will You never turn Your gaze away from me, nor let me alone until I swallow my spittle? Have I sinned? What have I done to You, o watcher of men? Why have You set me as Your target, so that I am a burden to myself? (7:11-20, NASB)
Job was speaking to God in those verses. Job was standing alone, in his mind, forsaken and abandoned by God.
3. Will a person serve God when God is silent?
I believe this may be the most difficult one of all. God didn’t answer Job for a while. He didn’t give him any answers. I believe I can handle something for a while as long as I have a reason for handling it. We feel that if God would give us an explanation, we’d have something to hang on to, and we could handle the situation better.
My life is characterized by creative chaos; my wife’s life is characterized by order. Therefore, she takes care of our finances, and she handles our income taxes every year. One year, she came across a change that would cost us $800 more, so she called the IRS for further explanation. She talked to three different people, asking about the change, and every one of them answered, “I don’t know.” I don’t like to pay taxes anyway, but I’d like to have a reason behind an $800 increase—any reason will do.
Why?—It’s the most oft asked question, and it’s the most unanswered question. In 1986, I was in a conference with Elisabeth Eliot, the wife of Jim Eliot who was killed in Ecuador as a missionary in 1956. She said, “I do not know any better now than I did thirty years ago why God chose to work that way.” That was astounding to me. You’d think that after thirty years, she would have had insight from the Lord about His actions—but she didn’t.
A lot of times we want a word from God—a word of explanation or direction—and none comes. Will you still serve God?
God finally did speak to Job.
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will as you, and you instruct Me! (I get the impression this is not going to go Job’s way.) Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, who set its measurements, since you know? Or who stretched the line on it? . . . Have you entered into the springs of the sea? Or have you walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you understood the expanse of the earth? Tell Me, if you know all this. . . . Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that an abundance of water may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? Who has put wisdom in the innermost being, or has given understanding to the mind? Who can count the clouds by wisdom, or tip the water jars of the heavens, when the dust hardens into a mass, and the clods stick together?” (38:1-5, 16-18, 34-38, NASB)
What was God talking about? To Job, it wasn’t relevant. Job wanted to know why he had lost his children and possessions, why he had sores all over his body, why he was suffering—and all God wanted to talk about was nature. What Job discovered was this: When you finally meet God, it’s not to get the answers to questions, but to discover what are the right questions. God was saying, “Job, I have a right to do whatever I do.” He reminded Job of who He (God) was and who Job was. Job was creature and God was Creator.
When we find ourselves in situations like Job, the first hurdle we have to get over is, “Does God have a right to do what He does?” The answer is yes because He is the creator.
Not only does God have a right, but He also has a reason. Job finally realized that God had a purpose behind it all. While there may not have been a reason as far as Job was concerned, there was a reason as far as God was concerned. God had a purpose, and it couldn’t be defeated.
Then Job answered the Lord, and said, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” (42:1-2, NASB)
We may not know the exact purpose, but it’s enough to know that there is one—that God has a divine purpose behind it all and that everything that is happening in our lives is to fulfill His eternal purposes. That gives us a sense of security and comfort and confidence. If I didn’t believe that, then what use is there in going on?
Even after it was all over, God never told Job why these things had happened. Job lived and died without having an ounce of understanding as to why all that happened. It had to be that way for Job to trust.
Finally, God had a reward.
And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends, and the Lord increased all that Job had twofold. . . . And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning, and he had 14,000 sheep, and 6,000 camels, and 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. And he had seven sons and three daughters. (42:10, 12-13, NASB)
God gave Job twice as much as he had before. But the text says he had seven sons and three daughters. He had ten children before. Now he had ten children in heaven and ten on earth because you never lose what you lose to heaven. When Vance Havner’s wife passed away, people would come up to him and say, “Dr. Havner, I’m so sorry to hear that you lost your wife.” He would say, “No, I haven’t lost her; I know right where she is. You haven’t lost someone when you know where they are.” Then he would quote this little saying:
Death can hide, but not divide.
She is, but on Christ’s other side.
She with Christ, and Christ with me;
United still in Christ are we.
God has a reward. He is no man’s debtor. No one will ever be able to stand in heaven and shake a fist at God and say, “You owe me.”
I like to imagine what might have happened when this was all over. Don’t you think the devil made himself mighty scarce? He lost a big bet. God probably had to go looking for him, finding him hiding behind a bush somewhere. “Pay up. I told you so. I told you Job would serve Me for nothing.”
© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2006