Zeal; and Knowledge – Job 32-34. RBT Notes, 25th January

Did Job justify himself rather than God (32.2)? Enter Elihu, who certainly thinks so. He also thinks that the friends have done a pretty poor job. If we’ve had the slow burn of insinuation and then accusation from these three friends, then now prepare for the fireworks from this new face.

This young man is in a hurry, a hurry to show the oldies that he is wise, that God is glorious, and that Job and the friends are wrong (vv.6-22). Elihu, this zealous young preacher, is going to give it his best shot, and with God on his side, how can he fail (33.1-7)?

In essence, Elihu can’t stomach the fact that Job is maintaining his innocence before God and complaining of experiencing a punishment which no sin he can discover deserves (vv.8-11). God is holy, and sovereign; He never needs to explain Himself to us. When and how He does speak and act is up to Him, and when He does, it is always for our good (vv.12-21). God is powerful and merciful, and will do anything to reach out to needy sinners (vv.22-33).

Good theology, yes? Now read ch.34 carefully. What’s wrong here? It’s this: Elihu believes in a God of beautiful sovereignty and searing holiness, but he cannot see how that God can have anything to do with sinful Job other than signal His divine displeasure. So Job must be wrong. Totally. Job can make himself hoarse insisting he is free from any sin God is chastising him for, but Elihu refuses to believe him (vv.34-37). And he will not believe that God can do other than judge Job.

What do you think? Does God launch His missiles at every sin and every sinner? Not in this life, surely? That’s right. Elihu is zealous, a worshipper of God, but has much to learn of God’s ways. God is far greater, and more mysterious than He has yet realised. And far, far more merciful, too. Look the Cross. Doesn’t the Cross teach all this to us?
A Prayer to Pray

Who is like You, O Lord? Majestic holiness, majestic mercy, and glorious purposes are all Yours. Teach me to adore, trust, and to be patient before You. You will have Your good and gracious way. Amen.

In every trial – Job 1-2. RBT Notes, 2nd January

Welcome to your worst nightmare.

We all know the book of Job, or at least, we all think we do. Believers fear it (this God could do the same to us), while unbelievers loathe it (this monstrous, game-playing God, if He exists, is to be rejected). Job is a book of scant comfort, we feel. All of us would gladly avoid even a tenth of Job’s trials, regardless of the size of the rewards which might follow, earthly or eternal.

Job’s story is about faith, and about the agonies that come to people who believe – seemingly despite what they believe. The book is so important, though, because it takes us to the heart of reality. It probes our hopes and fears about what this world really is: is there any one or thing out there beyond us; is there justice; why do awful things happen, sometimes, to the best people; and is belief in God a childish impulse, or a fool’s wager? This book throws up many questions – and brings with it not a few answers, many of them quite unexpected.

So, welcome, brother Job, godly, wealthy, respected and enjoying a beautiful life (vv.1-5). His life is the envy of prosperity preachers. Everything is going his way. The trouble is, that Satan is coming his way, too. Satan enters the divine court, fixated by Job’s happy life, and convinced that Job is only a man of faith because his faith is paying rich returns, a faith he will quickly abandon if his life goes wrong (vv.6-11), And so begins this most dreadful misery, as God permits Satan to test Job to within an inch of his life (v.12).

Out of a seemingly blue sky disaster strikes, and it comes again and again – theft, devastation, death: all that is dearest to him, children included, is wiped out (vv.13-19). Think about it. All that you have worked for, worried over, enjoy and treasure, all ripped out of your hands and destroyed forever. Your heart’s deepest joy, your children – all gone, too. This is suffering. And it comes with no explanations, and no instructions.

Job somehow holds his faith, and confesses it – God, in all of this anguish, is in charge. Life is a gift, the grave is as empty as the womb, and none of us deserves anything (v.21). Job refuses to curse God (v.22), though heaven, it seems, is about to curse him again. Satan reasons that Job is only hanging onto his faith because he has his health: once that goes, faith will go with it (2.3-6). Job then loses his health, and sits down, a picture of wretchedness. Adding to his misery is his wife, who makes her only appearance at this point, urging Job to stand up, shake his fist at heaven, and curse God (v.9). Job snaps at her (v.10), but he will not speak up at God. God is in heaven, and though His ways cannot be understood, He is the All-wise giver of all that He sees fit – good as well as trouble.

So welcome to this book, and these uncomfortable chapters of tears, arguments, and their wise and foolish advice in the face of suffering. Sit with Job and his friends (vv.11-13), and weigh their words. Learn from Job. Keep in your sights the Man who took from God all of the trouble you deserve for your sin, in order to bring you all the good you could never deserve nor earn. The Lord Jesus is the Lord of suffering, and if we listen to and imitate Him as we learn from this book, we have make so find comfort in.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, I recoil and run from suffering. I am human. I treasure my comforts, and fear to lose even one of them. Teach me to consider Your servant Job, and to consider the One his suffering and faith point to. May I know more deeply the Man of Sorrows, and treasure Him as my lasting riches in an uncertain world. Amen.

No Other Gospel – Galatians 1. RBT Notes, 16th December

Martin Luther took a lover. She was, he explained, the book of Galatians. He came to be enchanted by its message of grace, freedom, hope and resolve. Galatians, like the best of loves, is not one which will leave us unchallenged or unchanged. This letter will make demands and call for commitment. This much is good.

Paul wishes his readers grace and peace (v.3), but he hasn’t got an easy message for them. He is “astonished that you are so quickly deserting the One who called you” (v.6). God and His Gospel used to be their delight, but they’re handing over the grace of God for a poisonous works-based religion. Paul, a man commissioned by the Father and the Risen Son (v.1), has a word for those who think they can casually wander off from his Gospel to “a different Gospel – which is really no Gospel at all” (vv.6-7).

To some ears, this might sound like a religious leader sliding into a authoritarian stance, and even, into an aggressive one. Paul does have authority. The authority he’s been given he’s entirely comfortable with. In fact, he wants the Galatians to be clear about his commission as a servant of the Gospel. If they grasp that, maybe they’ll have a change of heart about the Gospel he has brought to them. So he tells his story, which lasts from 1.11 all the way to 2.21. His own story is a struggle to grasp and contend for the Gospel. Now by grace he has it, and he won’t allow either himself or anyone else let go of it. Here are three essentials in our chapter:

1. The Gospel comes from heaven, is God’s gift to the world, and has been revealed to Paul (vv.11-12).

2. The Gospel saves persecuting zealots (vv.12-17). Paul’s life, career, goals and wisdom were all turned upside-down by the grace of God in Christ. So shattering was this Gospel to him, that he needed to search out a wilderness place in order to put his life and theology straight in the light of the Gospel (v.17).

3. The Gospel is shared truth. Paul was anxious to check that his convictions were those of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem (vv.19-24). He was saved on his own, but didn’t want to be a lone ranger, nor did he want to have been deceived. He discovers what he was already sure of: he is a trophy of grace. He really was saved by the grace of Christ alone. “They praised God because of me” (v.24).

Paul’s experience as he recounts it, matched with the false Gospel of other teachers so-called, gives us a simple but essential lesson: know your leaders. Know that they have a story of conversion, and of commission. Don’t entrust the needs of your soul casually to anyone. Don’t believe what you hear, just because the speaker occupies a pulpit, likes to have a title, or reminds you of his theological degrees. The best false teachers have often been the most educated – and popular. The best true teachers are those who have met and been taught by Christ. they are the ones who are willing to risk everything for His sake. Stick with them, and their Gospel.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, how precious Your Gospel truth is. Yet how casual my grip on it is. Teach me to love more deeply what I know to be true. Teach me to be truly faithful to Your Gospel, since the One who called me is faithful. Keep me believing, loving, sharing, sacrificing and challenging others to do the same, all the way til the end. Amen.

The God who silences the world – Psalm 83. RBT Notes, 3rd May

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1.   God’s people will always have their enemies. What’s the warning, and the encouragement, from vv. 1-8?

2.  How does the church pray for her enemies? Destruction, conversion, or something else (vv.9-18)? How did Jesus pray for them?

3.  “You, whose name is the Lord” (v.18). Reflect on God’s majesty as revealed in the Son. How does His Risen Glory confirm God’s unshakable purposes for a fallen world?

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, give me faith. So often I’m tempted to shrink my worship to what I see around me, and so it’s no wonder that my praise dips when life is hard. Give me a solid assurance that You always reign, and will certainly judge. And give me a praising heart – because Jesus has Risen! Amen