Among churches of Christ today, the most studied chapter in Proverbs, and possibly the most studied chapter in the Old Testament, is Proverbs 31. Countless women’s classes have explored the topic of the virtuous woman, as determined sisters strive to emulate her fictitious excellence. One might almost say that she has achieved celebrity status among Christians. After all, she does have her own line of handbags!
There’s certainly nothing wrong with studying Proverbs 31, but for the next few Sunday evenings, I want to examine a lesser-known paragon we’ll reach in this week’s Bible reading. In Job 31, Job launches into a point-by-point defense of his character, explaining why it is that he hasn’t earned God’s wrath. Even though Job lived under a different dispensation than we do, everything that he lists is something that men of God ought to strive for today. Indeed, as we’ll see, some of the topics that he explores have a very modern ring to them. Without further ado, then, let’s see what we can learn this evening from the first part of our study of the virtuous man.
According to Job, the first attribute that the virtuous man possesses is PURITY OF HEART. Let’s read about it in Job 31:1-4. To me, this is fascinating. Normally, we think of lust as a New-Testament kind of sin. After all, didn’t Jesus warn us that lust was as bad as adultery in the Sermon on the Mount? It’s obvious from this text, though, that thousands of years before the Sermon on the Mount, Job recognized the spiritual dangers of looking lustfully on a young woman. Indeed, he foresaw such problems that he made a covenant with his eyes to keep them looking where they should.
There are two important lessons here for us. The first is that if we want to keep our hearts free from lust, we are going to have to be determined about it. Back in the day, a covenant was a solemn legal obligation. Abraham’s covenant with God and the Sinai covenant were sealed with the blood of sacrifices. You did not make a covenant lightly, and you did not break it once you made it.
If we don’t have this solemn resolution, we inevitably will find our eyes looking on someone else with lust. Our society makes lust incredibly easy. When I go to Wal-Mart in the summer, half the women in the store are wearing things that reveal more than I ever wanted to know. Online, things are no better and often worse. It is more work to not find someone to gaze on than it is to find them. If we don’t live with determination and resolve, our eyes will lead us into sin.
Second, when we are considering whether we should watch someone we don’t have a right to watch, we should remember who is watching us. As Job points out in v. 5, God sees all our ways. He knows when our eyes are looking where they shouldn’t, and when our hearts are thinking things they shouldn’t. Lust is subtle enough that we can hide it from others if we are careful, but we never should think that we can hide it from Him.
Next, Job examines the value of HONESTY. Consider Job 31:5-8. This is a text that is about Job’s business dealings. It considers the question of whether he has been deceitful and used his position to exploit others.
I think we see clearly what Job is talking about when we consider the penalty of v. 6. There, he invites God to weigh him in a just balance, implying that wrongdoing would be using an unjust balance. We don’t do things that way today, so let me explain. Thousands of years ago, when goods were sold by weight, merchants used a balance, like we see in those pictures of the scales of justice. If you wanted to sell, say, a pound of olives, you would put your one-pound weight in one pan and olives in the other until the scales balanced.
Unscrupulous merchants, though, would keep two sets of weights: a heavy set for when they were buying, and a light set for when they were selling. That way, they could buy 1.5 pounds of olives for the price of one pound and sell .5 pounds of olives for the price of one pound. That might be a good way to enrich yourself, but it sure is slimy!
Today, we see unscrupulous merchants pull the same trick when they take advantage of their superior knowledge to put one over on an unsuspecting customer. This is like the auto mechanic who tells you you need half your engine replaced when you actually don’t. He knows he’s lying, but you don’t, so he skins you.
Christians have to be above that. We have to love fair dealing more than we love money. If we’re selling a used car, and we know the car has problems, we have to tell potential sellers about those problems. If we’re selling a house, and we know it’s got mold in the attic, we can’t ignore the situation and hope the home inspector doesn’t notice. We have to be forthright. Being straightforward will cost us some money, but being deceitful will cost us our souls.
Finally, Job informs us that the virtuous man is SELF-CONTROLLED. Look at the text of Job 31:9-12. Here, Job expresses the wish that if he has sneaked around and committed adultery with his neighbor’s wife, that his own wife will betray him with his neighbor. That’s pretty strong stuff!
Today, of course, adultery is no less a temptation. If you talk to the elders here, they can give you decade after decade of stories about Christian men who have been unfaithful to their wives, and all the disasters that followed from that. First, as Job observes, it’s the sort of thing that can get you brought before a judge. Sneaking around is a great way to end up in divorce court, and as anybody who has had anything to do with a divorce can tell you, that’s not where you want to be!
Second, Job points out the destructiveness of adultery. He says that it would produce a fire that would destroy his whole life. Brethren, we need to think seriously about this. There’s no better way to ruin everything we hold dear than to cheat on our wives. That will place tremendous stress on our marriage if not destroy it altogether. Financially speaking, the single worst financial mistake people can make is to get divorced. It will have horrific effects on our kids. I’ve seen more than one girl whose father was unfaithful to her mother grow up and marry a man who betrayed her in just the same way. That was the kind of man her father’s example taught her to look for. Finally, of course, it will ruin our relationship with God and cause us to lose our souls unless we repent. If there is any sin that we should fear to the depths of our being, it is adultery.
As I said last week, based on a suggestion, I’m currently preaching a series on the work of God today. This week’s lesson, then, is going to be about the Father and the work that He does today.
If I were willing to reach back to the Old Testament especially, I could probably preach for the rest of the year on this subject. There is so, so much material to cover, and I only have 25 minutes to cover it, so necessarily, a lot gets left on the cutting-room floor!
For instance, I’m not going to discuss the Father’s work in controlling the course of human history. I believe that just as He did thousands of years ago, He continues to guide the rise and fall of nations today, and that He will bless righteous nations and humble wicked ones. Nonetheless, that’s another sermon for another time.
Instead, I’m going to focus this morning on what the Father does for each one of us personally. None of us are beneath His notice; indeed, He is every bit as concerned with us as we are. In this regard, then, let’s consider the work of the Father today.
First, the Scripture teaches us that the Father PROVIDES FOR US. This is pretty plain in James 1:16-17. In context, James is attacking the idea that the Father might tempt us to sin. Instead, everything that the Father sends us is good, and everything in our lives that is good comes from Him.
This should call us first of all to be thankful. Every morning when we get out of bed and take that first deep breath, it’s a gift from the Father. Every meal we eat, we receive from His hand.
This is true not only for His faithful people, but also for the ones who reject Him. God provides for the hard-hearted sinner. He provides for the atheist. Their lack of gratitude hurts Him, but it does not diminish His goodness nor His willingness to provide. We know better than those people do, so we ought to do better. Let’s make sure that we pause continually throughout the day to thank our Father for His good gifts.
Additionally, we should remember the Father’s provision when times aren’t so good. Much of the time, when life isn’t going their way, people are quick to blame God for it. Really, this is reverse blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. It is attributing the works of the devil to God. Besides, no matter how awful our lives might be right now, the good that God has done us far outweighs our current suffering. None of us have any reason to complain about our treatment at His hands!
Second, the Father PROTECTS US. Let’s reflect for a moment on a familiar passage, 1 Corinthians 10:13. This is one I can remember from childhood, along with the idea that, when tempted, I should look for the way of escape that God provides.
Before we get that far, though, let’s think about what it means that the Father (I think “God” in 1 Corinthians 10 is the Father) does not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability. That is certainly not a goal of the devil, who is not a sporting old chap. I am quite confident that if he were allowed to have his own way, Satan would happily crush us with temptation far beyond our ability.
In fact, I think Satan often does exactly that. Notice that the protection of God only extends to “us”. Contextually, Paul isn’t talking about human beings generally. He’s talking about himself and the brethren of the church in Corinth. He’s talking about Christians. I do not think this promise extends to people who are not Christians. They have chosen to live in the dominion of darkness, and they are fair game for the roaring lion.
However, for those of us who are in the kingdom of the beloved Son instead, this means that God is constantly intervening in our lives, constantly interposing Himself between us and the devil in ways that we can neither perceive nor understand, so that Satan’s desires to ruin us are constantly frustrated. Sadly, I too often stumble even when I am not tempted beyond my ability, but I am thankful that God is constantly watching out for me and protecting me from the worst.
Third, the Father ANSWERS PRAYER. Look at the words of the Lord in Matthew 6:6. Here, Jesus urges us not to pray like the hypocrites, who prayed not because they were concerned about God, but because they wanted to impress other people. Instead, we are to seek the Father in prayer, and He will reward us.
Obviously, in real life, things are more complicated than that. All of us have had the experience of asking the Father for things that we did not receive. Sometimes, this is because free will intervenes. We might pray for God to soften the heart of an unrepentant loved one, and yet they go on being unrepentant. Well, that’s how free will works.
Sometimes, though, it seems like our prayers are not answered the way we want simply because God doesn’t want to. At times, this can be frustrating or even crushing. However, once we take a step back and think about it, we have to acknowledge that that’s how we want things. We want God to protect us from the limitations of our own wisdom.
For instance, I got married fairly late and dated a lot before I got married. There were several times when I prayed that I might get to marry a particular woman. Obviously, God only granted one of those prayers. At the time, I was not happy when things didn’t work out, but in retrospect, I should not have married any of the others.
I didn’t know what was best, but God did. More generally, all of us need to accept that we usually don’t know what is best, but God always does. We have to trust Him.
Finally, the Father FORGIVES. Ephesians 4:32 tells the story. Here, we see Paul urging the Ephesians to forgive one another as God in Christ forgave them. That doesn’t mean grudgingly and incompletely. It means totally, entirely, and forever.
What a precious thought this is! Sometimes, I hear folks complaining that the Bible has too many rules in it. The implication is that the God of the Bible is unfair. You know what? I think that’s exactly right. God is incredibly unfair in His treatment of me.
If God treated me fairly, if He gave me what I deserved, I still would be dead in my sins and headed for eternal death in hell. Instead, God gives me what is not fair and what I do not deserve. He has poured out so much of His mercy on me that I am completely clean. God be praised for that!
It’s incredible to me that God wanted to forgive me so much that He sent His Son to die in my place. Arguably, it’s equally incredible that after so much mercy and forgiveness, people still complain about His expectations. Let’s not make that mistake. Let’s seek to do God’s will, but above all, let’s glory in His forgiveness!
Job 32 begins with Elihu the son of Barachel deciding to speak up. Though apparently he’s been around for the whole debate, he hasn’t said anything because of his relative youth. However, Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad have failed to make any convincing arguments, and it has become obvious that none of them have anything to say in reply to Job’s final declaration. In these circumstances, Elihu finds himself compelled to say something, and he promises to be impartial in doing so.
Job 33 opens Elihu’s remarks to Job specifically. He again avows his own sincerity, and he encourages Job to rebut him if he can. He criticizes Job’s assertion that God is punishing him unjustly. From what Elihu has seen, that isn’t the way that God operates. Instead, God warns man in one of two ways: dreams and afflictions. Both of those are supposed to produce repentance. In this, Elihu is implying that Job’s suffering shows that he has sin in his life somewhere that he is refusing to confront.
Job 34 contains Elihu’s words not to Job, but to Job’s friends. They too (he thinks) need the young guy to straighten them out! He encourages them to show good judgment, to notice the difference between the righteousness that Job claims for himself and his wicked conduct and speech. He insists that God’s actions are always just and righteous. He is impartial, and according to His will, even the most powerful wicked people are destroyed.
God knows everything that everyone does, and He renders to them according to their works. No one has the right to appeal His decisions. When Job ought to be acknowledging his evil, he instead speaks like a rebel against God, defiantly insisting that he has done nothing wrong.
Job 35 marks the return of Elihu’s attention to Job. He quotes Job as asking how his righteousness has benefited him (since he is being treated by God like a sinner). However, says Elihu, because God is so great, neither righteousness nor wickedness has any particular effect on him.
When the wicked suffer, they might cry out to God for help, but they don’t truly honor Him or recognize Him. As a result, God doesn’t hear them. Job needs to recognize himself as one of these arrogant people rather than continuing to insist that he deserves a hearing.
Job 36 is the continuation of Elihu’s words to Job. He insists that he has it all figured out. Once again, he touts God’s perfect understanding and justice. He strikes down the wicked, and He exalts the righteous. Those who listen to Him will be blessed; those who refuse to hear will be destroyed in shameful ways.
Next, Elihu claims that Job’s big problem is his arrogance. He keeps on demanding justice, even though it’s not going to help him. In insisting that he has been wronged and only wants to die, he runs the risk of judging God. Rather than judging God, he ought to glorify Him for His power and provision.
Only God can be my refuge;
Like a bird would I take wing,
But the wicked wait as archers
With their arrow on the string.
At the just, they shoot from darkness,
And the upright they pursue;
When foundations face destruction,
What then can the righteous do?
God is in His holy temple,
And in heaven is His throne.
With His eyes, He tests the righteous,
And He makes the wicked known.
Coals of fire will be their portion,
And their cup will be disgrace;
For the Lord regards uprightness,
And the just will see His face.
Sometimes, I think brethren tend to a kind of Christian deism. They talk like God did all of this amazing stuff thousands of years ago, but since the completion of the written word, He has backed off and left the world to its own devices. Now, there’s some truth to this. I don’t think any of us should expect to see miraculous signs today. However, it doesn’t consider all of the other things that aren’t miracles that God still does.
It’s important for Christians to understand this. I was talking to Billy Tanner a few weeks back, he suggested that we would all benefit from a study of the topic, and I agreed. By the way, as always, if you want teaching on some topic, let me know, and I’ll do my best to work it in. I envision four sermons in this series, one each for the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, but I’d thought I’d kick things off by considering the works that all the persons of the Godhead are involved in. With this in mind, let’s look at the work of God today.
The first of these works that I want to examine is that GOD KNOWS US. Let’s read from Psalm 139:1-3. This is hard for our limited minds to understand. Because God is everywhere and knows everything, He constantly is with us, and He knows everything that we do, say, and even think. He knows us better than our parents. He knows us better than our spouses. He knows us better than anybody.
If we truly understand this, it can be a source of tremendous comfort for us. It means that if we need something, He knows all about our needs before we even ask. When we are in the middle of temptation, He is right there in the middle of it with us, and He surely will strengthen us if we ask Him. When we are lonely, we never truly are alone. When we spend years or decades fighting to do the right thing, even when it’s hard, He knows our struggles, and He is pleased with our desire to be faithful. When we are suffering, He is there to share and ease our pain. On and on and on—every blessing we can know comes from the presence of God in our lives.
Of course, these blessings are for the righteous, and if we are not living righteously, then God’s perfect understanding of us is a source not of comfort, but of terror. He sees the evil we do in public, but He also sees our secret sin. It is impossible for us to hide the tiniest trace of evil from Him. When Judas plotted to betray His Lord, Jesus knew it all. When Ananias and Sapphira lied to make themselves look good, they quickly found that they were lying not to men, but to the Holy Spirit.
It’s vital that we understand all this, because God’s perfect knowledge tells us everything we need to know about how we should live our lives. Do you want to go through life constantly being terrified because God is watching? Me neither! On the other hand, if we are willing only to live for Him, His presence will become the source of unfailing joy.
Second, GOD CALLS US TO HIMSELF. Here, let’s look at a familiar text, Acts 2:38-39. I want to focus, though, not on the baptism part, but on the promise-of-salvation-and-life part. Peter says that this promise is for those who are near, the Jews, and for those who are far off, the Gentiles. Indeed, the promise is for everyone whom God calls to Himself. Whom does God call? Everybody!
To me, this is one of the most beautiful things about Christianity. The expression of God’s love is universal. We could be a no-counter in the world’s eyes. Doesn’t matter. God loves us. We could be poor. Doesn’t matter. God loves us. We could be the most wretched, vile sinner under heaven. Doesn’t matter. God loves us.
That’s easy to say. I can tell somebody, “I love you,” yet have a heart filled with indifference and contempt. That’s not how the love of God is. Instead, He has proven His love for us by inviting us to live with Him forever. Jesus offered Himself to make that possible. I think the idea that the Bible is a love letter can be carried too far, but it is nonetheless true that everything that the Holy Spirit ever has revealed proclaims God’s love and the good news of His invitation to us.
This too is something that ought to change our lives once we understand it. The world assigns value to us and offers meaning to our lives only to the extent that we are useful. If you can hit a ball over a fence or shoot another ball through a hoop, the world will throw millions of dollars at you. Then, once your career is over, the world doesn’t care if you end up sleeping on a heating grate.
Not so with God. Every one of us is intrinsically precious in His sight. He wants all of us to live with Him so that He can cherish us for eternity, and that is the definitive statement of what a human being is worth.
Finally, HE INDWELLS US today. Turn with me to Romans 8:9-11. For some reason, discussion of indwelling tends to center around the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but this text makes it clear that all three persons of the Godhead are involved. In v. 9, we’ve got the Spirit of God, generally identified as the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit of Christ. Then, in v. 11, we’ve got the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead, and that’s the Father. There are also plenty of other passages that talk about the Father and the Son abiding in us.
So. . . what does this mean? I think the key to understanding any kind of spiritual indwelling is to go back a chapter and look at Paul’s discussion of the indwelling of sin in Romans 7. When he says that sin indwelt him, he doesn’t mean that he had a little sin demon that lived inside his head. Instead, he means that sin dominated, controlled, and enslaved him.
That’s what the indwelling of the Spirit, whichever Spirit you pick, is about too. It is about God having control and dominion in our hearts. Everybody is either indwelt by sin or indwelt by God. There is no third way. One of the two is always going to be controlling us.
Obviously, one of the means that God uses to exert His influence and control is the word. Through the word, He instructs us in righteousness and motivates us to obey. Anyone who does not seek God in His word will not be indwelt by Him.
It may be that God operates on our hearts in other ways as well. For instance, in James 1, James promises that God will give us wisdom if we pray for it in faith. Is that prayer answered only as we study the word? I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t think the answer to the question is that important. So long as I can be confident that God will answer my prayers, I’m not concerned with how He does it.