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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Root Not Fruit is the Ground of Our Confidence


"Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing. Surely I would wear it on my shoulder, I would put it on like a crown. I would give him an account of my every step; I would present it to him as to a ruler." Job 31:35-37

Here we are at the final round of speeches.

We’ve already heard the last of Zophar – he doesn’t speak this time. And after this round of speeches we won’t hear from Eliphaz or Bildad again, either.

We do hear Job briefly again, but the main discourse after the end of these speeches comes from a fourth man called Elihu, and from God himself. So, these chapters represent the last opportunity for us to understand where Job and his friends are coming from.

So far, we’ve explored the justice angle – Job thinking that his righteousness proves God’s injustice. And the friends saying that Job’s suffering is the result of his unrighteousness, and therefore, the upholding of God’s justice.

We’ve also explored the self-reliance angle – the friends saying that if a person is good, then their piety should be their confidence. And, Job saying that if he could get a hearing with God, he’d put him straight on a few matters.

Now, I want us to look at this whole situation from a point of view of ‘righteousness’. The friends and Job were faulty on God’s justice. They were faulty on self-reliance. Are they faulty on righteousness too? Is it possible that we are faulty on righteousness? If so, what can we learn?

‘Righteousness’ is a prominent theme in the book, but more than that, it’s a prominent theme in this round of speeches. And so, I want us to take a brief survey of these chapters looking for this theme. Then, I want us to look at what the bible says about Righteousness, and then finally, to apply what we find to these men – and by extension to ourselves.

Eliphaz is the first to speak, and straight away he presents a question of righteousness to Job. Chapter 22, verse 3, ‘What pleasure would it be to the Almighty if you were righteous? What would he gain if your ways were blameless?

Don’t forget that God gave us his assessment of Job’s righteousness back in chapter 1. He sounded pretty pleased when he said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.’ Blameless, upright, fearing God, shunning evil - that is a description of righteousness from the mouth of God. And it’s a description of Job from the mouth of God.

The friends, however, simply cannot arrive at the same conclusion. Their whole philosophy of life tells them repeatedly that Job cannot be righteous or else why would God bring such calamity and suffering into Job’s life?

They are committed to their view, that the unrighteous reap curses in this life, and the righteous reap rewards in this life. Therefore, Job cannot be a righteous man.

So, Eliphaz doesn’t waste any time. He gets right down to charging Job with wrong-doing. Chapter 22, verses 5 to 20 are a sort of inventory of false accusations against Job presented to prove his case that Job’s calamity is the judgment of God on Job.

You stripped people of their clothing, leaving them naked’ he says in verse 6. ‘You withheld food from the hungry’, verse 7. ‘You sent widows away empty handed’, verse 9.

And the conclusion, verse 10: ‘That is why snares are all around you’. According to Eliphaz, the righteous man is one who looks on the wicked and seeing their ruin rejoices, verse 19 – not someone who experiences the ruin themselves. Fire devours the wicked man’s wealth, verse 20 – just like Job’s was devoured!

So Eliphaz is still multiplying words against Job. Bildad, has burnt himself out on the other hand, he has only a handful of verses to speak into the situation by now.

But he makes righteousness his central concern also.

Chapter 25, verse 4: his question is, ‘How then can a mortal be righteous before God? How can one born of woman be pure?’ This is a good question, but it’s not consistent with what he’s said previously. Back in chapter 8 Bildad contended that ‘God wouldn’t reject one who was blameless’. Now he says, who can be blameless.

He allows his argument to morph – the main aim seems to be to win the argument with Job. Even at the expense of consistency.

Job has righteousness is mind too. He starts his speeches in chapter 23. In the opening verses he’s keen to go to the dwelling place of God to present his case because he thinks that ‘there the upright can establish their innocence before him and be delivered from his judge’, verse 7.

In verses 10-12, he says that the testing of his righteousness will prove that he has closely followed the steps of God, that he has kept God’s way without turning aside, that he hasn’t departed from the commands of the Lord, but has treasured the words of his mouth – even more than his daily bread.

In chapter 24, his attention turns to the unrighteous. How does God treat those who mistreat the poor? Answer, verse 12, he doesn’t even charge them with wrongdoing. Is that the whole answer? No, because, God deals with them in the end. Verse 23, ‘He lets them rest in a feeling of security…they are exalted for a little while, and then they are gone; they are brought low and gathered up like all others, they are cut off like heads of grain’.

So, Job is arguing that if he were unrighteous then how would God actually treat him?

He wouldn’t bring calamity on him in life, he would bring calamity on him in death. In other words, life proves that you are wrong Eliphaz, et al! My calamity in life, proves I am righteous.

Again, in chapter 27, he wants to maintain his innocence, verse 6.

According to verse 17, the spoils of the wicked fall into the lap of the righteous. If he knows rightly what happens to the wicked in the end, how can he be that? Surely, in that case, he would have heeded his own observations and run after righteousness!

Where is wisdom to be found in all this back and forth between Job and his friends? Job is right in chapter 28 when he says, ‘The fear of the Lord – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding’. To be sure Job lovesrighteousness.

In chapter 29, amidst nostalgic recollection of God’s favour in his past life, he says, ‘I put on righteousness as my clothing’, verse 14. Amongst his righteous acts, he recalls how he rescued the poor (v.12), and made the widow’s heart sing (v.13), and was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame (v.15), a father to the needy (v.16), and one who took up the case of the stranger and broke the fangs of the wicked (v.17).

And directly on the back of listing those righteous deeds, what did he expect to happen? Verse 18-following, he expected to die in his own house, his days as numerous as the sand. He expected his roots to be watered and his branches to be drenched with dew. He expected his glory not to fade and the bow never to depart from his hand.

But, chapter 30, ‘that’s not how it has worked out. Curses have beset me. I’m a laughing stock. God has unstrung my bow, verse 11. Suffering has gripped my life and God has gripped me around the neck like a choking collar (verse 18). God tosses me about in the storm.

This is not what I expected. My soul grieved for the poor (v.25), but when I looked for good to come from it, evil came (v.26)’.

‘Doesn’t God know that ruin is reserved for the wicked, chapter 31, verse 3. But I have made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully on young women, verse 1. Let God weigh me in honest scales, then he will know that I am blameless (v.6)’.

‘If I’d gone about sleeping with other men’s wives that would be wicked; a sin to be judged, verse 11. For fear of the splendour of God I could not raise my hand against the fatherless, but if I have, then let my arm be broken off at the joint (v.22)’.

And then, the climax, verses 35-36: ‘Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign my defence – let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing. Surely, I would wear it like a crown’.

How so? Because it would be a blank indictment. Such a spotless account, would be like a crown of righteousness on his head!

These are the last words of the righteous man Job.

And these are the narrator’s words that follow at the beginning of chapter 32: ‘So these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes’. That is not to say that the narrator thinks that Job is righteous in his own eyes – though he may be - but that the friends think him to be so, and therefore they quit on him.

Ok, so we need to pick apart all this ‘righteousness’ talk. The way we’re going to do it is to let the bible explain righteousness to us and then to plug that explanation back into the situation so that we can work out who’s right.

Let’s start with Bildad’s question and proceed from there. He asks: ‘can a mortal be righteous before God?’ He’s saying ‘no’.

In a sense he’s right. Think of what the Apostle Paul quoted and said in Romans 3. What he quoted is this: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away…there is no one who does good, not even one.

That is a sweeping statement, but a true one, about all humanity.

According to Paul this is true of Jews and Gentiles alike – we are all under the power of sin.

And it sounds hopeless. It sounds like the answer to Bildad’s question isin fact ‘no’.

But that’s not where Paul stops with his treatise on righteousness in Romans. Just a few verses later, he does that unthinkable grammatical misstep of starting a sentence with the word ‘But’ designed to give the contrast even more power – which it does.

There is no one righteous…’but, now, the righteousness of God is made known’. By what means is it made known? ‘This righteousness is giventhrough faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe’.

Ok, so, there is a way for a mere mortal to be righteous before God. On the basis of a righteousness not performed by the individual, but given – given by God.

Let’s make sure we understand the mechanism by which we become righteous, because it’s important. Romans 4 explains it. Romans 4 explains it in terms of a credit score.

We know about credit scores. A credit score is a range of numbers, and you want a high one. The Romans 4 credit-score has just two numbers but you still want the high one. The two numbers are zero and 100. You want to be 100.

Romans 3 told us our credit score was zero. Then it said, God is willing to give us a righteousness that makes our credit score with God 100 – complete, total; nothing lacking. Quoting again, Paul says, ‘Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them’.

So, the mechanism by which we become righteous is an account-settling mechanism.

Our ‘righteousness’ account was bankrupt, but it is made to be full – with nothing lacking - by Jesus.

We call that ‘imputed righteousness’.

It is not the same as saying, God gives us the gift of enabling so that we can work out our own righteousness. That would be an imparting of righteousness. That’s not what God has revealed that he has done.

There is no place for boasting in this scheme of righteousness Paul says. Righteousness has to be imputed so that, before God, there is zero room for boasting about righteousness – there is only room for thanksgiving - God did it all!

‘So, a person can be declared righteous in God’s sight, Bildad – on account of Jesus and as a gift of God’.

Does that mean that, since sin is no longer counted against us we are free to be unrighteous?

Does our righteousness, received from God - guaranteeing that our unrighteousness can’t be counted against us – mean we are free to sin?

Is that what we have been made righteous unto?

Paul anticipates that very question in Romans 6. His answer is an emphatic ‘no’. He says, ‘we know that our old self [the unrighteous one] was crucified with Christ so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.

He goes on, ‘In the same way count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus’.

Then he says, ‘Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness’.

When Paul speaks of offering yourself to God as an instrument of righteousness, he’s not undermining what he said in chapter 3, and intending us to understand that we are to offer ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness in order to obtain our righteous standing before God.

He’s saying we are to offer our bodies in that way so as to testify to the righteousness we have already received. God’s gift is the root of righteousness. The offering we make of ourselves to God is the fruit of righteousness.

Eliphaz asks the question, ‘what benefit would it be to God if Job was righteous?

We’ve just seen that God goes to the greatest personal cost – namely the offering up of his own dear Son to death – in order to make a person righteous in his sight.

So, it seems God considers it great benefit to be able to count a person righteous. Paul confirms it for us - in Romans 9, this time. He says, that ‘the glory of his riches is revealed in the objects of his mercy’.

That means, one way his glory is seen – maybe the supreme way - is in the people who have received his free gift of righteousness.

But what about the fruit of righteousness? Is that pleasing to God? Paul tells us that he and his fellow apostles instructed the Thessalonian believers how to live in order to please God – he entreats them to do it all the more.

Hebrews says, ‘do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased’.

So, the answer to Eliphaz’s question is ‘yes’ righteousness pleases God – both the root and the fruit.

Now, Job doesn’t ask a question about righteousness like his two friends do, but based on what he says about righteousness, I will ask one.

We’ve seen Job pointing up his righteousness. Whether he’s right to point up his righteousness remains to be seen, but he’s certainly not lying about his righteousness.

When God said in chapter 1 that Job was upright and blameless he was lauding up to Satan the fruit of the righteous-root God himself had created in Job.

That fruit testified to God’s glorious riches, and God was showing it off to Satan – God is glorious and he wants his glory to be seen.

Job is fully aware of his righteous behaviour – how he keeps in step with God’s decrees – but it is evident that that awareness has become, in some way, the basis for his confidence in the courtroom of heaven.

He has signed his defence on the basis of his own righteous fruit and he expects that the resulting indictment will be a spotless one.

So, the question I want to ask is, ‘are Job’s righteous deeds so much a part of his own doing that he can rely upon them in this way?’ And a second question which is like the first, ‘are these righteous acts perfect?’

Because, that is the only way he can rely on them, the way he is relying on them here.

They would need to be all of his own making with no external help, and they would need to be perfect.

I think the answer to both questions is ‘no’. I think the testimony of scripture is that the righteous acts we do are empowered by God in the first place.

Which would mean that Job, if he were to have his hearing with God, would be shown that his righteous fruit was underpinned, deep-down inside, by spiritual pollination; by spiritual fertilization.

And then, he would be shown that the human nature is so far fallen that in spite of spiritual renovation, it is not yet glorified in perfection - so as to produce a perfect crop of untainted fruit.

Let’s see.

2 Thessalonians 1:11, ‘We constantly pray for you that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith’.

So, you’ve been made righteous, how do you live worthy of it? By living lives that are aligned with what you have become – namely righteous lives.

How do you do that? Paul says, by the power of him who brings to fruition – literally, to fruit – your every desire for goodness. The righteous deeds you want to make happen, need the power of God to happen. That’s massive!

There is a co-operation between God and the righteous believer to bring about righteous fruit.

What God was showing off to Satan was righteous fruit produced by the power of God at work in the life of Job – power, translating his desires for good, into actions for good.

Romans says it like this: ‘If by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live’.

Not, ‘if you put them to death by your own power’ – ‘if you put them to death by depending on the power of the Holy Spirit’.

Depending on the Spirit, means prayer.

Dependency on God always starts with prayer.

In terms of perfect performance, Jesus’ model prayer makes it very clear that our ongoing experience of living a righteous life will be with an intermingling of bad fruit.

He says we ought to pray like this, ‘Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our sins…’.

The bread requirement is daily and the sin forgiving requirement is daily also. Ecclesiastes says, ‘there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins’.

So, what have we learnt? We’ve learnt that we have been made righteous. And because we have been made righteous we are to liverighteous.

That is something we must do, but which we cannot do without the power of God working in us to accomplish it.

God’s will for our lives is that we increase in holiness as we progress towards heaven. Not that God has willed that we will arrive at the fulness of holiness in this life.

Yet, that fact is not to undermine our striving for it.

And, if we think we have arrived at a perfect life of holiness we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, John says.

So, we are not to fall into the trap of either the friends or Job. We are not to conclude that we cannot be righteous. We can be and we must be.

And we are not to fall into the trap of thinking that we have attained to the perfection of righteousness – we are striving for it knowing we will never arrive at it, but that God is pleased with every piece of righteous fruit that is prompted by faith.

Eliphaz had a plan for Job. In verses 21 to 30 of chapter 22. He encouraged Job in what he must do. He must submit to God, accept his instruction, lay up his words in his heart, return to the Almighty, remove wickedness from his tent, assign wealth to the dust, and pray.

Which sounds like a very good list of proactive Christian behaviour. I would not hesitate to take that list and pin it up on my fridge to remind me of the kinds of things it would be good for me to attend to in my Christian life.

The problem is not with the list. The problem is with what the list is intended to achieve. The list is intended to achieve exactly what Job thinks he already has – a perfect righteous life. On that basis Eliphaz expects God will remove his hand of judgment. That’s a false assessment.

Just as Job’s belief that his righteous life is the basis for his courtroom hearing with God is also false.

Our lives need to be enthusiastically engaged in striving for righteousness, as Hebrews says, ‘making every effort to be holy; without which no one will see the Lord’.

And whatever righteous fruit grows up out of God’s righteous root in us, all the glory and honour belong to him because we know that it is his grace, so powerfully working in us, that enables us to overcome.

We do not have perfect fruit. We cannot stand on our own footing. We stand in the righteousness of Christ and we make it our goal to please him.


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