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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

The Gospel Says 'No' to Self-reliance


"Let him not deceivehimself by trusting what is worthless,

for he will get nothing in return." Job 15:31

One of the challenges in Job is that between chapters 2 and 38 of the book, God doesn’t speak. All the talking is done by Job, his 3 friends, and Elihu who appears towards the end.

That’s challenging for us the reader because there’s a substantial difference of opinion between Job and his friends about the reason for Job’s suffering. So, we’re left wondering, who’s got it right?

Last time we considered those differences from the perspective of God’s justice. The friends were making the case that Job must have sinned against God because God is a just God. He punishes the sinnner and exonerates the righteous. They think Job’s suffering is God’s justice being dealt out against Job for his secret sin.

Job, on the other hand, knows that his hands are clean. We recall, that back in chapters one and two, that was God’s assessment of Job – a man who was upright, like no other on the face of the earth.

Therefore, Job can’t make sense of his suffering.

We saw him last time starting to think that God must be treating him unjustly. In his mind he hasn’t done anything to warrant the suffering that God has brought on him.

So, the friends seek to maintain the justice of God at the expense of Job’s righteousness, and Job seeks to uphold the righteous that he knows is his, at the expense of God’s justice. And we saw that both approaches, as explanations of Job’s suffering, were inadequate.

Now, what is easy to lose track of in these central chapters where God is not speaking, are the facts that we have been made privy to, by the narrator of the book. Facts the friends don’t have to hand, and facts Jobdoesn’t have to hand.

And we’re glad of it – that they haven’t had the curtain of heaven peeled back like we have – because when suffering comes into our lives, and it will, then we don’t have the luxury of seeing the heavenly scene unfurled either. We are exactly like Job and his friends in that event, and so we can learn from them here.

In our suffering, we will, like them, be left trying to understand what it is for. What purpose it is serving. And why God has let this happen to us.

And, a little-like reading these middle chapters, we may forget that Godis in it all. God is in the suffering.

God has massive purposes for our suffering. Purposes that are good for us and which bring him glory. Purposes which advance his kingdom. And purposes that shape us for heaven.

If we’re not careful though, in these middle chapters, we’ll get sucked into the sparring contest that’s going on, and miss the God-perspective. And then we’ll miss the application to our lives.

The temptation is to watch the big fight between the friends and Job unfold and to score it in our minds like a boxing match – attributing points for blows. But that’s a mistake. Job’s frame of reference is skewed by his suffering. The friends frame of reference is skewed by faulty doctrine. And the arguments they bring against each other only serve to stoke the fires of this increasingly unhappy conversation.

So, in a bid to see the God-perspective here - which we must - I want us to think first about the nature of saving faith.

What is saving faith? Saving faith is that moment in a person’s life when what they know about God - about sin and about their need - and what they believe to be true about those things, comes to fruition in personal heart-felt trust in Jesus.

Without trust in Jesus there is no saving faith. Romans 4:5 says that ‘to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is added to their account as righteousness’.

But what is trust in Jesus? Trust in Jesus is the soul’s cleaving to Jesus. It’s the soul’s resting on Jesus. It’s the soul’s leaning on Jesus. Relyingon him, completely. Placing its confidence in him, wholly. It’s a looking away from self and looking to him to meet all our needs.

It’s, knowing that we don’t have the capacity in ourselves to rescue ourselves - we throw ourselves on him. And therefore, trust in Jesus is a humbling of ourselves before the one person who can help us out of our eternal predicament.

There’s no true trust without humility before Jesus. And there’s no true trust without confidence in Jesus either.

Romans 12:3 urges us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but rather to think of ourselves with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has given.

So, Paul encourages us to continue in the state of humility that we had when we first came to faith – the humility that is a part of what it is to truly trust him.

And 2 Corinthians 3 picks up on the confidence or reliance that is a part of what it is to truly trust. Paul says, ‘Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God’. We don’t have the competence, but we have trusted in one who does, and we are confident in him.

Now, that kind of trust starts small – maybe like a mustard seed - but it must grow. It must infuse our whole life.

It’s perilous to find ourselves becoming more self-reliant as we continue in our Christian walk. In fact, it must be the opposite. It must be that our dependence on Jesus increases not decreases. It must be that our awareness of our failings and shortcomings increase not decrease. And, it must be, therefore, the case that our humility increases not decreases.

And that our confidence in Christ increase and not decrease over time. Trust in Jesus should be a mainstay for the Christian, and it should be a growing mainstay.

Now, before we get to the circumstances in Job’s life and see how they are affecting his trust, I want us to see that the friends have a philosophy that puts trust in the wrong place. And, I think that it will be good for us to see that, so that we can avoid falling into that trap.

In chapter 15 Eliphaz makes his second speech and it’s not difficult to detect in the opening verses a haughtiness bubbling up to the surface. Verse 4, ‘you even undermine piety and hinder devotion to God’. I think that ‘piety’ and ‘devotion to God’ are references to himself and his friends, and he’s contending that Job obstructs them with his words.

He’s more explicit in verses 9 & 10. Verse 9, ‘What insights do you have that we do not have’.

Bildad in chapter 18 is more forthright, ‘Why are we regarded as cattlein your sight’.

And Zophar in chapter 20 sums up their thinking, ‘I hear a rebuke that dishonours me and my understanding inspires me to reply’.

So, they are wise in their own eyes – they think they’ve got all the insight.

You know, when a person claims to know it all and wants you to know that that’s the case, you should get the sense: that’s out of step with the gospel.

Pride goes before a fall – Proverbs 16.

Eliphaz has seen it all and knows it all and now he’ll explain it all to Job. Chapter 15, verse 20, ‘the wicked man suffers torment’. Verse 21, ‘marauders attack him’.

Verse 28, ‘he will inhabit…houses crumbling to ruin’. Verse 29, ‘He will no longer be rich and his wealth will not endure’. And verse 30, ‘a flame will wither his shoots’. All these verses are underhand references to Job’s calamity.

Job is the one in torment. It was Job who was attacked by marauders. It was Job’s house that crumbled to dust when the wind hit it. It is Job’sriches that have withered away to dust. And it was fire from heaven that fell on Job’s household.

So, the inference is that Job is the wicked one and that his wickedness is the cause of the calamity.

In chapter 18, Bildad does the same thing, referring to how calamity eats away the wicked man’s skin. There’s nothing underhand about thatstatement. Job is sitting in front of him covered in skin defiling boils!

Zophar in chapter 20 takes the same approach. In verse 5 he says that the ‘mirth of the wicked is brief and the joy of the godless lasts but a moment’.

And his concluding word in verse 29 is ‘such is the fate God allots the wicked, the heritage appointed for them by God’.

Ok, so what’s the philosophy behind these statements? The philosophy is, that the wicked reap destruction and the righteous reap reward. Where from? From the hand of God.

God demonstrates his pleasure with the righteous by giving them good things, and his displeasure with the wicked by giving them bad things.

That’s the top level of their philosophy.

Let’s drop down a level. What is it that makes a person righteous or wicked? Answer, it is what they do.

Zophar again in chapter 20, ‘for he has oppressed the poor and left them destitute, he has seized houses he did not build’. It’s a false statement, but it’s a reason Zophar is giving for Job’s plight.

Let’s go down another level. If destruction belongs to the wicked and reward to the righteous. And if what makes a person wicked or righteous is what they do. Then in whom must we trust for blessing? And the answer is, ourselves.

Eliphaz, back in chapter 4, tipped his hand in this direction when he said to Job, ‘should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope?’ And in chapter 15 he’s expounding the same idea in verse 31. He says, ‘Let him not deceive himself by trusting what is worthless, for he will get nothing in return’.

He’s not talking about trusting in wealth there, he’s talking about trusting in wickedness. And that sounds like good advice. But his alternative to trusting in wickedness is to trust in righteousness which does reap return. Righteousness that comes from within. And therefore, Eliphaz is promoting trust in one’s self.

The nature of saving faith is trust in Jesus to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. It’s an acknowledgment that we are morally incapable of pleasing God – and that is humbling. It’s a turning from reliance on self to a reliance on Jesus for our righteous standing.

That’s the opposite of what these three friends are saying. And the fruitof their philosophy is the compounding of Job’s intense suffering with misplaced accusations and false allegations of wickedness.

Their self-reliant religion-of-works make for appalling finger-pointing and invented stories to explain the suffering of their friend.

Job is right when he says in chapter 16, ‘you are miserable comforters, all of you!

Their thinking is broken and therefore their comfort is broken. Their trust is misplaced and therefore their words are misplaced. Pride is at the root of their lives and therefore pride shapes the wisdom they have to share with their friend.

Therefore, God is angry with these three at the end of the book. They had not spoken the truth about God. And he was ready to deal with them according to their folly. But, instead, he makes them rely on someone outside themselves to intercede on their behalf - Job. And so, God gets to grips with their pride and self-reliance.

Our trust in Jesus must increase not decrease. The Lord’s table is a reminder that we must confess our sins and our brokenness before God continually, not just at the beginning. We must cleave to Jesus every day. We must rely on him to intercede for us because we are perpetualsinners.

And as we contend with sin – and we must – and even as we conquer some sin in our lives – as we will, by God’s grace – we will be tempted to self-reliance. But it’s a trap and we must avoid it.

Our Christian lives must be characterised then, by trust in Jesus and not trust in ourselves.

What about Job? Where does his trust reside? Job is very confused about his suffering. He’s kept the Lord’s way honourably. He’s turned away from sin and kept his hands clean. And yet God has become his enemy – he thinks.

But he can’t see what he could have done to make God angry with him. And now that his suffering is lingering on – which it is – here in chapters 16, 17, 19 & 21 he’s becoming more and more agitated.

What he really wants, more than anything, is an audience with God. To find out from him why he is being treated this way.

A lot of the statements Job makes in these chapters are statements of truth. So, when he says in chapter 16, verse 7 for example, ‘Surely, God, you have worn me out; you have devastated my entire household’, that’s not a false statement. Nor is it a malicious statement. It’s just the truth.

Or in verse 11, ‘God has turned me over to the ungodly and thrown me into the clutches of the wicked’. That’s a true statement too.

It’s an insightful one, we know that God has given Job into Satan’s hands – albeit with limitations.

So, many of Job’s statements are true.

But then there are other statements that God calls, later in the book, ‘words without knowledge’. And they serve to ‘obscure God’s plans’ according to God. Job repeatedly characterises God as his enemy. And often as an enemy that has no pity.

In chapter 16 and verses 12-14, Job speaks of God in this very manner.

All was well with me, but he shattered me; he seized me by the neck and crushed me. He has made me his target; his archers surround me. Without pity, he pierces my kidneys and spills my gall on the ground. Again and again he bursts upon me; he rushes at me like a warrior’.

And then in verse 17, he speaks of his own righteous hands that have been free from violence, and his prayers that have been pure. Which are not false assessments.

But then on the back of setting God up as the enemy and himself up as the righteous one, he says these words in verses 18 to 21: ‘Earth, do not cover my blood; may my cry never be laid to rest! Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as one pleads for a friend’.

Now, I’m sure that when we hear these famous words, all our minds go to our ascended advocate - Jesus – sitting at the right hand of God and interceding on our behalf.

He is our friend and God is well-pleased with him. Which means that his intercession for us is perfectly effective.

Amen and hallelujah for that!

Our minds should go there. And we should marvel that Job has such insight into the ways of God.

But we cannot afford to lose sight of why Job is speaking these words. He speaks these words because he wants God in the dock. He wants an advocate who will show God how he has wronged Job.

We are very grateful for the advocate God has supplied to intercede for us, but we must never forget that he intercedes with God on the basis of his own righteousness, not on the basis of our righteousness. God is not in the dock, we are in the dock. And the advocate – who is Jesus – says to the just judge ‘this one is righteous because of me – not because of them, because of me – don’t be angry with them anymore’.

In chapter 17, verse 11, it sounds like Job is discovering hope – he speaks of his night turning to day and light being near. But the reason for these hopeful words is, according to verse 11, ‘the desire of his heart’.

His desire kindles hope in him. What is that desire?

He already told us back in chapter 13, verse 3, ‘I desire to speak with the Almighty and to argue my case with God’.

Repeatedly, he thinks that he can go toe to toe with God and prove God wrong. He implicitly trusts in his own righteousness and distrusts God’s care for him.

At the beginning of chapter 19, he can discern that his friends are proud – exalting themselves over him - but he can’t detect his own pride in the very next verse when he says, that God has wronged him and drawn his net around him. And in verse 7, when he complains that, ‘though he cry “violence!” he gets no response; though he calls for help, there is no justice’.

And again, in this chapter, we have famous and glorious words about Jesus – verses 25 to 27. Which of us can read them and fail to delight in their truth.

Our very own redemption from death is secured by our redeemer who lives, and who will stand upon the earth again at the end. That in our own flesh, with our own eyes, we will see God face to face.

These words are a crystallisation of our hope of the resurrection from the dead.

But Job is not using them like that. Job is saying that when that happens – when he’s raised up - then he’ll have his court-hearing with God. Thenhe’ll be able to state his case. We can tell that because in verse 21 ‘God’s hand pursues him’. And then in verse 22, ‘would that his complaint was engraved in rock forever that it might never be forgotten’ – what might never be forgotten? ‘That God’s hand pursued him’.

Moving to chapter 21. The whole chapter is an argument by Job that, evidence shows that God pays no regard to the accounts of the wicked.

That they are spared from the day of calamity and delivered from the day of wrath (verse 30).

He’s showing his friends that their scheme - in which God rewards the righteous and brings calamity on the wicked - is totally flawed – which it is.

His aim is to vindicate himself as righteous – which he is. And on that basis to establish his contention that God is being unjust towards him. ‘God establishes the wicked, but brings calamity on me, who is righteous’.

Now Job is righteous – God said so. However, ‘righteous’ does not mean ‘perfect’. ‘Righteous’ means right before God – justified in his sight. It does not mean ‘sinless’ and it does not mean ‘as Christ-like as we can be’.

What we are seeing in Job, then, is residual pride coming up to the surface. The suffering is exposing in him a self-reliance that does nothonour God. It demeans God. It makes God out to be a co-equal.

And I put it to you that this was Adam’s sin in the garden, and it is a residual problem we all have. We might not express it in the vehement terms that Job does in these chapters –

though we might if our suffering was as severe as his is –

but we do all have this pride problem lurking in our souls.

Peter knew about this kind of pride and he exhorts young believers to submit themselves to the elders. And he exhorts everyone in the church to clothe themselves with humility towards one another because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble’.

He says, ‘Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time’. Christians in the church battle with pride.

James has the same instinct. He wants us to know that even though we flirt with the world, God is gracious. And when we humble ourselves and acknowledge that we turned our backs on God, for friendship with the world, that he shows favour to us.

He says, ‘Humble yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up’.

Job has to learn these lessons before there were new testament letters - God shows him through suffering. We get to learn through reading, ifwe have ears to hear. Though God may choose to teach us through suffering too.

The Apostles felt like they had received the sentence of death, but they acknowledge that this happened that they might rely not on themselves but on God.

Pride has to be exposed. Like Nebuchadnezzar we need to be humbled and brought to a whole-hearted trust in Jesus, again and again.

We turn away from God when we trust in our selves. But God loves us, and in our struggle against sin we have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood. So, we do not lose heart when God rebukes us and chastens us on a bed of suffering.

We rather endure hardship as discipline, for God is treating us as children. Not forgetting that God disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness.

That holiness comes from walking in greater reliance on our saviour, Jesus Christ. Job is learning that. And thanks be to God, we are learning that too.


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