Counseling Others While Seeing In A Mirror Dimly

This past Sunday at Harbins Community Baptist Church Pastor Demer preached the third sermon of our new sermon series in which we are examining the Old Testament book of Job. This week’s sermon was entitled “Job’s Miserable Comforters.” WebJPGOutoftheWhirlwindIn that sermon Pastor Demer examined a large chunk of Job showing us how Job’s three friends erred in the counsel they gave to their friend Job. As always, this week’s text applies to us individually but I also think that this week’s message has very important implications for us corporately as a church body.

We have begun to put together Biblical counseling ministry at our church, and we’ve encouraged our members to get good training in Biblical counseling. But the kind of counseling we desire to see at Harbins is nothing like the counseling Job received from his three friends. As Pastor Demer showed on Sunday, the friends’ counsel was harsh in its tone, and it was born out of a bad theological system that lacked a proper understanding of spiritual warfare and grace. At one point Pastor Demer mentioned the lack of love that the friends demonstrated toward Job and he referenced 1 Corinthians 13 which reminds us that our theological knowledge and our even our sacrificial service is useless if it’s not driven by genuine love.

Later in 1 Corinthians 13 in verse 12 Paul says this, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” The “then” of that verse is referring to the second coming of Jesus, and Paul wants us to see how limited our knowledge and giftedness is on this side of that great Day. Knowing that we see things “in a mirror dimly” should humble us. Knowing that we see things “in a mirror dimly” should affect how we counsel one another. Job’s friends acted like they knew it all. There was no humility in their counsel, and there were no mysteries in their theological system. For them the universe could be boiled down cause and effect, and since Job was suffering he must have done something to bring that suffering upon himself.

accusatory-fingerWe can only imagine how Job’s friends would have counseled other sufferers in Scripture. What destructive advice would they have given Joseph? What sin would they have accused Jeremiah of? What would they say about the Apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh? And I am confident that they would have stood right beside the Pharisees as they concluded that the Nazarene on the cross surely couldn’t be the Messiah.

I say all this to urge our church to be very careful as we counsel one another. As our Biblical counseling ministry grows we must guard ourselves from falling into the presumptuous and reductionist thinking that Job’s friends had. Eastern mysticism may allow for that kind of thinking, but Biblical Christianity does not. The one true God says,
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Part of the Creator/creature distinction is manifested in the fact that we often cannot comprehend the way God chooses to work. We don’t have a simplistic formula that decodes His hidden purposes. Rarely can we fully explain another human being’s suffering. What we do know is that our God is righteous and just and He always does that which brings maximum glory to Himself and maximum good to His children.

Counselling+05+copySo when it comes to counseling we must counsel with much charity and care. We cannot assume that a person’s problems are due to some sin in their life. Sometimes that might be the case, but many times it is not. That’s not to say that suffering can’t reveal other sins of the heart. That was the case with Job as we’ll see in upcoming sermons. Suffering often does refine us and reveal areas where our hearts need attention, but not all difficulty is a direct result of sin.

So let us learn from the negative example of Job’s friends. Let us learn to be good listeners. Let us learn to be patient. Let us learn that sometimes good counsel consists of weeping with those who weep. Let us learn to cover our mouths when we don’t have good answers. Let us learn to pray for wisdom and discernment. Let us learn to avoid the lazy path of making simplistic presumptions. Let us learn to counsel with love!

In Him,

Pastor Steve

Structure of the Book of Job & Weekly Reading Guide

We are now a couple of sermonWebJPGOutoftheWhirlwinds in to our latest sermon series, “Job: Out of the Whirlwind.”  Because I’m planning on preaching a total of 10 messages from the book of Job, we won’t be able to cover every single detail of this book.  Hopefully, however, you will gain a helpful overview of the book and will better understand it’s story, purpose, and message when we’re done.

Because this series is short, I’d like to encourage you to supplement the weekly sermons by reading the entire book of Job over the next few weeks.

Now if tackling such a long and difficult book is intimidating, you’re not alone!  It can be a challenging read, but let me share some basic information about Job’s structure along with a suggested weekly reading guide that I think will make the book a little less daunting.

thomas_std_tJob contains a total of 42 chapters.  What you may not know is that the beginning (Chapters 1-2) and the end, (42:7-17) are written in prose.  Everything in the middle (Chapters 3-42:6) is written in poetry.  Why is this the case?  Well, there is a difference between how prose and poetry speaks to the reader.  JI Packer suggests that poems, “are always a personal ‘take’ on something, communicating not just from head to head but from heart to heart.” Job is very much a book that grapples with pain and suffering on a heart level, and the poetic style helps the reader to descend into Job’s trial with him.

After the brief section of prose (1-2:13), which we could call part 1 of the book, the longer poetry section begins with Job’s lament (chapter 3) followed by three cycles of speeches.  We could call this part II of the book.  In each cycle each of Job’s friends give a speech and Jthomas_std_tob replies.  The one exception is in the third cycle where Zophar is silent.  Perhaps he is so frustrated he has nothing more to say!

Here is the breakdown of the three cycles:

Cycle 1

  • Eliphaz—chapters 4 & 5     Job—chapters 6 & 7
  • Bildad—chapter 8                Job —chapters 9 & 10
  • Zophar—chapter 11             Job—chapters 12-14

Cycle 2

  • Eliphaz—chapter 15            Job—chapters 16&17
  • Bildad—chapter 18              Job—chapter 19
  • Zophar—chapter 20            Job—chapter 21

Cycle 3

  • Eliphaz—chapter 22            Job—chapters 23 & 24
  • Bildad—chapter 25              Job—chapters 26–31
  • Zophar—(silence)

I do believe chapter 28 is an interlude inserted by the author, but I’ll talk more about that when we get to that sermon in a few weeks.

After Job wraps up his final defense in chapter 31, the cycles are over.  And part III begins which focuse on the responses to Job’s arguments given by a mysterious new character named Elihu who speaks in chapters 32-37.  Finally, the Lord Himself arrives and addresses Job (and Job responds) in chapters 38-42:6.  Part III closes with an epilogue in 42:7-17 which, though quite short, is very important.

For me, just understanding that basic breakdown helped me get my arms around this book and made it less intimidating.  I hope it will be helpful to you.  In addition, I’d like to give you a basic reading plan to help you read through the entire book over the next few weeks.  While I hope with God’s grace to help you glean some nuggets of gold in my next few sermons on Job, you’ll get even more treasures from reading and praying through the bookthomas_std_t on your own.  Unless we need to briefly pause the sermon series, I expect to preach the final message on Sunday, August 23rd.  This reading plan will help you finish the book by then.

Week of July 5th: Job 1-3

Week of July 12th: Job 4-14 (The first cycle of speeches)

Week of July 19th: Job 15-21 (The second cycle of speeches)

Week of July 26th: Job 22-26 (The third cycle of speeches)

Week of August 2nd: Job 27-31 (Job’s final defense)

Week of August 9th: Job 32-37 (Elihu’s speech)

Week of of August 16th: Job 38-42 (God’s speech, Job’s reply, epilogue)

I’m looking forward to journeying through Job with you and learning together.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

 

 

The Sovereign Surgeon of the Soul

WebJPGOutoftheWhirlwindI am thankful to God that we now have two preaching/teaching pastors at Harbins. There are so many benefits that Harbins Community Baptist Church will reap from having pastors who routinely sit under the preaching of other pastors. The enumeration of those benefits is not the aim of this blog entry, perhaps that will be future post. Today’s entry is the first of what I hope will be many to come. Each week, either Demer or I, will post some additional pastoral reflections concerning the previous Sunday’s sermon. I imagine that the pastor not tasked with preaching that week will normally be the one writing the blog entry. This past Sunday Pastor Demer began a sermon series from the Old Testament book of Job called “Out of the Whirlwind.” You can listen to that first sermon here.

After sitting and absorbing and thoroughly enjoying the preached Word this past Sunday I began to think about how hard it is for the human mind to accept the very clear teaching of Job 1 and 2 that God is absolutely sovereign over human suffering. My finite brain is one that needs illustrations and analogies to help me along, so as I sat and pondered how a good God can be sovereign over evil the first line of the physician’s Hippocratic Oath came to mind: “First, do no harm.” As I found out through some research this week, that line is not actually the first line of the famous oath, however it is a summary of the overarching ethical concept contained within the corpus of the oath, which states that doctors should be committed to seeking their patients’ healing as opposed to their harm.

I, for one, rest much easier knowing that doctors take an ethical oath like the Hippocratic Oath when they enter into medical practice. But I also rest easier knowing that good doctors with high ethical standards do sometimes intentionally do harm and do so for very good reasons. A good doctor knows that sometimes short-term harm must be administered in order for long-term healing to be accomplished. ptg01509040The most obvious example of this is surgery. Running an extremely sharp blade across someones skin in order to cut into their body is indeed a very harmful thing (I’m getting squeamish as I write). But it is allowable, more than that, it is good and desirable if that cutting is happening in order to remove cancer or to fix something else that’s causing greater harm to the body. It is not evil for a good surgeon to cut his or her patients.

Job 1 and 2 are two of the most challenging chapters in all of Scripture. They are not challenging because they are hard to exegete. They are challenging because they are so easy to exegete. The challenge is found in what the text clearly says, namely that God is sovereign over suffering yet God is not in anyway evil or sinful. There is real evil in the world, and God really hates evil even though He is sovereign over it. This truth plays out in opening chapters of Job. We see that evil in the person of Satan, who has evil designs for Job’s life. Satan has no good in his purposes, his oath is to do only harm. But Satan is not sovereign. He is a creature, therefore he is limited and his will is subservient to God’s, his very existence is subject to God’s overarching, sovereign purposes.

Satan is actually a tool in God’s hands. The repeated focus on God’s “hand” is interesting in chapters 1 and 2 of Job. When Satan shows up in the heavenly council and accuses God of buying off Job’s loyalty in 1:11 he says this: “But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” But one verse later God takes up Satan’s challenge saying, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand. So we see that God’s hands are clean. God’s hand is stretched out against Job by means of Satan’s hand. He is sovereign over, but not guilty of evil. We see it again in 2:5 where Satan says, “But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” To which the LORD replied, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” Two hands, two purposes, two designs but only one hand is sovereign. Satan’s hand is subservient to God’s!

Job-SufferingThe only way a person can be touched by the hand of Satan is through God’s sovereign permission, and God always has a design behind evil so that his hand is ultimate while still being innocent. This truth regarding the absolute sovereignty of God over good and evil is not a teaching confined to the first two chapters of Job. Joseph taught this to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “…you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Likewise, in Deuteronomy 32:39, God clearly proclaims these words:

‘See now that I, even I, am he,
and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.’

The Lord God, like a surgeon, is permitting, allowing, even ordaining blades to cut. This does not diminish the evil of evil. Satan is real, and his hate is strong, but in God’s overall plan he is but a tool, a surgical instrument that will one day be discarded.

For the believer in Christ this is good news, for we know that our accuser’s power is limited and his time is short. Secondly, we see that all that our sovereign God ordains (both good and evil) in our lives is for His glory and our good (Romans 8:28). Though from the vantage point of a patient under anesthesia we cannot see it now, we will one day see how good His purposes actually were. One day we will see that He was doing the great surgical work of perfecting us through various trails (James 1:2ff).

God is not like a human surgeon who can err, who can make unethical decisions, who can harm for no reason. For those who belong to Him, God is the sovereign Surgeon of the Soul, always acting on our behalf, even when it means the razor-blade of suffering must come into our lives.