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.” In 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.
We 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.
So 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!