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Tape No. A-4360Page
In Job 31 he gives a list of the sins that he never committed. And the whole of that chapter is a list and there are eleven sins he said he never committed. While we were installing elders a few nights ago the thought came to me that Job is a pretty good picture of what an elder ought to be. You can find all the references, they’re all in chapter 31. The sins he did not commit:
Number one, lusting after a young woman.
Number two, falsehood and deceitful actions, especially in business.
Number three, adultery.
Number four, oppression of his employees.
Number five, withholding mercy from widows and orphans. And then he says, on the contrary, he always cared for them.
Number six, trusting in his wealth.
Number seven, idolatry, the worship of the sun and the moon.
Number eight, rejoicing over his enemies’ misfortunes.
Number nine, failure to show hospitality to strangers. Which, in the Middle East, is still a terrible crime.
Number ten, failure to acknowledge his sin through fear of man.
And number eleven, injustice toward those who cultivated his land.
And you see, it’s a very typical list of sins for that culture where hospitality to strangers was one of the number one requirements.
Let me just say one more thing about the word prosperity because I kind of shot holes in what I call the prosperity gospel. The Bible clearly promises prosperity. Psalm 1:3:
“...whatever he does will prosper...”
To Joshua God said, “Then you will make your way prosperous and you will have good success.” And there are many, many other promises. What I want to suggest to you is American culture has perverted the meaning of the word prosperity and what we call prosperity is not what the Bible calls prosperity. The word prosperous comes from a Latin word, prosperous. One of the ways it’s frequently used in Latin is to describe a general who had conducted a successful campaign. He would return to Rome and it would say in Latin, re prospere justa, he has prosperously carried out his assignment. And so, if you want a biblical picture of prosperity it’s not the modern American view, with a Cadillac or a Mercedes, and a lot of money, fancy clothes and diamonds. Not that I’m against any of those things but it’s not prosperity in the Bible. Prosperity is successfully accomplishing your assigned task. Like the general who was sent out, defeated the enemy, added territory to the Roman Empire and returned, they said he has prosperously carried out his assignment. If you understand that, then you can begin to expect biblical prosperity if you meet the conditions.
You see, if the contemporary picture of prosperity were true, then Jesus and His apostles were the most awful failures. I mean, they did not prosper. Is that right? Where’s the man with the NIV? This is so vivid. I was preaching in Ghana some years back and I preached on the ministry gifts: apostles, prophets, evangelists, et cetera. And there were a lot of fine young men there so I said, “How many of you would like to be apostles?” A lot of them put their hands up and stood up. I said, “Before you answer the question let me give you the job description.” So I went back and I read 1Corinthians 4:7. Paul is writing to the Corinthian Christians and if anybody was Charismatic, they were. He says:
“For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? Already you have all you want [you’re very prosperous in the wrong sense], already you have become rich. You have become kings, and that without us [the apostles]. How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you. For it seems to me that God has put us [apostles] on display at the end of the procession like men condemned to die in the arena.”
The picture is a line of prisoners and other people being led out to the arena to be put to death. And the apostles are in the line at the end, they’re the last.
“We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ but you are so wise in Christ. We are weak but you are strong. You are honored, we are dishonored. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless, we work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.”
So I then said to those young men, “How many of you want the job?” And still a considerable number of them stood up but not nearly as many as the first time.
So, what kind of prosperity did the apostles have? Not what Americans call prosperity today but they prospered because they successfully accomplished the task assigned to them by God. That is prosperity.
Let me give you just a couple of places where the word is used. Joshua 1:8:
“...then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have good success, if you listen to and do all the works of this law.”
Now, what kind of a man was Joshua after that? He was a military commander. He didn’t ride in a Cadillac, he rode in a tank. He didn’t sleep in first class hotels, he slept out in the open. He had a tough life, exacting, demanding, took all his strength, all his determination. But, he prospered. Not in the American sense but in the Biblical sense.
And then in Romans 1:10 Paul says, and this is the Old King James but it’s the best translation, he said:
“I pray that I might have a prosperous journey to you in Rome, by the will of God.”
Now, exactly the same Greek word is used in 3John 2 where it says:
“Beloved, I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health...”
Exactly the same word is used in Romans 1 and 3John 2. For various reasons it’s not easy to translate it the same way, although the Old King James did. In Romans 1 it said “that I might have a prosperous journey,” and in 3John 2 it said “that you may prosper and be in health.” That word was preserved.
How did God answer Paul’s prayer for a prosperous journey to Rome? Did he travel first class on a luxury liner with all his meals provided and waiters to serve him? How did he travel? He traveled as a prisoner in chains on a ship that went through a most remarkable storm of fourteen days and nights when they never saw the sun. And when they got out of the storm he and all the others were shipwrecked on the island of Malta. They got on to the shore, they were very cold and they kindled a fire. This is typical of Paul, he didn’t stand around watching other people work, he was out there gathering fuel. What happened? He picked up a stick and a viper fastened on his hand. Was that a prosperous journey? Well, it was prosperous in this sense, that he didn’t die. First of all, the local natives thought he was a criminal whom justice would not permit to live, although he escaped the sea. But when he didn’t die they changed their mind and decided he must be a god. Then he prayed for the chief man of the island who was healed of dysentery and all the people on the island came to get prayed for. And so eventually they went on to Rome.
That was not a prosperous journey by contemporary American standards, was it? But it was a prosperous journey because Paul accomplished the purpose of God. And 277 other people were saved because of Paul! Do you see what I’m saying? I hope I can communicate it. It is the will of God for you to prosper but there’s very little in the New Testament to suggest it’s to prosper by American contemporary standards. Am I right? I mean, if success is the mark, as we understand it, then Jesus and his apostles were the most abysmal things. Jesus ended his life on a Roman gibbet, naked, scoffed, beaten, bleeding. And it’s very interesting, that’s the last the world ever saw of Jesus. God never tried to correct that picture. The only people who saw him afterwards were witnesses chosen before their God. So God has allowed that picture to persist throughout history.
Then you take Paul and Peter, the two most well known apostles. Paul was executed in a Roman jail and Peter was crucified upside down. Is that prosperity? It is but not by our standards. See, what Christians habitually do all through the ages is take the language of the New Testament, apply it to their own lifestyle and say, “That’s it.” And it never is. This is not the first time this has happened. All through history rather than comply with the standards of the New Testament, Christians said, “This is the way we’re going to live and we’ll give it Christian titles.” But it isn’t true.
So, I just want to make clear to you I believe it’s the will of God for Christians to prosper but I believe that today in much of the church there’s a totally incorrect interpretation of prosperity. I’m inclined to think this is highly relevant because if I understand what God seems to be saying through His word, we are going to go into times in America where it will be the very reverse of what’s normally called prosperity. And how will you react? Will you say the Bible isn’t true, God has failed, I’m going to give up my faith? Or, are you going to be a realist? Are you going to be like Job’s comforters and use a lot of religious language? Or are you going to be like Job and tell it like it is?
After 31 we have 32, 33, 34, 35, 36 and 37. That’s six chapters from a young man named Elihu. Now young in those days was probably 50 or 60. This is something, I mean, the Bible just doesn’t tell you some things, it leaves you to think for yourself. Elihu was much younger than the other men and he said, “I really oughtn’t to be speaking but you’re all wrong and I want to straighten you out.” And, as I say, he gives six chapters. And the interesting thing is, and I’m not so sure I can explain it, is when God comments on everybody He totally ignores Elihu. I can’t help wondering how Elihu felt at the end of it. He must have been either sitting or standing, waiting what is God going to say about what I said? And the answer is God passed him over in total silence. I don’t know why.
But anyhow, we’re going to do the same! Not because I’m prejudiced against him but because we don’t have time. It’s a remarkable achievement if we can go through the book of Job in two sessions, believe me.
So, chapter 38 is where we’re going to start. Now we come to the Lord who was present in a whirlwind. He answered Job direct. I think it must have been a somewhat frightening experience for all those people there when the whirlwind came up and who knows how it affected them. And then out of the whirlwind God Himself in person spoke to them. And the first thing He said—I’m going to paraphrase this—He spoke to Job and He said, “You’ve been talking about things you just don’t understand. Your words were absolutely out of place, irrelevant. But anyhow, I’ll help you.” Somebody said sometimes about people if they open their mouth they put their foot in it. If you should be one of those people, bear in mind the Lord still loves you and He’s got an answer for you. So I’m going to try and sum up what God said. It’s chapters 38, 39, 40 and 41, four chapters.
This is my summation. God describes to Job and his friends how He runs the universe and He gives a lot of details which we’ll go into in a moment. Then He challenges Job and He said, “Do you want to take over the job?” That’s the essence of what He says. “Can you do a better job than I do of running the universe?” Then He goes into a lot of detail about what’s involved in running the universe. This is what He says in Job 38, beginning at verse 4 and going through the end of chapter 41. Here are some of the things that God deals with while He runs the universe. And there’s a long list, it’s rather interesting. He’s saying to Job all the time, “Could you handle this?” or “Could you handle that?” Verses 4–7, He says, “The creation of the earth, were you there?”; verses 8–11, He said, “Can you control the sea?”; verses 12–15, “Can you control the sunrise and the sunlight?”, especially in relationship to controlling the wicked. Then in verses 16–18 He says, “Do you know the dimensions of the earth and do you know the nether world [Hades and the abode of the dead]?”; verses 19–21, “What can you do about light and darkness?”; verses 22–30, “Can you control the elements, sun, the rain, the frost and the cold?”; in verses 31–35, “Can you control the constellations and the heavenly bodies?”; verses 34–38, “Can you control the rain and the snow, are they under your control? Do you know how to manage them?”
Then in chapter 38:39 through chapter 39 He speaks about a number of living creatures, all of whom He has His eye on. And the list is quite interesting. These are the following: lions, ravens, mountain goats, deer—with regard to the deer He says, “Do you know the time when they bring forth? Can you be a midwife to the deer? Can you count the months for them?”—the wild donkeys, the onager [which is another kind of donkey], the wild ox, the ostrich, the stork, the horse, the hawk and the eagle.
In Job 40:1–2, Job says in effect, “I give up.”
Then Job answered the Lord in verses 3–5:
“Behold, I am vile;
what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand over my mouth.
Once I have spoken, but I will not answer;
yes, twice, but I will proceed no further.”
I render that, “Lord, I give up.”
But then the Lord goes on in chapter 40:6–14 and He says, which is very significant, “Can you take over dealing with the wicked?” I think I’ll read those verses. As I mediated on this and I thought about the appalling wickedness that is rampant in the earth today I said, “Thank God I don’t have to deal with it. This is what He says:
“Would you indeed annul my judgment?
Would you condemn me that you may be justified?
Have you an arm like God?
Or can you thunder with a voice like His?
Then adorn yourself with majesty and splendor, and array yourself with glory and beauty.
Disperse the rage of your wrath;
look on everyone who is proud, and humble him.
Look on everyone who is proud, and bring him low;
tread down the wicked in their place.
Hide them in the dust together, bind their faces in hidden darkness.
Then I will also confess to you that your own right and can save you.”
I think that’s a challenge to you and me. Can we deal with the wickedness that’s in the earth today? Do we know how to treat the wicked, do we know how to bring them into subjection? The answer is definitely no. I’m so thankful that God does. I’m prepared to leave the job to Him. I’m not willing to take that job over.
And then in chapter 40, verses 15–24 and chapter 41, the whole chapter, He deals with two particular creatures. In chapter 40, verse 15 He says:
“Look now at the behemoth, which I made along with you...”
And we don’t know what the behemoth is. Some people think it’s the elephant. I think that’s quite possible. You know the word elephant, I’m not sure I can give you the whole history of it but the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet is aleph. And the elephant is alephantbecause he’s number one, see? And so God says, “Can you deal with the elephant,” and He goes into quite a lot of detail about the elephant—if that right.
Then chapter 41, there are 34 verses that deal with one creature which is amazing, if you think how economical the Bible is of words. And this creature is called Leviathan. And there’s a very, very vivid picture of Leviathan. I don’t think anybody knows for sure but if you read the description, the thing it sounds most like is a dragon because it has fiery breath, its breath can kindle. And it’s totally impervious to any kind of weapon. Any weapon you use against it just doesn’t have any affect on it. This is simply a thought, but you know that in many mythologies, especially in China, there are many vivid pictures of the dragon. I personally believe there is a reality behind them. I believe there is a Leviathan. The Bible speaks about him in various places. Apparently, Leviathan lives mainly in the sea.
Many, many years ago—and I always regret deeply that I didn’t keep this record—in the 1950s I got hold of a book in England that recorded reports from the British navy of a creature that had been seen on several occasions in the sea. It was very long and it curled up in many different—and this was official naval reports, this is not hearsay. I believe that probably that was a sighting of Leviathan. There’s other references to Leviathan which we won’t go into but I believe that Leviathan is, or was—in fact, I believe is a real creature. God says, “Can you deal with Leviathan?”
It’s very interesting because there are 34 verses describing Leviathan. He must be of some significance. The final verse, verse 34, speaking of Leviathan says:
“He beholds every high thing;
He is king over all the children of pride.”
That really is a description of Satan. He is the king over all the children of pride.
If you look for a moment in Ephesians 2, Paul says about those of us who were dead in trespasses and sins in verses 1–2:
“You who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this age, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.”
That’s really the same thing as the one who is king over all the children of pride. So, in a certain sense God is saying, “Can you deal with Satan?” And do you know what my answer is? Definitely not! I’m glad that God has accepted the responsibility. I don’t want to take the job out of His hands.
And when Job was confronted with this he said, “Lord, far be it from me.” But I think there’s a very important lesson. Lots of people today impute the way God is running the world, they have all sorts of criticism why doesn’t He stop war, why doesn’t He stop famine, why doesn’t He stop disease? But God says, “Are you prepared to take over? Can you do a better job than I’m doing? If not, let me run my business my way.” I think that’s a message to all of us, it’s not just for Job.
Now the next thing that comes out of God’s answer is very important. I think it’s often overlooked. It’s this: God is not remote and indifferent in regard to His creation. He is continuously and intimately concerned with all His creatures, whether it’s a donkey or goat, a hawk or an eagle, or whatever. He’s not remote, He doesn’t view it from afar, He’s interested. He’s interested in the time the deer give birth. He’s watching over it. You see, that’s a very different picture than from what most people have of God.
There is a philosophy called deism, I don’t know whether you’ve heard of it. Deism, which is a serious error and came into the church around about the 18th century mainly and has a profound effect, deism says in effect “God created the world, the universe, put in motion all the laws and now He sits back and doesn’t take much interest, He’s just leaving the universe to take care of itself.”
The Greek philosopher Aristotle had a theory about God. Aristotle said, “What is God?” And he said, and this is typical Greek thinking, “The highest thing we know is mind so since God is the highest thing He must be mind. And mind has to contemplate something. What is the highest thing that mind can contemplate? It’s mind. So God is mind contemplating mind and not much interested in anything else.” Well that leaves out the question why did God create everything else? It’s in my opinion a stupid answer.
You know, one of the extraordinary things about church history of which I’m very little informed is around about the 15th century the theologians tried to make the Christian faith fit in with the theories of Aristotle. What’s the name of the famous—yes, but what’s the great man? Yes, say it again. That’s right, exactly. Thomas Aquinas. His procedure was to get the Christian faith lined up with the philosophy of Aristotle. Well, I studied Aristotle before I was a Christian. You couldn’t think of two things less like one another than the Christian faith and the philosophy of Aristotle. So what a disaster for the church that one of its most famous theologians has imposed this on many, many generations of ministers. And the Roman Catholic church still gives Thomas Aquinas a very high place. To me that’s absurd. The picture we have of God is quite different. He’s loving, He’s approachable, He’s interested, He watches over every detail of every creature. That’s a staggering thought.
Let me give you just one picture of Jesus which says it all, in a way. Matthew 10:29:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will...”
But that’s a very unfortunate translation because what the Old King James says is right.
“Not one of them falls to the ground without your Father...”
In other words, God the Father is interested in every sparrow that falls to the ground. I heard a preacher once say God takes time out to attend the sparrow’s funeral. That’s a totally different picture from what most of us have.
It’s even more impressive if together with that you read Luke 12:6. Nothing could emphasize more God’s intimate concern in the smallest details of His creatures. Luke 12:6, Jesus said:
“Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God.”
So, if you have one copper coin you can buy two sparrows but if you have two copper coins you can buy five. In other words, an extra sparrow is thrown in free of charge. Jesus says God is interested even in that extra sparrow. It’s a totally different picture from what most of us have of God. He’s not remote, He’s not uninterested, He’s not unaffected; He’s concerned about the very smallest of His creatures and He watches over them all with intense interest.
Let’s go on. Pursuing the story of Job we get to chapter 42. Now we get Job’s response to what God has been saying in verses 1–6:
“Then Job answered the Lord and said:
I know that you can do everything, and that no purpose of yours can be withheld from you.”
Do you know that? It’s important to know it. God can do everything and not one of His purposes will ever be frustrated. That’s a powerful scripture to lay hold of.
And then Job says:
“You asked who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me which I did not know.
Listen please, and let me speak;
You said I will question you, and you shall answer me.
I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now eye sees you.
Therefore I abhor myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
When he had a personal encounter with God his whole attitude was radically changed. You might say, well, Job says he was righteous. God said he was righteous, I pointed that out last time. How then can Job say, “I abhor myself, I repent in dust and ashes?” My answer to this, it’s my personal answer and you’re free to make your own decision about it, is there are two dimensions: the horizontal and the vertical. When Job looked horizontally he was righteous. By all human standards he was righteous. But when he looked vertically and saw God in His holiness, he saw how utterly base and vile he was. by comparison with God. So really, the question is with whom do you compare yourself? God never disputed that Job was righteous, right from the beginning to the end of the book. But when Job saw God he said, “I’m vile. I’m not fit for your presence, I’m unworthy.” He hadn’t changed, he just saw himself from a totally different perspective.
And a friend of mine, a Jewish believer that’s close to me in Israel, we were talking about the book of Job and he made a casual comment which really registered with me. He said, “After Job saw the Lord he had no more questions.” Isn’t that remarkable! That finished all his questions.
I want to suggest to you if you have a lot of problems, maybe the solution is for you to meet the Lord. Not to get all your questions mentally answered but to get to know God. It’s dramatic, he had no problems left after he’d encountered the Lord. He said, “I’ve heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you.” There’s a beautiful chorus in German which we don’t have in English. It says [speaking in German], “now my eye has seen you.” What a difference, what a difference it makes when you have a vision of the Lord. Nothing else is going to answer your problems, nothing else is going to settle all your doubts. Nothing else is going to give you real, complete, settled peace but knowing the Lord.
So, I suggest to some of you stop worrying about your problems and begin to seek the Lord. When you meet Him you’ll wonder what happened to your problems because they won’t be there any longer.
It’s a very interesting thing, but you know with my background as a philosopher I was very interested in truth. I speculated about truth but do you know what the Bible says about truth? Truth is a person, it’s not an abstract. Righteousness is a person, not an abstract. Geoff was preaching last Sunday, he said rest is a person. See, we tend to think in terms of abstractions, principles, laws. But the highest form of truth and reality is not an abstraction, it’s a person. We have to change our way of thinking, not least me. It’s taken me years to get out of my philosophizing. I don’t think I’m totally out of it but I’m a lot further out than I was.
This is really interesting, notice again in verses 7 and 8 of chapter 42, twice God said, “Job said what was right about me.” He says He spoke to Eliphaz the Temanite and He said:
“My wrath is arised against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has.”
And then He goes on to say:
“Take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you. For I will accept him...”
The Hebrew says “I’ll accept his face.”
“...lest I deal with you according to your folly; because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”
God never criticized anything that Job said or did from beginning to end, although Job said a lot of hard things about God. He said, “God has taken away my justice.” You think God would object to that statement, He didn’t. Because as I pointed out, in a certain sense, it’s true. God really didn’t deal justly with Job. If that leaves an unanswered question in your mind, let’s move on and see if we can do something about answering it.
The next thing is interesting, verse 10:
“And the Lord restored Job’s losses...”
But the Hebrew says “turned again the captivity of Job,” delivered him from his captivity.
“...when he prayed for his friends.”
So one way to get healed is to pray for all your critics. And if you have any resentment against your critics you won’t be healed until you learn to pray for them. Believe me, that’s a lesson I’ve been learning in a rather difficult situation in the last few months. Don’t bear any resentment, don’t hold anything against them because it will hinder your healing.
You see, God dealt with everybody. Eliphaz and his friends had to humble themselves and come to Job with their offerings and say, “Job, pray for us.” After all the unkind things they said about him they had to ask him to pray. But Job had to humble himself and pray for them after all the unkind things they said. See how God deals with relationships? He got everybody sorted out. I mean, the wisdom of God just impresses me.
Then we read in verses 12–17:
“Now the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; for he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys.”
Exactly double of what he had at the beginning. So God not merely gave it back to him but doubled it. And one thing that this teaches me which I continually have to lay hold of is there’s no problem for God to deal with finance or material possessions. We often stagger at the promises of God about His provision. We think how could God make such provision in such a situation? God never has any problem with material provision. So, don’t let your faith be hung up on the fact that there’s a recession or whatever else, because it doesn’t change God’s ability to provide one iota. It’s just as easy for God to provide a thousand camels as five hundred camels. And it’s just as easy for God to provide whatever you need in any financial or economic situation. I’ve often said there are no recessions in the kingdom of God. Another thing I say is there’s no inflation, the price never changes. The price that Jesus and His apostles had to pay is exactly the same price we have to pay today. God never has a sale and He never experiences inflation. He can handle material provision, it’s no problem to Him. Can you say amen to that? I think it’s going to be very important for all of us to realize that.
See, in our ministry I’m continually telling our brothers, “Listen, we don’t look at our mailing list, count the number of names and say how much can we expect. We say what does God want us to do, how much will we need?” That’s a totally different approach.
I don’t know whether I’ve ever told you this story but years ago, and it was in Truro Episcopal Church, I was preaching to a group of about 600 young people and I was speaking about God’s provision. I happened to say casually, and I think it was a very bold thing to say, and I sometimes wonder whether I’d dare say it today, “When I’m buying something I don’t ask if I can afford it, I ask does God want me to have it?” So, a group of these young people went out afterwards and right across the road there was a restaurant, they sat down and they looked at the menu and they began to say, “How much can we afford?” One of them said, “Let’s practice what we heard preached.” So they said we’ll ask ourselves what does God want us to have. They ordered it without considering whether they had the money. When they were beginning to talk about the bill the waitress came to them and said, “That gentleman over there has just paid for all your meal.” They didn’t know him.
So I want to encourage you, don’t build your faith on what you have, build your faith on what God has. Philippians 4:19 says:
“My God shall supply all your need, according to His riches in Christ Jesus.”
Not our riches. One of our biggest problems is looking at what we have and calculating on that basis.
There’s one thing that God didn’t double, what was that? His children. Do you know why? Because the others weren’t lost. So we need to go back to the fact, let’s look at it for a moment, Job 1. This is very important for those of you who’ve lost loved ones. Job 1:5, speaking about Job’s children.
“When the days of feasting had run their course, then Job would send and sanctify them. He would rise early in the morning and offer a burnt offering according to the number of them all, for Job said it may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.”
Now you could easily react and say that didn’t do any good because they all were destroyed in one disastrous accident. But God said it did. “I didn’t have to double his children, the others are just gone ahead.” That’s very, very encouraging for those who have lost loved ones.
Some of you know Don and Dot Bohl, probably quite well. I was here when their eldest daughter was suddenly killed in a boating accident. They were stricken with grief. But God spoke to them out of this chapter and said, “You haven’t lost her, she’s just gone ahead.” So may that encourage some of you. Or, if it’s still going to happen, may it encourage you when it happens.
Now then, the next thing we’re going to look at very briefly is the comment of James on the book of Job. He offers a brief comment in James 5:10–11:
“My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have herd of the perseverance [or the endurance] of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord [or the end of the Lord]—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.”
First of all, James points us to the prophets of the Old Testament as our example of two things: suffering and patience.
I’d like to read two other passages because I’m really concerned about the contemporary picture of prophets. It seems to me in many cases it’s not at all in line with scripture. There are a lot of people who seem to think it’s rather exciting and prestigious to be a prophet. It wasn’t in those days. In Matthew 5, in the Sermon on the Mount, in verses 11–12 Jesus says:
“Blessed are you [His disciples] when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake.”
Do you count that a blessing? Are you happy when it happens? Then He says:
“Rejoice and be exceedingly glad...”
That’s not the normal, natural reaction, is it?
“...for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
So He says you’re in the line of the prophets and what happened to the prophets is probably going to happen to you. When it does, rejoice and be exceedingly glad.
In another version He says leap for joy. See how totally contrary that is to natural reaction.
And then in Hebrews 11, the famous faith chapter, speaking about the saints or the prophets of the Old Testament, in verses 37 and 38 it says:
“They were stoned, sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted and tormented; of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, dens and caves of the earth.”
And there’s a special reference to Elijah there. So I said last night how many of you want to apply for the job of an apostle? Tonight I’ll say how many of you want to apply for the job of a prophet? The pattern of the prophet is suffering, affliction and endurance.
God has no problem giving revelations, God’s problem is building character. Revelation can come at any moment but character has to be built.
So, what was James’ comment in verse 11? He points out two things:
“You’ve heard of the perseverance [or the endurance] of Job and seen the end of the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.”
So the two elements in Job’s story that James directs our attention to are, first of all, Job’s endurance and, secondly, what God did for him at the end. But if Job had not endured he would have never come to that end.
God is more and more emphasizing to me how essential it is to cultivate endurance. I’ve said many times you never know how long a test will last. God puts you into a test and He hardly ever says this is going to last six months. You’re left wondering. But God says to Himself it’s going to last six months and you hold out for five months and 30 days and then you say, “I can’t take any more, I give up.” you were just one day short of God’s blessing. So there’s no end to endurance except enduring. I want to tell you, I’m not preaching a theory, I’m preaching something that I have to practice right now. I mean, I see it so clearly in scripture. There is no substitute for endurance.
I think I’ll take you to 2Peter 1:5–7. This is the Christian life of progress and he says:
“For this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; to virtue, knowledge; to knowledge, self control; to self control, perseverance [or endurance]; to perseverance [or endurance], godliness; to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.”
So the Christian is a process of adding. What does it start with? It starts with faith, there’s no other beginning. It says add to faith virtue. The best translation is excellence. The Greek word means a lot more than moral virtue. It says the virtue of a horse is to run fast. So add to your faith excellence. It’s very important. If you’re a nurse, become an excellent nurse. If you’re a teacher, become an excellent teacher. If you’re a janitor, become an excellent janitor. Whatever you did before do it now with excellence. That’s the proof of your faith.
And then it says to virtue you add knowledge. I don’t think that’s scientific knowledge, it’s knowledge of the will of God as revealed in the scriptures.
And then to knowledge you add self-control. Here is a kind of bottleneck. To self-control you add perseverance, or patience. But I want to tell you, if you don’t cultivate self-control you’ll never achieve endurance because every time you’re tested, your self-control will give way and you’ll give up. So there’s no way around these two. All the rest of the progress depends on self-control and endurance. Then you begin to move into the real pluses: godliness, brotherly kindness and love. And it encourages me to know that in this order that love is the ultimate. It’s hard enough to have brotherly kindness, be frank with me. Just to love your fellow Christians is not always easy. Is that true? You don’t have to say anything! But that’s not the end. Love is loving everybody, even those who are not believers, even the unthankful and the unholy. But, it encourages me to know that it’s the top of the progress because it’s taken me 52 years to get this far and I haven’t got that far! But, I’m working on it.
But what I want to emphasize is endurance is an essential condition of entering into God’s provision.
I was teaching in Ridgecrest to quite a large congregation and I said, “There’s only one way to cultivate endurance.” I happened to be watching a woman as she brightened up, she thought now I’m going to know. I said, “It’s to endure.” He face fell! That’s the truth of the matter, there’s only one way to cultivate endurance. What is it? To endure. So right where you are now, endure, hold on, don’t give up.
You know, I’ve had the opportunity in the years to watch Christians in various stages of progress. And every now and then I’ll lose contact with a Christian and then maybe ten or twenty years later I’ll meet him again. And sometimes I say, “How did he make such progress? He wasn’t one I would have expected.” You know what I concluded? All you have to do is hang in. If you don’t give up, God will bring you through. But if you give up, you’re sunk. So, don’t give up, hang in there. Just when it’s toughest, don’t give up because you’ll miss it. I don’t say you’ll miss heaven, I’m not the one who knows who goes to heaven, but you’ll miss the best that God has for you in this life.
We come to something that’s subjective and I want to emphasize this is personal, this is my response to my little study in Job. It’s lessons I have learned. I’m going to share them with you but I’m not saying they’ll be the lessons that you learn. But, let me share them anyhow.
Number one, we can never understand all of God’s dealings. Amen? So, don’t get discouraged. You don’t have to understand. What do you have to do? You have to trust, that’s right. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. Don’t feel you have to understand everything. You have to trust, you have to believe God’s goodness. Remember what I said on Sunday morning to those of you here, the real problem is mistrust of the goodness of God.
The second thing that this teaches me is very important. God never surrenders His sovereignty. The word Sovereignty has more or less dropped out of Christian vocabulary but it’s a very important word. My definition of sovereignty is this: God does what He wants, when He wants, the way He wants, and He asks no one’s permission. You’ve got to get adjusted to that. Don’t think you can tell God how to do it. You can’t. God never allows Himself to be put in a little narrow box of religious rules. I’ve seen people over the years put God in a box. It’s got to be this way, you’ve got to follow these principles, you’ve got to do it this way. And invariably God pops up somewhere else outside their box. So don’t bother. It’s a waste of time.
I think religious rules are some of the biggest barriers to understanding God. I mean, I believe there have to be rules, there have to be rules in the church because we have to conduct ourselves in a certain way. Otherwise, there would be total confusion. But bear in mind the rules don’t make us righteous. That’s very important because if another group follows different rules it doesn’t mean they’re less righteous. See, if our righteousness depends on following rules and we’re following the right rules, then nobody else is righteous. Which is exactly what happens in the church. So, one group thinks we’re the only group that’s right. The root problem is legalism. It’s building your faith on keeping a set of rules.
I was in Ridgecrest about three or four years ago and I was preaching on something. I said quite casually, “Of course, Christianity is not a set of rules.” I looked at the faces of the people and if I had said God is dead they would have been less shocked. Can you accept that? Christianity is not a set of rules. God had given Israel a set of rules for fourteen centuries, His own perfect set of rules. And the result was a mess. Let me say this, rules and laws never change people’s hearts. It’s very important.
When you pray for America it’s good to pray for good laws but don’t imagine that that’s going to change people. Laws can restrain evil but they cannot produce good. They have a purpose. I think a lot of American Christians, a lot of intercessors, are praying for the government to do the church’s job. It’s not the government’s job to make people righteous, it’s our job. And they’re not changed by rules. If we changed all the laws of America tomorrow—and some of the laws are very bad, I agree—it wouldn’t change people. Is that true?
See, this is my simple summation of the problems of America or Britain. There are a lot more bad people than good. Furthermore, the bad people are getting worse and worse. The solution is not to make laws, there’s only one solution, something that will change bad people into good people quickly. There’s only one thing that will do that, the gospel. And it will do it. So, let’s not spend so much time praying for the government to make the right laws, let’s pray for the gospel to be preached.
I have a strong feeling about this because of the Pro-Life movement. I believe that abortion is murder and I do not condone it. But I don’t believe the church is right to make enemies of the people who practice abortion. We are to win them to the Lord, we’re to love them; not make war on them. Jesus came into the world and He didn’t come to condemn, He came to save. He didn’t impute peoples’ sins to them. We have built up an absolute wall of hatred against us because we’ve approached people and told them how bad they were. Jesus never did that. The only people he did that to were the religious people. Those were the only people that made problems for Him and it’s the same today.
I am really deeply concerned about this because it seems to me a whole lot of prayer power is being wasted trying to get something to happen which, if it happened, wouldn’t solve the problem.
I didn’t intend to get into this but let me tell you this little story which is true. There was a bad woman, I mean she was bad! She was a lesbian, she was a Marxist and she was a woman’s libber. I mean, how much worse can you be than that! I mean, she was serious. She was buying revolvers to shoot men with. She ended up in an extraordinary situation somewhere in the China Sea with a little group of her fellow nihilists on her way to do something somewhere that they shouldn’t have done. The boat they were sailing in, it began to become very rough so the rest of the people said, “Go down into the hold, turn on the radio and find out what the weather report is.” I mean, I have this story absolutely correct. She went down, turned on the radio and got “Today With Derek Prince” in English from Manila. And in ten minutes she got saved! Now she’s just as radical in the opposite direction as she was before. Well, I’m not saying that will happen to everybody but it’s a demonstration of the way to deal with such people. Love them. Testify to them. Pray for them. Don’t condemn them. Jesus said God didn’t send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. The ministry of condemnation is the Old Covenant. The New Covenant is a ministry of righteousness.
All right, enough said but it’s something I feel very strongly about because I see so much prayer power being misdirected.
We can’t box God in with our little rules. He absolutely refuses to be boxed in. If you try you can be sure of one thing, He’ll emerge somewhere outside your box—probably behind you where you weren’t even looking. If you study the history of recent movements of the church in the last few centuries, what I say is this, every new movement thought it had built the last story of God’s building and put the roof on. The next thing God had to do when He sent a new movement was to blow the roof off. The people who had put the roof on were the ones who resisted most.
Point number three—and I’ve got ten to I’ve got to keep moving, but they’re all related—God deals with us all as individuals. All right? He doesn’t have one blueprint for everybody. He has one specific, detailed plan that’s a plan for every life, including yours and mine. Therefore, it is foolish to compare ourselves with other people, other Christians. 2Corinthians 10:12:
“For we dare not class ourselves [or compare ourselves] with those who commend themselves, but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.”
It is foolish to measure yourself by other Christians. You cannot say God did this for such and such, therefore God will do this for me. The fact that God healed Brother George or Sister Mary is no reason to believe that He’ll heal you. That’s not the reason. The reason is God’s will and you have to find out God’s will.
God has a special unique purpose for each life.. This I think is brought out very clearly in John 21, right at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry after His resurrection. He told Peter in John 21 what was going to happen to him in the future. Peter always had questions and being the leader he was free to ask the questions. I mean, that was part of the culture of the day. The rest of them really couldn’t ask questions the same way as Peter did.
“Peter, seeing John behind, said, Lord, what about this man?
You told me about myself, what will happen to John? And Jesus said to him:
“If I will that he remains till I come, what is that to you? You follow me.”
In other words, it’s not your business. So, don’t base your expectations on what God has done in somebody else’s life. All right? Because God has got a special purpose for you, something exciting, something specially tailored to you. He tailors His plans individually. He’s got no mass produced suits or dresses, every one is made to measure.
This is a hard one to take. God is relentless in pursuing His purposes. The plan that God has for your life He will follow it relentlessly. You can say, “Stop, God, I don’t want any more.” And He’ll back off but you’re very foolish to do that. Unless you say, “God, I just don’t want any more to do with you and your plan,” He will be relentless in pursuing His plan for your life. This is an amazing thing about the story of Job, God had a special plan for Job. He saw a unique man out of whom He could make something He couldn’t make out anybody else on earth. And so He had this plan for Job and, listen, His plan necessitated the sacrifice of all Job’s livestock, some of his servants and all ten of his children. For what purpose? That God might get His way in the life of Job. That’s a staggering thought, isn’t it? I just want you to meditate on that for a little while. God, if you can say it, sacrificed Job’s ten children for the sake of getting what He wanted in Job. In other words, in a sense, God will stop at nothing to get the result He wants in your life. As I said, you can stop Him but you’re very foolish if you do. You can come to the point and say, “God, I can’t take it any more. Leave me alone.” And it’s possible He’ll leave you alone but that’ll be the biggest disaster that ever happened to you. But you cannot tell God how to deal with you. You can’t set conditions on which God will deal with you. He’s absolutely sovereign, He doesn’t let anybody tell Him how to do it. He doesn’t need to, He knows how to do it.
I’ve been a Christian 52 years and I made many, many mistakes. But still I’m in the faith today, that’s what counts. That’s a miracle. People have sermons on the problems of young Christians, you need to consider the problems of old Christians because they don’t get any easier. Don’t fool yourself.
And I’d have to say God has done things in my life far beyond anything that I would ever have planned. Because basically I have been committed to God’s plan and still am today. His plan is not yet complete. So don’t set limits to God, don’t tell God, “You can touch this or you can touch that, but don’t touch this area of my life,” because He won’t deal with you on that condition. You can’t make conditions with God, He is sovereign.
I’m glad He is. I’ve learned to trust Him. I’ve learned by experience what He does is best.
You know, some of the things I thank God for are the prayers of mine He didn’t answer. Because, if He had it would have been a disaster. I thank God for the things that happened in my life by mistake. One of them was my becoming an American citizen. I never planned to immigrate to the United States, I got here by accident. Some of the most important things of my life have happened by accident and some of the things that I planned carefully turned out to be totally insignificant. Let God do it.
The next thing I have to say, I’ve only got four more things so hang in there, God’s priorities are different from ours. All right? So God is dealing with you, you think this is important, God says, “No, on the contrary, that is important.” Let me just point out two areas, God puts the spiritual above the physical and the eternal above the temporal. So God will never sacrifice anything eternal for the sake of something temporal. He always works with eternity in view. And only when you get into eternity will you be able to look back and see what God did. You cannot see it all now, you have to walk by faith, walk in trust.
I was impressed by something Hudson Taylor wrote, one of the great missionaries of the last century, the founder of the China Inland Mission, a tremendous man of God who had a vision for China. Somewhere he wrote near the end of his life—he died in the late 60s of his age—“I used to have clear vision of what I was going to do for God. But I don’t now,” he said, “I just move in trust.” That’s maturity. It’s not becoming more clever, it’s becoming more trusting.
The next thing I want to say is God is proud of His faithful servants. God can be proud of you. I use the phrase cautiously because, in a sense God, is not guilty of pride. God is very excited about the people who do His will. I just want you to see what he said to Satan in Job 1:8 when Satan came with the angels:
“The Lord said to Satan, Have you considered my servant Job, that there is no one like him here on earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and eschews evil?”
God was so pleased with Job that He pointed him out to Satan and said, “Satan, you haven’t succeeded with him, he’s following me.” And you know what Satan said, “Well, you just take what He has and see what will happen.”
In chapter 2, verse 3, the second time Satan appeared:
“The Lord said to Satan, Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil? And still he holds fast integrity although you incited me against him, to destroy him without cause.”
I wonder how many of us here tonight, God might be pointing to you or to me or to one of us, saying, “Satan, have you considered that one? They’re faithful. They’ve been through a hard time, they’ve never given up, they’ve never denied me, they’ve remained faithful to their first commitment.” There must be some here tonight like that. I don’t know who they are, I don’t know if I’m one of them. But, it’s exciting, isn’t it?
See, one of the things the book of Job does is give us a heavenly perspective on an earthly level, which is what the Bible does, no other book can do it. So we don’t just read the story of Job, we read it in the light of what happened in heaven before the story started on earth. And there is God pointing out Job to Satan and saying, “Satan, you haven’t succeeded with him, he still holds fast his integrity. I’m proud of him.”
Now mind you, if God says that about you to Satan, you may have to face the consequences. I mean, it’s a rather fearful thought to think what will happen if God points you out and says, “See, I can trust him, I can trust her.”
One thing I’ve discovered with regard to making proclamations is if I get a new proclamation that God gives me and I start to proclaim it, almost immediately something will happen aimed at setting that proclamation aside, proving it isn’t true, you can’t say that. And almost always you’re faced with a decision, “Will I go on saying it or will I let circumstances dictate to me?” I mean, if that’s happened to you, it’s a good sign. One of the good signs of God’s will is when Satan opposes you, did you know that? That means you’re doing him some harm.
Let’s consider for a moment just two more things, our high destiny in Christ. It’s staggering, it’s absolutely unbelievable what God has planned for us. In Ephesians 2, beginning at verse 4:
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loves us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together [resurrected us] and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus...”
The New English Bible says enthroned us. Bear in mind we’ve been made alive, we’ve been resurrected, we’ve been enthroned. And all that’s in the past, not in the future.
With what purpose? Verse 7:
“...that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
That’s a staggering thought. God says, “These sinners who were rebels, unclean, lost, I’m going to save them, sanctify them, raise them up. And for all eternity they’re going to be the demonstration to the whole universe of my grace.” No wonder we go through some tests if that’s our destination.
You see, God used everything to reveal Himself. God is a self revealing God. Many things in creation reveal God in different ways but when God wanted to reveal His grace He had to choose sinners. I don’t know whether this fits in with your theology but we had to sin in order that God might reveal His grace. If you don’t like that statement you’ve got every right to take exception to it. Nevertheless, it so happens that God has chosen to reveal the unique aspect of His character, which is His grace, through redeemed sinners. And through all eternity all the angels are going to gaze at us in awe and admiration and say, “Look what God did with them.”
Then Paul goes on to say in Ephesians 2:10:
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
What blessed me is the Greek word for workmanship is poiemawhich gives us the English word poem. We are God’s created masterpiece. And as I’ve said many times, the amazing thing is He went to the scrap heap for His materials just to prove what He could do as the creator.
And then it says in Ephesians 3:8:
“To me, who am less than the least of all the saints...”
Do you notice how Paul goes down all the time? He says once he’s the least of all saints, now he says he’s less than the least of all saints. The further he goes the lower he comes.
“...that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all people see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ...”
This again is staggering. God had a secret plan that He didn’t unveil till you and I came on the scene. All previous ages didn’t know it.
Now what is the purpose of this plan? Ephesians 3:10:
“...to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”
The word manifold is a Greek word which means many sided. We are to be the demonstration of the many sided wisdom of God to all the heavenly beings. And each one of us is going to demonstrate a different aspect of God’s wisdom. That’s your destiny. Hang in there and don’t give up because if you give up you’ll regret it. I’m not saying it will be easy. In fact, I’m saying it won’t be easy but it will be worth it. That’s my belief.
I’ve hung in there for 52 years. Believe me, I don’t intend to give up now. I could blow it all in one foolish act but I trust by God’s grace I won’t do it.
Now, one final personal response to the story of Job and it goes a little bit beyond what I’ve been saying. In 2Peter 1:20 Peter says:
“No prophesy of scripture is of any private interpretation.”
The word private means individual. You cannot provide your own interpretation of scripture. There’s only one authorized interpreter, who’s that? The Holy Spirit, that’s right. And so we can have our little theories and make our little Bible studies but unless it’s the Holy Spirit that inspires and reveals it will accomplish nothing.
See, the longer I’m in the ministry the more I see that we only know God’s truth by revelation. You can read the Bible, you can know the Bible by heart but you don’t see anything till God reveals it.
And so I want to give you this little parable and with this I close. There are two main agents of revelation: the scripture, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit. And I look at that piano there and I think to myself that is a finite instrument. It’s got a certain number of white keys and a certain number of black keys, it spans a certain number of octaves, it’s definitely limited. But, when a pianist sits down there’s no limit to the music that can come from that piano. Who is the pianist? The Holy Spirit. The piano is the scripture, the pianist is the Holy Spirit. And the only kind of melodies that are worth anything are those that the Holy Spirit plays. And there is no limit, there’s no bottom to His revelation, it’s inexhaustible.
Our sister who played the piano so beautifully for us, she could sit and play for hours if she had the strength, and never play the same melody twice. That’s like the Holy Spirit. Don’t think you know it all because that shuts the Holy Spirit out. Thank God for what you do know and make room for what you don’t.
One thing I’ll tell you, I didn’t intend to say this, to receive revelation takes time. You have to be prepared to wait before God, to meditate on the scriptures. Not to rush, not to give God ten minutes and say, “That’s it, God, if you haven’t spoken by the end of ten minutes I have to go.” It’s not easy for some of you because you’ve got busy schedules but bear in mind revelation takes time.
I find revelation comes when I least expect it. Strangely enough, it sometimes comes when I’m shaving. I don’t know why but it does.
I remember something that happened years ago in 1966. It’s just a silly example but I was thinking about the ministry of an evangelist and I was looking in the mirror and I said, “Of course, you’re not an evangelist” to myself. God said to me very clearly, “You can be if you want.” Now, I would have never thought of that but it was revelation. Now I can do the ministry of an evangelist when there’s no other evangelist around. I can do it. But if there are other evangelists around I’ll do something else. God showed me that I was setting my own limits to what He could do with me. So, don’t set any limits except what God sets.
I think I’m going to read those conclusions very rapidly without dwelling on any of them.
Number one, we can never understand all God’s dealings.
Number two, God never surrenders His sovereignty, He’s never subject to a set of religious rules.
Number three, God deals with us all as individuals.
Number four, it’s foolish to compare ourselves with others.
Number five, God has a special, unique purpose for every life.
Number six, God is relentless in pursuing His purpose.
Number seven, God’s priorities are different from ours. He puts the spiritual above the physical and the eternal above the temporal.
Number eight, God is proud of His righteous servants.
Number nine, we have a high destiny, we’re going to be the demonstration of God’s grace to all the universe through all ages.
And number ten, the only authorized interpreter of the scriptures is the Holy Spirit. The scripture is the piano, the Holy Spirit is the pianist. If we want melody we have to let the pianist play, otherwise we’ve just got an instrument.
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