Spurgeon Audio: Joy, A Duty

What is there on earth that is worth fretting for, even for five minutes? If one could an imperial crown by a day of care, it would be too great an expense for a thing which would bring more care with it. Therefore, let us be thankful, let us be joyful in the Lord. I count it one of the wisest things that, by rejoicing in the Lord, we commence our Heaven here below. It is possible to do so–it is profitable to do so–and we are commanded to do so!

Charles H. Spurgeon, sermon no. 2405: Joy, a Duty

The other day I started a Twitter poll to help decide which of two sermons to do for the next Spurgeon Audio, either “The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption” or “The Upper Hand.” But while I was waiting for that to close out, I came across this one after Philippians 4 was brought to mind, and I decided…well, I’m just gonna do this one. I’ll do the others as well, but this was fresh in my mind and on my heart.

It has been on my mind because it seems like the church, at least insofar as it is represented on the Internet, seems to find itself in a great deal of turmoil. Of course, this isn’t new. And this isn’t to say that there are never reasons for there to be concern, but the turmoil I’m speaking of is similar to that which Paul is speaking against in this chapter: namely, a disagreement between two parties that threatens to cause division.

The prescription given to the church by God through His Word for how to handle division is a simple one on its face, but one which we must pursue actively: joy. I think immediately of the opening of John Piper’s book “Desiring God,” where he edits the opening of the Westminster Catechism in a way intended to reveal a deeper meaning: that the “chief end of man” is that we might “glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” The joy a Christian carries with him in life derives from a profound work of the Holy Spirit: to produce the “peace that passes understanding,” that we might hope in the work of Christ. And we do hope–not in a “Gosh, I sure hope so” sense, but in a sense of trusting to the truth of what Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:15:

This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them.

1 Timothy 1:15 CSB

So when fear creeps in, when division between two people or two groups of believers begins to grow, when we start to believe in one way or another that the work of Christ is not sufficient whether to save or to produce unity in the body, the answer is to look to this truth, and to rejoice. And rejoice again!

So often lately I see Christians online who seem more interested in fighting with one another than in loving one another. A small disagreement grows up into a fierce thorny bush of antagonism. Brothers who once could minister side by side turn their guns on one another, and view any opposition, whether it’s overt atheistic disagreement to minor doctrinal difference, in a way that guarantees that no one not already within the camp will listen to what they have to say.

The apostle Peter writes:

Who then will harm you if you are devoted to what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear them or be intimidated, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Yet do this with gentleness and reverence, keeping a clear conscience, so that when you are accused, those who disparage your good conduct in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

1 Peter 3:13-17 CSB

This passage is not just about apologetics. It’s about being ready to display that joy in a way that reflects its eternal foundation. We don’t hope in beating others in arguments. We don’t hope in perfect unity of opinion. We hope in a living God who can take the heart of our most vicious, arrogant opponent and transform him into a passionate disciple. And because of that, we rejoice, and we answer division, fear, anxiety, and yes even persecution, with joy, peace, and love.

The rest we have in Christ should shine through in how we deal with those we disagree with, especially when it’s another Christian. If you’re too busy showing what you’re against, and trying to build up barriers against those from outside who might invade your space, you are going to struggle to make the gospel clear to anyone who doesn’t already speak your language. But the language of loving others and walking in hope that makes itself known through joy is clear and universal. My good Father has saved me, and that hope is available and urgently needed for everyone. Don’t hide it, but lift up Christ and rejoice in His name!

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Spurgeon Audio: The Sealing of the Spirit

The Spirit of God never takes the place of the Redeemer, he exercises his own peculiar office which is to take of the things of Christ and show them unto us, and not to put his own things in the place of Jesus. The foundation of our hope is laid in Christ from first to last, and if we rest there we are saved. The seal does not always come with faith, but it follows after. I have said this because I am afraid lest in any way whatever you should leave the simple, plain, and solid ground of confidence in the finished work of Jesus Christ, and in that only. Recollect that a man who believes in Jesus Christ is as truly saved when he does not know it as he is when he does know it; he is as truly the Lord’s when he mourns in the valley of humiliation as when he sings on the mountain top of joy and fellowship. Our ground of trust is not to be found in our experience, but in the person and work of our Lord Jesus.
“I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name:
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.”

Charles H. Spurgeon, The Sealing of the Spirit, preached at Metropolitan Tabernacle March 19, 1876

There are many things about this sermon that are a true blessing to believers. There is the reminder throughout of the amazing Trinitarian work of salvation. There is the admonishment against seeking after or trusting in experiences over the truth of God’s Word, and the encouragement that we can trust in that Word truly.

And truly, we can know that God is working in our lives, and in this world, through His Spirit blessing and transforming us bit by bit into the image of Christ. We need to remind ourselves of this continually. So often lately I see many people decrying this politician or that law or this cultural trend, and saying “If this continues we’re going to lose…” something important. Lose the country, lose the culture. But do we really think so little of the kingdom of God that we are afraid of the decay of a secular political institution? Or that we have to defend ourselves through that institution?

The Holy Spirit abides in us, and that is a sign and seal of God’s promise to complete the work He began in us. Scripture speaks of this and testifies to this truth, and we can rely on it, even when the world and our experiences are shaking our confidence in other ways. We aren’t going to be able to rest peacefully in this world in the sense that we have no cares, but neither should we be striving in a way that says “I don’t trust that God’s power is enough.” And if I may speak very directly, it is my observation that a lot of Christians, even ones who trot out the term “reformed” to describe themselves, are striving in a way that says exactly that.

Jarod and I are going to talk about that a little bit more on the next Kings Highway Radio. But my encouragement and admonishment to my brothers and sisters of the faith, especially in the West, would be this: when you feel the frustration of watching our civilization move in a direction that is ungodly, are you taking that to the Lord, or are you taking that to comment boxes and angry Twitter rants? When you have neighbors that are not believers, that in fact live in ways contrary to what is godly, are you able to love them, or do you hide from them and allow animosity to grow?

Do you mourn the slow death that the cancer of sin brings on our world, and do you pray for God’s will to be done in transforming hearts? Or are you hardening yourself to those outside your circle?

There’s a lot to think and pray about here. I desire to see God glorified in everything, but most of all I desire to see the grace of God seen clearly. I want us to trust to the work of the Holy Spirit not because of some desire for an experience, or for a moment I can point to and say “this is when God worked in me in such and such a way.” I want us to trust to the work of the Spirit for those times when all the ways of the world press against us, and they will. In that time, I pray we will glorify Jesus as a greater treasure than anything else we could have.

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Spurgeon Audio: The Pentecostal Wind and Fire

The preachers of Pentecost told of the Spirit’s work by the Spirit’s power: conversion, repentance, renewal, faith, holiness, and such things were freely spoken of and ascribed to their real author, the divine Spirit. If the Spirit of God shall give us once again a full and fiery ministry we shall hear it clearly proclaimed, “Ye must be born again,” and we shall see a people forthcoming which are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, but of the will of God, and by the energy which cometh from heaven. A Holy Ghost ministry cannot be silent about the Holy Ghost and his sacred operations upon the heart.

Charles H. Spurgeon, The Pentecostal Wind and Fire, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit vol. 27

A word of warning up front: sadly, this episode has some audio issues, ones I wasn’t aware of while recording/streaming. I’ve figured out how to correct them for the future, but with our baby on the way and everything else in life, sadly I don’t have time to re-record the entire thing the way I like. I hope the lesser quality does not detract too badly from the actual content of the sermon.

Today we start a series out of a book I found wonderfully free thanks to my Kindle Unlimited subscription. Granted, the book simply consists of ten Charles Spurgeon sermons, but as they are better-edited than many of the other free collections out there it makes my job of reading it somewhat easier. We will be exploring exactly what the title of the book proclaims: Knowing the Holy Spirit. This is a subject that for many, causes immediate controversy and even defensiveness.

Sadly the work of the Spirit is one that has been abused in multiple ways, both in misunderstanding and denying His role and work, to claiming as work of the Spirit actions that make Him not God, not the promised Comforter, not the one who convicts the world of their need for Christ, but one who stirs crowd up into madness and serves our visceral pleasures.

But today I want to couch this sermon in another context. Over this weekend news came out about the truth behind the apologist Ravi Zacharias, about the sexual immorality and sexual violence he had carried out against so many while he was alive, and about the way that his own ministry turned a blind eye to what He was doing and enabled him. Christianity Today had a long and sad article, and conservative writer David French had an even longer, more personal and more infuriating, which exposed not only the depths to which Zacharias sunk in his sin, but the ways in which victims of his behavior were silenced, treated as liars and frauds.

The lie of power

There is a personal reason for reflecting, one that all Christians ought to consider strongly: I know my own sin. I know the lure of sexual sin in my own life, the scars I’ve cut into my own heart as a result of wicked desires, and the ways I’ve hurt others. I know that putting this to death has involved a work of the Holy Spirit in pouring out merciful conviction on me repeatedly, having to drag things into the light before those closest to me and finding, always waiting, the grace of God and His healing. Because of that I have to be all the more aware of the things that lead me to start desiring these things more than the good things of God, and drag them out quickly. I have to be aware not because I’m going to lose my salvation but because I hate what this sin does in me, does to others, does to my intimacy with God I despise it, and I want to see it dead.

What is clear, is that for Ravi Zacharias this wasn’t happening. He didn’t have people who could hold him accountable – it was clear that his own ministry was enabling him to persist in his behavior, financially and otherwise. And when the first signs of problems appeared, they dealt with it not as a time to confess sin and seek the Lord’s face, but to run a PR play and cover things up. So many Christians were take the statements put out by RZIM on their face because we considered him this stately man who was necessary to fighting the good fight for the faith in our civilization.

I think if there’s one thing I want to get across in talking about the work of the Holy Spirit in this world, it’s that while humans are called to take part in God’s work, we do not make ourselves indispensable. There is no one that can say, “I’m so important to God’s work that He can’t do without me, no matter what I’ve done.” And in the West we have especially bought into the lie that seeking after popularity and power is more important that seeking after holiness, more important than loving well, more important than humility.

I don’t want to ramble here too badly, but I hope that you will join me in praying for our leaders, whether religious, political, or otherwise. Please pray for the idols of your own heart, that they would be brought into the light and destroyed before they can do the kind of damage Ravi’s did. And please pray that humble service, love for God, and love for one another would become the markers of the American church, more than political activism, more than brilliant oration.

Spurgeon Audio: The True Christian’s Blessedness

He who said, “all things work together,” will soon prove to you that there is a harmony in the most discordant parts of your life. You shall find, when your biography is written, that the black page did but harmonize with the bright one—that the dark and cloudy day was but a glorious foil to set forth the brighter noon-tide of your joy. “All things work together.” There is never a clash in the world: men think so, but it never is so. The charioteers of the Roman circus might with much cleverness and art, with glowing wheels, avoid each other; but God, with skill infinitely consummate, guides the fiery coursers of man’s passion, yokes the storm, bits the tempest, and keeping each clear of the other from seeming evil still enduceth good, and better still; and better still in infinite progression.

Charles H. Spurgeon, The True Christian’s Blessedness

The end of the Job series has truly been a long time coming, especially with the delays I’ve had between episodes, and for which I do apologize. But this isn’t a sermon from Job – it’s a sermon on Romans. How can this be the conclusion to Job?

I said way back when I began this series that my intention after all was said and done was to conclude it with a sermon on Romans 8:28, for I can hardly think of a New Testament passage that summarizes the truth found in Job more succinctly. “All things” – how many things? All of them. This is probably one of the rare circumstances where “all means all, and that’s all all means” is actually a true statement. “Work together” – there is not conflict with God’s great guiding hand even in those darkest moments. “Work together for good” – now that is where so many stumble. It isn’t a struggle to think of where this is hard to conceive of. War and peace, working together for good? Murder and life? Tyranny and liberty? These are incompatible ideas, yet the guiding hand of God rules over them all and creates through them a world that glorifies Him as God above all others.

But it’s not just a generic good smeared across creation. It’s good for God’s people, for “those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” God’s grace and mercy shines on all creation, on all mankind, but on those who are in Christ a special goodness shines. We walk in this world as beacons of God’s light, and as salt in a world whose taste has turned to evil.

Giving thanks with Job

Job confessed in chapter 42, after Elihu’s and God’s remonstrances of his self-righteousness, that his wisdom was faulty and his justification lacking, and confessed that his faith was truly in God and His wisdom. After that, after everything he had been through, Job found himself standing before the King and had nothing to say, except to confess that he had been mistaken about himself. And in that, he found God’s grace to abound. Job found that when he confessed that he was “dust and ashes,” that God valued that dust more than he ever could have when looking to His own righteousness. God blessed Job richly with a renewed family and wealth.

So often this year I hear people express frustrations about “2020” as though it is an entity unto itself. Certainly I’ve talked about my frustrations and the exhaustions of living life with the added restrictions produced by the pandemic, and the fear for the future that has resulted from growing economic uncertainty and governments that are using this opportunity to grow their levels of authority. Yet we as Christians, no matter our thoughts on the pragmatic realities of day to day life, must confess that this does not change the truth that all things will work together for good for us. We look at what’s changed about our lives even if we haven’t personally seen the virus touch them and say with Job, “God gave, and God has taken away. Blessed by the name of the Lord.”

Happy Thanksgiving

Honestly it wasn’t my intention to have this land the week of the American Thanksgiving holiday, yet after reflecting it seemed remarkably fitting. The story of the first Thanksgiving, after all, sees the Pilgrims and their neighboring American Indian tribe coming together for a feast that was intended to give praise to God for bringing them through that first deadly year and helping their colony to begin to grow and thrive. The suffering that our world brings often presses, the injustice of life infuriates and takes away what we believe ought to be ours, yet God promises that even this will serve for good in the end.

Do we walk in a way that reflects that we believe this? I struggle to. I suspect I’m not alone in that. Yet I think this year more than any other, whether we join with family or not, we ought to give thanks to our great God that He has led us through this time and allowed us to better know Him through it, and give glory to Him. Even if you are not living in the United States and don’t join in this holiday culturally, the end of this year is a good time for all of us to reflect on the blessings of God as they are revealed, and in the mercies that are renewed each morning.

A time of giving thanks is a time for all of us to not simply be grateful for the good things we have, though we certainly should be. But more than that, it’s a time for us to reflect on all that God gives us. I look at where I am in my life–with my family, my wife and I with a little baby on the way, with my job, with a whole world of uncertainty from my perspective, but I know I have a God that is both perfectly loving and perfectly sovereign over His creation. For that, I am truly thankful, and I hope that all of us are taking time during this season to reflect and consider that.

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Spurgeon Audio: I Know That My Redeemer Liveth

I charge you rest not, be not content until by faith you can say, “Yes, I cast myself upon him; I am his, and therefore he is mine.” I know that full many of you, while you look upon all else that you have as not being yours, yet can say, “My Redeemer is mine.” He is the only piece of property which is really ours. We borrow all else, the house, the children, nay, our very body we must return to the Great Lender. But Jesus, we can never leave, for even when we are absent form the body we are present with the Lord, and I know that even death cannot separate us from him, so that body and soul are with Jesus truly even in the dark hours of death, in the long night of the sepulchre, and in the separate state of spiritual existence. Beloved, have you Christ? It may be you hold him with a feeble hand, you half think it is presumption to say, “He is my Redeemer;” yet remember, if you have but faith as a grain of mustard seed, that little faith entitles you to say, and say now, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”

Charles Spurgeon, sermon no. 504: “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth”

The truth of this sermon title is the truth that rings in the heart of every believer when suffering comes. When we find ourselves pressed upon, feeling the pain of loss and doubt, and anger, and we know deep in our hearts that our God is just and holy, we look to this. Not in a “brush the dust off your hands and go on like nothing’s happening” way, because usually that is neither helpful nor practical. We do it in a way that says “My suffering is real. My pain is real. But God is just as real and He will give it purpose.”

I talked before about how the psalms of lament echo this same cry, where they call to God in real pain, in turmoil and suffering that doesn’t fade with the night and vanish in the morning, but continues for years, even generations. They don’t blame God, but they do recognize the truth, which is that God rules over even their times of suffering, and they call out to Him not because they are ungrateful or bitter, but out of faith:

Wake up, Lord! Why are you sleeping?
Get up! Don’t reject us forever!
Why do you hide
and forget our affliction and oppression?
For we have sunk down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up! Help us!
Redeem us because of your faithful love.

Psalm 44: 23-26

I want to share some more from the book I mentioned last time as well, Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings:

In what sense, exactly, does the psalmist blame God amid crisis? The psalmist does not “blame” God in the sense of a judge who blames a defendant as he delivers a verdict and dismisses the defendant from the courtroom. If the psalmists had already decided the verdict–that God is indeed unfaithful–they would not continue to offer their complaint. They would have a solution to the problem of evil that silences the questions of lament: that God is not trustworthy, not wholly good. Instead the psalmists blame God in the interrogative, with raw, unanswered questions that cling to the hope of God’s covenant promise: Why am I in this crisis if the Lord’s covenant promise is true? In the context of covenant fellowship, God’s people can cry out to their covenant Lord–in complaint, even in protest and open-ended blame–until God shows his faithfulness according to his covenant promise.

J. Todd Billings, Rejoicing in Lament, p. 59

Faith expressed in times of doubt

Job may not fully understand at this point the nature of God’s redemptive plans, but he does have the right target in view. If he were hanging on the side of a mountain, he would have grasped the right handhold. If he were in the water after a shipwreck, he would be clinging to the best life preserver there is: the promise and truth of God’s work to redeem His people. And as Charles Spurgeon said, how much more ought we who live in this time between Christ’s first and second comings look to that in faith?

God does not say to His people, “Ah, you don’t have it so bad, quit whining.” He does not dismiss them or punish them for crying out in need. He listens to them. He has sent the Comforter to minister to His people, and provided His Word to lead them. Let us rest in that, and in who He is: our loving Father, who never leaves us even in greatest darkness and deepest valley. He is our God.

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Spurgeon Audio: The Sweet Uses of Adversity

You will all perceive at once that there must be love even in this apparently angry word; that this contention must, after all, have something to do with contentment, and that this battle must be, after all, but a disguised mercy, but another shape of an embrace from the God of love. Carry this consoling reflection in your thoughts while I am preaching to you; and if any of you are saying to-day, “Shew me wherefore thou contendest with me,” the very fact of God contending with you at all, the fact that he has not consumed you, that he has not smitten you to the lowest hell, may thus, at the very outset, afford consolation and hope.

Charles H. Spurgeon, sermon no. 283: “The Sweet Uses of Adversity”

The title of this sermon is truly countercultural. I say that because I don’t know of any culture that embraces, loves, and celebrates adversity. Hard times are rarely anticipated with the same kind of excitement as a day at the beach or a family holiday. Certainly the kind of adversity seen by Job would not be something anyone would see as a joyful experience that they would desire to pass through.

Therefore we can understand Job’s anger and his sharp words. God’s mercy shines through in that, rather than ignoring an impertinent question or even more justifiably, punishing such a creature, He hears Job’s words and (as we’ll see in later sermons and as we work through the book in Scripture Sunday) even answers him. Whether that answer is satisfying in a human sense is up for discussion in a later episode as well.

Job the self-justified

If you’ve been listening along as we’ve read through Job on Scripture Sunday, you’ve heard the increasing frustrations of Job and the befuddlement of his friends as they try to apply their notion of retributive justice to God’s actions in Job’s life. His friends insist that Job surely must have done something wrong, because after all, God doesn’t do things with no purpose or with malice. Job insists that he has done nothing, and rests his increasingly self-righteous anger on his own actions.

How often do we wrestle with these same ideas about God? The old question “why do bad things happen to good people?” has gotten the response from Christians that “That only happened once,” because of course we recognize that there has only been one truly good man, Jesus. But this isn’t a satisfying answer for most, and I don’t think that should be surprising, because that kind of answer doesn’t actually help us wrestle with the bigger questions that press on us each time we watch the news.

In a world ruled by a just, holy, and good God, why do babies die? Why are children born into third-world nations with not enough food, clothing, or medicine, only to starve to death or die of a disease that hasn’t appeared in the rest of the world for decades? Why are innocent civilians in Yemen losing everything as war consumes their country? Why are innocent civilians in the United States losing everything because of a turn down the wrong street, an encounter with the wrong person, the wrong thing said?

We look at these horrors of our world and we look at ourselves, and I think it’s safe to say we often feel like Job is fully justified in his frustration: “I know I’ve never done anything nearly bad enough to warrant this. Why is this happening? Why doesn’t God hear us?” The psalms are full of similar laments, aching cries to understand even as the psalmist admits they will never know the full wisdom of God.

The answer is not simple

We don’t get a nice, clean answer to this either in the book of Job or elsewhere in the Bible, outside of this: these things happen because our world is stained by sin, and its child death follows gleefully behind. Yet as Christians, we ought to be sure that the standard by which we engage these is not following after the ways of the world. I have seen people trying to wrap the faith up in ideas that are borne of the angry cynicism of the world towards injustice, while lacking true faith in God’s eternal and perfect justice. Look to Paul’s words in Romans 8:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of him who subjected it—in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. Not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved, but hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? Now if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.

Romans 8:18-25, CSB

I’ve been reading a book that Jarod recommended to me, Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings. He writes this book as he battles a form of incurable cancer, and his struggle with this issue is palpable. I am not finished, but I have been tremendously ministered to by this book. In one section he speaks to the struggles Job and his friends have with viewing God’s justice as purely retributive. Job believes he deserves good things because he does good things. His friends believe, if he’s receiving bad things, that must mean he’s done something bad. But Pastor Billings wrestles that idea into perspective:

While sometimes a rigid form of retribution theology makes us search for what we did to “deserve” a tragedy (in retrospect), at other times it relates more directly to how Christians view the future. Many Christians don’t seem to expect to suffer–assuming that if we are “good Christians” who “obey God’s will,” then we might face obstacles, but not great tragedies that appear senseless. But in this form as well, the book of Job breaks through our illusions, for it “shatters the myth that our own righteousness can protect us from unjust suffering.” God has not given us a bargain such that he would spare us of unjust suffering if we seek to obey his will. To the contrary, in Jesus Christ, we are called to take up our crosses daily and follow the path of the One who was unjustly crucified.

Rejoicing in Lament, by J. Todd Billings, p.25

This is why on Kings Highway Radio, Jarod and I have been so insistent on the importance of Scripture as the foundation upon which we must build our lives and our views of who God is and what He is doing in our lives. Left to our own devices we can find ourselves “tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.” I see this so often as Christians struggle with how to engage the world’s discussion and debate surrounding issues of race. We find ourselves torn apart as we find one side or another more appealing, and we lose perspective on what Christians must keep central: who Christ is, and who we are in Him.

Job’s only hope

Though Job is deeply confused about his righteousness compared to God’s, he does know where his hope ought to lie, and that will be the subject of the next sermon in this series. For those who look to their Redeemer, suffering is a transformative experience that leads us to greater faith and hope, and “hope does not bring us to shame” when it is fixed on the perfect Object that is Jesus and Him crucified.

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Spurgeon Audio: The Sorrowful Man’s Question

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[O]ften, our trials bring us very near to our God. Your children run down the meadow to play, and they get a good way off from home in the sunny day, as they ramble along gathering their buttercups and daisies; but by-and-by, the sun sets, and night comes on, and now they cry to be at home. Just so; and you, in all your pretty ways of pleasure in your happy home, though you are a child of God, sometimes forget him. Sorrowfully must you remember that sad fact. But now the night comes on, and there is danger all around you; so you begin to cry for your Father, and you would fain be back to fellowship with him; and that is a blessed trouble which brings us near to our God. Christ’s sheep ought to be thankful for the ugly black dog that keeps them from going astray, or fetches them back when they have wandered from the Shepherd. Perhaps Christ will call that black dog off when he has answered the Master’s purpose, and brought you near his side.

Charles H. Spurgeon, sermon no. 2666: “The Sorrowful Man’s Question”

Yesterday while I was thinking about this next sermon in the Job series, I was also wrestling with the frustrations and failures and injustices that led to the recent horror we witnessed together in Minneapolis via someone’s cell phone camera–namely, the slow choking death of George Floyd as he lay in handcuffs on the ground, with a police officer’s knee on his neck. I thought about the fact that he probably left his home with the idea that it was any other night, and it would end like any other night. I’m aware of the statements about the forged bill and all that, but it hardly seems relevant, let alone in proportion to what happened.

I find myself looking at this as another in a long series of microcosms pointing to the evils and injustices not just hiding in a corner, but out in the wide open ruling over this world. I thought about how so many people have to consider their actions carefully every day, not knowing what may happen to them just like George Floyd had no idea what would happen to him. We all value our ability to live safely and feel safe at home, yet it’s such a shell, so easily broken whether on purpose or accident.

It’s easy, when considering these things, to begin to feel their weight very deeply. I have to often remind myself that when I confess faith in Christ, I’m not simply saying “I believe Jesus exists and that He did a thing.” What I’m saying is, I trust Him with my all. I trust Him to be who He says He is–the King, the Savior, and the One who is guiding me every step of the way. That reminder, that confession, is needed when despair creeps in, and it creeps in easily at times like this.

It’s difficult for Christians often to process the horrors and evils and frustrations, both personal and corporate, of living in a sinful and broken world. We look at our holy, just, and loving God, and we ask the same question any other person would ask at such times: Why? Why does a just God allow injustice to continue its iron-fisted rule? Why does a loving God allow loveless fury to reign in the streets and in the hearts of so many?

Spurgeon Audio: Satan Considering the Saints

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Put not your trust in anything beneath the stars; remember that “Change” is written on the fore-front of nature. Say not therefore, “My mountain standeth firm: it shall never be moved;” the glance of Jehovah’s eye can shake thy mountain into dust, the touch of his foot can make it like Sinai, to melt it like wax, and to be alttogether on a smoke. “Set your affection on things above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God, and let your heart and your treasure be where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal.”

Charles H. Spurgeon, sermon 623, “Satan Considering the Saints”

The weight on the hearts of believers everywhere is of a sort that I don’t know we’ve experienced in the lifetimes of any but a few currently living. We have become accustomed to individual struggles and sufferings, but it seems to me that few of us have a real concept for mass or cultural sufferings that is actually our own.

For Western Christians we have been used for a long time to having the sufferings we face be more limited in that way. Though our culture may regard us with a general side-eye of distrust, they don’t actively oppress or persecute us. Though they may say silly and ridiculous things about “hate” regarding our theology, they don’t turn away from hospitals with denominational names emblazoned across the front. And we have enjoyed, for the most part, a great deal of liberty to worship our Lord. Many have preached the gospel boldly and at the same time sought to encourage human flourishing by demonstrating that a culture that may disbelieve, yet still practices life in line with His commandments at least to some extent, succeeds and enjoys the benefits of His grace more than one that practices pagan unbelief as a matter of course.

Now we are face to face with what is, at the very least, a time of extreme discomfort and uncertainty, which threatens to grow into a time of greater disease, possibly followed by poverty, and a loss of many freedoms as well as lives. Like with Job, it seems to have come upon us rather suddenly. I know personally, I was spending the beginning of this year making plans for what I wanted this year to include, only to see so many of them dashed to pieces as businesses closed and all the ways we have been able to divert ourselves suddenly are shuttered.

Yet even though our whole culture is affected by this suffering en masse, each individual has their own particular story. I wanted to take this time, as we all walk through the frustrations and losses and heartaches that each of us finds ourselves assigned to in this time, to point to the story of Job and his dark night of the soul, as it were. I know my tendency when encountering hard times is to grit my teeth and just try to sit it out until it goes away. I am willing to bet that experience is true of a lot of people out there.

Job the Faithful Servant

The book of Job is one that I think is often misunderstood and misinterpreted. I would encourage that if you haven’t watched it already, you should take a few minutes and watch the Bible Project’s video on the book:

The Bible Project: Job, from the Wisdom series

Job is found in the Bible alongside Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as a part of the wisdom literature. It isn’t set in an identifiable time period, although it is explicitly set in a land that was not Israel (the land of Uz), and Job was ostensibly not an Israelite. Whether or not he actually existed is unknown, but the story of Job ties together the other two wisdom books in a way that Solomon’s wisdom could not: a man who walks in the way of the wise in Proverbs seems to be reaping instead the fruit of the way of the foolish, prompting him to begin to experience the frustration and cynicism of Ecclesiastes as he pours out his deep pain to his friends.

What is more remarkable is the fact that we see clearly that God has, in fact, allowed his suffering! There is no room for debating the control God may or may not possess over evil in this narrative. We see God on the throne, allowing the enemy latitude to attack a man who God regards as a faithful and beloved servant. The question is: why? We tend to view suffering of this sort, if God is involved at all, as something that is targeted at the deserving. Surely Job is who God says he is: a faithful servant who walks in His ways joyfully.

Refining fires

Without spoiling too much of what is to come as we get further into the book, I want to set the theme for everything by pointing far past it deep into the words of Paul to the Romans: “All things work together for good for those who love God, and are called according to His purpose.” This sentence is a load-bearing beam in the house that is the truth of Christ we call our home, if one is truly a believer. It is not my design today to answer all the questions I have set out about Job, but rather to lay them out before you. I would propose that we all spend time considering them in light of our current experiences, and lay upon them the truth of Romans 8:28.

This is not light work, but neither is it dreary and joyless. On the contrary: when suffering comes, when the enemy has been loosed to wreak havoc, we as believers must take heart in two key truths. First, as Charles Spurgeon noted, the enemy is on a leash. The Lord may give him latitude but every blow he strikes will fall short of its mark, and in fact will serve the devil’s opposite purpose: it will sharpen and refine you, as the Lord brings before your eyes the idols you may have been clinging to until this time. Let them go and let them burn, and rejoice that God has not let you keep them.

Secondly, in the end we will see His purpose and know His glory in ways we cannot fathom now. Just as Jesus went to the cross for the joy that was set before Him and in full disregard for any earthly shame that hung on such a death, so those of us who follow after Him endure our own particular sufferings in faith that He is so much more beautiful and valuable than anything here on earth, and so much more worthy of our worship.

I hope that this series will be an encouragement to my listeners, and be sure to follow along with the Scripture Sunday podcasts as we continue to walk through the text of the book itself. Those of you who are engaged in hardship, I would invite you to reach out for prayer, whether in the comments below or through email.

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