And take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17
Vol 13, Num 17, 05/30/2010
In this issue:
One of the deepest moments of Job’s despair is recorded in Job 16. It came after his false “friends” had failed to be of any comfort, but had made his suffering worse. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar had each made their initial false charges, asserting that Job was suffering due to his own sin. Though we as readers are privy to the fact that Job suffered because of Satan’s affliction aimed at discouraging Job’s unparalleled righteousness, neither Job nor his “friends” were aware of the suffering’s source. Yet, after honestly searching his own life for sin, Job correctly defended himself against the false charges made toward him. There is no doubt that Job’s grief was multiplied when Eliphaz, rather than apologizing for his false accusations, started a second round by intensifying his erroneous indictments against Job’s character. Just after that misguided diatribe, Job made the following statement:
I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all! Shall vain words have an end? Or what provokes you that you answer? I also could speak as you do, if your soul were in my soul’s place. I could heap up words against you, and shake my head at you; but I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the comfort of my lips would relieve your grief (Job 16:2-5).
Though none of us would like to think of ourselves as being the modern equivalent of Eliphaz, Bildad or Zophar, do our actions and words follow their examples as we deal with those undergoing times of suffering and hardship? Is it easier for us to dismiss their plight as being “his/her own fault” rather than to step in and do the difficult task of giving strength and comfort? Let us remember that Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar were condemned by God because of their lack of compassion and encouragement. Before we turn a callous eye and hardened heart on those going through times of trial, we should consider the fact that compassion is repeatedly commended by God and its absence is forcefully condemned. Let us be reminded of God’s expectations for us in reaction to the suffering of others:
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).
Now we that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each one of us please his neighbor for that which is good, unto edifying. For Christ also pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell upon me (Rom. 15:1-3).
I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15).
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering (Col. 3:12).
Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard (Prov. 21:13).
Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them (Ezek. 34:2-4).
Then He will also say to those on the left hand, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.” Then they also will answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?” Then He will answer them, saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me” (Matt. 25:41-45).
Finally, be ye all likeminded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tenderhearted, humbleminded (1 Pet. 3:8).
If we seek to be like God, we would do well to consider His compassion on man. The Old Testament is full of statements regarding God’s tenderness and loving aid to Israel – even when they rejected Him in sin (Ex. 3:7; Deut. 30:3; 2 Chron. 36:15; Psa. 78:38; 86:15). The divine expression of compassion, selfless sacrifice and ultimate mercy is seen in the giving of Christ to lift the burden of sin from us despite our sins and rebellion (Matt. 11:28-30; Rom. 5:6-11; Jn. 3:16).
One of the most touching portrayals of God’s compassion on man is seen in Hosea’s description of God remaining the loving, caring, providing Father of a rebellious child.
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them (Hos. 11:1-4).
Do we fully appreciate the compassion of our God? Does it move us as it should to imitate Him? We have all seen the selfish child, saved from self-destruction by a loving parent, who repays that love and compassion with insolent rebellion or uncaring indifference. Yet, the parent continues to love and seek the best for the child with tears of unending hope that the selfless sacrifices will one day bring good. That is God’s example of compassion toward you and me! Are we imitating Him or the uncaring child as we deal with others enduring times of suffering and trial? Let us compare God’s example to the following responses sometimes heard in an attempt to evade the responsibility to show compassion.
“I know he/she is suffering, but I’ve got my own life to live.” Jesus also had a life to live, but He used it to serve others rather than Himself. In the end, He even gave up that life in selfless sacrifice. As Christians, we are not to put our needs and desires above others, but consider them above self (Phil. 2:3).
“It drags me down to be hearing about your problems all of the time.” What if God answered our prayers for help with the same attitude? Where would we be? If we have gone to God as we ought in prayer, we have approached Him with countless trials, problems, illnesses, cares and heartaches. Yet, He has always and will always answer our every anxiety with His unending care for us (1 Pet. 5:7).
“I’m just not good at being sympathetic – let someone else who is naturally better at it do it.” Is it possible that what we see as a “naturally” sympathetic person is actually the result of a life dedicated to learning how to show such sympathy? Empathy, sympathy and compassion are not traits inherited by birth, but developed by dedicated pursuit from one seeing the value of selfless service and seeking to imitate such love (Eph. 5:1-2).
“Look at all of the problems he/she has – it’s obvious something is wrong with him/her.” Have we considered the possibility that the righteous may still be afflicted for their righteousness as was Job? Look at the apostle Paul and his many sufferings (2 Cor. 11:24-31). One who automatically assumes the blame for suffering is on the one who endures such manifests their affiliation with Eliphaz, Bildad or Zophar.
“When somebody starts crying, I feel so uncomfortable and don’t know what to say, so I just leave.” Again, our purpose is not our own comfort and ease, but service (Mk. 10:42-45). There is no doubt that it was “uncomfortable” for Christ on the cross, but He endured it for us! Our discomfort is nothing in comparison. There are times when all of us are at a loss for words to help and strengthen, but our mere presence without a word spoken can give comfort. It tells the one in trial that we care and that can be of more comfort than we may ever know.
“You know how those people are – they always exaggerate things. It’s not as bad as they say.” This is only another attempt to blame all problems on the one suffering and exonerate self from responsibility. Would that attitude have been justified in response to the suffering of Job – or Christ? If we would consider how we would feel if the situation was reversed, it would help us understand the most compassionate response and give the needed comfort with heart-felt abundance (Lk. 6:31).
Reason for Hope (May 9,
“Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other.” (1 Corinthians 4:6)
We are commanded not to go beyond what is written by the inspired apostles and prophets of Christ: They are the commandments of the Lord (1 Cor 14:37). To do so is sin. To go beyond God’s word is a transgression of His law (“to go past, overstep, violate”, 1 Jno 3:4). Consequently, we must have demonstrable authority from the Scriptures for all we teach and practice in order to have God’s approval (Col 3:17; 1 Ths 5:21; 2 Tim 2:15).
The possibility of going beyond what is written means:
1) An absolute standard of right and wrong exists. Truth is not relative to one’s situations or environment. It is objective and definitive. The standard we must not go beyond is God’s word (Jno 17:17; 2 Tim 3:16-4:5).
2) It is a sin when Christians go beyond the word of God. When that happens we forfeit our fellowship with God due to our sin (2 Jno 9; 1 Jno 1:8-9). We cannot go beyond God’s word as if it does not matter; it is sin.
3) We must use God’s standard of truth to determine whether or not we (or others) have transgressed the law of God. We must test all things against what the Bible says; then we can “hold fast what is good” and “abstain from every form of evil” (1 Ths 5:21-22; 1 Jno 4:1, 6; 2 Cor 13:5).
4) The inspired word of God, not the good intentions of men, establishes whether or not one has gone beyond what is written. The standard we must apply to know and stand in truth is not our personal relations, our good will or the good intentions of others (Acts 23:1; 26:9; 1 Tim 1:13).
5) Going beyond what is written elevates men above one another. Invariably, when the word of God is subordinated to the will of men, some men are inordinately raised up above others (Jas 4:11-12). Not going beyond God’s word protects us from being puffed up toward others by keeping our focus on the word of God and not on ourselves (1 Pet 1:22).
Created by Chuck Sibbing. 05/25/2010
The Spirit's Sword is a free,
weekly publication of the Mt. Baker church of Christ, Bellingham, WA