God’s Love Can’t Be Earned

17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. – Galatians 2:17-21 ESV

Paul’s take on the universal problem of sin is best summed up in his oft-quoted statement: “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). He went on to say, “and [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24-26 ESV).

When Paul used the word “all”, he included the Jews. Even the Israelites, who were the descendants of Abraham and God’s chosen people found themselves in the same condition as the unrighteous Gentiles. They were all guilty and stood condemned before God because of their sins. Because while the Jews had received the law of God through Moses, they had been unable to keep God’s righteous decrees perfectly and completely. In their attempt to be justified or made right with God by keeping the law, they only found themselves condemned by the law.

Paul recalls exactly what he said to Peter when the party of the circumcision had come to town.

“You and I are Jews by birth, not ‘sinners’ like the Gentiles. Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law.” – Galatians 2:15-16 NLT

He acknowledged that the Jews had been set apart by God and extended very unique privileges as His people. His statement, “not ‘sinners’ like the Gentiles” does not claim that Israelites are without sin but that their sinfulness is judged differently. They are held accountable to keep the law because the law was only given to them. Paul makes this point clear in his letter to the Romans.

When the Gentiles sin, they will be destroyed, even though they never had God’s written law. And the Jews, who do have God’s law, will be judged by that law when they fail to obey it. – Romans 2:12 NLT

The Judaizers were claiming that without the requirement to keep the Mosaic Law, the Gentiles would end up living lives of lawlessness and license. But Paul disagreed. He knew that the law was given to expose the sinfulness of the people of Israel. It was meant to display the true nature of their hearts. For centuries they had lived under the laws that Moses had given them but had repeatedly violated or simply ignored them. Their hearts were not in it. In fact, God had declared of them, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13 NLT).

For Paul, the issue was always about obedience, and from what he could see, there were Gentiles who were better at keeping God’s law than the people of God themselves.

For merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight. Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. – Romans 2:13-15 NLT

God had given His law to the Israelites to demonstrate their distinctiveness. No other nation was blessed with direct access to Yahweh and the privilege of living under His righteous laws. Moses put it this way:

“For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” – Deuteronomy 4:7-8 ESV

But as great as the law was, it could never justify anyone. The law’s sole purpose was to expose the Israelites’ incapacity to live set-apart lives. The law was clear but their hearts were unclean. This led Paul to paint an unlikely scenario.

But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? – Galatians 2:17 ESV

He’s posing the question of whether Jesus’ claim of justification in Him alone was intended to lead Jews into sin. And for Paul, the answer is an emphatic, “Certainly not!” It would be ridiculous to suggest that Jesus’ statement, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV) was encouraging people to ignore the law altogether, causing them to sin. He is the one who also said, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose” (Matthew 5:17 NLT).

Jesus came to fulfill or keep the law. As the sinless Son of God, He was the only one capable of living up to God’s righteous standards. Jesus’ perfect obedience is what made Him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind.

So, all this talk about the law and the proposal of a circumcision requirement for all Gentile believers was more than Paul could handle. Jesus had accomplished it all on the cross and there was nothing more necessary. The proponents of circumcision were attempting to add circumcision as a necessary requirement for all Gentiles to “complete” their salvation experience. They were teaching that it was disobedience, and therefore sin, for the Gentiles to refuse circumcision. But Paul argued that justification through Christ reveals that all are sinners, regardless of whether they have been circumcised or not. Jews and Gentiles all stand before God as guilty of sin and worthy of death, because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

When men finally come to the realization that they are completely incapable of justifying themselves before God through human effort, they are forced to recognize their own sinfulness and guilt. That is what Paul means when he says they are “found to be sinners.” The process of being made right with God through faith in Christ necessarily exposes our sinfulness and our need for a Savior. But that does not make Christ a servant of sin. In other words, it is not that Christ is leading us into or encouraging us to sin, but He is simply exposing our sin to us. We discover that, as Isaiah says, even our most righteous acts are like filthy rags before God – stained, contaminated, and unacceptable (Isaiah 64:6).

So, Paul contends, why would anyone want to rebuild what has been torn down? Why would we want to return to trying to earn favor with God through rule-keeping? The law could never save anyone. All it could do was condemn and accuse. This did not make the law an accomplice in man’s sin, but the law was God’s holy and righteous means of revealing the full extent of man’s rebelliousness against God. Paul put it this way:

Well then, am I suggesting that the law of God is sinful? Of course not! In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power. – Romans 7:7-8 NLT

As a result, Paul says, “I died to the law — I stopped trying to meet all its requirements — so that I might live for God” (Galatians 2:19 NLT). He learned to stop trying to earn favor with God through religious rule-keeping. His life was no longer based upon human effort. He had died alongside Christ and had been given a new life with a new nature.

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20 NLT

Paul wanted his readers to know that they had a new power within them, provided by God and made possible by Jesus’ death on the cross. They no longer had to trust in themselves and their own self-effort. They were to trust in the Son of God and rely on the Spirit of God who lived within them.

Paul had no desire to rebuild what had been torn down. He didn’t want to go back to his old way of life, attempting to please God through law-keeping. He remembered all too well what that life had been like. The more he had tried to keep the law, the more his sinful nature seemed to resist and rebel against the law. If it said, “Don’t covet”, he wanted to covet all the more. Like a child who is told not to do something, he felt compelled to do it more than ever. Now that he was free in Christ, he had no desire to go back to the enslavement that came with trying to keep the law. And he didn’t want his readers to fall back under the law either.

The bottom line for Paul is that if righteousness could have ever been achieved through the law, then Jesus’ death would have been meaningless and unnecessary. But as Peter wrote, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 ESV).

Jesus died so that we might live. He fulfilled the law we were incapable of keeping. He did what we could never have done for ourselves; He made us right with God. So now our obedience to God’s righteous standards is motivated by a sense of love and gratitude, not duty. We are no longer trying to earn God’s love, but simply returning it. We are not trying to make Him accept us, but we are only trying to express our appreciation for having already done so. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Light-Giving, Life-Restoring Love of God

10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11 Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.

12 And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. 13 He had also seven sons and three daughters. 14 And he called the name of the first daughter Jemimah, and the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-happuch. 15 And in all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters. And their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers. 16 And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations. 17 And Job died, an old man, and full of days. – Job 42:10-17 ESV

Rather than seeking vengeance against his accusers, Job graciously interceded for them and God forgave them. He did for these men what they should have done for him. Yet, in 42 chapters of recorded history, not once did Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, or Elihu lift up a single prayer on Job’s behalf. Their words were directed at him, but never for him in intercession to God. Whatever sin they believed Job to have committed, they could have called on God to provide forgiveness and restoration, but they refused to do so. And now, when given the opportunity to get even, Job revealed his true character and prayed for his tormentors.

Without knowing it, Job was keeping the command that Jesus would give centuries later.

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? – Matthew 5:44-46 ESV

Luke records a slightly different version of this same command.

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. – Luke 6:27-30 ESV

And Jesus went on to provide a strong source of incentive for demonstrating this gracious and unexpected kind of love.

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:35-36 ESV

Because of his willingness to love his enemies, Job ended up experiencing the truth behind Jesus’ words. He became the recipient of God’s mercy and magnitude. The text states, “the Lord restored his fortunes. In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before!” (Job 42:10 NLT), and it was all because Job demonstrated undeserved love and grace to those who had caused him much pain and suffering. Job did so, not because he was expecting a great reward but because he had survived his encounter with God and had lived to tell about it.

Job knew that he had experienced the mercy and kindness of God. His demand for an audience with God had been out of line and his assertions that God was somehow unjust had been undeserved and worthy of God’s wrath. But instead of judgment, Job had received nothing more than a stern reprimand. Now, much to his surprise, he would receive a double blessing from God.

So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. For now he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 teams of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He also gave Job seven more sons and three more daughters. – Job 42:12-13 NLT

This list is meant to take the reader back to the opening chapter of Job’s story.

He had seven sons and three daughters. He owned 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 teams of oxen, and 500 female donkeys. He also had many servants. He was, in fact, the richest person in that entire area. – Job 1:2-3 NLT

God effectively doubled Job’s material wealth and graciously replaced the ten children he had lost. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, states that Job was 70 when his suffering began and that he lived another 140 years after his fortunes were restored by God. This doubling of his life span would have been another sign of God’s gracious reward.

This man who had lost everything, including his reputation and former status as a well-respected leader in the community of Uz, was welcomed back with open arms by all those who had abandoned him in his darkest hour.

…all his brothers, sisters, and former friends came and feasted with him in his home. And they consoled him and comforted him because of all the trials the Lord had brought against him. And each of them brought him a gift of money and a gold ring. – Job 42:11 NLT

Notice that his friends “consoled him and comforted him” after his fortunes were restored and he graciously hosted them in his own home. Job was the one who took the initiative. There is no indication that they reached out to Job or offered to provide him a costly feast in their own homes. But Job held no grudges and refused to be bitter about their former treatment of him. He opened up his heart and home and showered them with undeserved love, and this gracious act prompted them to respond with money and gifts intended to forestall any act of revenge and assuage their own guilt. They knew Job had every right to be angry and the resources to seek retribution.

But Job was content to live out his life with an attitude of gratitude to God. He lived an additional 140 years, enjoying the pleasure of watching four generations of his offspring grow up right before his eyes. He would have attended weddings and celebrated births. He would have reveled in the daily blessings of God and vividly recalled those dark days when his life had been turned upside down by unexpected and inexplicable events. And there is no indication that Job ever received an explanation for what had happened.

It’s interesting to note that the text seems to place the responsibility for Job’s losses on God. It clearly describes Job’s sufferings as “the trials the Lord had brought against him” (Job 42:11 NLT). But this phrase is in the context of Job’s friends offering him consolation and comfort. It may be that they still held the mistaken view that Job’s suffering had been the judgment of God for sins he had committed. Yet, the opening chapters reveal that it was Satan who was behind the disasters that devastated Job’s life. Yes, God was aware and provided Satan with permission to implement his diabolical plan to test Job’s faithfulness, but God was not the author of Job’s misery and pain. In fact, God is displayed as the restrainer and restorer throughout the story. He is the one who put a limit on Satan’s aspirations. The enemy could test Job’s allegiance to God but he was prevented from taking Job’s life. Everything that Satan took from Job was eventually restored – twofold. God plays the part of redeemer and restorer. He came to Job’s defense, not because he deserved it but because God is gracious and loving and cares for His own.

King David provides a timely reminder for all those who express belief in God and place their faith in His unwavering love and mercy.

The Lord is like a father to his children,
    tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are;
    he remembers we are only dust.
Our days on earth are like grass;
    like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
The wind blows, and we are gone—
    as though we had never been here.
But the love of the Lord remains forever
    with those who fear him.
His salvation extends to the children’s children
    of those who are faithful to his covenant,
    of those who obey his commandments!

19 The Lord has made the heavens his throne;
    from there he rules over everything. – Psalm 103:13-19 NLT

Job would live an additional 140 years and throughout all that time, he would experience the unconditional and unmerited love of God. Not only that, he would grow in his understanding of God’s sovereignty and providential care. Had Job not experienced his season of pain and loss, it is likely his grasp of God’s sovereignty and gratitude for God’s love would never have deepened as it did. His appreciation for God’s love, mercy, grace, power, and provision had been deepened by the darkness as well as the light.

The apostle Paul provides an apt summary of the events of Job’s life and he does so out of his own experience. He knew what it was like to suffer for the sake of his faith. He understood the pain that comes with living in a fallen world, and while he prayed for God to remove the source of his pain, he clearly heard God say, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT). Which led Paul to say:

“So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT

Job’s darkness had been dispelled by the light of God’s righteousness and his life had been restored by the undeserved outpouring of God’s love. He had come to know that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Instability of Bad Theology

6 “For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth,’
    likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour.
He seals up the hand of every man,
    that all men whom he made may know it.
Then the beasts go into their lairs,
    and remain in their dens.
From its chamber comes the whirlwind,
    and cold from the scattering winds.
10 By the breath of God ice is given,
    and the broad waters are frozen fast.
11 He loads the thick cloud with moisture;
    the clouds scatter his lightning.
12 They turn around and around by his guidance,
    to accomplish all that he commands them
    on the face of the habitable world.
13 Whether for correction or for his land
    or for love, he causes it to happen.

14 “Hear this, O Job;
    stop and consider the wondrous works of God.
15 Do you know how God lays his command upon them
    and causes the lightning of his cloud to shine?
16 Do you know the balancings of the clouds,
    the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge,
17 you whose garments are hot
    when the earth is still because of the south wind?
18 Can you, like him, spread out the skies,
    hard as a cast metal mirror?
19 Teach us what we shall say to him;
    we cannot draw up our case because of darkness.
20 Shall it be told him that I would speak?
    Did a man ever wish that he would be swallowed up?

21 “And now no one looks on the light
    when it is bright in the skies,
    when the wind has passed and cleared them.
22 Out of the north comes golden splendor;
    God is clothed with awesome majesty.
23 The Almighty—we cannot find him;
    he is great in power;
    justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate.
24 Therefore men fear him;
    he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.” – Job 37:6-24 ESV

Elihu continues his impassioned defense of God by emphasizing His sovereignty over creation. This God of whom Job has taken issue is the same God who controls the weather and, by extension, all created life. God is behind every storm and every drop of rain. He produces thunder, lightning, ice, wind, heat, and cold from His throne room in heaven, controlling the fates of all living creatures. Their habitats are directly impacted by His sovereign will and their well-being is under His providential control.

“He directs the snow to fall on the earth
    and tells the rain to pour down.
Then everyone stops working
    so they can watch his power.
The wild animals take cover
    and stay inside their dens. – Job 37:6-8 NLT

It’s not difficult to discern the point behind Elihu’s lofty rhetoric. This young man has not gotten distracted or forgotten about Job. This entire speech is intended to drive home his disdain for Job’s continued demand for an audience with God. Elihu finds Job’s personalized approach to God to be offensive. In his estimation, Job has gotten too comfortable with his relationship with the Almighty and has lost sight of His glory and splendor. Job is too demanding and has become far too casual in his conversations with Yahweh. He treats God like a peer when he should be cowering in fear and begging for mercy.

But Job and Elihu have strikingly different understandings of God. For Job, God is all-powerful, but also intimate and personal. He cares about the plight of His children and hears them when they call to Him. This is what has Job so perplexed and confused. He has suffered greatly and call out repeatedly, but God has not responded. His caring and compassionate God is acting in a way that is contrary to his nature.

Job is not demanding anything from God. He is simply asking for clarity on his circumstances. He wants to know why he is suffering and when he might expect to find relief. Job’s cries to God are not meant to be disrespectful; they are simply the impassioned pleas of a desperate man who longs to find relief and restoration. A quick review of Job’s comments provides insight into his thinking and the motivation behind his heartfelt cries to God.

“What I always feared has happened to me.
    What I dreaded has come true.
I have no peace, no quietness.
    I have no rest; only trouble comes.” – Job 3:25-26 NLT

At least I can take comfort in this:
    Despite the pain,
    I have not denied the words of the Holy One.
But I don’t have the strength to endure.
    I have nothing to live for. – Job 6:10-11 NLT

“My days fly faster than a weaver’s shuttle.
    They end without hope.
O God, remember that my life is but a breath,
    and I will never again feel happiness. – Job 7:6-7 NLT

If I have sinned, what have I done to you,
    O watcher of all humanity?
Why make me your target?
    Am I a burden to you?
Why not just forgive my sin
    and take away my guilt?
For soon I will lie down in the dust and die.
    When you look for me, I will be gone.” – Job 7:20-21 NLT

Job was not being disrespectful; he was being brutally honest. The unbearable nature of his pain and loss had left him in dire need of expiation or an explanation. He wanted to know the why behind his suffering. Why had he lost his entire fortune? Why had all ten of his adult children died in a freak accident? Why had his reputation been dragged through the mud and his integrity been destroyed by the unjust comments of former friends? Why had God not intervened or simply destroyed him? If Job had done something worthy of all this devastation, why had God not left him alive? If he was innocent, why would God not come to his defense and acquit him of all the false charges against him?

But Job wasn’t stupid. He knew God was holy, righteous, and transcendent. The Almighty was not a man whom Job could order to appear in court and answer for His actions.

“…how can a person be declared innocent in God’s sight?
If someone wanted to take God to court,
    would it be possible to answer him even once in a thousand times?
For God is so wise and so mighty.
    Who has ever challenged him successfully?” – Job 9:2-3 NLT

Since God is the righteous Judge of the universe, Job knew he stood no chance of successfully arguing his case or achieving an acquittal.

“God is not a mortal like me,
    so I cannot argue with him or take him to trial.
If only there were a mediator between us,
    someone who could bring us together. – Job 9:32-33 NLT

These statements reveal that Job had a deep respect for God but they also display the depth of his despair. He knew God was his only hope but he felt as if he had no access to the only One who could justify or judge him. Among his friends, Job’s guilt was a foregone conclusion. It was an open-and-shut case that left no room for denial or debate. Yet, Job kept reaching out to God for a second and more vital opinion on the matter.

Then there was Elihu. His view of God was admirable and, for the most part, accurate. He saw God as a powerful and unparalleled in glory. He was the transcendent God who ruled over all creation and reigned in mighty and majesty. He was without equal and worthy of honor and obedience. Elihu’s God was completely righteous and always right. He was free to do as He pleased and whatever He did was just and fair. No one should dare to question His ways or doubt the efficacy of his actions. That’s why Elihu took exception with Job’s constant complaints aimed at the Almighty. As far as Elihu was concerned, Job was out of bounds and way over his head.

And Elihu kept trying to remind Job that his circumstances were the result of God’s divine judgment. He was in this predicament because he had failed to show God proper respect.

“The clouds churn about at his direction.
    They do whatever he commands throughout the earth.
He makes these things happen either to punish people
    or to show his unfailing love.” – Job 37:12-13 NLT

From everything else Elihu has said, it’s doubtful that he believed Job was the recipient of God’s unfailing love. All the evidence was stacked in the favor of God’s judgment. It was obvious to Elihu, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar that Job was guilty and deserving of everything that had happened. These four men had no idea what Job had done to merit such a harsh punishment from God but they were convinced that he had done something.

As Elihu begins to wrap up his lengthy and meandering speech, he devolves into the use of sarcasm, attempting to humiliate and belittle Job.

“So teach the rest of us what to say to God.
    We are too ignorant to make our own arguments.
Should God be notified that I want to speak?
    Can people even speak when they are confused? – Job 37:19-20 NLT

He mocks Job for his incessant demands for an audience with God. In Elihu’s estimation, Job is a fool at best and a blasphemer at worst. He views Job as an ignorant sinner who has no respect for the God of the universe and is destined to suffer the consequences for his impiety and immorality.

In a false display of compassion, Elihu encourages Job to change his ways and show God the respect and honor he deserves.

“We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty;
    but even though he is just and righteous,
    he does not destroy us.
No wonder people everywhere fear him.
    All who are wise show him reverence.” – Job 37:23-24 NLT

But this will prove to be the last words that Elihu or his companions will speak. Their time to pontificate and postulate is over. Now they will hear from the One for whom they claimed to be speaking. The very God whom they thought they knew was about to expose the ignorance of their ways. And much to their shock, God would begin His speech by addressing Job directly. Their friend would get his wish. The transcendent, all-powerful God of the universe had heard Job’s cries and was ready to speak.

But what comes next will prove to be a surprise to all the parties involved. Everyone, including Job, is about to get a lecture from God that will leave them at a loss for words and in need of an overhaul of their theology.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

A Time to Listen and Love

1 Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said:

“Should a wise man answer with windy knowledge,
    and fill his belly with the east wind?
Should he argue in unprofitable talk,
    or in words with which he can do no good?
But you are doing away with the fear of God
    and hindering meditation before God.
For your iniquity teaches your mouth,
    and you choose the tongue of the crafty.
Your own mouth condemns you, and not I;
    your own lips testify against you.

“Are you the first man who was born?
    Or were you brought forth before the hills?
Have you listened in the council of God?
    And do you limit wisdom to yourself?
What do you know that we do not know?
    What do you understand that is not clear to us?
10 Both the gray-haired and the aged are among us,
    older than your father.
11 Are the comforts of God too small for you,
    or the word that deals gently with you?
12 Why does your heart carry you away,
    and why do your eyes flash,
13 that you turn your spirit against God
    and bring such words out of your mouth?
14 What is man, that he can be pure?
    Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous?
15 Behold, God puts no trust in his holy ones,
    and the heavens are not pure in his sight;
16 how much less one who is abominable and corrupt,
    a man who drinks injustice like water!” – Job 15:1-16 ESV

Eliphaz has heard enough. Having listened to Job’s lengthy diatribe, Eliphaz decides to speak up again and delivers a second speech aimed at exposing his friend’s pride and arrogance. He can’t believe the cockiness and overconfidence that Job displays. How can any man declare himself to be innocent in the eyes of God?

While Eliphaz tries to come across as defending the integrity of God, he seems more concerned about his own reputation. He has taken Job’s words personally and determined that his own integrity as a friend and a counselor has come under attack. How dare Job reject the advice of such learned men as Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar? He is so upset that he describes Job as a veritable blowhard who spews mindless rhetoric and rejects the wise counsel of his betters.

You are nothing but a windbag.
The wise don’t engage in empty chatter.
    What good are such words? – Job 15:2-3 NLT

Eliphaz is careful to keep God at the center of his argument, accusing Job of having no fear or reverence for the Lord. He wants to paint Job as an angry apostate whose very words condemn and convict him. The very fact that Job can so easily rail against the Almighty is ample proof that he is guilty as charged.

Your sins are telling your mouth what to say.
    Your words are based on clever deception.
Your own mouth condemns you, not I.
    Your own lips testify against you. – Job 15:5-6 NLT

But it becomes readily apparent that Eliphaz’s real point of contention is Job’s refusal to take his advice. This has become a personal matter.

“What do you know that we don’t?
    What do you understand that we do not?
On our side are aged, gray-haired men
    much older than your father!” – Job 15:9-10 NLT

Eliphaz pulls out the wisdom-is-the-purview-of-the-elderly card. Evidently, either he or one of his companions is older and, therefore, wiser. than Job. Or else he may be suggesting that he’s shared the facts surrounding Job’s case with other sages and received their endorsement of his conclusions. Either way, Eliphaz seems to believe that he has the upper hand in the debate over Job’s guilt or innocence.

He doesn’t believe that Job has some kind of special knowledge or direct access to God’s divine will. So, Job has no right to reject the counsel of his more learned and experienced peers. Eliphaz can’t understand the flippancy and callousness with which Job addresses God. How can this obvious sinner talk to God in the way that he does? As far as Eliphaz can tell, Job’s words provide all the proof necessary to reach a verdict of guilt.

“Is God’s comfort too little for you?
    Is his gentle word not enough?
What has taken away your reason?
    What has weakened your vision,
that you turn against God
    and say all these evil things? – Job 15:11-13 NLT

Eliphaz is totally convinced of Job’s guilt and refuses to consider any other option. He views his friend as “a corrupt and sinful person with a thirst for wickedness” (Job 15:16 NLT), and nothing is going to change his mind.

But where is the compassion? Why can’t Eliphaz manage to muster up any empathy or sympathy for his suffering friend? In Proverbs 15:4, the words of Solomon seem to have been written with Eliphaz and his friends in mind.

Gentle words are a tree of life;
    a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.

The Message puts it this way: Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim.

In one of his psalms, David described wicked people as those who “plot evil in their hearts and stir up trouble all day long. Their tongues sting like a snake; the venom of a viper drips from their lips” (Psalm 140:2-3 NLT). How is it that Job’s friends have become so caustic and condescending? Why have they chosen to dial up the rhetoric and intensify their attacks on Job’s integrity?

Eliphaz has transformed from a well-meaning friend to a full-fledged adversary. He is on the attack and seems frustrated at Job’s continued claims of innocence.

Eliphaz and his companions are now on a mission to convince Job of his guilt and they will stop at nothing to accomplish that objective. Any concern they may have had for Job’s feelings is long gone. This has gotten personal. They know they are right, which means Job is wrong. He just refuses to admit it. But they are not going to give up easily. They tell Job he is wicked, deceived, defiant, stubborn, and doomed if he doesn’t confess his guilt. They will even go so far as to blame the deaths of Job’s children on his sinfulness. They will attempt to soften their words by using farming metaphors (shriveled weeds, a vine whose grapes are harvested before they are ripe, an olive tree that sheds its blossoms so the fruit cannot form, etc.), but the pain hurts just as bad. Now Job not only has to mourn the loss of all his children, he must listen to accusations that he is the one responsible for their deaths.

What can we learn from this? What lessons are there in this passage for us? The simple one seems to be the destructive power of our tongues. We can use them to encourage and heal or to discourage and do lasting harm. Sometimes we may not mean to hurt others with our words, but when we fail to think before we speak, we can end up doing lasting damage. Job’s friends could have used the advice of James.

My dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. – James 1:19 NASB

They weren’t willing to listen to Job and they didn’t seem interested in what God might have to say about the situation. They had already reached their conclusion, and when Job refused to agree with their assessment, they became angry. And their anger led to even harsher words for their suffering friend.

These exchanges between Job and his friends remind me of the remarkable power contained in my own words. With them, I can bring about blessing or cursing. I can use them to build up or tear down. I can speak words of kindness and compassion, or I can speak words of criticism and accusation. Job needed true friends who cared more for his heart than for their need to be right. He needed compassion, not correction.

I am reminded of that famous passage from the pen of Solomon:

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
    A time for war and a time for peace. – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 NLT

There’s a right time for everything, and the time was right for Job’s friends to shut up, listen up, and lift up. May each of us learn to know the difference.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Folly of a Faulty View of God

1 Then Job answered and said:

“Truly I know that it is so:
    But how can a man be in the right before God?
If one wished to contend with him,
    one could not answer him once in a thousand times.
He is wise in heart and mighty in strength
    —who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?—
he who removes mountains, and they know it not,
    when he overturns them in his anger,
who shakes the earth out of its place,
    and its pillars tremble;
who commands the sun, and it does not rise;
    who seals up the stars;
who alone stretched out the heavens
    and trampled the waves of the sea;
who made the Bear and Orion,
    the Pleiades and the chambers of the south;
10 who does great things beyond searching out,
    and marvelous things beyond number.
11 Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not;
    he moves on, but I do not perceive him.
12 Behold, he snatches away; who can turn him back?
    Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’” – Job 9:1-12 ESV

Job was convinced of his own innocence but he wasn’t quite sure how to state his case before God Almighty. Bildad had brought up the topic of God’s justice and Job took no issue with his friend’s assessment. His only point of contention was with Bildad’s insistence that he “seek God and plead with the Almighty for mercy” (Job 8:5 ESV). That all sounded well and good but how was a mere man to come before the God of the universe and hope to stand a chance of declaring his own innocence? Despite his strong belief in his innocence, Job asked, “…how can a person be declared innocent in God’s sight?” (Job 9:2 NLT).

Eliphaz had boldly proclaimed, “If I were you, I would go to God and present my case to him” (Job 5:8 NLT). But Job insists that Eliphaz’s confident assertion is easier said than done.

“Yes, I know all this is true in principle.
    But how can a person be declared innocent in God’s sight?
If someone wanted to take God to court,
    would it be possible to answer him even once in a thousand times?
For God is so wise and so mighty.
    Who has ever challenged him successfully? – Job 9:2-4 NLT

Job found it easy to confront and contradict his two friends, but to hope to stand before God and demand a fair trial was something he couldn’t fathom. He was more than confident debating Eliphaz and Bildad; after all, they were only human and were hampered by their unenlightened, earth-bound perspectives. But God is all-wise and all-knowing. As the sovereign God of the universe, He “is wise in heart and mighty in strength” (Job 9:4 ESV). How was Job supposed to come before God and hope to stand any chance of arguing his case with any success? He pessimistically concedes, “Who has ever challenged him successfully?” (Job 9:4 NLT).

In this doleful response to the counsel of his friends, Job reveals the extent of his reverence and awe for God. He displays a strong understanding of God’s sovereignty but it is tinged with a hint of resignation. For Job, God was a distant and disembodied deity who was to be feared. There is no sense of intimacy or personal friendship expressed in Job’s description of God. In his mind, God was the “unmoved mover,” a phrase coined by the Greek philosopher, Aristotle. He wrote, “…there must be an immortal, unchanging being, ultimately responsible for all wholeness and orderliness in the sensible world” (Sach, Job. “Aristotle: Metaphysics”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.).

Job’s concept of God was that of an invisible, all-powerful deity who created the universe and was fully capable of doing with it whatever He wanted to do.

“Without warning, he moves the mountains,
    overturning them in his anger.
He shakes the earth from its place,
    and its foundations tremble.
If he commands it, the sun won’t rise
    and the stars won’t shine. – Job 9:5-7 NLT

Job was awed by God’s power but not comforted by God’s presence in his life. He could not conceive of this great God giving him the time of day or listening to his pleas of innocence. Job couldn’t fathom why the One who hung the stars in the heavens and maintained the order of the entire universe would ever bother to care about someone as insignificant and unimportant as him.

Job’s humility is to be admired but it reveals a woeful understanding of the nature of God. His concept of God, while accurate, is incomplete. He has no idea just how much God loves and cares for him. Like his two friends, Job is blind to what is going on in the unseen realms. He is oblivious to the conversation that God had with Satan, in which the Almighty declared His pleasure with him.

“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? – Job 1:8 ESV

“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” – Job 2:3 ESV

Job seems to believe that his all-powerful God has no time for or interest in him. This “unmoved mover” is too busy caring for the universe to take note of some insignificant human living in the land of Uz. Job admits that God “does great things too marvelous to understand” (Job 9:10 ESV), but he concludes that God is too busy to deal with his petty problems or listen to his pleas for assistance.

Job displays an all-too-familiar concept of God that is shared by far too many believers today. This idea of a great God in the sky who has no time or interest in the billions of helpless, hopeless earth-bound creatures scurrying across the planet is alive and well today – even among professing believers. We may pray to this God, but we don’t actually believe He hears or will answer. We give lip service to His grace and goodness but live as if He is too distant or disinterested in what is going on in our lives to do anything about it. He may help others but He probably won’t help us. He keeps the lights of the universe on but He’s too busy to do anything about the darkness enveloping our lives. This pessimistic perception of God is all too prevalent in today’s world and fully embraced by many who would declare themselves to be faithful God followers.

And these very same people would wholeheartedly agree with the gloomy perception of Job.

“…when he comes near, I cannot see him.
    When he moves by, I do not see him go.
If he snatches someone in death, who can stop him?
    Who dares to ask, ‘What are you doing?’ – Job 9:11-12 NLT

But this one-dimensional view of God is unbiblical, inaccurate, and unhelpful. It paints a distorted view of God that is unmerited and diminishes His glory. The Scriptures paint a starkly different image of God.

The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help.
    He rescues them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
    he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

The righteous person faces many troubles,
    but the Lord comes to the rescue each time. – Psalm 34:17-19 NLT

The Lord is righteous in everything he does;
    he is filled with kindness.
The Lord is close to all who call on him,
    yes, to all who call on him in truth.
He grants the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cries for help and rescues them.
The Lord protects all those who love him – Psalm 145:17-20 NLT

God is our refuge and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not fear when earthquakes come
    and the mountains crumble into the sea.
Let the oceans roar and foam.
    Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! – Psalm 46:1-3 NLT

Job didn’t have access to these truths. He had no Bible to open up and read about the goodness of God, so his entire understanding of God was based on his own experience. He was confined to judging God based on circumstantial evidence. In looking at his life, Job could remember a day when he was blessed by God. He had enjoyed good health, financial success, and the joy of a happy home life. His God was good and so was his life. But then, in a moment’s time, all that changed. He lost everything. The blessings were replaced with curses that were unbearable and inexplicable. He couldn’t understand what was going on but was firm in his belief that he had done nothing to deserve such a fate.

In hopeless resignation and spurred on by the unhelpful counsel of his two friends, Job began to draw unhealthy conclusions about God that would do more harm than good. He could only conceive of God as a righteous and unapproachable judge who had no patience or time to hear the petty complaints of a mere human. Job wanted to defend himself and testify to his own innocence but didn’t believe he would get a fair hearing. His faulty view of God left him in a state of resentment and frustration because he couldn’t imagine the “unmoved mover” being moved by his plight or persuaded by his pleas of innocence. And his growing resignation will result in an ever-increasing sense of despair that, left unchecked, will turn into disdain and doubt.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

With Friends Like These…

1 “Has not man a hard service on earth,
    and are not his days like the days of a hired hand?
Like a slave who longs for the shadow,
    and like a hired hand who looks for his wages,
so I am allotted months of emptiness,
    and nights of misery are apportioned to me.
When I lie down I say, ‘When shall I arise?’
    But the night is long,
    and I am full of tossing till the dawn.
My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt;
    my skin hardens, then breaks out afresh.
My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle
    and come to their end without hope.

“Remember that my life is a breath;
    my eye will never again see good.
The eye of him who sees me will behold me no more;
    while your eyes are on me, I shall be gone.
As the cloud fades and vanishes,
    so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up;
10 he returns no more to his house,
    nor does his place know him anymore.

11 “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;
    I will speak in the anguish of my spirit;
    I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
12 Am I the sea, or a sea monster,
    that you set a guard over me?
13 When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me,
    my couch will ease my complaint,’
14 then you scare me with dreams
    and terrify me with visions,
15 so that I would choose strangling
    and death rather than my bones.
16 I loathe my life; I would not live forever.
    Leave me alone, for my days are a breath.
17 What is man, that you make so much of him,
    and that you set your heart on him,
18 visit him every morning
    and test him every moment?
19 How long will you not look away from me,
    nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit?
20 If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind?
    Why have you made me your mark?
    Why have I become a burden to you?
21 Why do you not pardon my transgression
    and take away my iniquity?
For now I shall lie in the earth;
    you will seek me, but I shall not be.” – Job 7:1-21 ESV

Job pulls out all the stops, unleashing a torrent of pain-induced questions mixed with a heavy dose of invectives against his so-called friend, Eliphaz. He has had enough of listening to pious-sounding advice that only intensifies his misery while raising more questions than answers.

Job’s statements recorded in this section contain direct attacks on Eliphaz as well as more veiled questions aimed at God. It is partly a self-defense and a soliloquy. Job seems to be letting his inner thoughts pour out with no attempt to manage their intensity or worry about the impact they may have on the hearer. He can no longer constrain his growing frustration and allows a barrage of pent-up anger to flow from his lips unabated.

But even considering his circumstances, Job’s words are shocking to the ears. As followers of God, we can’t help but question the propriety of his unfiltered and ungodly-sounding speech. Can he say the things he is saying? Is it okay for someone to talk like that, especially to God? It all sounds so unfaithful. The degree of his pessimism appears to be off the charts. Where’s his faith? Just listen to his words:

“I hate this life! Who needs any more of this? Let me alone! There’s nothing to my life – it’s nothing but smoke.” – Job 7:16 MSG

A believer isn’t supposed to think like this, let alone talk like this, is he? Just listen to the way he addresses God.

“Let up on me, will you? Can’t you even let me spit in peace?” – Job 7:19 MSG

How can he get away with that? Shouldn’t we say something? Shouldn’t I quote a verse to him? Doesn’t he need a good dose of Romans 8:28?

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Or how about 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18? That’s a good one. “Always be joyful. Keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” This guy just needs someone to read him the proverbial riot act and tell him to shut up and shape up.

But wait a minute. Before we blow into another person’s despair with our gems of wisdom and some ill-placed and taken-out-of-context Scriptures, let’s try to understand where they’re coming from. Let’s enter into their situation and feel their pain. Let’s share their grief. Let’s get into their shoes and try to experience what they are going through.

Too often, we try to alleviate someone else’s misery because we want it to go away for our sake, not theirs. We want the other person’s pain to go away because it causes us to doubt. It tests our faith. Listen to what Job said about his friends: “They arrive so confident – but what a disappointment! They get there, and their faces fall! And you, my so-called friends, are no better – there’s nothing to you! One look at a hard scene and you shrink in fear” (Job 6:20-21 MSG).

You see, pain is – well, painful. It is hard to watch someone suffer and even more difficult to walk into someone else’s heartache and simply be there for them. We want to fix it. We want to pray them out of their situation. We want to counsel them back into wholeness. And while there’s nothing wrong with prayer or biblically-based counsel, God may simply want us to go through this moment with them to provide love and concern. He may not want us to fix them; He may just want us to care about them.

There is something uncomfortable about Job’s words in this chapter. He is being brutally honest and it assaults our Christian sensibilities. He is saying things that “good” Christians should not say. He is being TOO honest, and it makes us squirm. But in the midst of his pain, Job has lost all his pious inhibitions. He is beyond worrying about what others think about him because he is fighting for his life. Loss has a way of peeling away the layers of pretense and getting us down to the bare reality of life. It causes us to question, and those questions make others uncomfortable.

But why does the pain and suffering of others make us uncomfortable? It’s usually because we don’t have the answers. Of course, those of us who have grown up in the church have the standard Sunday School answers. We know a handful of verses we can apply to a given situation but most of us don’t speak from experience. We have been programmed with the proper responses but our words don’t always reflect a personal point of reference.

Job’s friends had not walked in his sandals. They had never been through what he was experiencing, so they couldn’t relate and it made them uncomfortable. But if any one of them had suffered the kind of losses Job had, they would probably have said less and hugged more. They would have allowed their friend to vent, understanding that it was part of the healing process.

Is there a time to speak up? Certainly. But sometimes it is enough just to show up; to give those who are going through tragedy a chance to express their grief, vent their anger, and ask their questions. God can handle it, so why can’t we? I think it’s because, in the back of our minds, we don’t like to witness the suffering of others because it raises doubts in our own minds. Where is God? Why does He allow good people to go through difficulties? If it can happen to them, what guarantee do I have that the same thing won’t happen to me?

Suffering causes us to doubt. It tests our own belief system. But that’s okay. Part of the reason God placed us within the body of Christ is that we might go through difficulty together. I can learn from the heartache and hurt of others. I can grow from their difficulty – alongside them. Job’s friends could have learned a lot – if they would have only listened.

Job made it clear. He was in pain and he was no longer willing to keep quiet.

“I cannot keep from speaking.
    I must express my anguish.
    My bitter soul must complain. – Job 7:11 NLT

And while Job’s skin was covered with sores, his mind was filled with questions. He couldn’t understand what was happening to him. He desperately needed to know he was still loved because he felt completely abandoned and alone. And in a desperate attempt to seek solace and comfort from God, he cried out, “Why not just forgive my sin and take away my guilt? For soon I will lie down in the dust and die. When you look for me, I will be gone” (Job 7:21 NLT).

It was at that moment that Job needed his friends to show up and wrap their arms around him. He needed to know he was not alone. He needed to be reminded that his God still loved him. But as we will see, Job’s friends failed to hear what he had to say. Rather than listen and love, they will take turns berating their beaten-down friend and attempting to set themselves up as his spiritual superiors and moral betters. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Good advice, well-timed, produces the best outcomes

14 “He who withholds kindness from a friend
    forsakes the fear of the Almighty.
15 My brothers are treacherous as a torrent-bed,
    as torrential streams that pass away,
16 which are dark with ice,
    and where the snow hides itself.
17 When they melt, they disappear;
    when it is hot, they vanish from their place.
18 The caravans turn aside from their course;
    they go up into the waste and perish.
19 The caravans of Tema look,
    the travelers of Sheba hope.
20 They are ashamed because they were confident;
    they come there and are disappointed.
21 For you have now become nothing;
    you see my calamity and are afraid.
22 Have I said, ‘Make me a gift’?
    Or, ‘From your wealth offer a bribe for me’?
23 Or, ‘Deliver me from the adversary’s hand’?
    Or, ‘Redeem me from the hand of the ruthless’?

24 “Teach me, and I will be silent;
    make me understand how I have gone astray.
25 How forceful are upright words!
    But what does reproof from you reprove?
26 Do you think that you can reprove words,
    when the speech of a despairing man is wind?
27 You would even cast lots over the fatherless,
    and bargain over your friend.

28 “But now, be pleased to look at me,
    for I will not lie to your face.
29 Please turn; let no injustice be done.
    Turn now; my vindication is at stake.
30 Is there any injustice on my tongue?
    Cannot my palate discern the cause of calamity? – Job 6:14-30 ESV

Job now turns his attention directly to Eliphaz and his as-yet silent companions. Their words have been anything but helpful or encouraging. At Job’s darkest moment in life, these men have shown up and made matters worse with their compassionless and self-righteous rhetoric. Job even accuses them of “withholding kindness” and demonstrating a total lack of fear or reverence for God. They are so confident in their assertion of Job’s guilt that they don’t even consider what God might have to say if they’re wrong.

When Job needed loyalty and moral support from his friends he got what he deemed to be treachery. The Hebrew word is בָּגַד (bāḡaḏ) and it conveys the idea of unfaithfulness or dealing with someone deceitfully. Job compares his friends to “a seasonal brook that overflows its banks in the spring when it is swollen with ice and melting snow. But when the hot weather arrives, the water disappears. The brook vanishes in the heat” (Job 6:15-17 NLT). In other words, they are unpredictable and unreliable. They show up at inopportune times, bringing destruction rather than comfort, and when they are needed for refreshment, they are dry as a bone. 

His friends have been an utter disappointment, bringing no hope or healing with their presence or words. In fact, Job finds them to be more fearful than faithful. By casting all the blame on Job and writing off his suffering as the sovereign hand of God, they seem to be trying to excuse themselves from providing him with any kind of financial aid or assistance. If they can rationalize his losses as divine judgment, they can declare themselves to be free from having to help him. Job seems to see through their self-centered analysis of the situation when he asks, “Have I ever asked you for a gift? Have I begged for anything of yours for myself? Have I asked you to rescue me from my enemies, or to save me from ruthless people?” (Job 6:22-23 NLT).

These men knew that Job was in dire straights financially. He had lost all his flocks and herds, leaving him with no means of making a living. And the funeral expenses for his ten deceased children must have taken a hit on his resources as well. But Job has not asked them for assistance. At no point has he requested that they lend him money or come to his aid with anything other than moral support. Job had not requested their presence; they had shown up of their own accord. But their arrival on the scene had only made matters worse.

So, in frustration, Job invites them to state their case plainly. He wants facts and not just flimsy accusations of guilt. He demands that they prove whatever crime they think he has committed. If they are going to put him on trial, he wants them to bring clear and compelling evidence. He assures them that he is willing to listen to what they have to say and will accept their conclusions, even if their verdict is painful to hear.

But Job writes off their words as nothing more than criticism. They have no evidence of wrongdoing because there is none. And while their lengthy diatribes may inflate their own ego, they do nothing to aid Job in his moment of need. In their desperate attempt to explain Job’s desperate circumstances, they have completely overlooked his desperation. They have shown a stunning lack of compassion and empathy.

Job begs his friends to give him the benefit of the doubt. All he asks for is an opportunity to state his case and defend his integrity, and he fully expects those who claim to be his friends to consider him innocent until proven guilty – not the other way around. But Eliphaz has set the precedent. His rush to judgment has unsettled Job and left him hurt and harboring anger and, sadly, it will encourage Job’s other friends to follow suit. Soon, they will join in the dog pile and add to the burden that Job has to bear. Instead of comfort, they will continue to criticize and critique. In the place of much-needed encouragement, they will divvy out large doses of blame and shame. And, over time, Job’s resentment will grow, and his feelings of isolation will increase to the point where he finds himself lashing out in anger, not only at his friends but at God.

What a timely reminder of the need for grace and mercy when dealing with those who are suffering. Eliphaz and his compatriots could have used the wisdom of Solomon.

Timely advice is lovely,
    like golden apples in a silver basket.

To one who listens, valid criticism
    is like a gold earring or other gold jewelry. – Proverbs 25:11-12 NLT

Everyone enjoys a fitting reply; it is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time! – Proverbs 15:23 NLT

Job’s friends had shown up at just the right time but were sharing all the wrong advice. They failed to read the room and properly gauge the mental state of their audience. They may have meant well but their methods were far from helpful. And Job was far from done when it came to his response.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Walk the Talk

1 Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not fear;
what can man do to me?” – Hebrews 13:1-6 ESV


The author ended chapter 12 with an exhortation to “be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” and to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29 ESV). The same God who shook the landscape surrounding Mount Sinai and rattled the knees of the Israelites with His divine presence is our God and He has prepared a kingdom for us. So what should be our response? Proper worship, reverence, and awe. And to make it even more practical, in the closing chapter of his letter, the author illustrates what those things look like in everyday life.

Sometimes we’re tempted to make our worship of God an external show for others to see. We confuse worship of God with the intensity of our singing, the verbosity of our prayers, the selflessness of our service, or the generosity of our giving. But sometimes our love for God is best measured by our love for others. Worship of God that does not include love for others is hypocritical and insincere.

So, the author moves from grand descriptions of God as a consuming fire to a plea for brotherly love. “Let brotherly love continue” (Hebrews 13:1 ESV). Love for one another is an indispensable and non-negotiable requirement for anyone who claims to be a lover and worshiper of God.

At one point in His earthly ministry, Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees, who posed to Him what they believed to be a trick question. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36 ESV). His intent was to entrap Jesus. The question he posed was one that the Scribes and Pharisees debated regularly. They had numbered the laws of God and had come up with the staggering sum of 613, which they categorized into two groups, with 248 deemed positive and 365 designated as negative. Then they divided them all into two categories, the “heavy” or more important ones, and the “light” or the less important ones.

In the question they posed to Jesus, they were asking Him to give His opinion as to which of all the laws was the “heaviest.” And Jesus didn’t hesitate in giving His answer.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:37-38 ESV

Love God AND love others. According to Jesus, those two commands encapsulate the entirety of the rest of the law.

So, it is no wonder that the author of Hebrews told his readers, “Let brotherly love continue.” But he took it a step further. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:2 ESV). This recalls the parable of the good Samaritan that Jesus told in response to another inquiry from a Pharisee.

This man approached Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25 ESV). In His inimitable way, Jesus responded with a question of His own, asking the man to tell Him what the law said. The Pharisee quickly replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

What Jesus said next must have surprised the learned Pharisee. It was not what he was expecting.

You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” – Luke 10:28 ESV

Unsatisfied with Jesus’ answer, the man asked for clarification. “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 22:29 ESV). That’s when Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan. In it, He described what it truly means to show hospitality and kindness to someone who is a stranger and in need. It involves sacrifice. It requires giving up your rights and a commitment of your resources. The author of Hebrews echoes the sentiment of Jesus’ parable when writes, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3 ESV).

Our love for God is best expressed by our love for others. The apostle John encourages us to compare the love Christ expressed for us with the way in which we love others.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. – 1 John 3:16-18 ESV

Love should permeate all of our relationships, including that between a husband and wife. A couple that truly loves one another, as Christ loved them, will find no place for adultery or immorality in their marriage. They will always want what is best for one another.

Self-obsession or self-love is the greatest detriment to loving others. When we love ourselves too much, we are incapable of loving others. We end up pouring into our relationships in a selfish attempt to get something in return. We give to get, and those relationships quickly become self-serving rather than selfless.

It’s interesting that, in this context, the author warns against the love of money. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV). The love of money is self-directed. We love money for what it can do for us. And yet, to properly love others, our money may need to be involved. We may be required to let go of our resources in order to best express our love. It was James who said, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16 ESV).

Talk is cheap. Words cannot fill someone’s stomach or make them warm.

The walk of faith is to be future-focused, recognizing that the ultimate promise of God is our glorification and final redemption. We are to live with the end in mind. But our faith walk is also to be God-dependent. We are to spend our days on this earth with a constant recognition that He is our provider and sustainer. That is why the author reminds us to be content because God has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV).

But not only are we to be future-focused and God-dependent, we are to be other-oriented. We are to live our lives with an outward orientation that puts the needs of others ahead of our own. When we love others, we are loving God. When we lovingly sacrifice for others, it is an act of worship to God. When we give up what we have for the sake of others, we are letting God know that we are dependent upon Him. All that we have comes from Him and is to be used for His glory and the good of others. Our constant attitude is to be, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Love One Another

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.

11 “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12 You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.

13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14 You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.Leviticus 19:9-18 ESV

This chapter opens with the following statement from Yahweh: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2 ESV), and Moses is commanded to deliver this message from the Lord to “the congregation of the people of Israel” (Leviticus 19:2 ESV). This was a corporate call to a life of holiness and just to ensure that His audience knew who was issuing the call, God repeatedly states, “I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:4, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18). As God emphasized His laws regulating human interactions, He wanted His people to know that He placed a high priority on their relationships with one another.

It was not enough to keep His laws concerning the Sabbath and the sacrificial system. Their outward displays of devotion to Him would be insufficient if they failed to obey His rules that governed life within the faith community. Individual piety did not take precedence over the interpersonal relationships of God’s people. So, in this chapter, God stresses those laws that were intended to guide and guard the daily interactions between His covenant people. They were in this together. God viewed them as a collective, a unified whole made up of distinct and disparate individuals who, together, formed His “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6 ESV).

In verses 9-18, Moses records God’s message regarding holiness as expressed in the Israelite’s daily interactions with one another. Every one of the laws God highlights in this passage was intended to regulate the interpersonal relationships of His people. And love was to be the motivating factor behind obedience to each of these laws.

“…you shall love your neighbor as yourself…” – Leviticus 19:18 ESV

This was the commandment that Jesus placed on equal standing with a sold-out love for God. When asked by the Pharisees which of the commandments of God was the greatest, Jesus surprised them by combining a love for others and love for God into one inseparable and binding commandment.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:37-40 ESV

These two admonitions were not mutually exclusive but had to coincide side by side. It is impossible to love God without having a healthy love for those whom God has made. The apostle John put it this way:

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? – 1 John 4:20 NLT

God had made a covenant with the nation of Israel. He had set them apart as a people, not just as individuals. And His laws were meant to regulate their relationship with Him as well as with one another. What the apostle John points out is that God pours out His love on each individual so that they might share that love with someone else.

since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. – 1 John 4:12 NLT

As God’s people love one another in the same way He has loved them, His love becomes magnified and increasingly more visible to a lost world. No one can see God, but they can witness the reality of His love as it manifests itself among His covenant people. The very fact that God’s people can love one another selflessly and sacrificially is proof that God exists.

So, as God reiterated His laws governing human relationships, He was encouraging His people to display His love through their daily interactions with one another. Each of the laws highlighted in this passage is intended to produce practical expressions of love. The Israelites were commanded to leave the edges of their fields unharvested and any grain that was dropped in the process of harvesting was to be left right where it was. Why? So that the poor and the needy would have food to eat. Keep in mind that many of these regulations were not applicable yet. The Israelites were still encamped at the base of Mount Sinai and did not yet own fields or vineyards. These laws would not go into effect until they entered the land of Canaan. But the principle behind the law was to be implemented immediately. God cared for the poor and so should they.

The next set of commands covers such things as stealing, lying, cheating, and fraud. These kinds of behaviors were unacceptable among God’s people because they exhibited a lack of love for the other person. These actions are harmful and not helpful. They do damage rather than good, and they convey a lack of respect for those whom God has made in His own likeness.

God knew that the Israelites would struggle with everything from greed and lust to unjustified feelings of superiority. That is why He warned them to treat the deaf and the blind with respect and honor. No one was to look down their nose at anyone else. The poor, weak, and disenfranchised were no less members of the family of God than anyone else. They had not chosen their lot in life, and the more affluent and socially acceptable Israelites were not free to judge these less-fortunate members of the faith community.

The practice of favoritism and cronyism was unacceptable among God’s people. Whether in the community or the courts, no Israelite was to practice discrimination. And this temptation to show favor to the haves over the have-nots would prove to be a problem in the New Testament church. James dealt with it forcefully and bluntly.

My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?

For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives? – James 2:1-4 NLT

There was no place for slander, gossip, or impartiality among God’s people. The Israelites had been called to be a holy nation, a royal priesthood that lived pure and undefiled lives. What was acceptable and even respectable among the Canaanites and Egyptians was off-limits to God’s people. Neglect of the poor, abuse of the working class, defrauding of the weak, or failure to help the defenseless were to be viewed as nothing less than hate. To claim to love God while hating your fellow Israelite was a non sequitur and had no place within the covenant community.

Vengeance, payback, and all forms of retaliation were prohibited because they displayed a desire to act as God in the life of another human being. And God made it clear that He alone was

“Vengeance is Mine; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; for their day of disaster is near, and their doom is coming quickly.” – Deuteronomy 32:35 BSB

The apostle Paul quoted this very verse when writing to the believer living in Rome.

Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written: “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, says the Lord.”

On the contrary, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. For in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. –Romans 12:19-21 BSB

God wraps up this section in Leviticus with a summary statement that emphasizes love. But the kind of love God demands of His people is interesting. He states, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 ESV). But what does this mean? It sounds a bit self-serving. But God is expressing the common ground all human beings share. We each long to be loved, cared for, provided with assistance when needed, treated with dignity and respect, and given the benefit of the doubt. Yet, how easy it is to demand these things from others but fail to reciprocate.

“The point seems to be that they were to see others as people with needs, as they themselves had needs. The expression of love for other people then meant to come to their assistance. Thus, far from exploiting and oppressing people, the covenant member had to help them.…The idea here is clearly that of beneficial action motivated by concern for someone.” – Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus

Jesus picked up on this ancient maxim in His sermon on the mount, paraphrasing it to drive home his point.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. – Matthew 7:12 ESV

This has come to be known as the Golden Rule, and some form of it exists in just about every culture that has ever existed. But its genesis can be found in the book of Leviticus, where God directed His people to love others in the same way they wished to be loved. And Jesus states that this reciprocal form of love forms the foundation of the entire Mosaic Law and the teachings of the prophets. God’s people are to love Him but they are also called to love one another. But what is the basis of that love? They are to love others in the same way that they desire to be loved by God. Selflessly, non-judgmentally, graciously, unwaveringly, consistently, and undeservedly.

Jesus put it this way: “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” (John 13:34 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Loving Obedience

1 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the Lord your God. Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am the Lord your God.

“When you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord, you shall offer it so that you may be accepted. It shall be eaten the same day you offer it or on the day after, and anything left over until the third day shall be burned up with fire. If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is tainted; it will not be accepted, and everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned what is holy to the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from his people.Leviticus 19:1-8 ESV

Chapter 19 serves as a summary statement for the entire book, reminding the people of Israel that they serve a holy God who expects those who bear His name to live holy lives. Their undeserved status as His chosen people came with conditions. They would continue to enjoy the blessings of His presence and power but only if they lived in keeping with His law. But God desired more than rote adherence to a set of commands. He wanted their obedience to be motivated by love – for Him and for one another. Moses later reiterated God’s laws to the people of Israel, just before they attempted to enter the land of Canaan, and he emphasized the need for love to permeate all their actions and attitudes.

“These are the commands, decrees, and regulations that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you. You must obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy, and you and your children and grandchildren must fear the Lord your God as long as you live. If you obey all his decrees and commands, you will enjoy a long life. Listen closely, Israel, and be careful to obey. Then all will go well with you, and you will have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. – Deuteronomy 6:1-6 NLT

It’s interesting to note that when Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees and asked to name the greatest commandment, He didn’t turn to Exodus 20, where the Decalogue is outlined. Instead, He quoted from Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19.

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” Matthew 22:37-38 NLT

The first commandment in the Decalogue simply states, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3 ESV). There is no mention of love on the part of the worshiper. But God does go on to emphasize His own love for the people of Israel.

I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. – Exodus 20:5-6 ESV

Jesus wanted the Pharisees to understand that obedience alone was not enough. If their adherence to God’s commands was not motivated by love, it was little more than wasted energy. It was duty without desire. That’s why Jesus went on to tell His own disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV).

Love must come first. Without love, any attempts to obey the will of God will come across as empty and lifeless. The apostle Paul emphasized the futility of pious acts performed without love.

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NLT

Doing things that appear to be godly but without a love for God ends up being pointless and ineffectual. They earn no brownie points with God. He is not impressed by our outward displays of righteousness. He looks at the heart to see if the actions we perform are motivated by love and a sincere desire to honor and please Him.

To this command, Jesus added a second one that He lifted directly from chapter 19 of Leviticus.

A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40 NLT

Jesus points out that love for God is incomplete if it is not accompanied by a love for others. And to make His point, He borrows from Leviticus 19:17-19.

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. – Leviticus 19:17-18 ESV

Love for God and love for others are inextricably linked. They are inseparable and cannot exist apart from one another. The apostle John emphasized this point in his first letter.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. – 1 John 4:7-8 ESV

And John went on to stress the symbiotic relationship between love for God and love for others.

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. – 1 John 4:20-21 ESV

This seems to be the point behind chapter 19 of Leviticus. In this passage, God repeats a handful of His laws but does so in order to emphasize the need for behavior that reflects a heart of love. He expects His people to live holy lives because He is a holy God. And, as John pointed out, because God is love, His people should reflect that same kind of love for Him and for another. A failure or refusal to love is the greatest example of disobedience to the will of God. Ritualistic adherence to a set of laws, codes, or regulations is not what God is looking for. He desires a wholehearted commitment to living and loving in such a way that His children properly reflect His character to the lost world around them.

Jesus would pick up on this divine desire for love among the people of God when He told His disciples, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35 NLT).

He shared this “new” commandment on the night He was to be betrayed by Judas. Knowing that His days on earth were quickly coming to an end, Jesus emphasized the one thing His disciples would need if they were to carry on His mission in His absence. They were going to need a special kind of love to survive the dark and difficult days ahead. He was calling them to emulate the same kind of selfless, sacrificial, lay-it-all-on-the-line kind of love that He was about to demonstrate with His death on the cross.

Jesus would go on to repeat this new command to His disciples, adding a special note of emphasis on the sacrificial nature of the kind of love He had in mind.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” – John 15:12-14 ESV

In Leviticus 19, God is communicating the very same idea. He is calling His people to a life of selfless sacrifice and wholehearted obedience that reflects their love for Him as well as their love for one another. 

In verses 5-8, God emphasizes the peace offering because it was the final sacrifice offered to God and was intended to symbolize that the worshiper was in right standing with Him. An individual who offered the peace offering was claiming to be at peace with God. He had followed the prescribed sacrificial rituals and received forgiveness and atonement for his sins. This final offering was an expression of gratitude for having had his relationship with God restored. But God stressed the need for this final sacrifice to be done properly. There was a meal that accompanied the sacrifice and it was required that the worshiper eat the meal within the timelines prescribed by God. This was a fellowship meal, signifying that the worshiper had been fully restored and was welcome to eat in the presence of God Almighty. To partake of the meal in an improper way or to skip it altogether would be an expression of ingratitude and a lack of love for God.

This meal was meant to be shared with family and friends. So, if someone violated God’s law by serving the meal after God’s prescribed deadline, he risked defiling all those who joined him at the table. And they, like him, would suffer the consequences of their actions.

“…everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned what is holy to the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from his people. – Leviticus 19:8 ESV

There could be no greater demonstration of a lack of love for others. To willingly include your family and friends in your disobedience to God, without their knowledge or consent, would be unloving and unfathomable. Who would dare to do such a thing?  The answer is simple: Anyone who does not love God. And an individual’s lack of love for God stems from a failure to understand His love for them. The whole sacrificial system was meant to be a visual and visceral demonstration of God’s great love. He had provided a way for sinful men and women to be made right with Him. He loved them enough to make atonement and restoration possible. And they were to recognize that love and return it in the form of willful obedience to His commands and selfless acts of benevolence toward one another.

The apostle Paul concluded his great “love chapter” with the following summary statement: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 ESV). Love is eternal because it is from God. And God expects His children to demonstrate that love in practical and personal ways – both now and for eternity.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.