Gordon E. Johnson

DEVOTIONALS from the Book of Job

God's Deeper Dealings through Suffering – in Job

Lessons and Humility in Holiness

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute

In God's providence I have had a long history of heart interest in God's deeper dealings in the lives of great missionaries. In my adolescent years, I immersed myself in the biographies of missionary heroes. One does not serve God for long with any degree of heart hunger for holiness without realizing that God's deeper dealings involve unique sufferings that may take a wide variety of forms. To believe is also to suffer for His name's sake. "For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Philippians 1: 29).

Some Personal Reflections on Suffering for Christ

In the walk of obedient faith and in those moments of suffering in the will of God, the believer learns at an experiential depth of his union with Christ, that abiding growth in heart holiness and humility.  This heart knowledge of God transcends any acquired knowledge of theology, doctoral degree or years of service. Christ's risen life is thus built into our life through faith alone in our death to sin, His resurrection life in us and our being seated in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:5-10). His vicarious death ended the penalty of our sins. But in union with Him our obedient faith in our death to sin in Him is a daily choice that breaks the power of sin in our lives.

Christ Himself introduced suffering in the Sermon on the Mount; He crystallized the risen life of the believer in nine beatitudes, beginning with the blessedness of being "poor in Spirit" [totally dependent on Him, an aspect of suffering] and concluded the beatitudes with "Blessed are you when they will revile you and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11, 12).

Paul states with quiet confidence in Romans 8, a chapter of vibrant victory that "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together" (Romans 8:16,17).

Later in a Roman jail just prior to his martyrdom, Paul defines his concise personal goal: "That I may know [experientially "ginosko" Romans 6:6] Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship [koinonia] of His sufferings, being conformed to His death" (Philippians 3:10). In that triple essence of spiritual knowledge ["epignosis" Ephesians 1:17], Paul has found his reason for living, serving and dying. As the quintessence of life, he longs to share in Christ's suffering. Fellowship has been defined colloquially as "two fellows in one ship"- no better place to be.

Paul challenges his own spiritual son, Timothy, in his last epistle with "This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure [suffer], we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself" (2 Timothy 1:11-13).  Why, then, should we be astonished at suffering in the blessedness of His will?

A "New" Perspective on Suffering

Our human response to suffering generally is: Why me? Lord. Inherent in us is a sense of offense and hurt in the presence of any suffering; with that innate offense, we are in no position to recognize that suffering springs from the very nature and heart of the Triune God. Divine sufferings in their eternal origin cast a new light on who has suffered the most. When the Triune God in eternity past decided to express His love for us in providing for our salvation, He did it freely, knowing that He Himself and His only begotten Son would be ones who would suffer infinitely, and of all things, suffer for the most unworthy and rebellious of sinners!

With no explanation given or needed, God announced in Genesis 3:15 the victory of His Messiah and His ultimate condemnation of the old serpent, the devil.  The "Seed of the woman" would bruise the serpent's head [the defeat of Satan on the Cross] but that also he would bruise His heel, the agony and anguish of the God man on the Cross. 

We read and repeat Isaiah 53 as a text to be memorized. But listen to the Messiah's lot: "He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed."

But the capstone of such infinite suffering on our behalf is surpassed in the prophecy of His vicarious death: "Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His Hand." (Isaiah 53:3-5, 10). 

The New Testament counterpart is: "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Where would we be, if the Triune God had avoided His choice of suffering?

An even deeper meaning lies in the fact that it was God's love, "agape" self-giving love, that motivated our eternal redemption at infinite cost to Himself. Let us view our sufferings in the light of His!

God has wisely chosen to include suffering in His deeper dealing with His own. We are saved by His grace. We now have a new instantaneous legal standing in His presence, assured of acceptance before the Just Judge. However, the fullness of our salvation continues in progressive sanctification, again on the very same basis of grace and faith- never by our works or work.

It is only then when we begin to identify ourselves in sharing the fellowship of His sufferings that we can rejoice in making up that which is "lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church" (Colossians 1:24). We are equipped to serve much more effectively by embracing the sufferings of the Cross than by any acquired degree or gift or talent that He may have given.

Christ's Suffering Transforms Character

Suffering may directly impact any area of man's unique being: intellectual, emotional, volitional and physical. But the deepest suffering is in our spirit which so often we rarely recognize and value its place in our salvation. God, however, reached out to us by the sending of His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3). He and He alone knows what is human suffering in the nth degree.

In ways we can never fully understand the writer to the Hebrews refers to the sufferings of the God man. In Christ's humanity [not His deity]; He suffered and bore in His body the experience of suffering to its very end. "Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him" (Hebrews 5:7-9).

His sufferings in His perfect humanity were for our personal benefit. His sufferings lend purpose and confidence and, more importantly, grant us access to the Father. "Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered being tempted, He is able to aid those are tempted" (Hebrews 2:17-18). What a consoling and encouraging truth for our sufferings in the will of God!

His suffering also gives us courage and boldness to face what He permits, knowing that He knows our weaknesses and has walked in our steps. "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:15.16).

In words we cannot begin ever to comprehend, Jesus had cried out: "Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name' (John 12:27, 28). With the weight of the world's sin on Him, He never wavered. That was the infinite suffering and death that bought our redemption. Any suffering we may have for Him pales into sheer insignificance

The Essence of Christ's Teaching on Discipleship - A Measure of Suffering

Implicit in Christ's radical demands of discipleship is suffering, that is, our willingly following His going to the Cross in all of its varied aspects. The very core of His teaching on the requisites  of a disciple is repeated almost word for word in all the gospels (Matthew 16:24-26; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-26; John 12: 23-26). With that kind of repetition no one can raise a doubt of Christ's legitimate demands.

Jesus unveils His absolute requirements for His true disciple; the challenge of the divine paradox comes to every believer. In brief, if we win on our terms, we are losing everything; if we lose on His terms and suffer, we are winning everything of eternal value. These are radical demands indeed, nothing less than our union with Him at the Cross – our experiential identification in His death and risen life.

Jesus gets to the heart of what will involve us in His sufferings. It will challenge and change every intimate and precious relationship in life; it will also radically alter the core of our being - our ego or self-life. "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross [He adds "daily" in Luke 9:23] and come after me cannot be My disciple . . . So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26,27,33).

Take note that Jesus enumerates the God-ordained relationship from father to sisters but adds the final and ultimate relationship - yes, and his own life also - the self-life: the origin of pride, fears, doubts, impurity and anger, etc.  To "hate" is a Hebrew way of saying in the strongest of language God will brook no rival; He is our ultimate and only first love. It is our self-life that God judged at the Cross; there He dealt the final blow to its power to reign in the life of the believer. "Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, [cancelled, rendered null and void], that we should not serve sin" (Romans 6:6). This aspect of the truth must now become the focus of the believer's faith.                                               

However, before we gasp at such demands, Jesus also said: "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother o wife or children or lands for My sake and the gospel's who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time-houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions--and in the age to come, eternal life" (Mark 10:30).  The rewards of such radical discipleship far transcend the  initial apparent loss.  What Jesus demands, He also rewards now-with persecutions-and for eternity.

When Jesus spoke of bearing or taking His cross daily, He was anticipating His vicarious death and our actual spiritual death in union with Him. To His disciples of that day the cross was a Roman crucifixion synonymous with excruciating suffering. With His death, burial and resurrection, we now can grasp more fully the reason, the "why" of suffering.  It is no longer what I am losing but rather what I am rather gaining in God's eternal ledger.  Such a change of perspective transforms suffering from the temporal to the eternal.    

Suffering is one of God's ways of dealing with the self-life and pride--Lucifer's original sin. But in this cross bearing, included in discipleship, He was to provide the New Testament way to deal effectively with the self-life that so often emerges under the provocation of suffering.

Let it be said categorically that instead of our saying: Why? Lord, [an oxymoron, a contradiction in itself]; we should rather say: Lord, what are you giving to me out of your storehouse of love? –more of your holiness and humility. Such is our urgent need far beyond our grasp.

Paul's Suffering in Asia   A Sentence of Death     2 Corinthians 1: 8-10

Paul shares possibly the most severe suffering of his apostolic ministry. "For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia; that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had [note past tense, a direct reference to our death to sin in Romans 6:6] the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us" (2 Corinthians 1: 8-10). Here is Paul's pointed reference to Calvary where he and we died to self and the power of sin.

God delivered them, delivers them and will deliver them - a reference to our dying daily sharing His risen life in union with Him. In fact, Paul later says, "We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed . . . always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death, is working in us, but life in you."(2 Corinthians 4: 8, 10-12).What a concise definition of suffering, an inexorable principle!

The paradox is eternal truth: As we lose what is ours, we gain what is His. We will see this truth graphically illustrated in Job's total loss of everything and God's gracious final double blessing. 

Job's relatively "blameless" conduct created the massive enigma for Job, and by extension for us, as to why one so "blameless" should still suffer at the hands of Satan and his three friends while God looks on in silence. That precise enigma will be resolved in the final two "rounds" of God with Job (Job 38-41). Job's suffering will lead to his ever deeper humbling and the breaking of his heretofore unknown self-righteousness.

Now that Job sees himself as God sees him, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes sees You. Therefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42: 5, 6).  

This is the ultimate breaking for Job's previously unknown pride. Now God is free to deliver Job from himself and blesses him with a double portion when he prayed for his friends (Job 42:10). 

Job's humbling and consequently liberation resulting in a double portion of blessing is an Old Testament re-enactment of our New Testament identification with Christ in death to self and our entrance into His risen life by faith. This is precisely the "why" of Job's enigma and suffering, as also it is with our being more fully perfected into Christ's likeness.