Bible reading for March 3 -- 4
Mar 3 -- Job 32 and 2 Corinthians 2
Mar 4 -- Job 33 and 2 Corinthians 3
"'He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit, and my life shall look upon the light.' Behold, God does all these things, twice, three times, with a man, to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be lighted with the light of life." (Job 33:28-30)
A YOUNGSTER SPEAKS UP (ch 32). Sometimes during a big debate or argument -- whether on a personal level, say, between marriage partners, or on a national scale between political parties -- we begin to realize that both sides in the debate are wrong. In today's chapter we are introduced to a new character in the drama, a young man named Elihu. He brings a different perspective, and speaks with passion. Age, experience, position, and reputation do not in themselves produce wisdom -- sometimes students know more than their teachers (Ps 119:99). We don't know much about Elihu, but he is not included in God's rebuke of Job's three friends (42:7-9), so we can assume that this young man is saying something that needs to be heard. Elihu says that Job is justifying himself rather than God, and that the three friends have not given suitable answers to Job's questions. Both sides are missing the mark.
THE MISSING TRUTH (ch 33). The first question to Job is, why do you contend against God? If God is just then God himself will be justified in this matter. Job is too insistent on establishing his own righteousness, and though his contentions are partly true, he is justifying himself rather than God. Secondly, Elihu questions the silence of God that Job has been complaining about. Is this really true? God may not reveal everything to us, but has he provided us with some insight into his working? Job, along with the three friends, has only been thinking of God's justice, his power, and his seeming silence. But there's at least one great truth missing. Job has previously spoken of his Redeemer (Job 19:25; Heb., go'el, "kinsman-redeemer"). Elihu returns to the topic of redemption (Heb., padah, "to ransom or redeem"), and specifically, speaks of being ransomed from the pit (that is, death). His point to Job seems to be: "Many times you have already been rescued from the pit, so why not again? Why is this a terminal situation?" This possibility has been forgotten in all the painful debate. Job and his friends were too involved in assigning (or denying) blame, and failed to see any larger purpose of God. Once, the disciples of Jesus reacted in a similar way, as they came upon a man blind from birth: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2) The disciples could only ask whose fault it was, rather than what higher purpose there might be. Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:3). Sometimes we're asking the wrong questions.
OUR REDEEMING GOD. Elihu brings a ray of hope: Job, your God is a redeeming God! And this truth is for believers today, too. Our Lord is the Redeemer who lives, the God of all mercies, who reigns as the unchanging, faithful covenant God. So, no matter the circumstances, if he loved us yesterday then surely he loves us today. We must remind ourselves that the story is not over until it's over. Look again to the gospel account of Mary Magdalene (John 20:14-16), who after seeing her Lord beaten, whipped near to death, and crucified, stands beside his tomb in the early hours of the third day, weeping. She's overwhelmed with the feeling that all hope has been lost. She thinks that such a tragedy could never be undone, until she hears a familiar and beloved voice: "Mary!" (John 20:14-16)
WHO IS YOUR GOD? It's been said that every problem (or pathology) in the Christian life can be traced back to a false or distorted conception regarding God. Often we may forget or neglect certain attributes of God in considering our situation in life. All of God's attributes are true all of the time, and we must be careful to keep them in our mind and hearts. When we have problems or experience suffering it's easy to get into one track of thinking and not see outside of that.
"And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." (2 Corinthians 3:3)
THE FRAGRANCE OF THE GOSPEL (ch 2). A Corinthian man who had been disciplined for unrepentant sin -- possibly the man mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 -- has repented, and Paul tells the church to receive him and reaffirm their love for him (vv 1-11). When church discipline needs to occur it should never take place with a clinical, institutional approach. There should be a feeling of loss all around. It should produce sorrow, not self-righteousness. And everyone should be very quick to forgive and to restore the person to the family. The ministry of the gospel through the apostles (and the church) is a kind of fragrance (vv 12-17) which is attractive to some and repulsive to others (cf 1 Cor 1:18, 23-24). See Constable's notes on this chapter, especially on the "triumphal procession" in the NET Bible. This epistle is a wonderful study of what New Testament ministry and leadership should look like. Paul reaffirms his love and concern for the believers in Corinth. His ministry to them was sincerely motivated -- it was not a matter of posturing or financial gain. He was laboring for their good and God's glory (2:17).
THE MINISTRY OF THE SPIRIT (ch 3). The Apostle Paul's ministry was carried out differently than what many Jews, or Greeks, of that time expected (1 Cor 2:4-5). There is much continuity between the Old and New Testaments -- the same God, the same moral law, and the same call to faith. But anyone who has read both can see the discontinuity, too. Paul highlights those differences in this chapter. In the Old Testament (the covenant given through Moses) God dealt kindly with Israel, but most people's hearts were hardened and unperceiving, as they outwardly honored the law but inwardly were not beholding, or being changed by, the glorious truths about God. In the New Testament, the new covenant enacted by Jesus, the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts to soften them and to reveal the glory of God to us (John 16:14; Ezek 36:26-27). Sanctification (growth in holiness) is accomplished by the Spirit's work in us as we steadfastly focus upon the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
ONGOING TRANSFORMATION. In Romans, Paul writes, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom 12:2). Our salvation, from first to last, has been planned by the Father, accomplished by the Son, and applied to us by the Holy Spirit. Our growth in Christ is to be "from glory to glory", or "from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor 3:18). As we seek to live for the Lord, doing so through the rich grace we have in Christ (being united to him), we will grow by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our minds and wills are to be fully engaged, but we must remember that the life comes from God. Christian growth comes through our fellowship with the Triune God. Because of indwelling sin, because of our unbelief and neglect, because of Satan's snares and the world's pressures, that glory-to-glory growth does not always look like a smooth upward trend for many Christians. Often there are setbacks, disappointments, backslidings, stagnation, trials. This should humble us and cause us to seek his grace all the more. But we should never lose hope. Our covenant Lord knows everything about us, and that we are but dust, and if he loved us yesterday (and from eternity past), he will love us tomorrow (and forever). (See the post above on Job, about hope, and our redeeming God.)
Image credit: Detail from "Mary Magdalene at the Sepulchre," by Harold Copping (1927). About this newsletter: I post three times a week on my Bible reading, following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson. Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Another resource I recommend is the NET Bible with its excellent notes at netbible.org.