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The Patience of Job

Looking at suffering from God's perspective allows us to see that, in the midst of trials, God is in control, increases our blessings, glorifies us, and makes us a blessing to others

"Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy" (James 5:11). The end of the Lord, telos, the consummation of his purpose: when the Lord is done, his work is always beautiful, good, and gracious. God never purposed an evil thing for any of his creation, least of all for the crown of his glory, the soul and life of a man. The end of the Lord for us always is good. When the Lord looked at the beautiful firmament and the verdant Earth and had finished his creation, he said, "It is very good."

Before James, "the pastor," writes that admonition to us, he has a triplet of admonitions concerning our being patient. It is a part of human weakness to grow restive under the providences of the hand of God. He says in verse seven, "Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord." And he repeats it in verse eight, "Be ye also patient; establish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." Then, again, in verse ten: "Take my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience."

The voice of the Holy Spirit in our hearts is patience; the voice of the Holy Scriptures written on the sacred page is patience; the voice of our heavenly Father is patience; the voice of our Savior is patience. The classic example is the reference in the text: "Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy." Job was a patriarch who lived in the times of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — the era of Genesis. There is no reference in the book of Job to any event or to any fact beyond the book of Genesis. There is no reference to the Law of Moses. There is no reference to the institutions of the Jews. The only things referenced in Job look back to the book of Genesis, to the creation, to Adam, to the Flood. But the life of Job never goes beyond the age of Genesis. Even the sacrifices that are mentioned in Job are never offered by a priest. They're always offered by the father as the head of the home and of the family.

Job was greatly tried. He lost everything he had, and he had been an affluent and wealthy man. He lost all of his ten children: seven sons and three daughters. He himself was afflicted grievously in his physical frame. We can look upon the affliction, suffering, sickness, and pain of others with nonchalance or disassociation. When it comes to our bones and our flesh, it is something else. This man was greatly afflicted, covered with boils and sores from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot. He sat in an ash heap, on a dunghill, in misery and in agony. Every part of his body was a province of hurt, and every nerve was a road for marching armies of pain. He was greatly afflicted.

To add to that was his own anguish of mind. His wife, who should have sustained him and prayed for him and encouraged him and caused him to look up to heaven, said to him, "Curse God, and commit suicide. Curse God and kill yourself. Curse God and die!" What a wife. In an hour of such turmoil and anguish and misery and suffering and trial and loss, can you imagine having a companion like that? To add more grievously to his anguish of mind came Job's three comforters. And weren't they classics of assurance and encouragement! Job's three comforters came to him and said, "You must be a vile sinner, for only a vile sinner would suffer like this. The evidence of it is your suffering." They rubbed salt into his wounds. They threw dust into his eyes, and they crowned his misery with suffering and agitation.

The trials of Job were not imaginary. They were real. He was no dyspeptic. He was no hypochondriac. He was no hysterical groaner over imagined evils and hurts. He didn't lose one child; he lost all ten of them. He didn't lose just a few hundred dollars; he lost his whole fortune. He was not just somewhat sick for an hour or a day. He was grievously afflicted and sat in pain and suffering and indescribable misery. How do you account for that? How is it that a good man suffers?

That's what the Psalmist wanted to know in Psalm 73: "As for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well-nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish when I saw the prosperity of the wicked…. They are not in trouble as other men. Neither are they plagued like other men; behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches…. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning…. When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; until I went into the sanctuary of God, then I understood…."

When a man gets high enough, he can see far enough, and then he'll understand the providences of God in the afflictions of the righteous. That's why we've come into God's house — for the ministry of God's Word to explain to us the ways of the Lord. So, may God today lift us up to a high eminence, maybe next to the very throne of heaven, so that from such a vantage point we can bring true surveillance over our lives and what God purposes for us when we meet suffering and agony and anguish and frustration and failure.

"Pastor, you're not talking to me. I have not been introduced to such circumstances," you say. There is no one who will escape, not one. When we were born into this world, we were born into a place of suffering. Some day every heart will have grown from it. Even our Lord on the cross cried, "My God, why?" So if the Lord will thus bless us, we shall in the sanctuary of our God climb up to that high eminence that the psalmist ascended to, and we shall see as God sees. Then shall we understand. Whatever the situation, however the turn of fortune, God is in it.

When you read the book of Job, you see Satan covering the horizon from side to side. There is the waste of death, murder, blood, robbery, violence, pillage, affliction, pain, and misery. Satan seems to color the whole creation. We need to remember God is also there. There's somebody besides Satan. Satan goes only as far as God permits. He's allowed this, but no more. The hound of hell and the dog of damnation can snap and bark and growl and snarl, but he has an iron collar around his neck, and on that collar is an iron chain. The end of that chain is held by the hand of the omnipotent God. Satan can do just so much, and God reins him in. The sovereign of the universe, the sovereign of history, the sovereign of national life, the sovereign of political and state life, the sovereign of individual life, and the sovereign of your life is not damnation and hell and death and the grave and Satan and the Devil. It's the Lord God Almighty. He reigns on his throne, high and lifted up forever, and that chain is in his hand.

One time the Lord Jesus said to Simon, "Simon, Simon" (wherever the Lord repeats himself, be awake, open your ears, there's something significant to say), "Satan hath desired to have you that he may thresh you, sift you like wheat poured into a thresher." Simon had said, "I love the Lord with all my heart. If the whole world were to deny you, yet I would not deny you." The Lord said, "Simon, Satan wants to talk to you about that. He wants to find out about that. Simon, I have given him permission. I've said just so far and no further. For I have prayed for you. Simon, when you turn, when you're converted, when you come back, strengthen your brethren." Satan sifted the apostles. He threshed them. He put them into the machine, and it cast out Judas all together. Simon Peter swore and cursed and denied the Lord. Satan sifted him, threshed him, and shook him. When it was done, there came out of the fire a different kind of Simon Peter. He was a different man. In the first epistle of Simon Peter, chapter 5, you can't believe he's the man who wrote these words: "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."

When Satan was done with him, in the permissive will of God, a lot of chaff was blown away and a lot of dross was burned out. That's the Lord. He's in it all. Job was sorely tempted. His wife said, "Curse God and commit suicide." But Job never failed in his witness to the Lord, and Satan cast him on a dung heap, on a manure pile. Job made the dung heap a throne in the presence of the great God. Satan afflicted him with sores and boils. Job made them signets of honor, citations and medals all over him. Job made Satan eat his words. Job made Satan confess that he was a liar; God was in it all.

Not only is God in the trial, in the fire, in the fury, and in the furnace, but God also purposed to give Job double of everything that he possessed. Satan had a purpose, but God had a purpose also! God's purpose was to give Job twice as much as he ever had, to give Job twice as many camels, twice as many herds, twice as many fields, and twice as many flocks was easy. Some of you men have done that yourselves. You've taken what you had and doubled it. Sometimes you've quadrupled it. For God it was easy to give Job twice as much substance and abundance and affluence as he had before.

But God doesn't just think of us in terms of silver or gold or bonds or stocks or lands or herds or flocks or cattle or real estate or things! God purposed to give Job a double of everything that he had. He was going to double his grace and double his experience and double his love for the Lord and double his mercies and double his tender kindnesses and double all of the sweet, precious, spiritual endowments that can come only from the hand of heaven. Job had to suffer. For those things don't come in any other way than through great trial and through great suffering.

"Then Job answered the Lord, and said, 'I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have uttered what I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not…. But now mine eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."

This is a man who has found greatness in bowing, in kneeling, in yielded submission, in loss, in misery, in pain, and in tears. This is a man who has come to glory under the hand of God. That is the purpose of the Lord for us, that we might be not only soldiers of the golden fleece but also soldiers of the iron cross. In the furnace of God's trial, the Lord also has a purpose.

From that vantage point, looking as God views our suffering, we see that he's in it, number one. Number two, he purposes for us a double portion of his grace and kindness. Number three, God would bring Job to glory. Had Job just remained a rich man and that's all, a good man, a generous man supporting the work of the Lord, but just a rich man — are there not thousands of men just like that? He had thousands of camels. Do not they? Thousands of sheep. Do not they? Thousands of oxen. Do not they? Thousands of herds and foxes and fields and acres of land. Do not they? Had Job remained just another rich man, you'd never have heard of him. Don't you imagine that his friends were also affluent and wealthy? It seems to me that wealthy men, when they go to their clubs, and when they go to their convocations and their corporate meetings, they sit among their peers. Eliphaz must have been a rich man. Bildad must have been a rich man. Zophar must have been a rich man. These are the three men who came to visit Job in his affliction. Did you ever hear of anybody turning into a Bildad or an Eliphaz or a Zophar? I never heard of it in my life, nor would it occur to me, nor would it occur to anybody else, nor will I ever hear of it.

But the apostle himself says: "You have heard of the patience of Job." I have. So have you. It was the purpose of God to bring Job to glory. God had a marvelous thought in his mind when he looked at Job and saw how fine he was and how good he was and how responsible he was. And God said, "I'll elevate him. I'll lift him up. I'll bless him beyond what he ever imagined in just having possessions. I'll add to him a shekinah, an aura, a glory, a presence as though it were given from heaven itself." Did you know trial does that? And without the trial there is no glory — none.

Abraham is the only man in the Scriptures called "the friend of God." When was Abraham called the friend of God? When the Lord told the old patriarch to take his son — born of his own loins, born of the womb of Sara his wife, his own son whom he loved, begotten in his old age when he was a hundred years old — to Mount Moriah and build an altar. He was to bind his son, put him on the stone, raise the knife, and plunge it in the heart. Murder him. Pour out his blood on the ground. Abraham — not staggering before the promise of God but trusting against trust, believing against belief, and persuaded that God would raise the boy from the dead — built the altar, bound the lad, lifted up the knife, and in figure, received him from the dead. It was the trial that made him great. It's the fury of the fire in the furnace that makes the gold pure, and this is the purpose of God for us.

God having purposed some better thing for us is hard for us to see. Truly, looking at it from God's vantage point, just to be at ease, just to be wealthy, or just to have an abundance of things, God says, is to be poor. But to be rich toward God, to have experiences of grace, to trust God in trial, and to believe God against hope and promise when everything God says seems to be against what God says — that is to be rich. God purposes glory for his saints when we endure affliction and trial as did the prophets, the apostles, the patriarchs, and Job.

What does God reveal to us when we come into his sanctuary, and when we are lifted up high, and when we can see as God sees and understand as God understands? First, God is in it all. He has an iron collar and an iron chain on Satan. Satan can go just so far and not beyond.Second, God purposes for us double everything that we have: double grace, double experience, double love…double everything. Third, God would bring us to glory. In the trial, God would refine us and purify us.

Fourth, God would, through us as he did through Job, make us a blessing to others. The Lord put a thorn in his nest. The Lord tore up his house of ease, and the Lord pushed him out and over the cliff just as an eagle does: tear up the nest and take the little eaglets and push them out. But, over that vast cliff in the blue atmosphere that yawns beneath, the little thing learns to fly. God does that for us. He makes us mature and grown up. We come to the consummation of telos, the end that God has for us in order that we may be a blessing and an encouragement to others.

John Bunyan was a fine Baptist preacher in the 1600s. People loved to hear him preach, but that was all. God put him in Bedford Prison for twelve years, and out of that Bedford jail was born the most glorious book penned by a mortal man outside of the Holy Scriptures: Pilgrim's Progress. It was born in the tears of incarceration. The Apostle Paul spent much of his ministry in prison, in a dungeon, in jail, but out of that imprisonment came the letters that form most of our New Testament, our Holy Bible. And the Lord allowed Jesus to be nailed to the cross, and there in suffering and agony, he died. Out of death came life; out of suffering came salvation; out of his burial in the tomb came our promise of resurrection.

This is the purpose of God. What befalls you is not unknown to him. The sufferings you experience are not strange in his eyes. He is just bringing you to glory. As pastor James teaches: Blessed are they who endure, who keep their faith, who look up in prayer and surrender to heaven, and who glorify God in crucifixion or in suffering or in hurt or agony or tears or pain or providence, which wring from our souls the agonizing cry, "Oh, God!" Blessed are they who look in faith and trust him through it all!

(c) W.A. Criswell 1992

Preaching Today Tape #107


A resource of Christianity Today International

The late W. A. Criswell served as pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas and served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. He founded Criswell College. He wrote many books, including Why I Believe the Bible Is Literally True.

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Sermon Outline:


I. In the midst of suffering, God is in control

II. In the midst of suffering, God increases our blessings

III. In the midst of suffering, God glorifies us

IV. In the midst of suffering, God makes us a blessing to others