WHAT KIND OF A FRIEND ARE YOU?
T. Pierce Brown
About 60 years ago as one of my brothers and I sat on the floor and read the book of Job back and forth to each other, I thought, “With friends like that, who needs enemies?”
Yet, as I began this week preaching a series of sermons through the book, I was impressed by the fact that Job’s friends were very much like Job in their philosophy about God and His nature. I challenge you to find much difference in the way they talked about God and the way Job talked about him. Even though God said in Job 42:7, “My wrath is kindled against you and your two friends because you have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has,” you will have to read and study carefully before you can find where and how they did not speak right things about God–at least as much as Job did.
However, the thing that struck me with greater force today than in the 60 years of reading Job is that the friends of Job are so much like our friends. Note some things about them. First, they were sympathetic and concerned about him (Job2:11-13). Second, they recognized and respected his past good deeds (Job. 4:2-4). Third, they upheld the righteousness, goodness and wisdom of God, as they understood it in almost every speech.
But they erred grievously in several respects, three of which we shall note. First, they were arrogant in their assumption that they had greater wisdom and righteousness than Job (Job 12:1-3). Second, they judged him in terms of their ASSUMPTIONS and made accusations as if they had facts (Job. 22:5). Even when they did not directly accuse, they implied that he must be the most wicked of all men. Third, they made their application, or misapplication of principles concerning God and His will binding, as if they were the principles themselves.
How often have we seen these attitudes duplicated by friends and brethren! It is sometimes assumed that if one has taken or can teach a graduate course in logic, his conclusions are always valid. Or a man may have statistics on which to base his conclusions. But it may be pointed out that statistically, a man with one foot in a bucket of boiling water and the other in a bucket of ice water would be, on the average, comfortable! One may have the right facts and statistics, but come to the wrong conclusion.
Even more often, we have seen the second and third errors of Job’s friends demonstrated. How often have brethren taken truths from God’s word, made an application of those truths as THEIR BEST WISDOM AND JUDGMENT DICTATED and then ASSUMED that their application was as binding as the word of God itself! It may be true that an implication of God’s word, properly arrived at by logical analysis, is to be accepted as God’s will. That is, if God properly implies a truth, we should conclude that is truth. But that is not the same thing as suggesting that my understanding of how a statement or principle should be applied is as binding as the statement or principle. We need to make a clear distinction between God’s implication IN HIS WORD, and man’s inferences about things OUT OF HIS WORD.
This mistake is made on every level from the plan of salvation on up. We have no right to equivocate, compromise, or water down the plan of salvation and try to drag someone into heaven on our ASSUMPTIONS as to how we wish God would misapply His word. On the other hand, we have no right to ASSUME the position of judges, as did Job’s friends, and act as if OUR application of God’s Word is the same as God’s Word itself. The truth of the matter is that God has revealed that His ultimate judgment will be in terms of or in relationship to at least these factors: 1. Our ability, 2. Our opportunity 3. Our motive 4. Our attitude 5. Our faithfulness 6. His Word. Since the only one you and I are competent to deal with is the last (and too many of us not even in that) the other five elements–and there are no doubt others–leave us unable to make the ultimate application of God’s word to a SPECIFIC CASE. Since judging is not our function anyway, why not just “Preach the word, be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2), but recognize that God is the ultimate judge of others, and leave it to him? Otherwise, Job 16:2 might well apply to us: “Miserable comforters are ye all!” This does not mean we are not to strongly approve what God approves, and strongly condemn what God condemns. It DOES mean that our faulty logic may cause us to misapply what God has said, or to misunderstand the specific situation to which we are trying to apply it.
For example, if we see a man who reeks with alcohol and staggers around with red eyes, we have a right to ASSUME that he is drunk. We do NOT have the right to “tone down” God’s prohibitions against being drunk, NOR God’s condemnation of drunkards. But we should be sure we realize our ASSUMPTIONS about the facts are not the facts. The man MAY smell of alcohol and stagger with red eyes because some scoundrel broke a bottle of whiskey over his head and almost knocked him out when he had been out all night trying to save some drunken bum from his lost state!
Do you not see that you can preach with all conviction that all liars have their part in the lake of fire without ASSUMING that a PARTICULAR PERSON whom we feel sure must have lied is going there? We always need to make a distinction between strongly teaching God’s truth about a particular sin and our conclusions that this truth applies to a particular person in a certain way.