Prosperity, Sovereignty and Job, part 2

May 25, 2010 at 11:40 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, False teaching, Theology | Leave a comment

            Not only do Job’s first three friends represent the prosperity gospel of our day, but so does the fourth.  This younger mystery character called Elihu comes into the scene after Job’s three friends fail to answer him.  He speaks for six chapters (32-37) claiming to add to the conversation what the others failed to say.  He claims to speak wisdom (33:31-33); he even claims to speak for God (36:2).  Trouble is I fail to see anything new that he adds; he simply restates the argument the others have been making with different words.

            Elihu seems to believe in the sovereignty of God, making statements like “God thunders with His voice wondrously, doing great things we cannot comprehend,” and “The Almighty – we cannot find him; He is exalted in power,” and “He breaks in pieces mighty men without inquiry.” (37:5, 23; 34:24)  However, he fails to see how that overrules his own ideas about God.  He puts God in a box that sovereignty doesn’t allow.  “Far be it from God to do wickedness and from the Almighty to do wrong.  He pays a man according to his work.  . . .  Surely, God will not act wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice.” (34:10-12)  All that sounds like good theology, and at face value it is, but reading on, and putting his words in their literary context, gives me the impression that right or wrong, good or wicked, is not absolute right and wrong according to God, but right or wrong according to Elihu.  In fact the real meaning of that comes out when he adds, “If they (i.e. the righteous) hear and serve Him, they will end their days in prosperity and their years in pleasures.” (36:11)  In this context, Elihu means that Job hasn’t served God, and that’s why he lost everything, but if he serves God from this point on, all his wealth will return to him.  That sounds exactly like the proponents of the prosperity gospel.  God’s word does promise success to those who hear and serve him, but they give success their own definition, which looks exactly like Madison Avenue’s definition, rather than God’s.  God’s definition of success is not more things and more money, but more knowledge of him and his will.  The matter of financial prosperity is subject to his sovereign choice.

            God notes that all the players in this production missed the point of his sovereignty.  He asks, “Who is this that darkens my counsel by words without knowledge?”  and follows up that question with four chapters of questions designed to teach his sovereignty to Job and his friends.  Job’s confession is a far better perspective than Elihu’s.  “I know you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (42:2)

Prosperity, Sovereignty and Job

May 20, 2010 at 8:54 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, False teaching, Theology | 1 Comment

          I have been reading Job in my devotions this week.  In the past I have always looked at the book from a perspective of pain and suffering, but this time through I decided to look at the entire book from the perspective of God’s sovereignty.  It makes a lot of sense.  After an introduction, the book gives us an immediate view of God’s sovereignty.  Satan must get permission from God to do anything to Job; God is the one who provokes Satan to test Job.  God is still in control, no matter what Job may see or feel.  When Job’s “friends” come to him, it is God’s sovereignty that they deny.  In doing so, they sound very much like the prosperity preachers of our day.  They see God, not in sovereign control, but as a vending machine that will dispense whatever they need or want if they put in the right things and push the right buttons.

          Listen to their words.  Eliphaz begins, “Who ever perished being innocent?” (4:7)  The implication is that Job is not innocent because of the things that came upon him.  If he would straighten up, God would bless.  In the second discourse, Eliphaz would add these words, “The wicked writhes in pain all his days, and numbered are the years stored up for him.  . . .  He will not become rich, nor will his wealth endure.” (15:20-29)  Of course the experience of life is that the innocent often die and the evil often prosper.  But Eliphaz claims special knowledge because he had a vision of a spirit. (vv12-16).  Doesn’t all that sound familiar?  Bildad is more direct: “If you would seek God and implore the compassion of the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, surely now he would rouse Himself for you and restore your righteous estate.” (8:5-6)  That’s the prosperity gospel pure and simple.  Zophar puts it this way: “If you would direct your heart right and spread out your hands to Him,  . . .  then, indeed, you would be steadfast and not fear, for you would forget your troubles as waters that have passed by, you would remember it.” (11:13-16)

          These men have made God into a blessing machine; if you just do certain things then He will bless.  That totally ignores the sovereignty of God and puts us in control.   They make God, as Calvin once said, “To be whatever their own rashness has devised, . . . fashioned after their own childish conceits.”  But in the end, Job’s friends did not speak what is right about God (42:7-8).  God is God and we are not.  Innocent suffer and evil people prosper.  But it all has purpose.  God knows the bigger picture that we cannot see, and in the ultimate end of time, He may reveal that to us.  The beauty of the book of Job is that we get to see the bigger picture in the beginning scenes, so we can trust his sovereignty throughout the story.  O that we may trust that sovereignty when troubles come to our lives, even if we don’t see the entire story.  Job, who didn’t fully understand what was going on, still expressed it well when he said, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” (13:15)  Put your hope in the God who is sovereign, not in one fashioned from childish conceit.

The Knowledge of Him Who Called Us

May 14, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Theology | 1 Comment

            In recent years I have come to believe that every problem we have stems from a misunderstanding of who God is or of who we are in light of him.  It usually involves a low estimate of him – his glory, holiness, love and grace – and a high estimate of us, particularly a disregard for our utter sinfulness.  I am not trying to be simplistic; I understand there are people with such emotional baggage that they cannot believe who God says he is until the baggage is dealt with.  But I also believe the problems people like that have will remain long after the baggage is gone if they don’t replace it with a correct understanding of God and self.  In my devotions this morning I read these words: God has given us “everything pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and excellence.”  See it there, everything we need for life and godliness is ours, and it comes through knowing God.  It comes especially through knowing God as the one who called us to be his, which includes an understanding of our sin and his grace.  The implication is if we don’t know God, then we don’t have all we need for life.  Yesterday I noticed the very first sentence in Calvin’s Institutes is this:  “Our wisdom, insofar as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”  Amen!  May you grow in the grace and knowledge of God.

A Living Hope

May 13, 2010 at 9:11 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, God's Love, Security and Assurance, Theology | 1 Comment

1 Peter 1:3-7.  Here is great security.  Those who struggle with security and doubt issues may want to memorize these verses.  Notice, as is usually the case with security matters, the tense of the verbs.  This letter was written to those who are chosen according to God’s foreknowledge – not to those who will be, but to those who are chosen.  God has already done it.  And this is what he says is true of those chosen people:  They have been born again – not that they will be, but that he has already caused them to be born again.  It is a done deal.  They have been born into a living hope and to an inheritance which is reserved for them in heaven – again, not an inheritance that can be reserved, but one that is reserved already.  This too is a done deal.  Finally, these chosen people are protected by the power of God for that final salvation – not may be protected, or protected conditionally, but they are protected already.  In every one of these matters, God is the active agent; it is his doing, and he has already done it.  If you trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, these things are true for you.

It is no wonder we greatly rejoice in this, even when we are faced with trials.  No matter what trails we may have on this earth, nothing can undo what God has already done.  In fact, trials, even trials of doubt, will only prove God’s chosen people to be genuine and result in more praise and glory for him.  Now that is security.  If you have placed your trust in Jesus, rejoice in it.

For more on this topic, check out my entry called “It’s All About God, Peter edition.”

Rebekah

May 6, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Posted in Wisdom | Leave a comment

Last Sunday my sermon was about principles of finding God’s will.   I mentioned that some people might want to listen to my older message called Rebekah: Finding God’s Best, which has been the most requested and lisetened to message I’ve given.  It may be hard for some to find, because it has been lost in the archives, so I wanted to post a link to it.  If you are thinking of getting married, or if you will marry someday, this is a must listen.  However, the prinicples apply to finding God’s will in any life situation.

Here is the link to the Rebekah message.

Three Recent Reads

May 5, 2010 at 10:42 am | Posted in Books and Movies, It's All About God, Theology | Leave a comment

          I haven’t written much lately about things I’ve read.  Here are three recent reads that deserve mention. 

          Tabletalk, February 2010.  The entire edition of this magazine is subtitled “What N. T. Wright Really Said.”  It is a number of articles, by well known authors, about Wright’s recent writings on justification.  This popular Anglican Bishop has offered a “new perspective” on Paul and his teaching on this key subject.  As these authors testify, Wright’s view diverges from traditional Reformed teaching on some fundamental points.  If you don’t know Wright’s views, or have run across them and want a short response, this magazine is a great tool.  The only negative about it is so much overlap between what various authors wrote made me think I was often rehashing the same material.  You can read some of the articles at Ligonier ministries.

          Through Gates of Splendor, by Elisabeth Elliot.  I’ve read this before, and it is listed on my most influential books list.  But this time we read it together as a family.  I was impressed by Elliot’s ability to keep old missionary journals interesting and draw readers into the drama of their story, even readers that know the ending.  Each evening my daughter would ask if we could read more of the missionary story instead of the other things we were doing.  Definitely worth revisiting.

          The best thing I’ve read recently is the “Introductory Essay to John Owen, Death of Death in the Death of Christ,” by J.I. Packer.  One of the blogs I read recommended this and put it on line.  I printed it and spent several weeks reading and rereading parts of it.  Packer says that Owen requires hard study – a “cursory glance” will never do.  The same can be said of Packer’s intro to the book!  Packer answers the challenge that Owen’s work is nothing more than a defense of Calvinism by showing that the Reformed teaching (and Owen’s teaching in particular) of salvation is the gospel, and anything short of it is no gospel at all.  Packer points out that Calvinism is so much more than the “Five Points” it is usually associated with.  It is instead “a whole world view, stemming from a clear vision of God.”  “Calvinism is a theocentric way of thinking about all life under the direction and control of God’s own Word.”  “The five points assert no more than that God is sovereign in saving the individual, but Calvinism is concerned with the much broader assertion that He is sovereign everywhere.”  Readers of this blog will recognize my major theme, it’s all about God.  Packer shows through this that Calvinism, often thought as a negative theology, really is a very positive one.  The Arminian understanding, Packer asserts, empties election and redemption of their biblical meaning.  Like all of Packer’s writing, this is biblical, thoughtful, and thought provoking.  It has challenged me in many ways, so I plan to return to it many times over.  And I am motivated to find a copy of John Owen.   Today’s Christianity has often watered-down the gospel and the death of Christ.  If you want to be challenged and encouraged by what the gospel really is, then read this essay.  Here is Packer’s complete essay on line.

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