WILL A MAN SERVE GOD FOR NOTHING?
October 30, 2005
One of the most important questions of life, one of the great questions of the entire universe, might be put like this: Is God big enough and wonderful enough that we will serve him just because of who he is? And to go with it, is there the capacity within man to honor God and to love Him and to serve Him just because he is worthy of it and because it is right? At a deeper level still, is religion any more than just a mercenary agreement between God and man in which a God who is great pays off lesser beings to follow him? Is that all there is to us?
These concerns surely need to be raised and answered in our time. It often seems that we are practicing a consumer brand of religion, one in which we think to ourselves, “I’m shopping around. I’ll select what I like, what I want, and I am in it as long as I get what I want out of it.” That type of thinking may be expressed in our attitudes toward some particular style of worship, or to the kinds of programs a congregation might provide, or to the personality an assembly takes on.
The Bible deals with these matters through the experience of Job. The great book which describes what he endured has, as one of its benefits, the line of thought which examines the relation between God and man. He is a theological and literary masterpiece. Everybody who has ever read it thoughtfully regards it as one of the most outstanding poems ever. It may be the oldest book in the Bible, but it surely deals with one of the most profound human questions: Why does God allow suffering in the world? Why does it sometimes seem that those who completely ignore God have things go pleasantly in their lives, while those who are devoted to God struggle hardship after hardship? One outgrowth of this theme is this one about “Why is it that man serves God at all?” That is how we would like to explore the book this morning.
Why Does A Person Serve God?
The issue is set forth in the first two chapters of Job. Job was a man whose entire character and life was admirable. His love and devotion to God, his concern and provision for his family, his treatment of his friends and neighbors – all of these things left Job blameless. But one day Satan showed up before the throne of God, and suggested that the entire earth was his for him to go to and through whenever he pleased. (1:8) The implication was that he held sway over every heart everywhere. God replied to that implication by raising up before the devil “my servant, Job.” He said, “Have you considered the example of my servant, Job while you are claiming this great realm for yourself?” To which Satan scoffed, “Does Job fear God for no reason?” (Job 1:9) He went ahead to suggest in verse 10 that in fact God had hedged Job’s life about with material blessings, with things, with family, with relationships, that Job had it so easy that surely he would stay close to God. And a little later over in chapter 2, he is going to claim, “Well, if it is not those possessions and those relationships, at least it is his life and his health. If you were to take that away from him, you would find out that you don’t measure up at all in Job’s eyes. Everybody has his price.”
In the slanderer’s accusations, God is made light of first. It is as if the devil was saying to the God of heaven, “You are so pitifully insignificant that no one could possibly have any regard for you for any reason other than how you buy them off!” I think that is what the devil is saying to God. And, along with it, Satan was slandering mankind. He was saying, “Even the best of them are so self-centered and evil that they can’t do anything for any reason other than what they get out of it for themselves!”
Those slanderous accusations about God and about mankind deserve some thought. And they are examined in Job through the responses of Job and his wife and then his friends. The adversary, allowed to exercise his malignant will by the God of heaven, first took Job’s possessions, his wealth. He was trying whether Job was serving God for financial security – not for any love of God but to protect his job and his living – so he took away all the things that Job depended on.
Next, the accuser took Job’s children. He touched his family. His children died and his wife failed to support him in his hour of deepest need. Perhaps Job was just serving God so his family would be held together. Maybe religion only had the place of promoting happy family life.
Third, the slanderer took Job’s health. Perhaps Job was only serving God as insurance to protect himself against failing health, not for any reverence for God or any love for the Lord at all. So Job ends up out on the ash heap at the edge of the city, scraping his boils with a piece of pottery.
Finally, the evil one used friendship against Job. Maybe he was just going to church to have friends, not to be the Lord’s friend. Maybe if folks were not the friends he expected, he would quit God. That’s the drama that is behind this book.
Is It Only For What The Person Gets Out Of It?
That leads us then to the second part of the story. Is it true? Is it only for what the person gets out of it, like the devil says, that any thought of God or God’s way enters into man’s behavior? The book makes it clear that Job’s wife thought so. She saw all the ordeal that Job was going through, and she saw that he was still refusing to sin with his lips or to blame God or to forsake God because of what happened to him. So, as he sat out there in his misery, she said, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (2:9) But Job said in 2:10, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” You have to admire this great man’s heart and his faith.
Job’s three friends tended to agree with Job’s wife – that we are, after all, in it for what we get out of it materially and physically in this life. All of their thinking could pretty well be summed up by what Eliphez said to Job in chapter 22:21, “Agree with God, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you.” You see what he is saying? Agree with God that you have done wrong, make your peace with him, and good will come into your life. That implication is communicated to people in all kinds of way, intentionally and unintentionally by religious teachers today. Some are so bold just to say, “If you will just get right with God, then you will prosper financially and physically and everything will go well in your life. It will pay off in the long run.” There are others who say, “If you will just get right with God, you will have your best life right now. He will see to it that things go like they should in your life.”
As I read the conversations back and forth between Job and his friends in this book, that thought takes shape generally through the claim that people reap what they sow. If you look at chapter 4, verses 7-8, you will see this. But all three of the friends make that type of suggestion – that in this life God treats people who love him with kindness by giving them an easy and pleasant journey through this world. And, in this life, people who don’t love God and don’t obey his will find out that their light gets put out in a hurry, and the wicked end up suffering. (8:5-6; 11:6,13-15) That is the line of thought among Job’s friends.
Even Job’s younger acquaintance, Elihu, who in some ways made more sense than the other three did, also takes this approach. In chapter 35, verse 3, Elihu sums up what he has heard Job saying as, “What advantage have I? How am I better off than if I had not sinned?” - the implication being that if you could sin and be better off it would be just as well. That is the flip side of this coin. In chapter 36, verse 11, Elihu says, “If they listen and serve him, they complete their days in prosperity and their years in pleasantness.” That is the idea.
Do you see why this is a problem? It is a problem first because it tries to buy people’s love. You can’t buy love in any kind of relationship. And it is a problem secondly because of what happens when people who do love the Lord and do serve him find themselves in the midst of the fiery furnace of affliction. People like Job may not have done anything to deserve the kind of loss and the kind of hardship and the kind of suffering that he found himself enduring. We don’t want to communicate to them the idea that suggests that when they find themselves in that kind of misery, God must be doing it to them because their guilt is so awful.
Job struggled with what was being said to him by his wife and his friends. He struggled with what he was enduring. One of the hardest things about the whole experience was “Where is God in the middle of this?”
Job talked back to his friends, rebuking them for their lack of comfort. He said to them that their words had as much taste to him as the white of an egg. He said, “My soul refuses to touch them. They are like loathsome food to me.” (6:6-7) He said, “For the despairing man, there should be kindness from his friends.” (6:14) Then he continued, “But you smear me with lies. You are all worthless positions. Oh that you would be completely silent and that would be your wisdom.” (13:3-4) Finally in 16:2 he just says, “Miserable comforters are you all.” Your wise words are not helping me one bit, in other words. He sarcastically insisted that their words did not apply to him. In chapter 6, verses 24-25 he has, “Make me understand how I have gone astray. How forceful are upright words? But what does reproof from you reprove?” If you are going to claim that I am reaping what I have sown, show me what it is that measures up to all of this! What he said to them in 12:2 is funny: “No doubt you are the people, and with you wisdom will die.” In other words, you are the final source of wisdom and when you are gone, all of wisdom will disappear from the face of the earth! He says, “Your memorable sayings are proverbs of ashes and your defenses are defenses of clay.” (13:12) Then, “how then will you comfort me with empty nothings for your answers remain full of falsehood.” (21:3-4) Job is arguing with them: “My experience does not bear out what you are saying.”
Secondly, Job kept maintaining his righteousness - that he had not done anything that deserved the suffering and the loss that had fallen upon him. I can offer several illustrations of this. He said that “God multiplies my wounds without cause” but that “I am guiltless,” and therefore he said, “He destroys the guiltless with the wicked.” (9:17, 21, 22) In chapter 16, verses 6 and 7 he says, “My face is red with weeping and deep darkness is on my eyelids, although there is no violence in my hands and my prayer is pure.” In Job 27:2-6 there is one of the most complete statements along this line. He says, “As long as my breath is in me and the spirit of God is in my nostrils, my lips will not speak falsehood and my tongue will not utter deceit. Far be it from me to say that you are right. Till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go. My heart does not reproach me for any of my days.” There is a man who is saying, “I’ve got a clear conscience.”
And then, in his anguish, Job went on to argue with God about the injustice that he felt. Several statements will show what I am getting at. He says, “I will not restrain my mouth. I will speak in the anguish of my spirit. I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” (7:11) Verse 20 of that same chapter says, “What have I done to you, O watcher of men? Why have you set me as your target, so that I am a burden to myself?” Later on in chapter 13, verses 3, 18, “But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue with God…. Behold now, I have prepared my case. I know that I will be in the right.” Or again in chapter 23, verses 4, 7 he says, “Oh that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat. I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments … and I would be acquitted forever by my judge.” Chapter 31, verses 35-37 are vivid in this line of thought: “Oh that I had one to hear me. Here is my signature. Let the almighty answer me. Oh that I had the indictment written by my adversary. Surely I would carry it on my shoulder. I would bind it on me as a crown. I would give him an account of all my steps. Like a prince I would approach him.”
Perhaps Job did border on pride in some way or another, but he was honestly laying out his struggle before the throne of God. And when this story is all over, God said to the friends of Job, “You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (42:7) Whatever Job said was honest and true, and it was closer to the truth about God and how God deals with mankind than any of the things his friends had said.
Will A Man Serve God For Nothing?
So, let’s kind of return to the ending part of the story of this book and let’s raise our question again. Will man serve God for nothing? Can a man maintain his integrity and his relationship with God even when it doesn’t seem to be paying off for him in his life? The answers to that question are threefold.
First, yes, a man can serve God for nothing if he will lift up his eyes off his own feelings and his own struggles and get a better view of who God is. This is what happens from chapter 38 on in the book of Job. With God demanding of Job that he stand up and give an answer for himself, Job learned some things about God. He learns, first of all, that God has enough power to be trusted to run the universe, and Job doesn’t have that power. Then he learns that God has enough love to be trusted to care. At the end of chapter 38, it even has him caring for birds out in their nests. And then he learns that God has enough wisdom to be trusted with doing what is best. (40:8 and following) Finally, in Job 42:2-6, Job says, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore, I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me. I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
There is an old poem that fits just here. Frances Xavier wrote, “My God, I love Thee; not because I hope for heaven thereby, Not yet because who love Thee not are lost eternally.... Not from the hope of gaining aught, Not seeking a reward; But as Thyself hast loved me, O ever-loving Lord.” That is saying, “I love you, not because it is paying, but because you love me. I love you because of who you are.”
And then, a man can serve God no matter what if he will remember that there may be forces at work and things at stake that are beyond our knowledge or control. Job was not aware of what had been going on behind the scenes in chapters 1 and 2 of this great book. He didn’t realize that other things besides his personal comfort and his personal relationship with God were involved in this drama. He didn’t know or consider that Satan was involved, and that God was actually working a work to show that old devil that as long as there is one man in the world who fears God just because he is God, then the earth didn’t belong to that deceiver at all. It belonged to God. And, not taking this into account, Job declared what he didn’t understand, and he delved into things that were too wonderful for him, that he didn’t know.
You and I have to remember that at times there may be issues beyond us as individuals, and issues beyond what we see ourselves – things that are at work in this world. And again, there is a little poem that helps to illustrate this. This is true even of pain. “The cry of man’s anguish went up to God, Lord, take away pain! The shadow that darkens the world thou hast made; the close, coiling chain that strangles the heart; the burden that weighs on wings that would soar -- Lord, take away pain from the world Thou hast made that it love Thee the more. Then answered the Lord to the cry of the world, ‘Shall I take away pain, and with it the power of the soul to endure, made strong by the strain? Shall I take away pity that knits heart to heart, and sacrifice high? Will you lose all your heroes that lift from the fire white brows to the sky? Shall I take away love that redeems with a price, and smiles with your loss? Can you spare from your life that would cling unto mine the Christ on His cross?’”
Third, man can serve God just because he is God if that man will be patient and if he will faithfully endure. “We have heard of the patience of Job,” James says in James 5. When we read this book, we learn something about the real nature of patience. It is not just sitting and taking it. It is facing things and struggling with them and holding on anyhow. Patience is an active virtue. It is faithfulness, endurance, and you can see it in some of the triumphant statements in the book of Job. In chapter 13, verse 15 he says, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” And then in chapter 16, verse 19, “Even now, behold my witness is in heaven, and my advocate is on high.” And then in chapter 19, verses 25 and 26, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives and at the last he will take his stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God.” And then in chapter 23, verse 10, it says, “But he knows the way I take. When he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” All those statements in the midst of the terrible difficulties he faced! Do you see what I am saying here? Job was overcoming. He was enduring, even when he didn’t understand. He was being faithful. And there is where the lesson for us is to be patient along the way.
Can a man serve God for nothing? Yes, if he will remember who God is. Yes, if he will remember the forces that may be at work in the world. And yes, if he will see the value of patience.
A poet said, “My life is but a weaving between my Lord and me; I may not choose the colors, He knows what they should be; for He can view the pattern upon the upper side, while I see it only on this, the under side. Sometimes he weaveth a sorrow, which seemeth strange to me; but I will trust His judgment and work on faithfully; ‘Tis He who fills the shuttle, He knows just what is best; So I shall weave in earnest and leave with Him the rest. Not till the loom is silent and the shuttles cease to fly, shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why - The dark threads are as needful in the Weaver’s skillful hand as the threads of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned. He knows, He loves, He cares. Nothing this truth can dim. He gives His very best to those who leave the choice to Him.”
Does it pay to love and serve the Lord? Yes, but not in the ways we often think. I would put it this way. If a man will serve God for nothing, then it won’t be for nothing. But if a man just serves God because of what he thinks he will get out of it, and ignores God in the process, he will find many hours in his life when he thinks it is not worth it. God has to be God, and we have to love him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength no matter what. That is what Jesus Christ invites us to do through him – to be right with God through the forgiveness of our sins, to be loyal to God through the strength that comes in Christ and finally to be at home with him when our journey here has been faithfully completed.
Maybe you are here this morning and you would like to take your stand with this great God through repenting and being baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Perhaps you are someone who gave up on the journey somewhere and needs to come back home. If we can help in either of those ways, then wouldn’t you please let us know it by coming right now while we stand and sing together?