Giving Good Advice
March 25, 2019
When speaking to people around us to try and encourage, help, or build them up, it is important to pay attention to the effect that our words have on them. First and foremost, it is important to make sure that the words we speak that we hope will produce a profit, are the words of God. We need to make sure that our words are not the product of our own wisdom or opinion. When people speak their opinions, especially from positions of authority, the scriptures show that there is seldom a fruitful result. The Word of God should be our sole source of wisdom. The testimonies of scripture should be the place from which we gather our thoughts and explain what is right and good. Our understanding of God’s righteousness and goodness should be the platform from which we launch our discussions. Even still when we are speaking as the oracles of God, it is important to note how our audience is responding. Are our words really profitable? Is the Biblical counsel we are giving actually being received as encouragement? Is our audience receiving our words as true, or have we taken the wrong approach to good intentions and spoken of things that aren’t true so that our words have an adverse effect on our audience? If our hearts are truly set on serving the spiritual needs of others by the Holy Spirit, then these are the things that should be in our minds when we speak.
The testimony of Job shows that Job’s friends didn’t really seek to provide any service. They spoke words of truth, but because they approached Job with attitudes of self-righteousness, their words were not delivered with the grace of the Holy Spirit. As a result, their truth was misapplied to Job, and became damaging to him. Job confessed several times over that the words of his friends were not helpful at all. It is true that Job’s friends knew things about God, and the things they said about God and His righteous judgments were true. Still, those truths were not true of Job. It was as if Job’s friends brought sledge hammers to the surgery table to help Job. Even when seeing Job’s condition and his response to the use of the hammer, they didn’t adjust to change their approach. They just hammered away at Job until he couldn’t take it anymore. The testimony of Job 19:1-6 shows how Job felt about the indifference and self-righteousness of his friends. Though they felt they were doing Job a service, Job’s speech explains what it looks like when we seek only to prove ourselves right rather than serve the spiritual needs of others.
Job first began by stating, “How long will you torment my soul.” Job began his reply against Bildad in the same way that Bildad began his reply against Job – how long. This is the nature of arguments when people are motivated for different purposes. Job sought comfort for his affliction. Job’s friends sought to show the cause of Job’s suffering even though the cause could not be known. Job sought to prove his integrity. Job’s friends sought to prove themselves right. This group of people were not on the same page. Job’s friends were not stirred up by the Spirit of God to die to themselves to comfort Job with applicable truth. Job wondered if they would ever stop. At the same time, Job’s friends wondered if Job would ever stop complaining. Here, the Bible makes it clear that when we have differing motives, arguments arise and no one wins in the end. How long they go is determined by our willingness to lead in silence. Whether right or wrong, our continuance to prove our point will ensure no point is made in the end. When Jesus was falsely accused as a rioter and blasphemer, He didn’t say a word. He knew the Jewish religious leaders were committed to destroying Him. Jesus didn’t need to defend Himself since He knew He was right. His righteousness was proved by His quiet actions, not His eloquent words that proved the opposition wrong.
Still, it is worth noting the effect that this argument had on Job. Notice that the words of Job’s friends had reached the depths of his soul. This is not mere poetry. This is not Jewish hyperbole. This is not an exaggeration for the sake of drama. Though the saying says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” time and history has proved this saying to be false. Words hurt. Words cut. Words penetrate deep into the human psyche. Words can fester in our minds and stay with us for long times, affecting our attitude and conduct. This was not the first time Job had made a statement like this. Job had already let his friends know that their words were hurtful. Yet his friends would not consider the pain they were causing. Job let his friends know that their words were not helpful to his cause and were not true of his circumstances. Yet his friends never stopped to consider their course of action and dialogue to reconsider their viewpoint and approach. To Job, the “advice” of his friends was torment to his soul. His sores made his body hurt. The losses of his family and wealth likely made his mind and emotional capacity hurt. The words of his friends went straight to his heart to amplify the pain in those other areas, and Job’s friends never stopped to see the effect of their “service.”
Job explained that he had been reproached by his friends “ten times.” Here, Job was slightly exaggerating the truth to prove the point of his pain. The truth is, Job’s friends had responded against him five times. Job’s mention to being reproached “ten times” explains that their words brought twice the pain each time they spoke. While any reproach is not pleasant at the time that it is given, the sting that Job’s friends administered was twice as bad. A painful reproach by normal standards is supposed to produce a profitable and fruitful result through loving correction. Job’s exaggeration explained that the words of his friends were malicious and damaging. There was no fruit. There was no profit. There was no benefit to anything they were saying and Job’s friends were not willing to open their eyes to this truth. What good is medication that compounds the problem? Should it continue to be administered? What good is a surgery that kills the patient? Should that surgical procedure be repeated? These are the sorts of things that, if Job’s friends were seeking to glorify God by their service, would have went about their service in the manner of Him – seeking to build up the soul, not tear it down for the sake of being right.
Job explained that his friends didn’t even care that they had wrong him to this degree. According to Job, they were so fixated on being right and winning the argument that they had no concern for the damage they were actually causing. Here, Job even admits that, if he were wrong, he would admit it. Several times, to both his friends and to God, Job sought to know the specific sin that he actually committed that was the cause of his anguish. His friends pegged him for a hypocrite, but Job knew that wasn’t true. Still, Job wanted to find out the truth. He never claimed to be perfect. He knew he was worthy of punishment of any kind. Job wanted to see his fault so that he could quickly repent of it, seeking the mercy of God. It was inability to know the exact reason for his pain that caused him to grieve more. Nevertheless, Job stated that, whatever his fault was, whatever his sin, his sin was not committed against his friends. Job’s suffering was not because he wronged his friends and treated them with evil. Job’s pain was not because he tormented the souls of his friends. Job made this remark to open the minds of his friends. If he didn’t treat his friends maliciously, why were his friends treating him maliciously without concern for the effects of their conduct?
Therefore, Job concluded that the words of his friends were on account of self-righteousness. They were not speaking in order to provide service. They exalted themselves above Job so that they could attack him. They saw the condition of Job and figured that he was pitiful in the eyes of God because of the way things looked. They looked down on Job because of his circumstances. They felt more capable and qualified to state truth, figuring to be more in touch and in tune with God because they weren’t suffering like Job. They were wrong. Their opinions of themselves was based on the standards of self-righteousness, not God’s truth. They were not better than Job. Job was not despised by God. Job was not being judged by God. Job was not a hypocrite destined to condemnation. The attitudes of Job’s friends were in fact evil. This shows that when we think more highly of ourselves than we ought, we become prime and usable tools of the devil to inflict unnecessary pain and grief to God’s people. Had Job’s friends figured themselves to be equally as sinful as Job – which is the truth – they would not have spoken down to Job, being his accusers and judges. Instead, they would have related to him with mercy, seeking to intercede on his behalf to support Job’s weaknesses.
At the end of it all, Job recognized that God was in charge of all this. Job didn’t understand the exact work God was doing through his harsh friends, but his pain was not really the result of his friend’s words. The words of his friends were not right to the point of conviction so that Job felt guilty of his conscience. The words of Job’s friends were not painful on account of truth conflicting with Job’s flesh. The pain that Job had from the words of his friends was because God made those words painful. Job figured that God wanted him to suffer, and God ensured that his friends spoke sharp words to cause deep pain for some sort of judgment or reproach. Job knew that his friends were wrong, but that God was using that wrongness to do something in his own heart. Though Job couldn’t understand why God was causing suffering this way, he submitted to it, continued to submit to the sovereign control of God, trusted in His providential care, and stayed fixed on the hope of better things in eternity, trusting that the pain God caused then would produce fruit and profit in eternal life.
Still, at the end of the day, Job’s friends were wrong and refused to consider the possibility of their wrongness. It is clear to see that when we are motivated to prove ourselves right and good, rather than glorify the name of the Lord by serving the spiritual needs of others according to the testimony of Jesus, empowered by His Spirit, nothing good comes from it. We can easily be more damaging than good. Thus, the Bible is right again when it commands us to humble ourselves before God, consider the weakness and depravity of our own frame, and approach others with the meekness and gentleness of Jesus Christ, lest we tear down in our attempts to build up.