What Good Are Friends For
January 30, 2019
The concept of compassion can be a confusing subject. The Biblical descriptions of compassion are usually far more involved and dramatic. For example, in Matthew Chapter 9, Jesus looked at the people that were brought to Him and the scriptures testify that He was “moved with compassion.” The word in the original language that describes compassion means, “to be moved unto one’s bowels.” In other words, Jesus saw the multitudes and was sick to His stomach. He got queasy. The reason that Jesus felt this way was because He saw the people as “scattered abroad, like sheep without a shepherd.” The people had no spiritual direction. The people were engaging with the One True Living God in the flesh and couldn’t recognize Him. The depravity of the people had caused them to be so spiritually blind that they were wandering about with no purpose, direction, or hope. This made Jesus’ stomach turn. This was not His intention for His people, yet the sins of the people caused these ill-effects. Still, compassion in the Bible doesn’t just refer to the sick feeling that Jesus had. The contextual usage of the word shows that Jesus was compelled to respond to that uneasiness. Jesus saw pain and distress within the people, but true Biblical compassion is coupled with the desire to alleviate the distress.
In Romans 12:15-16 the Bible says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.” The idea here communicates that God’s people are supposed to be selfless; looking for opportunities to serve the spiritual needs of others. We are to look at others and consider ways we can help. In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote that this sort of service is the means by which we are to express our thanks to God for the mercy we’ve received in salvation! In order to thank God, we are to “weep with those who weep” and “be of the same mind toward one another.” We aren’t supposed to see others in distress and just brush it off. We aren’t supposed to consider our personal circumstances so important that we leave others in distress in order to handle our own business at all times. Our own business should be based on the privilege we have to serve the needs of one another. This is why Paul later wrote in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
The distress of others should pluck the cords of our own hearts. The spiritual anguish of others was the reason that Jesus did the things that He did many times. For example, in John Chapter 11, the scriptures testify that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead after he had been dead four days! This is a tremendous miracle! Yet, before Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out of the tomb, He examined the circumstances of the people weeping at the tomb and He wept with them. Again, the context of the scriptures reveal that Jesus wept because He was sick to His stomach regarding what sin had done to His people. Jesus had just explained that He is the resurrection, but the people felt death was final. The people didn’t understand or believe in the eternal power of the Almighty God. The people were without hope seeing that Lazarus was dead as if death had superior authority over Jesus. Jesus wept for the lack of faith and absence of hope that His people had. The spiritual depravity of the people and the absence of hope the people had caused Jesus to be moved so that He responded with one of the greatest miracles in the entire Bible.
This same principle is illustrated in the testimony of Job. The bulk of the Book of Job is the documentation of several dialogues between Job and his friends as they try to understand the reason for Job’s dramatic change in circumstances. Though those conversations were not always helpful, Job’s friends were good friends that had good intentions. They were men provoked by the same sort of compassion as Jesus; the same sort of compassion as commanded by Paul in the Book of Romans and Galatians. In Job 2:11-13 the Bible explains that Job had three friends that heard about the tragedies in Job’s life and made immediate efforts to offer up any sort of comfort they could. It is important to consider the subtle details of their response to Job’s circumstances. First, the scriptures state that each one came from their own place in order to visit Job. Though it is not exactly clear where each of Job’s friends were from, it is likely that these men traveled great distances. Eliphaz is called a Temanite. It is believed that this region was located north of Job’s town (the land of Uz, which is in the region of Edom) near Damascus. Bildad is called a Shuhite, which scholars believe was a region close to the land of Uz. However, Zophar is called a Naamathite, which is believed to be in Saudi Arabia heading south towards Yemen. Eliphaz and Zophar would have had to travel a great and dangerous distance to be with their friend in his time of need.
After receiving word of Job’s illness somehow, the men endeavored to be with their friend. They didn’t make excuses because of the distances. They didn’t consider their personal schedules and affairs to be more important than the needs of their friend. They embraced the inconvenience required to travel and sought to comfort their friend in a time of need. The Bible states that Job’s three friends ultimately stayed for seven days and seven nights showing the extent of sacrifice they were willing to undertake on their own. Their compassion was not passive. Their compassion was not offered through the filter of their own convenience. These men took time out of their own work and personal ambitions and requirements to pour into a man who had greater needs than their own. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had the hearts to offer comfort and mourn with their “brother” in his greatest time of need.
The comfort that the men provided was as genuine as can be. The Bible states that when the men approached Job, they couldn’t really recognize him because of how the boils had consumed his body. Job’s friends were not grossed out and turned away by Job’s illness. They were not ashamed of Job, but instead embraced the suffering of Job by undertaking the traditional practices of mourning. They tore their clothes, spread ashes on themselves, and prayed to God in heaven. Their emotional response was an indication that Job’s suffering caused them to grieve too. They weren’t indifferent to Job’s pain. While they could not physically identify with Job’s pain and could not understand the extent of his suffering, nor the cause, they wept with Job, being broken by Job’s brokenness.
Lastly, the Bible says that the comfort Job’s friends offered at first was simple, but profound. Not knowing what to say, they didn’t seek to be heroes to offer the words to change Job’s life. They didn’t immediately offer advice. They didn’t immediately interject their thoughts or opinions about what Job was going through. The Bible testifies that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar just sat with Job. They traveled the distance that they did to just sit quietly with Job for a week. The scriptures are specific to state that they didn’t speak a word to Job seeing that his suffering was so great. Job’s friends didn’t show up and display arrogance by speaking things they thought would change everything, telling Job that everything was going to be okay. Clearly Job’s circumstances were confusing to all of them. They didn’t know what was happening or why. The men just knew that Job’s issues were terrible and they didn’t have words for him. They didn’t need to have words for Job. The Bible suggests that Job just needed people to be around him for quiet encouragement. The words that were spoken to Job were from his wife, telling Job to curse God and die. It was likely a relief to have three men offer company out of compassion and just quietly encourage the distress with their silent presence where compassion could be felt, not necessarily heard. This is what it is to bear one another’s burdens. This is the heart condition that resembles that of Jesus. Though these friends didn’t physically or verbally offer anything to Job, their compassion was sufficient to provoke Job to speak later, going through the steps he needed to go through to deal with his pain.