Sermon series: Lessons from Job
In this sermon, Andy Cook uses Job 28 to deal with biblical truths about wisdom.
Crisis intensifies our need for wisdom.
God is our only source of true wisdom.
Godly wisdom leads directly to godly action.
Illustration: There's a difference between intelligence and wisdom, as illustrated by the old story of the favorite course at the University. The favorite course? A survey of the New Testament. It was a favorite because there was no homework, no reading, and no tests before the final. And on the final, for 25 years, the same professor had always presented the same question: "Describe the Missionary Journeys of Paul."
A young man by the name of "Meathead," a star on the school's football team, took the course. And a tutor helped him prepare, all semester long, for the final exam. When the day of the test came, Meathead was ready. He knew everything about every journey Paul ever took. He knew about Philippi and Thessalonica, Rome and Tyre. He knew about Timothy and Barnabas and Luke. He was ready.
But when the final exam was passed out, students all over that great auditorium were stunned to see a new question. For the first time in a quarter-century, the professor decided to ask a different question. Instead of a question about Paul's missionary journeys, there was this question: "Critique the Sermon on the Mount that was preached by Jesus."
The shock was felt across the room. And a young man got up, took his blue book - a little book that was designed to hold his essay - and threw it down on the professor's desk. It was empty. He didn't know how to answer the question. And one by one, all of the students left, none of them able to answer the question ... except for Meathead.
Meathead opened his blue book and began to write. He wrote and he wrote and he wrote. The professor's assistant came back an hour later, and Meathead was still writing. Two hours later, and Meathead was going at it. For a full three hours, Meathead filled up his blue book.
That afternoon, the professor had two stacks of blue books. On his right, a tall stack of empty blue books, all with the grade of F. On his left, one, single blue book, with a big, bold A+ right on top. It was Meathead's.
"What in the world did you write about?" Asked a classmate. "Read it," said Meathead. And on the first page was the opening sentence. "Who am I to criticize the Sermon on the Mount? Instead, let me tell you about the missionary journeys of Paul."
Meathead . . . had discovered wisdom.
1. Crisis intensifies our need for wisdom.
Illustration: In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, millions of people in the vicinity of New Orleans began asking some very simple questions. Without power, transportation, food and water, they wanted to know how they were going to survive. After a few days of deteriorating conditions, the questions were framed by feelings of panic. The crisis left thousands homeless in huge sports arenas, looters in the streets, and governmental agencies woefully unprepared for the magnitude of the crisis. With each passing day, the crisis intensified, and the demands for action grew more strident. Eventually, steps were taken to alleviate the immediate needs of Katrina's victims, but not before hundreds had died in the storm's aftermath, and not before world-wide criticism was leveled at leaders who hadn't prepared well enough for the storm.
One of the main reasons the storm was so devastating? A huge percentage of the population hadn't evacuated, despite mandatory evacuation notices and precise weather data that showed the strength, size, and direction of the coming storm.
Less than a month later, when Hurricane Rita roared ashore along the Texas-Louisiana state line, the aftermath of the storm wasn't nearly as disastrous. The main reason? Most of the people in the path of the storm had taken a lesson from the first hurricane.
Galveston, Texas, for instance, a coastal city with a population of 58,000, was almost a ghost town a full three days before Rita was scheduled to make landfall.
"Normally, we see people begin to make preparations about 48 hours before a hurricane hits," said Margaret O'Brien-Molina, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross. But four days before Rita was to come ashore, she said, "gas was starting to dwindle in some areas and stores were jammed with people getting ready. They are taking it very seriously - mainly because of hurricane Katrina." (Source: "Gulf Coast residents apply lesson from first superstorm: Get out." Kris Axtman, The Christian Science Monitor September 23, 2005.
Hurricane Katrina intensified hurricane awareness for residents along the Gulf Coast, and most of them acted upon that wisdom.
For Job, it must have seemed that life had sent him a triple dose of hurricanes back to back to back, with no warning at all. His possessions disappeared first, and then came the devastating loss of his children. In a short while, even his body was pummeled by disease and sickness. It took him a week to get his voice (Job 2:13), and when he started talking, he was looking for answers. He needed wisdom to understand his suffering more than ever before. The multi-faceted crisis had deeply intensified his search for wisdom. As the debate over his suffering drug on, Job's frustration flooded his heart.
"Where can wisdom be found?" Job asked (28:12) "Where does understanding dwell." In the poetic words of the book, Job looked throughout the "land of the living," in the sea, in the market place. "It cannot be bought with the finest gold," Job said, "nor can its price be weighed with silver." (28:15)
The intensity of Job's analysis builds from his first words to his last argument, and will only be matched by the appearance of God in the closing chapters.
Illustration: A life-threatening crisis came to my home when I was only 25. My wife suffered a near-fatal stroke and was rushed to the hospital, where doctors scrambled to keep her alive. Within hours, we were making decisions that face families countless times, every day. Our options included surgery, medical treatment and prayer. To make matters worse, two doctors adamantly called for two radically different courses of action. One proposed immediate surgery, while the other warned that immediate surgery would be the worst of all options. Both said my wife might die if their course of advice wasn't taken. A third doctor solved our dilemma by arranging a course of treatment acceptable to both of our first two doctors, and within a few months, that course of action proved to be the right one. Looking back on that time, the comparison is almost too much to comprehend. On Wednesday, my most difficult decision was what to choose for lunch. On Thursday, I needed to make a life-saving decision for my wife! Needless to say, crisis intensified our search for wisdom.
2. God is our only source of true wisdom.
With wisdom hiding from Job, he came to understand a simple truth. Only God holds true wisdom. "He alone knows where it dwells," Job said, barely concealing his frustration and anger. (Job 28:23)
Of course, saying that God is our only source of wisdom won't bring Job or his descendants much comfort. After all, how do we gain access to such wisdom?
Illustration: Consider the little boy who came home from his first day of school, dropped his little backpack and quickly settled into his summertime, life-of-ease routine. His mother said, "Do you have any homework for class tomorrow?" He looked at her with disbelief, and said, "I have to go back tomorrow?"
We laugh at the child who can't understand the years-long nature of the educational process, but somehow think we can check in with God on the day of crisis and come away with a lifetime of understanding.
Wisdom is very much like the educational process. In fact, wisdom is the goal of education. It takes years of day-to-day studies, years of reading, learning new skills, and applying those skills in ever-new ways.
Godly wisdom will have to use the tools of faith in a pro-active journey simply to prepare for the day of crisis. The Bible is the written word of God. The church holds the people of God. A godly life is the practical application of the ways of God. A person who invests in reading the Bible, attending church and applying biblical principles to every-day choices will naturally begin to learn much more about the wisdom of God than a person who does not.
Illustration: Mahatma Gandhi spoke forcefully to Christians when he said, "You Christians have in your keeping a document with enough dynamite in it to blow the whole of civilization to bits; to turn society upside down; to bring peace to this war torn world. But you read it as if it were just good literature, and nothing else."
Illustration: Research from the George Barna group tells us that well over half of American adults (60 percent) never read the Bible in a typical week, and a full one-third of those identified as "born again" Christians can't find time to read their Bibles. (Source: "The State of the Church, 2000," The Barna Group, March 21, 2000. www.barna.org.)
When people don't heed hurricane warnings and mandatory evacuations, they understand the risk they're taking by staying in the aim of a coming storm. People who assume the storms of life aren't coming, and who never wrestle with the words of the Bible need to understand the choice they're making, too. You can't form a deep relationship with Almighty God in the short few hours of a crisis. We must be about the work of getting to know the God who holds all wisdom – and that will only come with a long-term, dedicated study of the Word of God.
When Solomon penned his proverbs, he first tackled the subject of finding wisdom, and he urged his son to search for it the way a miner would search for silver, or the way a man might hunt for hidden treasure. Either task is marked by hours of hard work, sweat, and persistence. Both types of work involve some frightening moments, but if the job is completed, the rewards are worth the work. Search for wisdom like that, Solomon said, and "you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God." (Proverbs 2:5)
3. Godly wisdom leads directly to godly action.
Job knew that sheer knowledge about God wasn't enough. Real wisdom would lead to real action.
'The fear of the Lord-that is wisdom,and to shun evil is understanding.' " (28:28)
This, ultimately, is the test of wisdom. Will knowledge of God lead to godly actions? Will all the Bible reading actually result in a changed life?
Illustration: Reading the Bible without applying it to your life can be downright dangerous. On August 3, 1996, Melvin Hitchens, sat on his front porch and read the Bible. After his Bible reading, this 66 year old New Orleans resident went in his house and retrieved a .45 caliber hand gun. He went back outside, and shot his neighbors! He killed Donna Jett as she swept her sidewalk and injured Darryl Jett while he was mowing. Family members and neighborhood residents testified that Hitchens and the Jett's had a running feud over the care of their yards and the cleanliness of the gutters. No one, however, had an explanation how a man could put down his Bible, and commit such a violent act! Positive transformation requires the application of God's Word. (Source: Houston Chronicle, 8/5/96, p.7A)
As Christians, we live in the wonderful embrace of grace. The death of Christ on the cross means our sins are forgiven, and our debt is paid, as long as we accept that gift. After that initial moment of salvation, another question follows us for the rest of our lives: Will grace make a difference in the way we live?
Illustration: Imagine a newly-wed couple, fresh back from their honeymoon. Married only a week, it's time to settle down for the routine. Can you imagine the conversation that would ensue if a young wife spotted her husband getting dressed on his first Friday back from the honeymoon . . . and if he told her that he "had a date?" When a man gets married, he acts in a different way. He doesn't date other women after the wedding – not if he wants to stay married. We're bright enough to understand that the commitment of marriage demands a different lifestyle from those who make the commitment. Wisdom asks the question, "Do you understand that a commitment to Christ also means you'll have a different lifestyle?"
Throughout his suffering, and throughout his long debate about that suffering, Job would not let go of his insistence that he'd lived his life in a godly way, and that he would continue to do so. In one of his late arguments, he said:
as long as I have life within me,the breath of God in my nostrils,my lips will not speak wickedness,and my tongue will utter no deceit.I will never admit you are in the right;till I die, I will not deny my integrity. (Job 27:3-5)
Illustration: Steve May tells the story of "Dee," who grew up in an affluent home in east Tennessee. She came from an affluent, but unchurched home. Dee's time at college involved as much wild living as it did studying, and soon her life became a never ending search for a party.
One weekend, Dee and her friends rented some rooms at a local motel, and set about the usual activities involving drugs and alcohol. On this weekend, the group also devised a contest to see who could steal the most from the room. One of the things Dee stole was the Gideon Bible.
Since they all thought it was funny, Dee won the contest.
Several weeks later, Dee's life began to fall apart. She discovered she was pregnant. Abortion seemed the only solution, and it was a solution she had used in the past. Her boyfriend left her, and Dee found herself all alone.
One night, in the midst of her fear and uncertainty, in the midst of her crisis, she picked up the Bible she had stolen and began to read.
She flipped the book open to 1 Samuel, and found the story of Hannah, who desperately wanted a child. It was the first time Dee had ever read the Bible, and the words seemed to have a life of their own. In a short time, as she read more of the Bible, and as she found Christians ready to help her, Dee accepted Christ. As the years went by, Dee grew deeper in her walk with Christ, and by the time her child was a teen-ager, both mother and daughter were telling their story to groups all around their community.
It was crisis that brought Dee to a point of searching for answers, and it was the Bible that took her to the only place where she'd find true wisdom. And immediately, that wisdom changed the way Dee lived.