“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;” —2 Corinthians 4:17
Spiritual Worship in Suffering
Job worshipped Jehovah God in spirit. Although he knew nothing of the conversation between God and Satan, Job trusted in the sovereignty of God when he praised Him for his situation: “the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). The declaration of this truth must come by faith because it is an expression of Job’s trust in God. That’s spiritual worship.
Suffering transforms us in two basic ways and the result of that transformation produces worship “in spirit” (at least this is one aspect of spiritual worship as it pertains to suffering). Suffering, first, strengthens our faith; and second, makes us more like Christ.
Suffering strengthens faith. Although Job practiced the external religion of the Old Testament, offering sacrifices for himself and his family (Job 1:5), his external religion was a product of the internal reality of his faith in God. We know this because, after the first set of calamities, he praised God in spirit, giving evidence of his faith, trusting in a sovereign God (Job 1:20-22).
Yet, God brought Job further in his faith. The LORD did not merely allow for Job’s faith to be manifested, He also strengthened Job’s faith through more adversity. Job 2:1-6 recounts a second conversation between Satan and Jehovah, whereas Satan says, “Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life. But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face” (Job 2:4-5). Satan is allowed to inflict Job physically, yet, he also received strict orders from God to spare Job’s life; so Satan struck Job’s body with boils from head to toe (Job 2:6-8). It is here where Job’s faith is strengthened. Job’s wife tells him that he ought to give up; that he should just “curse God, and die” (Job 2:9). “But [Job] said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips” (Job 2:10).
Through his own circumstances, Paul knew that suffering and adversity strengthened faith: “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). Suffering begets spiritual growth; increased faith begets spiritual worship.
Suffering makes us like Christ. Through God’s providence every situation and circumstance we encounter is used by God in conforming us into the image of His beloved Son: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:28-29). Though it would not be the only thing in those circumstances, suffering would certainly be included in “all things” working together. As Christ was always pleasing to the Father (Jn. 8:29), we become increasingly pleasing to the Father, worshipping Him by faith in the midst of our trials, knowing that these trials are making us more like Christ (see Rom. 12:1; 1 Cor. 1:31; 2 Cor. 4:10, et al).
Suffering brings us fellowship with Christ’s sufferings. As we are being both strengthened in faith and conformed to the image of Christ through our sufferings, we are able to worship in spirit more intimately because our sufferings help us to more appropriately and intimately identify with Christ’s sufferings. God’s desire for us is that we “may know [Christ], and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Phil. 3:10).
Peter tells us, “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). Though our sufferings could never come close to the infinite and eternal glory of Christ’s sufferings, when we do suffer, because Christ has suffered, our sufferings, by faith, should secure our hearts to Calvary’s cross. We can worship God in spirit through our sufferings because we are brought by the Spirit to “know… the fellowship of [Christ’s] sufferings” (Phil. 3:10) since we are “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20) and “planted together in the likeness of his death” (Rom. 6:5). Because of the reality of our salvation through the atoning death of Christ, our sufferings bring us a more intimate, supernatural fellowship with the sufferings of Christ in His atoning death. Our suffering, by faith, makes His death more real to our souls, and thus, when we worship God in spirit, our worship springs forth from the greatest truth in the universe: Christ crucified.
Worship Hindered by Suffering
Though saved by God’s grace, because we are descendents of fallen Adam, being “carnal, sold under sin” (Rom. 7:14), we may have a tendency at times toward sin. Therefore, in our suffering, our worship of God may be hindered in three ways: (1) through self-pity; (2) through self-righteousness; and (3) through self-vindication.
Self-pity. Upon hearing of his circumstances, three of Job’s friends went to him and sat with him in silence for seven days and nights (Job 2:11-13). Suddenly, Job speaks and wallows in self-pity (Job 3:1-26). In Job 3:2 he essentially says that it would have been better had he never been born.
Because Job was upright and feared God he worshipped the LORD twice after severe calamity struck. He maintained his integrity before God and before his friends for a whole week before he broke in an outburst of self-pity. When Job was alone, his attention was upon God alone; when his friends sat in his presence, however, sometime during that silence Job got distracted. When our eyes are upon Christ, His majesty abounds and we see ourselves as insignificant in the light of His glory (Psa. 8:4). When we get our eyes off of Christ, we tend to see ourselves as more important than we are. As if to say, “Why, oh, why, is this happening to me?”
Self-righteousness. As Job’s friends begin to speak, especially with particularly bad theology, Job’s self-pity gives way to self-righteousness. Job asks, “Is there iniquity in my tongue? cannot my taste discern perverse things?” (Job 6:30). In other words he says, “Have I spoken sinfully? Don’t I know the difference between good and evil?”
Though it was true that these calamities did not come to Job because he did something especially evil, it is equally true that, apart from the grace of God, all his “righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). When the sound of their erroneous philosophies came to Job’s ears, because he had already taken his eyes off of Jehovah, he could easily be lifted up in self-righteousness, thinking that he knew better than they. When we do not stand by faith upon God’s truth, we will tend to get puffed up by our own knowledge and in our own assessments (1 Cor. 8:1). As if to say, “I can’t believe that they could possibly think in that way.”
Self-vindication. After contending against the bad theology of his three friends, and after defending himself from their veiled accusations, Job’s self-righteousness gave way to self-vindication; and it was evident to his friends that Job felt he was justified, vindicated in himself: “So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes” (Job 32:1).
This is the worst condition of the three because it minimizes at best, or removes at worse, the justification that comes from God alone. Sinful man cannot justify himself. Only God can justify: “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth” (Rom. 8:33); and justification specifically comes through the cross of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:23-27). Self-vindication would be as if to say, “Who do they think they are to say those kinds of things about me?”
Benefits of Worship through Suffering
There are three main benefits found in the worship of God through our sufferings: (1) consolation in Christ alone; (2) strength through God’s Word; and (3) service by the cross of Christ. Interestingly, the benefits of worship through suffering are also the prevention and prescription for this plague of “self” that hinders true spiritual worship.
Consolation in Christ alone. Suffering allows us to worship God in spirit and in truth because our only consolation is in Christ alone, our Redeemer: “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ” (2 Cor. 1:5). Christ is our comfort in suffering; yet, He is also the prevention and prescription for departing into the ways that hinder worship and indulge self. Job uttered this truth of Christ, for it is upon our Redeemer we must cling: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth” (Job 19:25).
Strength through God’s Word. Suffering drives us to find strength from God’s Word to endure all we are going through. As we worship God in the midst of our sufferings, we are strengthened because the assurance of our faith is in God’s eternal and steadfast decrees, not in our situations and circumstances. Job declares, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear” (Job 42:5); for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Our circumstances may change for better or worse, “but [Christ’s] words shall not pass away” (Mt. 24:35; Mk. 13:31; Lk. 21:33).
Service by the cross of Christ. Our sufferings bring us a greater revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ. In Job’s reconciliation by God in the revelation of God at the end of his sufferings, Job worshipped God by saying, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee” (Job 42:5). Though Job’s time was before the “fullness of the time” when Jesus Christ would come and die upon the cross; nevertheless, Job’s restoration by God foreshadows our reconciliation with God through the atoning death of Christ. Because of the reality of the cross of Christ, the forgiveness of sins we receive and the reconciliation with God we have, we may intercede for others just as Christ interceded for us when He hung upon that tree, saying, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34); and as He continues, even now, to intercede from heaven (Heb. 7:25). God commanded Job’s three friends to have Job intercede in prayer and sacrifice. Job becomes the mediator between God and his friends, the very desire he had for himself in Job 16:21. As we suffer, we can see the cross more clearly, minister more compassionately, and endure more joyfully.
This article was written on May 25, 2010 specifically for the The Sovereign Grace Messenger, a periodical published by the Sovereign Grace Baptist Fellowship. It appeared in Issue 27. of the Messenger. Because of its length, the original article has been posted in two parts at Preaching Christ Crucified. Read Part One by Clicking Here.