Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Words of Grace

If you've never read through the Old Testament book of Job, I encourage you to read it. There's no better soap to wash away human pride. In the book of Job, we read of a conversation between God and Satan concerning the man, Job. Job was "a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil." God taunted Satan with the goodness of Job. Satan tried to tempt God by saying, "Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? . . . But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face." So God gave Satan permission to tighten the screws of Job's life. In what appears to be one day, Job lost his livestock and servants to marauders, his farm to a "fire from God," and all ten of his children to a windstorm while they were gathered together for dinner. It seems that Job is left with his wife. Any one of those losses would have been difficult to deal with, especially when they came upon him so quickly. Job's faith in God was tested in a way that few have known. But Job's testing wasn't finished. God also permitted Satan to steal Job's health. God had one stipulation. "Only spare his life." Job was struck with painful sores all over his body. Talk about a change in fortune!

I want to zoom in on the dialog between Job and his wife after his health was sapped. Job's wife is rarely mentioned. Surely she, too, had feelings of great loss over her children and estate. So it's not surprising when she finally blurts out, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die." It's not surprising that she says that, but it is wrong-headed. Job recognized this and responded, "You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" In other words, people don't refuse all the good things that God sends their way. No one is worthy of God's good gifts. So when something bad happens, how can anyone complain? Clearly Job's wife didn't see things that way. If she did, she wouldn't have provoked her husband the way she did.

The book of Job gives us a classic example of how NOT to encourage our spouse. We must be very careful that our words are not used to destroy our spouse. Make no mistake. If Job would have followed his wife's hasty counsel, rather than rebuking her, things may not have turned out so well for our hero. Instead, Job "did not sin with his lips." Don't be like Job's wife (whether you're a husband or wife). Don't speak words of bitterness and death to your spouse. For example, let's pretend our husband comes home from work complaining about how he was mistreated by his boss. Be like the apostle, Paul, and only speak what is "good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Eph. 4:29). I'll briefly explain how to do that.

Jesus tells us that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Mat. 12:34). What kind of heart shouts, "Curse God and die!"? A heart that lacks faith in God shouts such things. The words of Job's wife advertise where her hope was. King David wrote, "Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you" (Ps. 63:3). Job's wife wasn't hoping in the God whose "steadfast love is better than life" (Ps. 63:3). If she were, her lips would have praised God. Instead, she cursed God. Her hope was clearly in all the generous blessings that God had given her. She worshiped the blessings of creation, rather than the Creator and Giver of the blessings. Her words were just the overflow of her idolatrous worship. And if we worship the blessings of creation, our idolatry will overflow in bitter words of death.

If we're going to follow Paul's instruction in Ephesians rather than the example of Job's wife, we can't just try to control our tongues. We can't just "think before we speak." If our thoughts are wrong, our speech is going to come out wrong. We must change our thoughts. Our thoughts can only be changed by changing our object of worship. If we're going to speak words of grace to our spouse, we must truly believe that God's love is better than life, and anything that life has to offer. The only way for that to become a reality is to contemplate and desire God more than the blessings of this life. Only when we desire God more than life, are we free to speak words of grace and life to our spouse.

I will now give a concrete example of how all this looks in the drudgery of daily living. Let's pretend our husband comes home from work complaining about how he's been mistreated by his boss. What will we say to him? Will we encourage him like Job's wife or Paul? "I can't believe your boss would say that to you! Who does he think he is? Tomorrow, you go in there and give him a piece of your mind in front of everyone! You need to stop being the whipping boy of the entire office!" That kind of encouragement doesn't take into account James 1:20. "the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires." A better response may look like this: "Wow, dear. It sounds like you had a rough day. Was your boss justified in his criticism of your performance? I'm sure you'll assess the situation properly and make any changes you need to. Even if your boss is totally unjustified in his tirade, it's nice to know that Christ has given us an example of how to suffer wrongly for the joy set before us. We know that God is working this trial out for our good to conform us to the image of Christ."

Do you see the difference in the two responses above? The first response is entirely devoid of a godly perspective. The second response rightly puts the situation firmly within the sovereign, wise control of a loving God. That's how we speak grace to our spouse.

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