THE CASE FOR GODíS LOVE
Week of September 19, 2010
Bible Verses:† Job 40:1-9; Romans 8:18-21,28-30.
Lesson Focus:† This lesson is about trusting a loving God in a world of suffering and evil.
We Donít Have the Full Picture: Job 40:1-9.
† And the LORD said to Job: † "Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it." † Then Job answered the LORD and said: † "Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. † I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further." † Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: † "Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. † Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? † Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?
Job had set himself up arbitrarily as Godís accuser. How could Job assume such a lofty position in the light of who God is? After this front row seat surveying the marvels and mysteries of Godís created universe [see Job 38-39], was Job still ready to make his proud insinuations and accusations about the nature of Godís lordship over all things? It was Jobís turn to speak again. But there would be no long speeches, no more rage, no more challenging his Creator. In verses 3-5, Job, the challenger, in a hand-over-mouth posture, realized how complex and mysterious Godís ways were. In other words, the view of the things from Godís perspective had chastened Job. His reply was based not so much on his unworthiness as on his insignificance. God had not crushed Job. God had not done what the counselors wanted when they reduced Job to zero, but He had cured Jobís presumption. Job saw how contemptible it must have appeared to God when he said like a prince I would approach him [31:37]. Job had been so moved by this experience, so taken out of himself by his vision of God, that he was released from his problem Ė his concern to be vindicated. And yet God had given him no explanation of his sufferings. Job would no longer alternate outbursts of rage and self-pity. But he was still on the rack; suffering had not abated. Job had gone beyond it to see and trust God as his friend. As a friend God had brought Job out of his bitterness to a full realization that he must reckon with God as God. So Job was humbled and thereby prepared for the Lordís second speech, which will pull together some important threads and bring the drama to a climax. In verses 6-14, using the same formula of challenge, God presented to Job another barrage of questions designed to bring him back to reality. After all Jobís last words were a challenge [31:35-37] that threw into question Godís integrity by suggesting that any indictment God might bring against Job would prove to be false. But all such reasoning was hypothetical nonsense. God had no such indictment of Job in the first place, but Jobís attitude had to be corrected, for he wrongly assumed that he had to be vindicated by God. To do this the Lord reminded Job who He was. Did Job have an arm like Godís; was he almighty ? And where was Jobís majesty and glory ? Job began to realize why God had in His first discourse taken him through His garden of natural wonders. Could Job by his power and glory create and sustain all that? Obviously not! So Job needed also to leave to his Creator supremacy in the moral realm. Job had no power to crush wickedness finally; so obviously he needed to leave that ultimate exercise of justice to God. He needed to let God be God. He needed to cease his agitation over what God was doing and trust Him to do right. These verses are presented as an aggressive challenge to Job. But they are lovingly designed to shake Jobís spirit into realizing God is the only Creator and the only Savior there is. Job needed to learn to quietly and trustfully rest in that truth.
Evaluate Present Sufferings in Light of Eternity:† Romans 8:18-21.
† For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. † For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. † For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope † that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.† [ESV]
Contemplation of the future privileges of the believer leads Paul to think of the contrast this makes with the present state. He shows that suffering is the path we tread as we move to blessing and to glory. Paul holds that the believer must expect sufferings in this present age. There is suffering that is the direct result of our sinning and there is suffering that we endure for Christís sake, suffering that arises directly from our Christian profession in a world that rejects Christ. But beyond that, there is suffering that arises simply because we are in this imperfect world. Paul is realistic; there is no reason to think that Christians will be free from troubles in this present life. It is important, therefore, that they learn how to bear them. Paul sets these sufferings over against the coming glory, saying that they are not worth comparing. Troublesome as they are to us who experience them, they are of no weight when set over against the glory that awaits Godís people [see also 2 Cor. 4:17 for similar teaching]. This glory will be revealed to us. Paul indicates that the glory is waiting for the right time to be revealed to us. And when it is revealed, we will clearly see that the glory far outweighs our present time of suffering. Another for in verse 19 carries on the chain of reasoning in these verses. Paul ascribes to the creation the thought of persistent and eager expectation. Paul personifies creation and pictures it as standing on tiptoe or stretching its neck looking for the consummation of all things. Paul uses two unusual verb forms: waits with eager longing, which together give a vivid picture of the hushed expectancy with which the whole creation awaits the disclosure of the coming glory. Paul is saying that in due time all will be made plain. We know that the creation waits for the revelation because it has been subjected to futility. Paul is saying that sin, which affected the divine purpose in man, affected also the entire nonhuman creation. Lacking the purpose for which it was designed, it has no purpose. The creation, Paul says, was subjected to this futility, and not by its own choice (not willingly). The tense of the verb points to a single occasion of being subjected, which is referring to the fall, which Paul sees as cosmic in its effects. But this cosmic fall is not the last word for creation because it is God who subjected creation to futility for the purpose of setting it free from its bondage. Thus Paul finds a message of hope in creationís futility. Paul looks forward to a time when the total effect of sin will be done away and creation will stand forth in all its glory as God intends it to be. It will be set free from its bondage to corruption which is so characteristic of the physical world.
Discover Good from Suffering:† Romans 8:28-30.
† And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. † For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. † And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.† [ESV]
Having described the chief privileges of justified believers Ė peace with God [5.1-11], union with Christ [5.12-6.23], freedom from the law [7.1-25] and life in the Spirit [8.1-27] Ė Paul now sweeps over the whole plan and purpose of God from a past eternity to an eternity still to come, from the divine foreknowledge and predestination to the divine love from which absolutely nothing will ever be able to separate us. Our Christian hope is solidly grounded on the unwavering love of God. So the burden of Paulís climax is the eternal security of Godís people, on account of the eternal unchangeability of Godís purpose, which is itself due to the eternal steadfastness of Godís love. These tremendous truths the apostle declares three times over, although from three different perspectives. He begins with five unshakeable convictions  about God working all things together for the good of his people. He continues with five undeniable affirmations [29-30] regarding the successive stages of Godís saving purpose from eternity to eternity. And he concludes with five unanswerable questions [31-39], in which he challenges anybody to contradict the convictions and the affirmations which he has just expressed.
 †Five unshakeable convictions. Verse 28 begins with the statement we know. Verse 22 began likewise. So here are two assertions of Christian knowledge, one about the groaning creation and the other about Godís providential care. Paul lists five truths about Godís providence which we know. First, we know that God works, or is at work, in our lives. We know that for those who love God He is working. He is ceaselessly, energetically and purposefully active on their behalf. Secondly, God is at work for the good of His people. Being Himself wholly good, His works are all expressions of His goodness and are calculated to advance His peopleís good. Moreover, the good which is the goal of all His providential dealings with us is our ultimate well-being, namely our final salvation. Thirdly, God works for our good in all things. All things must include the sufferings of verse 17 and the groanings of verse 23. Thus all that is negative in this life is seen to have a positive purpose in the execution of Godís eternal plan. Nothing is beyond the overruling, overriding scope of His providence. Fourthly, God works in all things for the good of those who love Him. This is a necessary limitation. If the good which is Godís objective is our completed salvation, then its beneficiaries are His people who are described as those who love Him and not those who do not love Him. Fifthly, those who love God are also described as those who have been called according to His purpose. For their love for Him is a sign and token of His prior love for them, which finds expression in His eternal purpose and His historical call. So God has a saving purpose and is working in accordance with it. We do not always understand what God is doing, let alone welcome it. Nor are we told that He is at work for our comfort. But we know that in all things He is working towards our supreme good.
[29-30] †Five undeniable affirmations. In verses 29-30, Paul elaborates what he meant in verse 28 by Godís purpose, according to which He has called us and is working everything together for our good. He traces Godís good and saving purpose through five stages from its beginning in His mind to its consummation in the coming glory. These stages he names foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification and glorification. First, comes a reference to those God foreknew. Some commentators both ancient and modern have concluded that God foresees who will believe, and that this foreknowledge is the basis of His predestination. But this cannot be right, for at least two reasons. First, in this sense God foreknows everybody and everything, whereas Paul is referring here to a particular group, the called. Secondly, if God predestines people because they are going to believe, then the ground of their salvation is in themselves and their merit, instead of in Him and His mercy, whereas Paulís whole emphasis is on Godís free initiative of grace. Other commentators have therefore reminded us that the Hebrew verb ďto knowĒ expresses much more than mere intellectual cognition; it denotes a personal relationship of care and affection. Israel was the only people out of all the families of the earth whom Yahweh had Ďknowní, that is, loved, chosen, and formed a covenant with. The meaning of Ďforeknowledgeí in the New Testament is similar. God did not reject his people (Israel), whom he foreknew, that is, whom he loved and chose [11.2]. John Murray writes: ďKnow is used in a sense practically synonymous with love. Whom He foreknew is therefore virtually equivalent to whom He foreloved. Foreknowledge is sovereign, distinguishing love.Ē The only source of divine election and predestination is divine love. Secondly, those God foreknew, or foreloved, He also predestined which is the word meaning to Ďdecide upon beforehandí. Clearly, then, a decision is involved in the process of becoming a Christian, but it is Godís decision before it can be ours. This is not to deny that we decided for Christ, and freely, but to affirm that we did so only because He had first decided for us. This emphasis on Godís gracious, sovereign decision or choice is reinforced by the vocabulary with which it is associated. On the one hand, it is attributed to Godís pleasure, will, plan, and purpose [Eph. 1:5,9,11; 3:11], and on the other it is traced back to before the creation of the world [Eph. 1:4] or before time began [1 Cor. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:9]. Throughout the New Testament it is recognized that human beings are by nature blind, deaf and dead, so that their conversion is impossible unless God gives them sight, hearing and life. God has thrown light on our problem in such a way as to contradict the chief objections which are raised and to show that the consequences of predestination are the opposite of what is popularly supposed. Here are five examples. (1) Predestination is said to foster arrogance, since (it is alleged) Godís elect boast of their favored status. But on the contrary, predestination excludes boasting. For it fills Godís people with astonishment that He should ever have had mercy on undeserving sinners like them. (2) Predestination is said to foster uncertainty, and to create in people a neurotic anxiety as to whether they are predestined and saved or not. But this is not so. If they are unbelievers, they are entirely unconcerned about their salvation until and unless the Holy Spirit brings them under conviction of sin as a prelude to their conversion. If they are believers, however, even when passing through a period of doubt, they know that in the end their security lies only in the eternal, predestinating will of God. (3) Predestination is said to foster apathy. For if salvation is entirely Godís work and not ours, people argue, then all human responsibility before God has been undermined. But again this is not so. On the contrary, it is abundantly clear that Scriptureís emphasis on Godís sovereignty never diminishes our responsibility. Instead, the two lie side by side in a paradox, which is an apparent contradiction between two truths. (4) Predestination is said to foster complacency, and to breed antinomians. For, if God has predestined us to eternal salvation, why should we not live as we please, without moral restraint, and in defiance of divine law? Paul has already answered this objection in chapter 6. Those whom God has chosen and called He has united to Christ in His death and resurrection. Having died to sin, they now live a new life to God. And elsewhere Paul writes that he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight [Eph. 1:4]. Indeed, He has predestined us to be conformed to the likeness of His Son . (5) Predestination is said to foster narrow-mindedness, as the elect people of God become absorbed only in themselves. The opposite is the case. The reason God called one man Abraham and his one family was not for their blessing only, but that through them all the families of the earth might be blessed. Thus, God has made us His own people, not that we should be His favorites, but that we should be His witnesses. So the doctrine of divine predestination promotes humility, not arrogance; assurance, not apprehension; responsibility, not apathy; holiness, not complacency; and mission, not privilege.
Paul emphasizes two practical purposes of Godís predestination. The first is that we should be conformed to the likeness of His Son. The transformation process begins here and now in our character and conduct, through the work of the Holy Spirit, but will be brought to completion only when Christ comes and we see Him, and our bodies become like the body of His glory. The second purpose of Godís predestination is that, as a result of our conformity to the image of Christ, He might be the firstborn among many brothers, enjoying both the community of the family and the pre-eminence of the firstborn. We now come to Paulís third affirmation: those he predestined, He also called [30a]. The call of God is the historical application of His eternal predestination. His call comes to people through the gospel, and it is when the gospel is preached to them with power, and they respond to it with the obedience of faith, that we know God has chosen them. So evangelism (the preaching of the gospel), far from being rendered superfluous by Godís predestination, is indispensable, because it is the very means God has ordained by which His call comes to His people and awakens their faith. It is often termed Godís effective or effectual call. Those whom God thus calls  are the same as those who have been called according to His purpose . Fourthly, those he called, he also justified [30b]. Godís effective call enables those who hear it to believe, and those who believe are justified by faith. It is Ďin Christí, by virtue of our union with Him, that we have been justified [Gal. 2:17]. He became sin with our sin, so that we might become righteous with His righteousness [2 Cor. 5:21]. Fifthly, those He justified, He also glorified [30c]. It is essentially the glory of God, the manifestation of His splendor, of which all sinners fall short, but which we rejoice in hope of recovering. Our destiny is to be given new bodies in a new world, both of which will be transfigured with the glory of God. Moreover, so certain is this final stage that, although it is still future, Paul puts it into the same aorist tense, as if it were past, as he has used for the other four stages which are past. It is a so-called prophetic past tense. Here then is the apostleís series of five undeniable affirmations. God is pictured as moving irresistibly from stage to stage; from an eternal foreknowledge and predestination, through a historical call and justification, to a final glorification of His people in a future eternity. It resembles a chain of five links, each of which is unbreakable.
Questions for Discussion:
1.†††††††† How did God cure Jobís presumption and concern for vindication in the midst of his suffering? Have you ever questioned God when experiencing difficult times? We learn from Job that, instead of questioning God, we should rather focus on who God is.
2.†††††††† In Romans 8:18-21, Paul instructs us to measure our present suffering with the future glory which awaits all children of God. How are we to do this? When we are hurting or struggling with life, what can we do to focus our thoughts upon future glory? What does it mean to wait with eager longing?
3.†††††††† What are the five unshakeable convictions and the five undeniable affirmations that Paul makes in Romans 8:28-30? Why does Paul emphasize the importance of knowing (we know) these truths? Remember that Paul is writing these verses in the context of his discussion on the sufferings that believers are experiencing in this world.
4.†††††††† What two practical purposes of Godís predestination does Paul emphasize ? What is the connection between these two purposes and the good that God is working all things ? Does it help us to be patient in tribulation [Rom. 12:12], when we realize that the good God is working in our lives are these two purposes?
Job, Elmer Smick, EBC, Zondervan.
The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.
Romans, John Stott, Inter-Varsity Press.