Last week we compared the lives of Job, Paul, and Jesus and saw how they reacted to being squeezed. Life’s circumstances have a way of revealing the abundance of our hearts, for better or for worse. We are delighted at what is revealed when we respond in love or kindness. Alternatively, we are disappointed when shaming or sarcastic words come out of our mouth.
When I disappoint myself, it is easy to reach for my personal “righteousness meter” which I use to balance my wrongdoing with good deeds: “I was such a grump this morning. I’ll cook a nice dinner for everyone tonight.”
Not that there is anything wrong with making up for wrongdoing, but if repentance and forgiveness are absent, you’ll sit down to a rickety feasting table that may collapse. Chances are the food will be cold, and the meal will certainly not satisfy.
Maybe Pride Will Work
Another way to apply your righteousness meter is simply to fall back on the foundation of pride. It is always ready to help you see yourself in the best possible light and blame other people for any conflict that you face. Pride keeps a list of your qualifications based on what you have done and how you surpass others. False humility can help soften the edge, but no one is fooled for long. People eventually find out that it is still just plain old self-conceit under there.
The Saul-Paul transformation story is a useful example to see the difference between Saul-ish pride and Paul-ish humility (Acts 9). The apostle lists his personal qualifications that justify his heart of superiority:
“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Philippians 3:4-5 (ESV)
When you read his prestigious pedigree, do you notice the word that he uses describes himself: “blameless”? Does that sound familiar? Yes, right there in Job 1:1. The same word is used to describe Job, the righteous man from Uz. Now this is getting interesting.
The Blameless Claim
Both Job and Paul claim to be blameless; however, their credentials are based on their self-effort. Their life challenges reveal what happens in the human heart when we trust in ourselves and place our hope in our own goodness rather than God’s. Can you picture these gentlemen pulling up their chairs to the feasting table of self-righteousness? As they nourish themselves with pride, their hearts become full of self but empty of God.
These two men demonstrate the limitations of our trying-to-be-good-enough salvation. The feasting table of self-righteousness satisfies the flesh but starves the spirit.
People will never be good enough to save themselves, even the Paul’s or the Job’s among us. We simply cannot pay the price that is required to redeem sin, but that doesn’t stop us from trying (Romans 3). Tragically, in the trying we position ourselves in opposition to the only One who can save us.
Delight in God
Let us see what God has to say about this human urge to set ourselves up as substitute saviors. Turn your attention with me to the prophet Jeremiah who had the unenviable job of informing God’s children that they would be punished if they did not repent and turn back to Jehovah. The people of Judah resisted the prophet’s message and instead persisted in their sin and continued rushing heedlessly toward destruction. Jeremiah’s heart was broken for his people as he prophesied and witnessed the fall of Jerusalem when Judah was conquered by Babylon in 586 BC.
Like most prophets of old, Jeremiah suffered under the burden of bringing an unpopular and unwelcomed message. He served faithfully for forty years as God’s mouthpiece to Judah, during which time he languished in poverty and at times in prison. He was exported to Egypt and endured rejection by neighbors, friends, and even his family. Anyone observing his life at the time would call him a failure.
And yet, when Jeremiah was at his lowest moments, he knew where to turn for refreshment: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, Lord God Almighty.” Jeremiah 15: 16 (NIV)
His life exemplifies genuine overcoming that originates from God, not from his own prideful striving. Jeremiah was nourished by a thriving relationship with his Heavenly Father regardless of the circumstances. His vitality was sustained by feasting on God’s Word as if life depended on it because for Jeremiah it absolutely did.
I find it strangely comforting to note that at times Jeremiah did suffer depression and despair. He was human! It is difficult to have a message from the Lord burning in your heart, but no one is listening. Jeremiah knows that God’s people are heading for destruction, but he can do nothing more than remain faithful to God and leave the outcome in His capable hands. What a deep faith and trust he exemplifies by his yielded heart and obedient life held fast to the Word.
I pray that the steadfast spirit of Jeremiah, the repentant heart of Job, the humble transformation of Paul, and the obedient posture of Jesus are revealed in your life as you feast on God’s Word. May you find your place of refreshing in the shelter of Jehovah:
“As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him.”
2 Samuel 22:31(NIV)