Lecture 40: Does Job Serve God for Nothing?
Course: The Book of Job
Lecture: Does Job Serve God for Nothing?
We have come to the end of the book of Job and the end of our discussion of its theology, message and meaning for us. I want to close it with one small topic, that is the question that is raised at the very beginning of the book by Satan himself, “Does Job serve God for nothing?” That is chapter 1, verse 9.
I. The Question of Disinterested Piety
It is the question that we refer to as “disinterested piety” or the idea that virtue should be disinterested. What does that mean? It is the idea that when one does what is right or one serves God, it should be done for its own sake, or it is not real. For example, if the only reason you help a person is because you expect that person to help you in return, then is that really virtue? Of course there is some value in this critique. Jesus warns us not to just invite people over who we expect to invite us back. Jesus wants us to be compassionate to the poor, not just do good to people who we expect to repay us.
There is certainly truth in the idea that there can be a virtue that is artificial, that you do things for people or perhaps even that you serve God in a way that is phony because you are just looking for some kind of payback.
II. Asking Someone to be Virtuous in a Disinterested Way is Not Realistic
On the other hand, asking someone to be virtuous or to be devoted to God purely in a disinterested way with no self interest at all, is almost the same as asking that person to renounce his humanity. We are human beings. We have needs, we have concerns about where our decisions will lead us. Will our decisions lead to our ruin, or will our decisions be good for us? It is part of being human when making a decision, when deciding how to act, to take into account what it means for me personally. Will it help me or will it hurt me?
One might think by analogy of marriage vows. One could say, “Okay, you have vowed to be faithful to your spouse and you should be faithful to your spouse simply because you love him or her and because you have made a vow and in your integrity you will keep it.” That would be purely disinterested. You do it absolutely out of love for the other person and absolutely because you are a person of integrity and when you give your word, you make a vow, you keep it.
That is all well and good, but in real life we know that if you don’t keep your vow, it’s going to be trouble. You are going to rack yourself with guilt. You are very likely to destroy your marriage. You are going to do something that you will never really get away from. You can never really escape adultery. So people keep their marriage vows, yes, because they love their spouses and yes, because they made promises and they want to keep their promises; but also because they know that adultery is a self-destructive act. Very few acts of virtue or even acts of devotion to God are purely disinterested.
III. Jesus Doesn’t Expect Our Motives to Be Disinterested
Jesus Himself does not expect that our devotion to him and our discipleship will be entirely disinterested. Consider, for example, what Jesus says in Matthew 19:29: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my name’s sake will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” Jesus is plainly saying there is a quid pro quo. If you will be his disciple, if you will pay the ultimate cost of losing houses, losing family, losing relationships with mother or children, losing lands, giving up these things for the sake of Christ, you will receive a reward. You will receive eternal life and you will receive benefits and joys beyond which you could ever imagine, both in this life and in the next. Again, Jesus does not really expect our devotion to him to be disinterested.
IV. Even the Motives of a Martyr Aren’t Disinterested
The Martyr who burns at the stake rather than renounce his or her faith might be thought of as being purely disinterested. But in fact, he or she does it in the hope of eternal life, believes that God will raise the dead and that his obedience to Christ, his bearing of the cross, his dying for the sake of the Gospel will not be missed by God. So even those who die for the sake of God, if they do it in the faith, they are not doing it purely in a disinterested way. They are doing it because they believe God sees and God rewards.
V. Righteousness Demands Service That Involves Suffering
On the other hand, as the martyr indicates, righteousness demands service that comes along with suffering; and the suffering does not always end in a tangible way, that is in this life. People can suffer right up to and into the point of death.
This is the fiery cross. This is the long and hard pilgrimage and the taking up of the cross.
So we can say that devotion to God is not disinterested in the sense that there is no reward whatsoever for what they do. On the other hand, we cannot say that it is easy. Devotion to God and to Christ can be very painful. It is the suffering that both tests and purifies.
Paul testifies to this at the very end of his life in 2 Timothy 4:1-8: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:”
Notice right here, he is about to give this charge to Timothy, but he does it with a view towards the return of Christ and the judgment of Christ. So Paul has in mind what we might think of as penalties and rewards. It is not purely disinterested.
“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage -- with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations , endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties in your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
I think it is pretty obvious what we have here in Paul’s great final testimony. He has suffered greatly in his life. He describes it as being poured out like a drink offering. Of course, in the Ancient World, as part of a worship service people would often pour out a libation in which you would have a flask of wine and typically you would pour it on the ground. That is how Paul sees his life. In the service of Christ, his life has been poured out and drained out and he has suffered enormously for the sake of the Gospel. But he says, “There is laid up for me a crown of life.” He expects to receive eternal life as a reward for all that he has done, and he expects the same for all who are true disciples of Christ.
VI. Did Job Serve God for Nothing?
What can we say in answer to Satan’s question, Does Job fear God for nothing? I would say, No, he doesn’t fear God for nothing. In that sense his love for God is not disinterested, but it is real. And the reality of Job’s love for God, or Paul’s, or any other Christian’s, is in the perseverance of his faithfulness to God.
So it is not that you fear God for nothing, but it is that your fear of God, your discipleship, your obedience, your love for God is valid because it endures and it endures even in the face of terrible suffering.
VII. What Does Job Learn?
The last thing I would say about this is something that we have already described with regard to the book of Job. That is, What does Job ultimately learn from all of this?
He learns that his reward is not in having a lot of kids, in having a lot of wealth and living a long life. All of those things he does get, but those are all secondary. His actual reward is God Himself. Job knows God. And in the face of all the evil and suffering that is in the world, Job has confidence in God, that God will set it all right. And whether Job is rich or poor, he can now hold fast to his relationship to God, be unshaken in it, because he has God in his life.
Devotion to God is not disinterested; but if it perseveres in the face of suffering, it is real and the reality of it is shown in that the follower of God has God Himself in his life.
That finishes up our course in Job. I hope this has been useful for all of you and I hope it has deepened your Christian faith and your commitment to Jesus Christ.