What to Do When Relationships Blow Up

Yesterday, The Gospel Coalition published my article about “7 Steps to Conflict Resolution.” In the article, I walk through Philippians 4:2-9 to show that – far from being a random assortment of unrelated memory verses – this section provides concrete steps for navigating excruciating conflict.

Two prominent women—Euodia and Syntyche—had a disagreement so severe and public the entire church knew about it, and word reached the Apostle Paul (Phil 4:2). These women had once been ministry partners, but now they sat on opposite sides of the table. They couldn’t resolve their concerns on their own, so Paul employed a third party—his “true companion”—to lend aid (Phil 4:3).

Far from changing the subject, Paul coached his true companion over the next few verses on the process of mediation and reconciliation, providing steps to resolution.

Paul’s 7 steps are:

  1. Rejoice in the Lord always
  2. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone
  3. Remember the Lord is at hand
  4. Don’t be anxious about the conflict, but ask God to resolve it
  5. Guard your heart and mind with the peace of God, even when it does not make sense to do so
  6. Find something – anything – praiseworthy to focus on in your antagonists
  7. Find good role models and continue practicing these things

Doug Smith also recently preached a sermon on this text examining these principles further.

If you’d like to see my full article, check it out!

The Difference Between Job and His Three Friends

The book of Job is about more than suffering; it’s about how to fear God through suffering. Let’s see how this main point plays out in the debates between Job and his three friends.

The Debates

CALI (2011), Creative Commons

CALI (2011), Creative Commons

At the end of Job 2, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar enter stage left. The play unfolds as each man gives a long speech, and Job responds to each with a speech of his own.

  • Eliphaz, Job, Bildad, Job, Zophar, Job.
  • Repeat: Eliphaz, Job, Bildad, Job, Zophar, Job.
  • Repeat: Eliphaz, Job, Bildad, Job…

The third cycle gets cut short, and Zophar never gets his third moment of fame.

I won’t list the main points speech-by-speech; I encourage you to marinate in the poetry and discover the main ideas for yourself. But I want to highlight the main threads that amaze me.

The Friends

Eliphaz is sensitive, Bildad is logical, and Zophar is hot-headed. Their personalities clearly vary, but they are still cut from the same strip of papyrus. They have one Ace in their collective hole, and they’re not afraid to use it every which way they can.

Good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. God is holy, righteous, and good, and he will not allow his cosmic order to be upset by some self-righteous upstart like Job. On the last day, our good deeds will be weighed against our bad deeds, and God will treat us as our actions deserve. There is a place for the wicked, one filled with loneliness, despair, and terror. But it is not possible for bad things to happen to good people. And consequently, it will never be possible for God to find a way to justify the wicked.

Job begins with this same worldview, and Eliphaz begins the cycle by gently reminding him of what he already knows (Job 4:2-5). In fact, Eliphaz claims, this system of belief is what it means to fear God. And such fear of God should be Job’s confidence (Job 4:6).

Eliphaz will not be so gentle by the time he’s done with Job. He’ll accuse Job of having no true fear of God (Job 22:4), but of bereaving others, withholding generosity, and crushing the helpless (Job 22:5-11).

These three friends exhaust their arguments and end up in the same place where they began (compare Job 25:4 with Job 4:17). There are different angles on the same principles, but there is no development of their thought. Perhaps that’s why Zophar has nothing to add in the third cycle. Their tone may change as they go, but their belief does not.

Job

Job, however, goes through a radical transformation. He begins in the same place as his friends (Job 4:2-5), but he will not stay there. He knows he is innocent, and yet he’s suffering terribly. This blows up everything he thought he knew about God. Notice how his thought progresses through his eight speeches:

  • Job 7:8-10: God won’t see me anymore after I’m dead.
  • Job 9:32-33: I wish I could speak to God in person, but there is no mediator to go between us and make it possible.
  • Job 14:7-17: My suffering would have a purpose if I could die and have God’s wrath pass me by. Then he could resurrect me and forget all my iniquity. But that will never happen (Job 14:18-22).
  • Job 16:18-22: Since I am innocent and God is good, there must be a mediator between God and me! My witness is in heaven, he who will argue my case before God as a son of man does with his neighbor!
  • Job 19:23-27: Since my Redeemer lives, resurrection must also be possible! Like the dual keys required to launch a nuke, these companion truths of a mediator and a resurrection unlock Job’s hope for the first time in the book. “My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:27).
  • Job 21:7-9, 29-33: God often allows the wicked to prosper. He can do as he pleases.
  • Job 23:8-17: Though he utterly terrifies me, all I want is to see God.
  • Job 26:6-7: Even if I die, I will be laid bare and visible before God.

Though the friends end up in the same place they begin, Job does not. He has completely changed his mind.

The Main Difference

The main difference between Job and his friends is not that Job suffers and they do not. Nor is it that Job understands suffering in a way they do not. The main difference is that Job fears God and they do not.

While Job’s suffering provides the raw material for their debate, the heart of their conflict is over what it means to fear God (Job 4:6, 6:14, 13:11-16, 15:4, 22:4, 23:14-17, etc.). The message of this book is not so much about how to deal with suffering as about how to fear God, even through suffering.

Without the fear of God, one must hold to a religious system of cosmic karma, where we’re good with God as long as we try to be good people. But the true fear of God acknowledges the possibility – no, the necessity – of innocent, substitutionary suffering. If a really, really good person can suffer terrible things, then maybe, just maybe, the wicked can somehow be justified and made right with God.

But it all hangs on both a Redeemer who lives and a tenacious hope of resurrection.

How to Know if You’re a Christian

Last week, Kevin DeYoung wrote a fabulous post explaining 3 evidences of true faith given to us in the book of 1 John.

Whenever counseling Christians looking for assurance of salvation, I take them to 1 John. This brief epistle is full of help for determining whether we are in the faith or not. In particular, there are three signs in 1 John given to us so we can answer the question “Do I have confidence or condemnation?”

DeYoung’s article models some important principles of good Bible study:

  • DeYoung shows why it’s important to understand the main point of not only passages but also books. Many people quote verses from 1 John but miss the thrust of John’s argument (“that you may know that you have eternal life” – 1 John 5:13). We ignore this main idea to our peril. We won’t know what to do with John’s extreme statements, such as “you have no need that anyone should teach you” (1 John 2:27) and “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning” (1 John 3:9).
  • DeYoung models the value of a good book overview.
  • DeYoung masterfully shows how the hard work of getting the main point right enables you to make practical, specific, and penetrating application for people today.

I unpacked these same three tests from 1 John when I wrote about evaluating the success of your Bible study. DeYoung writes more briefly and with more personal application to those struggling with assurance.

Check it out!

3 Benefits of Small Group Bible Study

trumpet1-1

Billy MetCalf Photography (2012), Creative Commons License

Give a skilled trumpeter his horn and a solo, and he can pin back your ears or prick your heart. He can draw out emotions you’d locked away or inspire grand thoughts of beauty and grace. There is power and clarity in his notes. Now put that same trumpeter in a jazz band and listen again. As the instruments swell and fall in concert, you’ll hear a richness and depth that a soloist cannot produce on his own. It isn’t that the music is better; both can be profound and beautiful.

Without hours alone in the practice room, the trumpeter misses out on technique, skill, and precision. Without a band, he won’t learn to listen, react, follow, or lead. He needs both settings.

So it is with Bible study. The majority of your Bible study will likely take place in private. This is the necessary foundation for a life of loving God and living faithfully in the world.

But if you study the Bible only by yourself, you’ll miss the concert. Work on your breathing, perfect those scales, and come join the band.

Bless and Be Blessed

Here at Knowable Word, we want to help people learn to study the Bible. In a good small group Bible study, you will mature and you’ll have the chance to help others grow. It’s the best sort of two-for-one.

If you’re not already in a small group Bible study, consider joining one. I can think of at least three reasons.

  1. Small group Bible studies help you study the Bible. We all need as much time with the Bible as possible, and a small group gives you extra exposure every week or so. Within your group you can (hopefully) find good examples of Bible study; this will accelerate your development and strengthen your OIA muscles. A good leader will ask questions that lead your group through the observationinterpretationapplication process and help you to advance in each area.
  2. Small group Bible studies remind you that you need other people. God has made us as relational, social beings who thrive in community. Because of our sin, relationships can be difficult, but without other people we shrivel up and dry out. We need contact with others from different ages and life situations to appreciate God’s faithful and diverse working throughout the church. I love listening to older saints recount God’s consistent companionship, encouragement, and correction over the years.
  3. Small group Bible studies remind you that you need other people to study the Bible. I’ve written before that we need community to apply the Bible. But this isn’t just true for application. Fellow Christians also help us observe the important aspects of a Bible passage and interpret correctly. We need others to help us see what is true in the Bible—to sharpen, clarify, and correct what we think.

    In the same way that you need others, others also need you. Armed with solid Bible study principles, you can serve as an example or mentor for others in your small group.

    Finally, Bible study within a small group has a dynamic you cannot reproduce on your own. As you participate in discussion and share ideas, you take advantage of interaction, one of the distinctives of the setting.


Note: This is the first in a short-ish series of posts on attending small group Bible studies. If you have any related questions, feel free to toss them into the comments on this post. (We’ve already published extensively about leading Bible studies.)

What is the Book of Job About?

I wish I could poll the Christian world to answer the question, “What is the book of Job about?” And I would eat my freshly shorn grass clippings if I didn’t get a nearly unanimous answer: SUFFERING. But that answer would not be right. Well, it might be half-right, but not nearly so right as we’ve been led to believe.

Patty Mooney (2009), Creative Commons

Patty Mooney (2009), Creative Commons

Of course Job suffers. But the suffering itself moves off-stage after two chapters. The body of the book is written as a play in 5 acts, filled with many characters waxing eloquently about Job’s suffering. Perhaps the point is more about how to talk about suffering. And perhaps that’s why most readers race from chapter 2 to chapter 38 and never look back. Nobody, myself included, feels comfortable when talking about a real person’s real suffering.

I’ve read this book at least 25 times in my life, but until this year I’ve never taken the time to study and consider the speeches chapter-by-chapter. I can’t believe all I’ve missed.

The Setup

First, let’s not forget how Job got into this mess. Job fears God and turns away from evil (Job 1:1), and for that reason, when Satan goes looking for trouble in all the wrong places, God draws a bull’s-eye on his main man (Job 1:7-8, 2:2-3). Make no mistake: God draws Satan’s attention to Job, because Job fears God. If that fact doesn’t terrify you, I don’t know what will.

Second, consider what’s at stake here. Both the narrator (once) and God (twice) unequivocally assert Job’s fear of God (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3). And this fear is the very thing Satan calls into question: “Does Job fear God for no reason?” (Job 1:9). Satan places his bet: “Job doesn’t really fear God; he just loves the nice things God gives him. Take those things away, and his ‘fear of God’ will melt into face-to-face cursing of God” (paraphrase of Job 1:10-11, 2:4-5). God goes all in: “Game on” (Job 1:12, 2:6).

The narrator’s key question is this: Will Job still fear God when he loses everything he loves?

Job’s Fear

Job takes up his lament in chapter 3 with his own key question: Why is this happening to me? He knows nothing of God’s bet with Satan. He has no explanation for his loss, his bereavement, or his pain. He curses the day of his birth and the night of his conception (Job 3:1-7). He even asks others to join him in cursing that day and that night (Job 3:8).

But when he turns to consider God, he has no curse. He has only questions filled with dread (Job 3:20-26).

The Play’s Structure

As I mentioned, Job is a play in 5 acts, with a narrative prologue and epilogue. We struggle with this book for the same reasons we struggle with Shakespeare: it’s old, it’s a play, and it’s poetry. But delve this mine, and its riches will mesmerize you.

Narrative Prologue: Job suffers because he fears God – Job 1-2

Act I: Job curses his life, but still fears God – Job 3

Act II: Job and three friends debate over what it means to fear God – Job 4-26

Act III: Job meditates on the beginning of wisdom: the fear of God – Job 27-28

Act IV: Job delivers his concluding speech, and a fourth friend challenges him to excel still more in fearing God – Job 29-37

Act V: God shows up, and Job’s fear of him reaches new heights – Job 38:1-42:6

Narrative Epilogue: This dangerous Deity puts the fear of God in Job’s friends and implicitly takes the blame for Job’s suffering – Job 42:7-17

The prologue and epilogue obviously parallel one another. Acts I and V have much parallel language (for example, Job calls on those who rouse up Leviathan – Job 3:8, and God rouses up Leviathan – Job 41). Acts II and IV have Job interacting with his friends.

The book’s structural and thematic center lies in chapters 27-28, with Job’s condemnation of his friends and his praise of the fear of God as the beginning of wisdom.

Job’s Place in the Old Testament

The book of Job is traditionally considered one of the wisdom books. We should expect its main idea to have something to do with wisdom.

  • Proverbs describes the way of wisdom, beginning with the fear of the Lord.
  • Ecclesiastes describes the difficulty of wisdom: our duty is to fear the Lord, even when we can’t understand what God is doing under the sun.
  • Job provides a case study in the fear of the Lord despite desperate and inscrutable circumstances.

Conclusion

Yes, Job has much to say to help those who suffer. But the book’s main point is more focused: What does it mean to fear the Lord when you suffer? Next week, I’ll look more closely at the debates in Job 4-26 to show how the fear of the Lord paves the way for the amazing gospel of free grace through Jesus Christ.

The Most Popular Bible Verses of 2014

I know I’m a little late for a year-end round up, but I just came across this fascinating article about the most popular Bible verses of 2014. YouVersion, one of the most popular Bible apps for mobile devices, compiled data from over 164 million users to see which Bible verses were shared most frequently.

They discovered that the most popular verse – measured by the number of bookmarks, highlights, and shares it got – was Romans 12:2. This is good; people want to be transformed by renewing their minds according to God’s will.

Philippians 4:6, 4:7, and 4:8 all made the top 10. I wonder how many of the 164 million users have recognized the train of thought running through Philippians 4:2-9. Later this month, I may have an article on another website on that very topic. Stay tuned.

I find it interesting that the most popular verses of 2014 are almost completely different from the prior year’s list. Either we simply have clearer data with a larger sample size, or people are reading and profiting from different parts of Scripture over time. You decide.

How to See a Narrative’s Train of Thought

Bible Stories Have a Point

Perhaps I’ve convinced you that part of Bible study requires picking up an author’s train of thought. And you can see it most clearly with instructional texts like epistles, wisdom poetry, and prophets. But what about the narrative books? Do they have a train of thought as well?

Ted McGrath (2014), Creative Commons

Ted McGrath (2014), Creative Commons

Remember that Bible stories are more than stories. While biblical narratives tell a true history of God’s redemption, the purpose of the stories is more than the history itself (or the story itself). Paul uses biblical narratives to provide examples to follow and warnings to avoid (1 Cor 10:6, 11). Jesus uses biblical narratives to draw ethical principles for his day (Mark 10:6-9). And Hebrews uses biblical narratives to inspire and motivate people not to shrink back but hold fast to Jesus despite great affliction (Hebrews 10:39-12:3). Examples, morals, and motivation all come from stories.

 

Finding the Point of a Bible Story

What does this mean for our Bible study? How do we find the main points of Bible stories?

Narratives by nature don’t present their material logically. You won’t find many “so that”s or “therefore”s in narratives, so it’s more challenging to trace out a logical train of thought.

But the tools of narratives lie primarily in plot, structure, and climax. Learn to see these things, and you’ll discover the narrator’s train of thought.

Plot: What is the primary sequence of action? Who does what to whom, and what are the results? At what point does the plot hinge and build toward climax and resolution?

Structure: Narratives won’t make clear logical argument, but they structure their material intentionally.

Climax: Where is the highest point of energy in the story? Where do the characters find what they seek or resolve their tension?

Look for these clues, and you’re on your way toward the main point.

Example #1 – Matthew 1:18-25

This short example begins with a clear title statement: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way” (Matt 1:18). The plot immediately thickens as Mary gets pregnant and Joseph tries to do the right thing by her. Suddenly, an angel appears to him in a dream (not an everyday occurrence) and gives Joseph two commands with explanation:

  • command 1: do not fear to marry her.
    • explanation: this child is from the Holy Spirit.
  • command 2: call his name Jesus.
    • explanation: he will save his people from their sins.

So not only the marriage, but also the child’s name is important here. We don’t hit the story’s climax, though, until we read “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet” (Matt 1:22), which leads into more talk of pregnancy, birth, and naming of a child – with another explanation of the name (God with us – Matt 1:23).

As the tension resolves, Joseph obeys the angel. And Matthew goes out of his way to tell us that he 1) married her without making love to her, and 2) named the child Jesus (Matt 1:24-25).

We’re not told much in this short tale, but the following things are clear:

  1. Joseph is not this child’s father.
  2. God has come to be with us.
  3. This God will save his people from their sins.

What is the point of this short story? God himself has come to deal with his people’s sin. See how the story’s train of thought leads us to this key point?

Example #2 – Mark 6:7-8:30

I don’t have the space to analyze this lengthy passage exhaustively, but I want to show how observing structure helps us to get the point.

Intro: Jesus sends out the 12, creating a crisis for Herod: Who is Jesus? – 6:7-29

A Jesus feeds 5,000 – 6:30-44

B Jesus crosses the sea with his disciples – 6:45-56

C Pharisees argue with Jesus – 7:1-23

D Jesus talks to a woman about bread – 7:24-30

E Jesus heals a deaf man – 7:31-37

A Jesus feeds 4,000 – 8:1-9

B Jesus crosses the sea with his disciples – 8:10

C Pharisees argue with Jesus – 8:11-13

D Jesus talks to his disciples about bread – 8:14-21

E Jesus heals a blind man – 8:22-26

Conclusion: Peter sees and understands exactly who Jesus is – 8:27-30

Seeing this larger structure is what helped me to understand why it took Jesus two tries to heal the blind man in Mark 8:22-26. Mark portrays two parallel cycles of events with the disciples, where they get to experience firsthand who Jesus is. Herod’s initial questions (John the Baptist? Elijah? One of the prophets?) go unanswered until Jesus takes his disciples through these two cycles.

And they don’t get it (Mark 8:21). But in healing the blind man, Mark gives a living parable of Jesus’ healing of the disciples blindness. And then, finally, they see him clearly. Not John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets – but the Christ (Mark 8:27-29).

The narrative has a train of thought; not only within a particular episode but also across many episodes. Look for this train and hop on board.

A Simple Question We Rarely Ask

Donald Whitney reminds us to ask this most basic question as often as possible: “What does the Bible say?

Nothing will simplify our lives more than finding the will of God on a matter and doing it. And the best way to discover the will of God is to search the Word of God.

This habit will change everything.

Whitney’s short post is worth considering in full. Check it out!

Boost Your Bible Study by Memorizing

Quick—what’s 8\times 12? What’s the capital of Honduras? Did you answer without pulling out your phone?

You’ve probably memorized heaps of facts, numbers, and words in your life. Have you spent time memorizing the Bible? It’s an invaluable type of Bible intake, but it can be confusing to those who are new to the Christian faith or unfamiliar with the practice. Why should we memorize when we (in the West) have such easy access to the Bible? Can’t we just look up the passage in our favorite book or app?

Why to Memorize

Russ Allison Loar (2009), Creative Commons License

Russ Allison Loar (2009), Creative Commons License

We memorize Bible passages to help us resist temptation (Ps 119:11; Matt 4:1–11). Bible memorization is one way to let the word of Christ dwell richly within us (Col 3:16). As we commit passages to memory, we equip ourselves to share the Word of God with those who are discouraged, suffering, or outside the faith. Jon Bloom at Desiring God says that memorizing large chunks of Scripture will be one of the best investments of your life.

Bible memorization can also be an aid in Bible study. You need not memorize every passage you plan to study. But when you memorize a chapter or book of the Bible, you head into the mine equipped with extra tools to bring out piles of gold.

Memorizing and Observation

When we begin to study a passage of Scripture, our greatest need is exposure to the text. We need to read it repeatedly both to get a good book overview and to jump-start observation. Nothing beats memorizing when it comes to repeated readings! Most memory systems build their structure on the foundation of regular repetition.

As you internalize the passage, you will naturally observe important features of the text. You’ll see the repeated words and the titles/names of characters. You’ll notice the author’s transitions between sections. You will have a better sense of the mood of the text and you will be able to pick up on the comparisons and contrasts the author employs.

Memorizing will also help you identify structure. Several years ago, I spent some time trying to memorize the book of 1 Peter. I had studied the book before, but it wasn’t until I tried to commit it to memory that I noticed the repeated theme of submission and suffering for the sake of love. I noticed the phrase “in the same way” in 1 Pet 3:1 and 1 Pet 3:7. This meant that the submission and love discussed in chapter 3 was introduced earlier. In chapter 2 I saw the command to submit to God-ordained authority (1 Pet 2:13–14), the call for servants to submit to their masters (1 Pet 2:18), and the example of Jesus submitting and suffering for his people (1 Pet 2:21–25). (This theme also shows up later in the book: see 1 Pet 3:14–18; 4:1–3, 12–19; 5:1, 5, 6, 10.) Perhaps I should have picked up on all of this earlier, but it wasn’t clear to me until I started my memory work.

Memorizing and Correlation

Finally, you will see the benefits of memorization when connecting passages of Scripture. (We call this process correlation.) By memorizing a portion of the Bible, you add it to the quick-access part of your brain. So when you are studying a different passage, your memorized verses stand at the ready to help and fill out meaning. If you’ve already done the hard work of understanding the (memorized) passage in its context, you are ready to connect the ideas between passages.

I commend the practice of Bible memorization to you. Through it, you just may gain insight on a book or passage that you wouldn’t get otherwise.

Giveaway: Celebrating Knowable Word’s 500th Post

Knowable Word just had its 500th post, and I’m feeling a bit like the Egyptians giving all their stuff away to the fleeing Hebrew slaves. Except I don’t want you to leave. And I promise not to make you find your own straw. And I’m not hardening my heart against God’s promises to his people. And… Well, okay, it’s not a great analogy. I was just trying to come up with a biblical example of exuberant generosity.

Eric Angelo (2007), Creative Commons

Eric Angelo (2007), Creative Commons

The point is this: To celebrate the 500th post, I would like to give away a free Bible to someone who can use it. You can have your choice of an ESV Reader’s Bible or any one of the markup Bibles Ryan recommended.

In addition, four runners-up will each receive a free e-book of Knowable Word.

To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is show us you’ll know how to use your new Bible. To that end, you’ll have to make observations of the text of Job chapter 14. I’m counting on the fact that you’ve never been in a Bible study on Job 14 and that you’ll come to the text without too much familiarity. Perhaps I’m just a sucker, though, and I presume too much, like the Jedi in that prequel episode everyone loves to hate.

Giveaway Rules

  1. Use the form below (or click this link) to enter your observations.
  2. You’ll get one entry in the drawing each time you submit the form, so please limit yourself to one observation per form. You may submit as many entries as you like.
  3. The observations you submit must be on Job chapter 14, but you may use any English translation.
  4. We reserve the right to reject any entry that doesn’t contain a legitimate observation of the passage.
  5. Entries must be submitted by 12 noon (eastern daylight time) on Thursday, May 7, 2015.
  6. Winners will be selected at random from eligible entries. One grand prize winner will choose either an ESV Reader’s Bible or one of our recommended markup Bibles. Four more winners will receive a free Knowable Word e-book (choice of kindle, epub, or pdf format).
  7. To win the grand prize, you must have an eligible mailing address.
  8. If the grand prize winner lives outside the United States, I’ll do my best to get you either the requested Bible or an Amazon gift card to buy your own Bible. If it’s not possible or reasonable to do either, I’ll give you a Knowable Word e-book instead and select another grand prize winner.
  9. The winner agrees to make good use of the new Bible. If I catch you choking one of your debtors, I just might take it back (Matt 18:28).