WARNING: This is a rather wordy post. Proceed with caution.
I've been reading through Job as part of my daily Bible readings this year and today's reading was fascinating. In chapter 31 Job is defending himself against his friends' assertions that the calamities in his life were a result of his unrighteousness.
Defending yourself against untrue claims is an awkward proposition. I find it hard to strike a balance between humility and setting the record straight. I want to correct false accusations but I have a bent towards self-righteousness and if I guard myself I can easily begin to not just defend myself but to pat myself on the back a little. Something like, "Not only are you claims untrue, I'm actually a better guy than you realize!" That sort of thing. Anyways, that's why Job 31 was so interesting to me. In this chapter, as Job defends himself, he lays his life out before his friends and before God. He essentially says, "This is who I am. You guys are saying I'm being punished for sin but there's no patter of sin in my life." That challenges me because I want to be able to say that. I want to be able to say, "There is no pattern of sin; you can check this area, that area, and any other you want but my life is blameless."
Job lists 13 areas of his life in which he is blameless before God. Some of them I expected; some of them surprised me. Not because they were bad things, but because they wouldn't be things I would use to vindicate myself.
He says first that he's blameless because he's committed himself to sexual purity, vs1-4. Then he's blameless because he walks according to truth, vs5-6. He doesn't covet, vs7-8, and he's not been guilty of adultery, vs9-12. Then in vs13-15 he says he hasn't been guilty of showing partiality. He says that when his servants complain against him, he listens to them. In vs15 he says, "Did not He who made me in the womb make him?" How about that, civil rights in the oldest book of the bible? And what's fascinating about this to me is that I would never think to point to my impartiality as proof of my righteousness. That isn't to say that I show partiality; I don't think I do, but for Job this was a central point of his argument. And why not? James 2:1 says, "My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." Not showing partiality--something I would never even consider as a fruit of righteousness, is an explicit command in scripture.
Job continues his defense by asserting he is blameless because of his compassion for the poor and destitute, vs16-22. Again, not something I might point to in my own life. But again, we find a clear command in the New Testament. James 2:15-16, "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled', without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?" If there's anything we don't talk much about it's taking care of the poor. Yet Job points to this as proof of his righteousness; and James commands this of us. Job next says that he's blameless because he doesn't trust in riches, nor is he held captive by materialism, vs24-25. That's a powerful thing for a wealthy man to say. He also asserts that he doesn't follow false religions, vs26-28. These are characteristics that maybe would come more readily to mind. But then he says he's blameless because he loves his enemy, vs29-30. What a convicting defense. Can I look at my life and say, "I know I'm blameless before God, I see fruit of the transforming power of the gospel because I love my enemies. I don't rejoice when those who hate me are destroyed"? Job's final three points of defense are that he is hospitable, vs31-32, he's not a hypocrite vs33-34, and he is honest in his business dealings, vs38-40.
Which of these things would we point to as proofs of a right standing with God? Some of them we might, others we most likely wouldn't. And understand, this isn't an exhaustive list, nor should we judge our righteousness by Job. Jesus is our standard, not Job. However, remember how Job begins. Chapter 1 vs1 says, "There was a man in the land of Uz who name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil." And lest we think this is Job saying what a great guy he is, in vs8 God says of Job, "...there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil..." Job was indeed a righteous man; God declared him to be righteous and Job was able to point to specific things in life, evidences of the righteousness that had been imputed to him.
So here's the point; actually, the points. First, Just as Job was able to point to fruit in his life, I need to be able to do the same. Jesus said you know someone by their fruit, right? So I need to be able to point to fruit in my life, evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit and of the transforming power of the gospel. And second, I need to reevaluate what I think constitutes righteousness before God. Many of us, I think, would answer charges such as were leveled at Job by saying, "I go to church, I give money, I read my Bible and pray." I don't see any of that from Job. All those things are great but even lost people can do these things. Job pointed to specific, concrete evidences of the work of God in his heart. He pointed to things that are almost completely overlooked in the church today; especially his focus on caring for the poor and destitute, and his claim that he hadn't fallen victim to materialism. Can I say the same? Can you? I need to be certain that the fruit I look to as evidence of the Spirit's work in my life is biblical fruit, i.e., that my life is matching up with the teachings of scripture. Not that I'll do this perfectly. But I should be doing it consistently.