The book of Job presents Job’s cyclical judicial dialogue with his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. The first go-around is recorded in Job 4-7. Job’s three friends acted as prosecuting attorneys against Job, who continually maintained that his suffering was not the result of some unrighteous act. All the while, Job longed to stand as the prosecuting attorney, cross-examining God Almighty for allowing such devastation to continue in his life. In the end, Job received his court date with God. But Job ended up once again in the role of the defendant, and God the prosecution (Job 38:1-42:6). In that position of utter helplessness, Job confessed that God’s goodness and his suffering as a righteous man were not at odds. This is the lesson of Job.
In the meantime, Eliphaz and company pressed their tit-for-tat moral theology against Job, nearly squeezing the life out of the righteous suffer. Eliphaz’s first speech is recorded in Job 4-5 and characterizes what he and his friends posited to Job throughout the book. In Eliphaz’s paradigm of spiritual reality, the suffering one was simply reaping the consequences of their sin. In Eliphaz’s mind, it was entirely likely that the wind that destroyed Job’s family (Job 1:18-19) was the consequence God administered upon Job. Since God blesses the righteous with protection and prosperity, Eliphaz argued (Job 5:8-26), Job should repent before Him and receive His favor again.
What could Job say to such encouragement? He first replied to Eliphaz (Job 6) and then cried out to God (Job 7). As far as Job was concerned, the words of his friend had been of little help in such a moment of need. Job turned straightway against Eliphaz, saying, “A despairing man should receive loyalty from his friends, even if he abandons the fear of the Almighty” (Job 6:14). In Job’s mind, the issue of the day was that he had done no wrong and was suffering as one who had committed great transgression. Job longed for God to take his life and end his suffering (Job 7:15-16).
Job’s concern was with the justice of God. How could the Righteous One allow a righteous one to suffer so greatly? God’s justice and the suffering of the righteous frame the book of Job and are clarified as the storyline of Scripture progresses. The New Testament records that Christians should expect to suffer because of their commitment to Jesus.
(1) Jesus taught His followers that they would suffer for righteousness and identifying with Him. Jesus taught the disciples that they should think of suffering for Him and righteousness as an honor, and an affirmation that they stand in line with the prophets of Israel (Matt 5:10-12//Luke 6:22-23). Physical and spiritual sufferings authenticate disciples as true followers of Jesus (John 15:18-25; 17:11-15). While Job lost all of his possessions because of the calamity that came upon him, Jesus taught His disciples that they should be willing to suffer financial loss on His behalf (Matt 19:23-30//Mark 10:23-31//Luke 18:24-30).
(2) Paul suffered for his testimony concerning Jesus and wrote that believers should follow his example of suffering for righteousness. When the Lord told Ananias to visit Paul in Damascus, the Lord told him that Paul would suffer for Christ (Acts 9:16). While traveling to spread the gospel, Paul repeatedly suffered because of his testimony concerning Jesus (9:23-25; 13:50-51; 14:4-6,19-20; 16:19-40; 17:5-9, 13-15; 18:12-17; 19:21-41; 20:2-3, 22-24; 21:10-14). Paul’s imprisonments in Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome (Acts 21:15-28:31) resulted from his testimony and righteous acts for his fellow Jews. Paul wrote about his sufferings in his letters, often asking the recipients to join him in suffering for righteousness and the testimony of Christ (Rom 5:3-5; 8:18-39; 15:30-32; 1 Cor 4:9-12; 15:30-32; 2 Cor 1:3-11; 2:14-16; 4:7-5:4; 11:16-33; Gal 6:12, 17; Phil 1:12-21, 29-30; Col 1:24; 4:18; 1 Thess 1:5-8; 2:1-16; 3:7; 2 Thess 1:3-6; 3:1-3; 2 Tim 1:8, 12; 2:3; 4:1-8, 14-18).
(3) Peter exhorted his readers to view suffering for Christ as a common feature of their faith. Peter pictured general sufferings as beneficial for Christian growth (1 Pet 1:6-7). Peter’s logic counters that of Job and his friends. Peter noted that believers will suffer for righteousness in their relations with the state and in the household—and that their endurance of such authenticates the Christian message (1 Pet 2:11-25). Peter wrote, “Who will harm you if you are passionate for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed” (1 Pet 3:13-14). Better, Peter said, to suffer for Christ than for evil (1 Pet 3:17). Since Christ suffered (1 Pet 3:18), followers of Christ will demonstrate their faith as they endure suffering for Christ (1 Pet 4:1-2, 12-19).