Examine yourselves to see whether you be of the faith
– 2 Corinthians 13:5 KJV
There is this tendency amongst believers to judge a person’s spiritual condition by their physical circumstances.
For example, we tend to assume that a man who enjoys a general state of happiness must be in God’s favor. Some of us go so far as to presume that he must be in line with God’s will for his life. At the very least, we think God must not be unhappy with him. If he enjoys more than his share of happiness, abundance, or prosperity, we presume that God must be especially pleased with him. All of these things may well be.
On the other hand, if a man is going through troubles, poverty, strife, difficulties with relationships, sickness, debt, or what-have-you, we often presume that he is either out of God’s favor, or else has surely displeased Him! And these things may well be.
Yet who are we to judge these matters? Since we are neither God nor omniscient, how can we know whether either our prosperity or our poverty, our good fortune or our misfortune, our pleasure or our pain have anything to do with His pleasure or displeasure? How can we seriously expect to know or presume the mind of God on these matters?
At this point, one could certainly point out that God is a holy God who cannot tolerate the presence of sin. One might also point out that He is a just God who punishes sin. One could even go a step further and remind us that God rewards us according to our deeds, whether good or evil. No one would dispute you, for all of these points are valid.
My point is that we cannot judge these matters.
That is not to say that we must not judge at all. If we judge not at all, how are we to judge between good and evil, right and wrong, or holy and profane? Clearly, there are very obvious sins and they must be noted and not allowed to continue. We cannot ignore sin, tolerate it, or turn a blind eye to it (ie- live and let live). The Bible tells us that if we find that someone is taken in a fault (sin), we are to go to them and show them the error of their ways. Clearly, we cannot hope to carry out this sort of procedure without judging whether or not someone is sinning. Yet we may not rightly or justly judge whether a man has been rewarded according to his sin or professed righteousness. Neither can we hope to judge whether a person is in God’s will or favor, based purely on their present circumstances. To put it another way, while in most cases we can rightly judge whether someone has sinned, we cannot with any certainty judge whether a person’s circumstances are a result of those or past sins.
The problem is that we do not know if we are dealing with Jonah or Job.
You see, while misfortune did follow Jonah as a direct result of his disobedience to God (the very essence of sin), Job’s troubles were actually a direct result of his rightstanding with God!
Job was a man so righteous that God literally staked His eternal reputation on him. As a result, Job suffered horribly. In one day, he lost all of his possessions, his livelihood, his wealth, his children, and his happiness. Then, he found himself covered from head to toe with nasty boils. When his friends came to comfort him, they didn’t even recognize him at first. For seven days, they just sat with him, likely at a loss for words given the completeness of Job’s devastastion. Well, at first, anyhow…
After a point, they began formulating little theories as to why their good buddy was suffering. God must be punishing him for some awful sin. They weren’t sure what sin that might be, but that was irrelevant given the evidence. Job’s thriving business, many possessions, good health, and large family had all been the result of God’s favor. His ruin must needs be the judgement of some sin that had angered God.
It all sounded very logical and theologically sound, except that Job had NOT sinned. We may safely assume this since God Himself vouches for Job’s righteousness!
I’m also fairly certain that Job did some very intense soul-searching. He was likely brutally honest with himself, given the severity and suddenness of his ruin.
Which brings us to our text…
While we cannot accurately judge whether someone else’s circumstances are the direct result of their spiritual condition, we can know whether our own circumstances are the result of our sin. Jonah, after all, knew exactly why the storm threatened the ship he was sailing on. It was he, in fact, who informed the crew of the reason for the storm and who instructed them to throw him overboard to save themselves. Job, on the other hand, could think of no reason for his suffering. God doesn’t play head games. If your circumstances are the direct result of your sin, you will know it provided you are being honest with yourself.
We are taught to examine ourselves. Not others.