In Job 25, Bildad the Shuhite gave a theological statement that was basically true in form and content, but it was only a categorical burst of words, and for his hearer, it was an ill-fitted word that was totally out of season.
In a culture that has drowned in multi-colored billboards and ads, 24-hour newscasting, and other flagrant profusions of excessive speech, there is a radical need for God-infused speaking. It can only come forth through the Church, for we are the only ones who have been touched by mercy and truth, but “woe unto the world” when the house of God itself has slipped into a categorical mode of speaking and a mechanical mode of living.
It is little wonder that our “small talk” is often laced with gossip and slander. It is little wonder that our meticulous theological conversations and debates often lack the reverence and joy that mark a man who is abiding in a true knowledge of God. It is little wonder that the proclamation of the Gospel has often been reduced to an attempt at “relevance” or a robotic delivery of “logical” Christian truth, devoid of authority and unction from above. It’s no wonder that our casual conversations often slip into sin, for we have diminished our distinctive calling to prayer, and thereby lost the ability to speak rightly of God.
We have been busy speaking and doing, but we have failed to be found in the place of prayer, and this has been the seedbed for all our hollowness. We have run to-and-fro in various works to the neglect of prayer, and we have therefore been unconscious of His present love and untouched by the fear of the Lord. We are not leading the saints into a life of brokenness before God. Failing here, we open the gate for failure everywhere. If we have not gazed upon His majesty in prayer, we will not be able to speak of Him rightly. And if we fail to speak of Him rightly, we cannot speak of anything rightly, for He is the source and essence of truth itself. When He is diminished, all else is distorted. What then can be said of this “Bildadic” mode of ministry and life?
We are like the Shuhite, even using language of “awe,” but falling short of a true proclamation, for we have been unwilling or too busy to give ourselves to the counsel of the Lord Himself. It is in prayer where His truth becomes true in our souls, and His reality is made real in our hearts. We can trot out our doctrinal persuasions, our clever and catchy sermons, or our views in counseling, but the question must be asked:
“To whom have you uttered words? And whose spirit was expressed through you?”
Bildad expressed the “awe” of God, and the doctrine that He alone “establishes peace.” (v. 1) In verse 3 of Ch. 25 he declared the might of God, raising the rhetorical question, “Is there any number to His troops?” He declared the holiness of God and the depravity of man in vv. 5-6: “If even the moon has no brightness and the stars are not pure in His sight, how much less man, that maggot, and the son of man, that worm!” In a word, he gave a theological statement that left little to be corrected or added to. It was commendable in many ways. But is was not the word of God Himself, for it failed to set forth the present testimony of Jesus Christ, and Job detected it. The apostle speaks to us today:
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” -Eph. 4.29
Edification is not always given by a happy-go-lucky word. It is given by the present testimony of Jesus Christ, which is the “Spirit of prophecy.” It may be the most encouraging and joy-inducing word we’ve ever heard, or it may be a word calculated by the Lord to devastate our illusions, and shake us from the false comfort of delusion and slumber. Whatever it may be, the present testimony of Jesus is what we ought to covet.
We have the propensity for missing it along these lines, for our hearts are often dull and we see only in part. We are apt, usually based on our personalities, to lean in one direction or the other.
If we are bubbly souls naturally, or have a strong itch to please men and be accepted by them, we are more prone to flattering and complimenting others, and often we can do this without any counsel or anointing from the Holy Spirit.
I might call myself a “Barnabas” and think of my calling to encourage others, but I need to be sure that it is the encouragement of the Holy Spirit Himself, lest I find that I am only feeding my reputation as a nice guy, and even subtly manipulating others to think highly of myself.
Likewise, if I am a somber type, serious and critical toward all that is opposed to my personal preference, I may not flatter others too often, but I may also be in error. I may find it easy to correct or rebuke men, or to speak out against doctrines that I presume to be false, but I may just as well be totally devoid of the life of God. I may consider myself a “straight shooter”, and I may not feel as if I am pursuing the approval of men, but I might be guilty of self-glorification just the same.
Not many have been willing to come into this radical circumcision of the heart, though it is the call upon every saint. We have a mandate to speak as a prophetic people who have “tamed the tongue,” who are not consumed with our own opinions and the blab of our subjective ideas (even religious ideas), but whose speech is God-suffused, and leads men to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. It was said of Spurgeon that men who came to hear a sermon from the famed preacher, often left the meeting declaring, “O, how glorious is the Man, Christ Jesus!” They went to hear from the prince of preachers, and left consumed with a new vision of the Prince of Peace. Are our words and lives having that effect on the souls of men?
“…. where can wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?
Man does not know its value,
Nor is it found in the land of the living.” -Job 28.12-13
The answer is not in leaning to one side or the other, nor is it to look for that “happy medium.” The word of the Lord is not found in what we can calculate as nice and encouraging or bold and confrontational. The word of the Lord transcends our wisdom. It is not one side or the other, it is from above; it is “that which proceeds from the mouth of God.” It is “spirit and life.” Do not look on the earthly plain, or weigh out the possible effects of your speech. We must instead allow the Lord to lay the axe to the root of our self-glorification, and go to prayer and to the Scriptures for the present testimony of Jesus Christ.
It is only found when we, in the temple of prayer like Isaiah, “see the Lord high and lifted up,” and the fiery coal is taken from the altar and put to our lips. When Uzziah dies, namely, when we stop seeking the approval of men and our own self-glorification, only then are we permitted to see the exalted Lamb. And when we see Him in His present exalted reality, we realize the uncleanness of our lips, and He is ever-willing to purge and send us. It is set into motion when we are willing to come to Him on that holy ground. This is His mercy.
And when the coal comes from that altar, since it is not initiated and performed by our wisdom but is a holy work of God, our speech will not only be singed or improved upon. Our high opinions will be torched, and our whole view of life and truth will be totally reforged. And seeing the Lord high and lifted up, being jealous only for His glory, we will be granted the authority and power to speak “as one who is speaking the utterances of God.”
The world is perishing and the Church is languishing for want of a true knowledge of God. The voices that will convey the present testimony of the Lord will be those who have given themselves to prayer, shutting down all other activity until they have met with the Lord in reality. The world needs desperately to hear that which is “of Him, through Him, and to Him,” and it will only hear that note sounded by those who have prostrated themselves on the heavenly threshold, eager only for God Himself, and the word which proceeds from Him.
“Behold, these are the fringes of His ways; And how faint a word we hear of Him!” (Job 26.14a)
O God, set Your people apart in this late hour. Deliver us from hollow living and shallow speaking. In Your boundless mercy, bring us into the present testimony of Jesus Christ, that we might live and speak as true voices, and not mere echoes. Confront us in our smug categorization of the faith, and let us be marked as those who “live, move, and have our being” in You, and You only. Give us earnestness after You, and a deep-seated jealousy for Your glory. Amen.