Fellowship of Suffering: Job’s Friends

Early on in the book of Job we are introduced to Job’s three friends: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. We do not know a lot about these three men other than the fact that they were friends of Job. They hear about Job’s suffering, and they come to visit him. The New American Commentary says, “This central and largest section in the book fills more than half the volume with its twenty-four chapters. Each of the three friends spoke, and each time Job responded. This cycle goes around three times with Eliphaz speaking three times, Bildad speaking three times, but Zophar speaking only twice.”[1] Job’s friends may had good intentions, yet, their approach to Job’s situation was greatly flawed. Matthew Henry says, “The question in dispute is whether Job was an honest man or no, the same question that was in dispute between God and Satan in the first two chapters. Satan had yielded it, and durst not pretend that his cursing his day was a constructive cursing of his God; no, he cannot deny but that Job still holds fast his integrity; but Job’s friends will needs have it that, if Job were an honest man, he would not have been thus sorely and thus tediously afflicted, and therefore urge him to confess himself a hypocrite.”[2] In all that Job went through, he never cursed God. He never turned his back on God. He remained faithful. Unlike the verdict of his friends, Job did not commit a sin that caused his suffering, nor did he sin against God in the midst of his suffering. As we look at this rather lengthy dialogue in the book of Job, there are several observations that we see in Job’s friends that teaches us some very valuable lessons in how we respond to those who are suffering.

                Job’s friends were present. The only positive thing we can say about Job’s friends is that they came to visit him. They had a genuine concern for Job, and they came to attempt to bring him comfort. For seven days and nights they sat with Job and did not say a word. When there are those we know and love that are going through a season of suffering, it is important that we recognize their suffering by being present in their life. There is something about just being there that brings the most comfort. There have been hundreds of times as a pastor over the years when I walked into a situation where someone was suffering greatly and there were no words to be said. I have sat in many homes for hours with families who just lost a loved one or were gathering around a loved one on their death bed. In those moments, there are no words that need to be spoken. Just being there and being present is comfort enough. The word fellowship means partnership. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to partner with one another in our suffering. There are no answers to be given. There is no explanation. There are no words of comfort. It is being there in that moment of their suffering that gives comfort and assurance that words can never bring.

                Job’s friends did not listen to his heart. The pain that Job had was in his heart. In chapter three we see Job saying things that he really did not mean to say. He spoke out of his pain. Job’s friends made the mistake of listening to his words rather than listening to his heart. Warren Wiersbe says, “A wise counselor and comforter must listen with the heart and respond to feelings as well as to words. You do not heal a broken heart with logic; you heal a broken heart with love.”[3] How many times have we tried to give people answers to the suffering? How often do we listen to the words they say out of their pain, and we try to respond to those words with some explanation or instruction? In the moment of suffering, the sufferer does not need explanations and instructions, they just need a friend. They need someone to listen to their heart and not their words. They need someone who can feel their pain with them.

                Job’s friends based their response on assumptions rather than reality. Job’s friends wrongfully assumed that since Job was suffering so much, then he must have done something wrong. They thought that no one could suffer like Job was for no reason. They thought that there must have been something Job did to cause the suffering. Years ago, I learned a very valuable lesson while serving on staff at a church. My pastor would tell me often: “Never assume anything.” Mistakes are made and greater heartache is made when we assume something rather than knowing the facts. We should never base our decisions on assumptions. We should never act or proceed with anything based on assumptions. We should never say anything based on assumptions. Every time we respond to someone out of something that we have assumed, we are treading very dangerously, and we will end up doing or saying something that we will later regret. Job’s friends made false accusations based on assumptions. Such action leads to even more suffering and even embarrassment. I encourage you to never assume anything. Make sure you know all the facts before you speak. You can never help relieve someone’s suffering by making assumptions as to why they are suffering. Base your response to those who are suffering on reality and not on assumptions.

                Job’s friends spoke at the wrong time. As you read the discourse between Job and his friends, you will find that his friends made some truthful comments. However, truth spoken at the wrong time is just as harmful as a lie. Proverbs 15:23 says, “A word spoken in due season, how good it is!” Timing is everything. It is not necessarily what you say to someone who is suffering, it’s when you say it. For example, when you are visiting someone at the funeral home you are not going to say, “well, the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away” or “the wages of sin is death.” Those statements are true, but it is not the right things to say in that moment. When someone just found out they have cancer, you are not going to say, “You know, I’ve heard that eating sugar and drinking soda’s causes cancer.” How many times have we caused greater harm and suffering in someone’s life by saying something insensitive? Job’s friends may have said some things that were truthful. However, said in the wrong context they did not bring any comfort to Job at all.

                Job’s friends never prayed. As you read through the book of Job you never find one instance were Job’s friends prayed for Job or prayed with Job. The New American Commentary says, “Usually the friends’ speeches include rebuke and advice. Usually Job turned to God in petition or complaint. The friends never prayed.”[4] Instead of praying they just kept accusing Job of being a hypocrite and gave him the advice to repent. There was constant rebuke and untimely advice, but never was there any prayer. It would have been so much better for Job if at the end of Job’s pity party in chapter three if his friends just gathered around him and started praying. Instead, they opened their mouths with these long speeches which did nothing at all to bring Job comfort. When we are dealing with someone who is suffering our words should be few, but our prayers should be many. How often have we dived in to give some type of explanation or advice to someone who is suffering when all they need is for someone to pray?

                Job’s friends do not leave for us a good example of how we should respond to someone who is suffering. Their example is just the opposite. They show us how not to respond to someone who is suffering. As we engage in the fellowship of suffering, may the Lord help us to respond to each other’s suffering in a way that will bring comfort and hope rather than greater despair and suffering.

[1] Alden, R. L. (1993). Job (Vol. 11, p. 82). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 662). Peabody: Hendrickson.

[3] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Patient (p. 27). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[4] Alden, R. L. (1993). Job (Vol. 11, p. 82). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

One thought on “Fellowship of Suffering: Job’s Friends

  1. Amen Pastor. Job’s friends thought Job was suffering for doing wrong before God, but Job was suffering for the Glory of God.

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