John Chrysostom: Job, the Devil, and the Path of Holiness

Editor's Note: Below is a "Monday Sermon," from our series of sermons at the Patheos Preachers Portal that pastors can enjoy and learn from. It is our hope that this particular series from Daniel Harrell, which preaches through the Church Fathers, will encourage pastors, show them a way of approaching theological education from the pulpit, and refresh their theological memories. See Reverend Harrell's columnist page for more information.

Daniel HarrellI once saw this interesting cartoon in the papers: Two devils, stereotypically cast with horns and goatees and impeccably dressed, were lounging in leather chairs over cigars and martinis. With a devilish smirk on his face, one remarked to the other in regard to the ongoing sexual abuse crisis rocking Catholicism, "Love the work you've been doing with the church recently." Conversely, another cartoon had Satan fuming as he scanned the headlines, which in addition to the scandal included the persistent mess in the Middle East. In this cartoon, the devil commented, "With all of this going on in the name of religion, I'll soon be out of a job." I couldn't help but recall a quip by satirist Karl Kraus who once wrote, "The devil is an optimist if he thinks he can make people worse than they already are." It'd be funny if it weren't so true.

Though not in all cases. In the Bible's premier tale of righteous suffering, the devil takes a pitchforked stab at trying to make a man worse than he is. It's the story of Job. Satan bets God that despite Job's faithfulness, Job would renounce that faith if ever Job lost his job, house, and family. God takes the bet and permits Satan to rob Job of his worldly treasures. Job suffers the horrific, senseless loss of all things dear, but does not recant. Afterward the Lord replied to Satan, "Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth, a man of complete integrity. He fears God and will have nothing to do with evil. He has maintained his uprightness, even though you persuaded me to harm him without cause." "Ah, skin for skin," Satan harrumphed, "A man will give up everything when his life is at stake. Take away his health, and then he will surely curse you to your face!" The Lord responded, "You're on, do with him as you please, only spare his life." So Satan did as he pleased and infected Job with a terrible case of boils from head to foot. Mrs. Job—already bereft of her children, her house, and her social standing—witnessed this latest plague on her husband and screamed out the window, "Are you still trying to maintain your integrity, old man? Curse God and die." But Job replied, even as he sat among ashes scraping his sores, "You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and not trouble?" In saying this Job did not sin and God won the bet.

Not that God and Satan routinely sit around heaven and wager on human faithfulness. The Almighty knows better than to take that bet—at least on anyone but Job and the one whom Job foreshadows, namely, Jesus Christ. Like Job, Jesus thwarted the galling temptations of Satan too. However most of us take after Adam and Eve, failing to ward off Satan's lies with equal success. Satan is a chronic liar, a con demon always trying to dupe you regarding the probity and purposes of God. Theologians may waffle on his elusive form or slithering shape, but that he exists and causes a peck of constant sorrow, scripture never doubts. But why does Satan exist? And how do you parry his unrelenting feints against your soul? An answer emerges from 4th-century Turkey and the golden mouth of John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople.

Now most who achieved fame in the early church did so by virtue of their exceptional oratory skills. However, only John of Antioch earned the moniker Chrysostom, which in Greek means "golden mouth." The Orthodox Church celebrates January 1 as Chrysostom Day. St. John Chrysostom was born in 347 A.D. in Antioch, Syria, and was raised by his pious mother after the sudden death of his father early in life. While studying to become a promising lawyer, John "got the call" to enter the priesthood. Abandoning his legal studies, John enrolled in seminary, which in those days meant joining a monastery, depriving himself of earthly pleasures in order to study scripture and pray. John eventually completed his education and was ordained at age 39. His preaching, which had already commenced while at the monastery, garnered him such acclaim amongst the faithful that within ten years of his ordination he was elevated (being only 5 feet tall) to Archbishop of Constantinople.