June 15, 2007

A Whole Company of Comforters

A crust of bread and a corner to sleep in,
A minute to smile and an hour to weep in,
A pint of joy to a peck of trouble,
And never a laugh but the moans come double;
And that is life!*
2007 1516 page24 capAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR’S POEM articulated the moans of the world’s mourning multitudes, including me. As a pastor, I have buried many and married none. In the past couple of years, I have assisted and officiated at funerals of children. First a teenager, then an infant; and when it seemed it couldn’t get any worse, a child died just weeks before being born. Imagine being a mother whose womb becomes a tomb!
It seems that we are called upon to weep with those who weep much more than we have occasion to rejoice with those who rejoice. Should we really be surprised that so many become ensnared in addictions as they seek something to soothe their sorrows? Southern Comfort (an alcoholic beverage blend produced since 1874) is a natural choice for one that has not tasted supernatural comfort. Satan has a host of counterfeit comforters for those not acquainted with the Comforter.
2007 1516 page24 linkWait a minute. The Comforter? Did you know Jesus not only speaks of the Comforter, but in John 14:16 describes the Holy Spirit as another Comforter? The word “another” implies that there are at least two Comforters. But could there be even more? Just how many comforters are there?
May I suggest that the Lord of hosts has a host of comforters. And we sure can use them in a world where “moans come double.”
Let me mention five.
The First Comforter
Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Comforter four times in John 14 through 16. So that we don’t get the wrong idea about the kind of comfort being offered, however, Jesus described what the Comforter’s job entails. That job description may be summed up in two words: clarification and conviction.
Jesus said that He had many more things to teach His disciples than they could presently bear—hence His promises of the Holy Spirit to teach and lead them into all truth. This clarification of truth results in the conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
What is conviction?
Conviction points to the affliction of our conscience, which takes place when the Spirit places our sins before us like a dirty diaper. When we come to agree with God that it stinks, He then removes it and begins the comforting process.
The Spirit convicts us of sin, because God cannot allow us to remain comfortable in it.
The Second Comforter
We are liars if we say we have no sin. And the Spirit continually strives against this self-deception. God doesn’t want us to sin, but if we do, He wants us to confess it, so that Jesus Christ, our Advocate, can go to work for us.
The word translated “Advocate” in 1 John 2:1 is the same word translated “Comforter” in John’s Gospel. Why, then, is the same word translated by two different terms?
The reason is that Jesus and the Holy Spirit have similar, yet distinct roles. The Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin, so that we will confess it. Once confessed, our sins are submerged in Calvary’s crimson flow. It takes the dual-action formula of the Spirit’s conviction and the Son’s cleansing to achieve true comfort.
Yet God has more comfort to offer.
The Third Comforter
Next in God’s host of Comforters is the Father Himself. Paul referred to Him as “the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3, KJV). In the New International Version, the passage says:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor. 1:3, 4).
This is intriguing! We sometimes have the mistaken notion that Jesus died so that His grumpy Father would love us. However, it was the Father who so loved the world that He gave us His Son. The Father Himself loves us and knows how much we need comfort. He not only sent His Son, but Jesus said that it was the Father who would send “another” Comforter to dwell with us forever. Since the Father is responsible for sending the previous two Comforters, He truly is the God of all comfort.
2007 1516 page24The Fourth Comforter
We’ve seen that the Bible reveals every member of the Godhead to be a comforter. Now, significantly the Bible itself appears as another comforter. Said the apostle: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).
The Father sent the Holy Spirit to inspire the prophets and apostles to record words that would bring conviction, cleansing, and comfort. The Bible comforts us by showing that God provides pardon, transformation, wisdom, healing, resurrection, and opportunity to be with Him throughout eternity.
What we know about the first three Comforters actually comes in large part through Scripture, itself the fourth Comforter.
The Fifth Comforter
Rounding out the host of comforters is us, so to speak. That’s right, you and I are comforters according to the Word of God. We are told to comfort one another.
As we just read, God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor. 1:4). Of course, we comfort one another with the objective knowledge of God and His plan for us as revealed in Scripture. But there is more than that.
We are to comfort others by relating our subjective experience of how God has comforted us personally (2 Cor. 1:4). God’s grace is not only sufficient, it is efficient. His providence in our lives is meant to be recycled. Often, what seems to be meaningless misery is transformed as we share how God has brought us through. Suffering lends us credibility as comforters. When people are hurting and we try to patch them up with objective statements of the Bible, they may lash out and declare, “You don’t understand!”
Sometimes they’re right. We’re trying to drag them through their valleys as fast as we can, because we’re in a hurry to return to our mountaintops. This happens when we recite passages such as the twenty-third Psalm, but haven’t had to walk our own valleys and face our own fears. It’s disarming, however, when we’re able to share how God has sustained us in a similar situation. Timely testimonies encourage others to be overcomers when they feel overwhelmed.
“They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Rev. 12:11).
Sharing our stories may make us uncomfortable and vulnerable. But temporary discomfort is the price we pay for the privilege of being comforters with Christ. Our comfort cost the Father temporary separation from His only begotten; cost the Son His life; cost the Spirit grief; cost the apostles, reformers, missionaries, and Bible translators their lives. Where would we be without them? Where will others be without us?
Observing the lack of comforters in the world, Solomon said that the dead and the unborn are better off than the living:
“Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors—and they have no comforter. And I declared that the dead, who had died, are happier than the living who are still alive” (Eccl. 4:1, 2).
Let’s all do our part so that no one with whom we come into contact will feel they’re better off dead. Let’s accept the call to be cocomforters together with Christ.
*Paul Laurence Dunbar, Lyrics of Lowly Life.
Carl McRoy is a graduate of Oakwood College, has pastored for five years, and is currently serving as the publishing director for the South Atlantic Conference. He and Luceta, his wife of eight years, have a 4-year-old girl and a 3-month-old baby boy.