With the celebration of Christ’s birth in the rear view mirror,
the lights, Christmas trees and decorations stored until next
year, I find myself waking with the familiar chorus on my lips,
of the age old Christmas Carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,. “O tidings of
comfort and joy, comfort and joy.. O tidings of comfort and joy….” As we start a
new year, it is fitting that we consider the good tidings of the Gospel and analyze
what are we looking for, or trusting in, to provide our comfort and joy?
If we are sincere in our search of truth in His Word, we must admit that the prosperity gospel has infected our entire American Church culture. Secondly, if we permit the Holy Spirit to expose the sins that separate us from true intimacy with Christ, He will most likely show us the breadth, depth, and scope of how the false gospel of comfort, success, & self reliance has robbed us of the only true comfort and joy.
Much of the strivings of modern Christianity attempt to achieve comfort on our own and unaided by God. In other words, we become fearful that if we fully submit to His will, that He won’t provide us with the desires of our heart. Like our father Adam we then strive to provide our comfort through our own self reliance. Paul was no stranger to the sin of independence, though he later considered those former strivings as dung.
In the first seven verses of Chapter One of the second letter to the Corinthians. Here Paul mentions comfort five times. The word comfort comes from the Greek word PARAKLĒSIS, a verb, meaning a calling to one’s side (para, beside, kaleō, to call). This is akin to the name given for the Holy Spirit, the PARAKLETE, the Comforter. In the first chapter of this letter, Paul shows both a vertical and horizontal dimension of the verb comfort.
According to Paul the vertical dimension is an intersection of the Holy Creator coming alongside his suffering servant. We see this not only in Paul’s reference to the comfort he received in his afflictions, but also in the fact that on at least one occasion, Paul considered his situation so bleak that he pronounced his own death sentence. Paul says that death had been set before his eyes that he might, in consequence of this, recognize more distinctly the power of God, by which he had been raised up from the dead. Paul found himself in a place of utter dependence upon God where he could no longer rely upon his own self confidence, resourcefulness and self reliance.
It was here that Paul experienced the peace that passes all understanding. I prefer to say that this is the peace that under the circumstances makes no earthly sense. Jonathan Edwards alludes to this in Pressing Into The Kingdom, where he writes, “It is God’s manner to make men sensible of their inner misery and unworthiness before He appears in His mercy and love to them.” This is the vertical aspect of the comfort Paul describes, where God intimately and personally appears in mercy and love, often at a time when we have fully surrendered to His will.
The horizontal dimension is not to be minimized either as Paul makes much reference to the Corinthians participation in his suffering as well as in his comfort.” Here Paul makes it clear that suffering and the comfort received should not be a private matter. Paul mentions first that “those who receive comfort are to use this in coming along side of others who suffer. A few verses later Paul mentioned the benefit to those who shared in his sufferings, either in prayer or in sacrifice, would be comforted in the comfort he receives.
So how are we to be comforted, and how are we to comfort those who are afflicted?
By personal experience Paul knew that God’s power would be made perfect in His weakness, and that whatever suffering he (Paul) experienced, he knew that it was for God’s greater purpose and glory; and that God would provide the comfort and peace that makes no earthly sense in times of great trial.
For those who are suffering, our greatest hope is in the sovereignty of our God and in the truth that He will work all things for good in our times of suffering, just as He did for Paul. It is when our wills align with God’s will where the most holy God of comfort breaks into our world of pain to reveal His love and mercy.
God calls those who have been comforted to come along side those who are in similar straights. He also calls the rest of the body of Christ to share with those who are suffering by praying for them. God promises they will also participate in experiencing the comfort and peace that makes no earthly sense.
As we consider how to best serve the Lord in 2009, let us ask the Holy Spirit to reveal areas of our life that are not in line with His will. As we seek first His Kingdom, ask Him to provide us with opportunities to come along side of those who suffer. May the God of the peace that passes all understanding bring you tidings of comfort and joy.