With the killer tornadoes and hurricanes in our area here in central Florida, many rush to give comfort to the survivors and their families. As we too here at Walk Worthy have been touched by the destruction, death, and grace, plus the physical and prayerful works on site that have provided comfort to those left to cope with the arduous chore of picking up their lives and moving on.
Our thoughts also turn to God’s holy Word for our guidance in this area.
Some time ago, a dear brother admonished me for being, in his opinion, too focused on correcting sin in believers’ lives, while neglecting to “comfort them” while in their sin. Wanting to hear him out, still I was troubled since I did feel my actions were led by the Spirit. And my mind raced over the ‘comfort’ scriptures in the Spirit…but none I reviewed supported his doctrine. But certainly I’d been wrong before, and certainly will be so again!
I quizzed him on when he thought comfort might be shown, in other words, under what circumstances. If I remember correctly, he replied we believers should do so in every case under every circumstance without reservation.
The Spirit prompted me to declare retreat with him just then, and I would seek the Scriptures and the wisdom from our Helper! I was not convinced in the least my friend’s assessment was right. But he had taught me so much about God and the walk of faith over the years that I desired to not despise his loving admonishment.
So, setting about the holy task of understanding the mind of God in this area, we prayed earnestly for truth and that very day went to the Word. What a blessing to be able to pick up the sacred writings in different translations at a moment’s notice! Praise the Lord for His suffering servants who gave their lives over the centuries so we might freely read the inspired words.
The Word of God speaks
Let’s at least look at the New Covenant record. In the New American Standard Updated (NASU) version of the Bible, the 23 uses of the actual English word “comfort” and it’s close derivatives like “comforted” are described by only 2 Greek words: parakaleo and paraklesis.
The word parakaleo comes from the Greek words para (meaning alongside, like para-church ministry) and kaleo (to call). It basically means to call to or for, to exhort, to encourage.
The following English words in the New Testament record are used to translate this Greek word, followed in parenthesis with the number of times each is used: appeal(4), appealed(1), appealing(2), beg(1), begging(2), beseeching(1), comfort(5), comforted(11), comforts(2), conciliate(m)(1), encourage(6), encouraged(4), encouraging(3), entreat(7), entreated(9), entreating(7), exhort(8), exhortations(1), exhorted(2), exhorting(3), exhorts(1), given exhortation(1), invited(2), preach(1), requested(1), urge(17), urged(5), urging(1).
The word paraklesis, interestingly, derives its origin from the proceeding word we’ve just talked about: parakaleo. This word means a calling to one’s aid, i.e. encouragement, comfort.
Again, the following English words in the NT record are used to translate this Greek word, followed in parenthesis with the number of times each is used: appeal(1), comfort(13), consolation(1), encouragement(5), Encouragement(1), entreaty(1), exhortation(7).
For you KJV only types who only read that translation, it appears the above descriptions and uses are identical to those in the NASU.
Also of note, we see in the Gospel according to the Apostle John, Jesus Himself uses a similar word to describe His Holy Spirit: parakletos (also derived from parakaleo) meaning called to one’s aid. It translates as these words in the NASU version: Advocate (1 use in 1 John 2:1 where John says if we sin, we have an Advocate with the Father: Jesus the Righteous), and Helper (used 4 times by Jesus: John 14:16; John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7). The NIV uses the English word Counselor, while the KJV uses Comforter. But I believe by looking at the way the Holy Spirit helps, Helper is the best rendition of the intended meaning here, and not just Comforter.
So then, when is comfort given?
Both during and after good works, deep concern for the brethren in their difficulties, trials, and persecutions, and all for God’s sake. You’ll spend a lot of time trying to build a case for comfort given in the middle of someone’s sin.
See what you think. Let’s look more closely at the context, i.e. how the word is used in a passage of meaning. Please stop and ask the Spirit in each case why is the comfort being given:
Matthew 2:18 “A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.”
Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn (for their repentance over sin), for they shall be comforted.
2 Cor. 1:3-7 (used a record 10 times in this text) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.
2 Cor. 7:6-7 But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more.
2 Cor. 7:13 For this reason (Godly sorrow of the repentant brother) we have been comforted. And besides our comfort, we rejoiced even much more for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all.
Are you still asking the Lord to show you in each case why comfort is being given? You’re not just rushing through and reading the verses, are you?!
2 Cor. 13:11 Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Ephes. 6:22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know about us, and that he may comfort your hearts.
1 Thes. 3:7 for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith;
1 Thes. 4:18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. (concerning the hope of the rapture, i.e. resurrection of deceased-in-the-flesh-but-alive-in-the-soul saints)
2 Thes. 2:17 comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.
The comfort of God, whether from Him directly, ministering angels, or through other saints, is a gracious, precious act of mercy and a soothing balm to our souls. Where, in heaven’s name, would we be without it? If any of us have walked with God for any length of time, we’ve all been the blessed recipients of this holy favor. Glory to our Father, praise to Jesus for this grace, and a special thank you to our Helper!
Like God Himself, we must be generous, even lavish, in the use of comfort with each other. But always in the right way, under the right circumstances.
Should we comfort someone in the midst of their sin, providing some sort of affirmation?
The Bible record, if it’s to be used by us who believe for life itself, tells a clear story in this regard. If we attempt to provide comfort during sin, it seems this misguided act would be akin to aiding and abetting the enemy of our souls, the evil one himself.
Of course, this attempt fits like a glove in our permissive, feel-good, group hug culture we must call America. And to think we who live here in the States are given the opportunity to export our brand of Christianity all over the world. God, please help us, oh Lord.
Some examples of possible comfort
Let’s pose a couple of difficult scenarios in life that could befall any of us, whether we follow Christ or not.
First, imagine your unsaved son or daughter is attending a small party with other pagans. Without warning, a gun-crazed, drugged up lunatic breaks through the back door and open fires with a semi-automatic weapon into the stunned crowd. Your child is hit with a spray of bullets in forehead, neck, and chest, and drops dead at the feet of the gunman. Many others suffer the same fate, murdered at the scene. This makes the evening news in your city.
Oh, the pain and agony you feel.
Second, a week later right after the grave side burial of your child, your spouse or a parent is walking with a large group of people next to an old, large church building that is 3 stories high. Unexpectantly, the south wall of the building shutters, with plaster, wooden beams, and metal support sections instantaneously collapsing and reigning below.
The deafening noise, smoke, and debris quickly cover the people walking beside, as they look up in terror at the fate about to encompass them. In a moment in time, the physical bodies of two dozen live human beings are snuffed out.
Just like that. No more. It reminds you of a familiar scene from the American war upon Iraq, or Afghanistan, or wherever American’s poke their unwelcome nose. This scene of death involving a church building also makes the evening news in your city.
Heartache envelops your soul, as you seek relief from the emotional torment. Comfort from God is first and foremost on your mind.
Two weeks later, still smarting from this enormous loss, you attend a gathering in your city were a local influential Christian leader is also present. The crowd is a mixture of mostly lost pagans, but a few saints are sprinkled in besides yourself.
You overhear the Christian leader trying valiantly to evangelize the pagans within his earshot. He faithfully proclaims the real gospel, not any shadow of the Americanized gospel. His unsaved audience is unimpressed.
Pressing on, he asks if anyone needs healing. Ann older woman with a bad case of scoliosis comes forward. She is almost bent in half as she waddles forward toward the man. In a flash, the leader puts his hands upon her back, praying in the name of Jesus. She is instantly made whole and upright. Though unsaved, the women shouts for joy and goes off to show others in the room her new found health.
His unsaved audience is still unimpressed. They then deflect the glare of possible conviction by Jesus by bringing up the two recent tragedies. They intend to send the signal of how “bad” those souls must have been in the eyes of the loving, holy Creator due to their early demise.
“Hey, dude,” a spokesman in the crowd inquires of the leader, “those guys who were shot dead at that party must have been a bunch of real losers since they died that way. Right, man?”
Oh, no. You’re still reeling from the loss with the memory coming up again in the forefront of your mind. It was your child, after all. All those years, all that love. Gone. All gone now.
You, and we all if we’re honest, expect a certain comforting response from the Christian leader. He doesn’t waste another moment as he replies. But the response is foreign to our ears.
“Do you suppose that those people at that party were greater sinners than all the other party goers because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you all will likewise perish.”
How could the Christian leader say something like that about that awful tragedy? It’s not nice at all. Doesn’t he care? Why is he so mean?
Undaunted, another in the crowd tries his luck. “But what about those two dozen people who were just minding their own business and the building fell and killed them? What about them? Huh?”
The leader took a short breath just before he spoke again.
“Or do you suppose that those 24 on whom the building fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live here in this city? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
The crowd peers strangely at this leader, and then quickly disperses, mumbling to themselves, but never to reengage the leader again that night.
You feel weak, yet rising anger, at the leader’s callousness. Does he think he follows Jesus with doctrine like that? Doesn’t he know that there’re many relatives of the victims struggling with these tragedies?
What about comfort for the relatives of the victims, you think. What about comfort for those poor lost souls here at his gathering who are now turned off to the gospel because the leader was so harsh and unloving? He missed a wonderful opportunity, you muse.
Or did he?
By now you’ve long ago detected a modern recap of the encounter with Jesus from the gospel according to Luke. What’s the background?
A crowd has gathered in Galilee. Jesus has just performed miracles, given profound teaching, and declared many obedient things His followers should perform in order to take up their cross and follow Him. They too are unimpressed.
Some in the crowd change the subject to a recent tragedy. They assume that those folks must have been out of favor with God since the notorious Pilate has them murdered in cold blood during a congregation gathering in their local area.
Jesus now, in the holiness of His Father, must reprimand them for not accepting Him as the Messiah. He provides no comfort, either for the sinners, relatives of the victims, or for the victims themselves. At least as recorded.
Let’s give a listen to His startling words about pre-salvation sinners:
Luke 13:1-3 Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
Is this nice of Jesus?
Would you say that to these folks? Is this nice? Why does Jesus do something like this? Our Lord just keeps right on going. How? By bringing up a second tragedy not even mentioned by those present nor indeed inflicted by a murderous pagan governor. This one is sent directly by the sovereign hand of God the Almighty Himself:
He continues on.
Luke 13:4-5 “Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse CULPRITS than all the men who live in Jerusalem? “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Wow. Talk about a total lack of comfort here. What is He up to? Would He ever be invited back to your congregational gathering? Or the last Christian conference you attended?
He intends to stun His audience out of lethargy and self-satisfied smugness. What words He uses.
Like “culprits.” How harsh to our ears. How about this: “Repent. Or perish.” Just like that given to the churches in Revelation.
The Greek word that is in the text for “perish” is apollumi, and is rendered to destroy, or destroy utterly. It also is translated as dying, killed, put to death, ruined, destroyed.
So, whether by a man-made tragedy (even through God’s hand) or a direct God-sent tragedy, the message of Jesus in clear.
And the central message is that repentance is a must. For them. For me. For you. For everyone. That is His way. Time should not be spent finding fault with others who seem to be having a difficult time. Even if we think God is especially “punishing” them.
Comfort is not the point here. But in the flesh it seems it should be, doesn’t it? Seems only natural. Ah, but that is in the flesh.
In the Sprit we see another way.
Salvation, holy service, and endurance under pressue to the very end is the point.
That is what brings God joy. And we live to bring Him joy, not our own joy without Him. His joy will be our joy.
Just in case we think Jesus’ response in the early part of Luke 13 is isolated, let’s take a brief look at what surrounds this verbal exchange, that is, the context of the passage:
Sell your possessions for unfailing treasure – 12:33-34
Be alert, and ready, and Christ will serve us (amazing!) – 12:37
Fellow slaves that beat another will be cast into the lake of fire with unbelievers– 12:46
Jesus comes to cast fire, divide people, and not bring peace – 12:49-53
People called hypocrites for refusing the clear signs of the Messiah – 12:54-56
Repent, or perish, or end up like the fig tree cut down – 13:6-9
So, then, brethren. The message first and foremost is repent, or perish. Check out once again Revelation 2 and 3 with the dramatic words of Jesus to five of the seven churches. Same thing.
We can’t escape it. If….and a big “if”….if we really want to be like Him in all ways:
1 John 2:6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
Our Lord’s comfort is perfect, perfectly given with perfect timing. But we can escape from His penetrating words if we decide to walk away from Him. But it’s only a false temporary, carnal, worldly comfort.
Brethren, we have better things in mind concerning you! Be sure you only give comfort when it is really due. And preach this Word in season and out of season: repent…..or perish.
Pray for us to be as bold as we ought. We at Walk Worthy will be praying the same for our fellow citizens seated in the heavenlies.
Please comment on this post right below. Feel free to write and proclaim your leadings in the Spirit in an honorable fashion.
Your friend and brother in fighting the good fight,
Saints, we’re one day closer to Home, and Him! Love Him wholeheartedly!
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Please comment on this post right below. Feel free to write and proclaim your leadings in the Spirit in an honorable fashion.
Marc White, Director, Walk Worthy Ministries, www.WalkWorthy.org