When I drive through Springfield, Missouri, I see a sign on East Sunshine that says, “Love God, love people—on purpose.”
Two basic commands in life are to love God and to love our fellow man. We love God because He first loved us, and with the love of God in us, we are able to love others. I believe this applies to other acts of love, such as comfort.
Last week, we covered how “comfort” in the New Testament relates to the theme that we have hope in Jesus because He calls us near to Him. This theme continues throughout the New Testament. 2 Corinthians 7:6 says, “Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus.” “Comforteth” comes from the Greek word parakaleō, which as you may recall from last week’s post means “to call near.” “Cast down” translates from the Greek word tapeinos (pronounced “tap-i-nos’”), which means “depressed, humiliated (in circumstances or disposition), of low degree (estate), lowly.” We know we are an unworthy and lowly people, and we are often in despair, but God calls the lowly near to Him.
Romans 15:4-5 (KJV)
4 “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
5 Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus.”
Paul is telling the Christians of the church of Rome that the Word of God was written to teach and instruct us in the doctrine. Here, “learning” in Greek is didaskalia, which means “instruction, doctrine, or teaching.” In fact, he says the endurance and constancy (which is from hupomonē, the Greek word for patience in this verse) and the comfort of the Scriptures gives us hope or confidence (according to the translation of hope in the Greek, which is elpis). In the next verse, Paul calls God the “God of patience and consolation.” Since God is the Word and the Word is with and is God, both He and His Word literally are our source of comfort and hope. And that source of comfort and hope endures forever. No matter what we may go through, we are never without the comfort of God and hope within His Word. But the comfort of God and the hope we have because of His comfort is not the only theme that accompanies this word in the New Testament.
Just as the love of God helps us love others, God comforts us so that we can comfort others.
2 Corinthians 1:3-6 (KJV)
3 “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;
4 Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth in Christ.
6 And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.”
God is our Father Who comforts us in every troublesome situation. Here, “comforteth” again means “to call near.” When burdens, trials, and afflictions persecute us, God calls us near to Him. However, He comforts us so that we might be able to receive strength from and confidence in Him as well as comfort others. We may suffer for striving to live righteously, but God gives us an excess of consolation. “Abound” and “aboundeth” here come from the Greek perisseuo, which means “to be in excess, abundance, to increase, and to remain.” Paul and the early church suffered greatly for serving Christ. My Apostolic Study Bible says this about this passage: “Paul and the church at Corinth had shared in Christ’s sufferings. God’s merciful deliverance of Paul from his tribulation served as an encouragement to the Corinthians that He would deliver them also.” When we suffer, we do so for the cause of Christ. Though our sufferings are in abundance, so is God’s comfort and mercy. He delivered Paul from difficulty to encourage others in the same way that He still delivers us today to encourage others. We experience difficulty and the comfort of the Lord so that we can learn how to be a comfort to others in their time of difficulty. So, not only do we receive comfort from God, but we receive comfort from one another.
On numerous occasions, the Lord commands His people through the apostles to comfort each other. In 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, the apostle Paul instructs the church at Thessalonica to comfort each other with the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ:
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (KJV)
16 “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
Again, “comfort” here comes from parakaleō. Another meaning of this word is “to exhort,” which means to encourage someone. In the Apostolic Study Bible, the notes for these verses discuss the church’s responsibility to “offer encouragement and comfort to those who are grieving,” for “the return of Christ means we do not need to grieve as those who are hopeless.” The next chapter contains two more commands to comfort:
1 Thessalonians 5:11, 14 (KJV)
11 “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.
14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.”
We comfort one another by building up each other. “Edify” from the Greek word oikodomeō (pronounced “oy-kod-om-eh’-o”) means “to construct or (figuratively) confirm, build (up), embolden.” In verse 14, “comfort” comes from the Greek word paramutheomai (“par-am-oo-theh’-om-ahee”), which means “to relate near, that is (by implication), encourage, console.” These verses and the verses that follow contain several practical instructions (such as “pray without ceasing” in verse 17) to believers on how to live righteously and ethically so that we can make it to Heaven. Among these instructions is the command to encourage the “feebleminded,” that is the “little spirited” or “faint hearted” according to the translation of the original Greek word oligopsuchos (“ol-ig-op’-soo-khos”). We must support and give encouragement to those who are weary among us because God has done the same for us. We are nothing without God, and in the midst of trials, we cannot rely on ourselves for strength. God is our strength and comfort. If He does this all for us, then we should offer the same for others.
Some of the last messages about comfort in the New Testament speak of the church comforting each other. In the face of trials and persecution, the church stands united so long as we comfort and give strength to one another. As we well know, a house divided against itself cannot stand. In this time that the church is facing its fiercest opposition, we cannot afford to allow ourselves to become prejudiced toward each other and fail in our responsibility to lift our brothers and sisters up to God in prayer. The early church faced persecution from the enemy, and so Paul instructed them to encourage each other. Likewise, in these last days, the church is again facing persecution and opposition all over the world, but we still have that same command to be a comfort to each other. Our end goal—our ultimate goal is Heaven, and we work daily to live righteously so that we can all make it there.
As the children of God, we are never alone in our difficulties. As the Word teaches us about comfort, from the Old Testament to the New, we receive our strength and comfort from two places: from God and from the church. He comforts the weary so that we can comfort our weary fellow believers. He consoles the broken hearted so that the church can give consolation to the broken hearted. He calls us near to Him so that we can bind together with each other and lift up the depressed and hurting in our communities. His strength is our strength, His comfort is our hope, and our responsibility is to comfort each other with the news of eternal life through Him.
“You’re my brother, you’re my sister
So take me by the hand
Together we will work until He comes
There’s no foe that can defeat us
When we’re walking side by side
As long as there is love, we will stand.”