Comforted But Not Comfortable
Ronald E. Shultz, BRE, ThD, PPIT,
We live in a day when there is much hardship, sorrow, guilt and untimely deaths. People seek comfort for their sorrows in many ways. Many turn to drugs, alcohol, nicotine, sex and even food to feel better or to forget their pain for a while. Sadly, the pain returns and often the temporary cures bring on other physical and emotional problems worse then what they were used to cure. How many crimes were committed and children conceived while under the influence of some means of comfort? How many were killed or injured under their influence? How many have suffered long drawn out diseases that killed them from partaking of their favorite source of comfort? By seeking to escape rather than confront their sorrows and find true solace they ended up worse then they started.
I understand this process. I had often sought Southern Comfort and the solace provided by Jack Daniels and Jim Beam only to end up in crying jags, sick and hung over rather than truly comforted. The odd part was that growing up I had seen many people seek those sources for comfort and never achieve it but I was stupid enough to endeavor to find what they never could in the same place they came up empty. The deceitfulness of sin is very good at what it does. I have used food as a friend, counselor, and entertainment when I was lonely and that has had its health consequences. I know about seeking comfort in all the wrong places.
Christians know the source of true comfort but they do not want to be comforted. They want to be comfortable and remain stress, worry and trouble free in this life and that is an unhealthy and unrealistic expectation. First world Christians can achieve a semblance of this fairy tale because they have so many things to keep them comfortable and in denial rather than denying themselves. Church attendance fluctuates with the weather and in Texas that is quite frequent and often unpredictable. Christian service is at best sporadic since it occurs only when it is convenient and there is not a ball game or concert or a fly on the wall to preclude it. You say a fly on the wall? One excuse is as good as another and most of them are as strange and facetious as that one.
I want us to look at a premier passage on comfort and see where the true source of comfort lies as well as dispel the myth that when God comforts it leads us to a comfortable life. Please turn to 2 Corinthians 1:1-11
1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia:
While there are many discussions over the call of ministers and the will of God Paul never had those issues he knew he was what he was because God had willed it. He would not be there otherwise. Yes, he had a miraculous call but those who are called to minister really know it in some way. I know I have had second thoughts over the years and have even tried to walk away from it because ministry has not always been a thrill and I am not a masochist at heart. I try to avoid needless pain as much as possible. I have tried to quit but I cant do it. While there is a lot of freedom in being a tentmaker I long to be in full-time service even after all I have been through and have seen other pastors go through. It is a woe unto me situation if I do not exercise my gifts. Ministry is not always comfortable but there is comfort.
Timothy had to fight all kinds of barriers to his ministry even though he had Paul as his mentor and supporter. He was not truly biracial for there is only one race and that is human. He did have two different cultures. His Dad was Greek and his Mom a Jew. His parents had to be in love for the Greeks despised the Jews and the Jews hated Gentiles and both despised a person who was mixed. Besides that he was a very young man. He became pastor of the church at Ephesus when he was only 21. In the Jewish culture you did not become a man until you were thirty and could not sit on the Sanhedrin unless you were thirty and married. We are not told directly that Timothy was married but we know that Paul had said that a pastor was to be a husband of one wife. We do know that he had to tell Timothy to let that no man despise his youth.
Timothy had some reasons to be stressed and suffer burnout but he knew his call and he fulfilled it. He also had to do the work of an evangelist when that was not his primary gift. He had some stomach problems so his health was not perfect. It is possible that he some self-image issues as well. God gave Him comfort but he was not made comfortable. His whole life and ministry was not in his comfort zone.
What a couple of fellows for all the saints at Corinth to get a letter from. Corinth was a big city and a seaport. People would come from all over the Mediterranean to this city and hence pleasure and service would be the major businesses in town. The finest places to stay, to eat and the prettiest women would make a fortune there so Comfort would have been a great name for the city.
The saints or holy folks there would have been converted out of that lifestyle and culture. It would be in their blood so to speak and certainly in their minds and habits. There would be a lot that God would have to transform in them and the world, the flesh and the devil would resist such a transformation. Just for the record, all that are born again and truly Gods children are saints. There is a lot of error based on that word. The Greek word is hagios, which is translated holy as well as saints. A holy thing or person is consecrated to God and all that are in Christ are consecrated to God. No miracles or answers to prayers are required to make you a saint. As flawed as I am when I became a Christian I was consecrated to God and became a saint. I was in an area once were saints were a really big thing and many of the houses of worship were called St. John or St. Mark, etc. I was so tempted to get a jacket with St. Ron the Baptist embroidered on it. I may still do it one day.
2 Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
It was going to take a lot of grace and peace from God to transform these saints whom while they had all the gifts they abused the least gift of all and were carnal spoiled baby brats. They liked the thrill of the gifts and the showiness of things. Their church services may have had all the pomp and grandeur of the shows in the amphitheaters. They put on quite a show and even brought casino type feasts to celebrate the Lords Supper or at least the ones who could afford it did so. They were big on pleasure and comfort.
3 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;
Paul got their ears with this. Bring on the comfort! They may not have caught the mercies part, but I am sure they heard comfort. You dont need mercy when you are comfortable for you think canal comfort is a sign of the blessing of God and if you are getting blessed you arent doing anything that needs mercy. Mercy is needed when you are going through tough times or you have messed up big time. You dont need mercy when it is obvious that you and God are tight because everything is going your way. Always listen to every word and wait for the next one before you jump to conclusions.
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.
OOPS! Paul you are using comfort in a different context! What is all this talk about tribulation? Man, we dont want to hear that. They hadnt seen Pauls letter to the Philippians where the Holy Spirit wrote that it was given to us to suffer with Him as well as believe on Him. Neither had they read the statement to Timothy that all who would live godly would, not might, suffer persecution. There is no call to be comfortable for the saints of God, but a promise that they would be comforted in their tribulation.
Notice that what we go through as Christians is not even about us, but rather for others. I have been through a lot of things in my life that I wish I had only read about in the Word or heard of someone else going through it. I would have gladly passed on the personal experience. However, the experience was not exactly about me. I have found folks over the years that have had similar experiences and I have been able to share with them how God blessed me and got me through those times even in spite of my fear, bitterness or whatever else I felt going through that time. A testimony of experience is far more effective than one of hearsay or book knowledge. I had moments of discomfort in my life that I might receive the comfort in order to point other people to the source of that comfort, Jesus Christ. A comfortable saint is not much help to one that is going through tribulation whereas a comforted one is a conduit of Gods love and power. Which would you rather have in a time of trouble? Which one are you?
5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.
The exercise folks talk about no pain, no gain. Indeed, they will go through long, hard periods of discipline to achieve the fruit of a hard body or a moment of fame. The fruit of trial is consolation and fitness for the Masters use. If someone has gone through a period of pain or trial with you and stayed by your side the whole time you have no doubts that they will be there for you in the good times and fairly sure that they will go with you into the next hard time and that is consolation for you. If that is how it works with frail and fallible humans how much more so for the omnipotent and infallible Savior?
Paul and the others went through tremendous persecution and yet God brought them through all of it and comforted them. Indeed, the word for consolation is paraklesis, which is exactly the word used to describe the Holy Spirit when Jesus said that He would send another comforter. He is the one called along side of you to counsel you, represent you before the throne and comfort you in all your trials. I have some truly wonderful friends that I love dearly and they have been of great help to me from time to time, but as gloriously wonderful as they are they cant fill the shoes of the Holy Spirit, who is available 24/7 and understands my needs and my weaknesses better than anyone on this earth. This consolation abounds by Christ for without His suffering for our sins we would not have access to the Holy Spirit who also translates our feeble attempts at prayer into eloquent appeals before the throne where Christ ever lives to make intercession for us before the Father! O, Child of God, it is so much better to be comforted than to be comfortable. To miss out being loved, consoled, and interceded for by Our Savior and His Spirit before Our Father just to be spared some temporary sorrow is to live in physical comfort but abject spiritual poverty. Remember our brothers named Lazarus? One lived as a beggar and yet was comforted whereas the comfortable rich man suffered eternal discomfort. Our other brother lived a fairly good life but suffered the discomfort of death and may have even felt abandoned by his friend Jesus, but was used of God to show that life after death exists and that his friend was also his Savior who had power over death and the grave! What consolation and comfort!!! Do you think he had any fear at all when he approached death again knowing he had been raised once and that Christ would raise him again at the final resurrection? Hardly!!! He probably shouted, Glory until his last breath or sang his version of It Is Well With My Soul!
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.
Paul knew why he went through all this. It was for the family of God to be consoled by seeing the living example of Gods grace and power in Pauls life. They received salvation or deliverance of their soul when they were born again. Now they needed delivered from fear and doubt during the hard times. Right now the Corinthians were doing well and they were having a great time, but Paul knew that suffering would come for the devil would not just wash his hands of the city and say that he lost that one to the Christians. No, he would attack again and again and these folks needed to be prepared for that and know that God is there in the midst of the attack. He knew the world would seek to compromise their testimony and lure them back into the comfort zone and even the carnal pleasures that were abundant in the city. He knew the flesh would be weak though the spirit might be willing. They needed to know that even if they were in the pain of defeat and despair after giving in to the world or flesh that Jesus is still there to deliver them. Paul knew that Gods consolation was effectual. It worked and it would help the Corinthians to endure.
It was a message they did not want to hear and maybe even thought it was for someone else for surely they would never suffer these things, as they were loaded with all the gifts. They were not ready to take heed. Indeed they had fallen already but did not truly receive the admonishment but rather had doubts about the one who had won them to Christ.
7 And our hope of you is steadfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.
Because of what Paul had been through he knew that they would see suffering and he knew that there was no doubt that those who were Christs would also receive the consolation that he had received. If the godly suffer they are consoled. We have examples all through Scripture. If the godly fall and suffer for their sin the consolation comes with the confession of their sin and their forgiveness. Only the lost suffer and ultimately have no consolation though they may receive temporary respite in this life by the grace of God.
8 For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:
Again, the voice of experience speaks loudly. Paul does not tell this to whine or to seek sympathy. He knows talk is cheap without experience. We say those that cannot do, teach. Brethren, that works in some arenas but the best teachers in the spiritual arena are those who have done and bear the scars and the marks of Christ with the blessing of God on their lives. Not only have they done, but also they do and with the power of Christ will continue to do until they enter into the joy of their Lord!
Is it easy and comfortable? Not at all!! Paul and his fellow soldiers were feeling like they had been run over by steamrollers. They had no strength left and thought they were at the point of death and at times were dreading it and at other times welcomed it as a ticket home. These were Christs choice chosen servants! Why would they go through that?
9 But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:
Here is the answer. Too many Christians rely upon their strength, talents, brains and even their spiritual gifts instead of the One who gives them all they have. Bodily strength fades, mental capacity is never enough and gifts improperly used dont work so after you have done the best you can and all you can you still fail if your trust is misplaced.
Hasnt it all been about trust from the beginning? God told Adam and Eve, Trust me, you dont want to eat that? They trusted the devil, their senses and logic and died putting us in the mess we are in today. God said, Trust me, look at the brazen serpent and live. Those that did lived and those who trusted in logic or something else died. God said, Noah, build an ark and get in it the flood is coming. He trusted God and did as he was told and his family lived. God says now, My Son died on a Cross for your sins. Receive Him and live! Some of us have and others will trust in anything else and will die.
During our trials and sorrows and when fears come upon us, God says, Trust me. I can raise the dead, part seas and create the universe out of nothing. Do we trust Him? When he says that He will comfort us even if it means we are uncomfortable will we trust Him?
10 Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;
God delivered Paul and his entourage from what looked like certain death in Asia. Paul was being delivered constantly from many opportunities for death. He was being delivered daily from the penalty and power of sin, which is death. Though he ultimately died at the hands of his enemy Paul won the race and his martyrdom caused many others to be bold for the faith and Christianity conquered many other hearts that were enslaved by satan. He lives on in the pages of Gods Word inspiring millions more than he reached in his earthly ministry. Is that being dead? God delivered him and us from the greatest death of all and that is separation from God forever in Hell. I wonder if Paul is still running around the throne? If he is has he slowed down any in two thousand years? He is more alive then he ever was and so shall we one day if we are saved.
11 Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf. (KJV)
Paul was asking for prayer to complete the mission he was on and that was to get the offering for the poor saints in Jerusalem delivered. Even this request was not really about him or his comfort, but rather for the needs of others. He was not comfortable but he was certainly comforted and comforted many others then and many more today.
Brethren, we must give up the idea of being comfortable. We need in the very depths of our souls to be used by God. We were made and saved for that very purpose but we will never achieve it unless we are willing to suffer for Him. Suffering is the way to service, power and the sweet consolation of the Spirit and to know our Savior in the fellowship of His suffering and service. We want the thrills and glories of the resurrected live but we must needs go by the way of the Cross and death to self and comfort to get them. This is why the Church is not rocking the world. We are afraid that if we stand on the Rock too much we may be stoned by the world. So be it! Better to die a Stephen than to live as a Demas. There is a song, Deserter, by the Rebelaires thats says better to die tomorrow than to have your honor killed and that cowards die one hundred times for each day that they live.
Demas come back! Forsake your comforts and find true comfort in Christ! Deserter, return to the fight! Cowards, find courage in the strength Christ gives. Unbeliever, you are the only one who will find honor in deserting the army of the damned to achieve the victory in Christ and a position of service in His army! All of you come to the Cross and die to self that you may have life more abundantly and find all that you need!!! Amen! Maranatha!!!