In Darol’s sermon this week he mentioned that sometimes coming to the Lord’s Table might involve us feeling uncomfortable, as we are faced with our sin. But, he reassured us, we are welcomed by God to come and exchange that discomfort and guilt for His comfort – a true-r comfort.
Isn’t that remarkable – that true comfort can only be had by being first made uncomfortable? Only God can think this stuff up.
One of the things that’s so great about living in the light of God’s truths is that ordinary words can take on greater depth and meaning that the rest of the world may never know. The word “comfort” is one such word.
Our culture’s definition of comfort is a state of physical ease, a lack of pain or constraint. In other words, to feel comfortable is to feel good and unhindered.
But is this how our Lord uses the word comfort in the Bible? After a formal greeting, Paul starts the letter we know as Second Corinthians with this passage:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
A closer look at the word comfort, repeated five times in that short passage reveals something much richer than making a person feel good. The Greek word paraklēsis, translated as comfort, literally means “calling to one’s side.” This coming alongside another can mean encouragement or consolation, but it can also mean exhortation.
When coming alongside a person who needs comfort, we may be called to encourage them – literally, to strengthen one’s heart – by just being present and offering simple consolation, OR we may be called to come alongside in order to help turn them in a new direction, if they are going the wrong way. This could be very uncomfortable by the world’s definition, since it does provide constraint when the world wants no constraint.
At the root of Biblical comfort is the concept of needing a Savior. In fact, in Luke 2:25, this same Greek word is used when it talks about the “consolation of Israel” – a phrase often used to refer to the waiting for the Messiah. True comfort, or consolation, only comes when we are rescued from our sin by our Savior. But, of course, in order to be saved, one needs to acknowledge that he is in need of a savior… which is uncomfortable to say the least.
When considering how we are to comfort others, we can look to the best example, the Paraklētos Himself, the Holy Spirit, our Helper or Comforter. He is not just a sweet, mystic cosmic hand patting us gently, saying, “There, there, it will all be alright.” His job, according to Jesus, is to teach us all things and to remind us of what Jesus said. And Jesus said all kinds of uncomfortable things that we sometimes do not want to be reminded of! And yet, that is what the Comforter does…. because He knows the way to true comfort.
In our house we used to have a big banner up along the width of the living room wall that said in giant letters, “It’s OK to be uncomfortable!” I intended it to be a reminder that our immediate satisfaction does not have to be out constant goal… It’s ok to be a little hungry without completely freaking out, etc.
But, in light of this week’s sermon, maybe there is another level to this truth. Sometimes our uncomfortableness can actually be leading us to a deeper comfort, and maybe the Comforter is at work in our lives. Now that’s good news!