Holy Spirit – the comforter

The Holy Spirit has many names and descriptors. He is known as the Spirit of Jesus, “the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Witness, the Spirit of Conviction, the Spirit of Power, the Spirit of Holiness, the Spirit of Life, the Spirit of Adoption, the Spirit of Help, the Spirit of Liberty, the Spirit of Wisdom, the Spirit of Revelation, the Spirit of Promise, the Spirit of Love, the Spirit of Meekness, the Spirit of Sound Mind, the Spirit of Grace, the Spirit of Glory, and the Spirit of Prophecy.”   

The name I want to focus on today is that of the Holy Spirit being the comforter.

John 14:16And I will pray to the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may be with you for ever (ASV)

And I want to focus on a verse which is the cornerstone of Karlene and my ministry.  That is 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

In another translation, the word comfort is replaced by the word console/consolation:

The God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our troubles, so that we can console those in any trouble with the consolation we ourselves have received from God. (NRSV)

From our backgrounds and experiences of God we can comfort and console others with the comfort and consolation we ourselves have received from God in our lives.  

Sometimes people look at pastors and think they have led a charmed life, but let me dispel that lie.  We were children with hurts and wounds from our childhoods; we have experienced the pain of rejection and broken marriages; we have had strong willed and rebellious children; we have experienced worldly life before Christ and all the poor choices that entails. The reality is that we are the same as you, we suffer and we bleed and we have doubts and remorse and wounds.

There is an old slave song from the South, first recorded in 1867, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen”.

Nobody knows the trouble I've seen, Nobody knows my sorrow, Nobody knows the trouble I've seen but Jesus, 

But we also have experienced the comfort, the consolation of God in our lives.  We can say categorically that God is the God of second chances. 

We can testify that God is bigger than our problems, bigger than our pasts and bigger than our issues.  We can testify that the comfort of God is real and powerful and we feel that God has blessed our socks off, far more than we rightly deserve and it is our duty to pay it forward..

As Christians we will all have trouble; that is a guarantee.  

We suffer for our faith – not much here in New Zealand, but more so in many other countries in the world. But we do suffer in the sense that we are humans living in a fallen world and that suffering is real and painful – sometimes of our own making, sometimes thrust upon us, but suffering is part of life.

We are comforted to know that Jesus has lived as we live and he knows our suffering, and there is consolation to know that he can redeem that suffering. God uses the things meant to harm us for his glory.

Jesus does not let us suffer alone. We have a comforter, the Holy Spirit who resides within us, and who was promised by Jesus to be with us.

The Spirit of Christ is with us in the midst of the anguish to comfort and to guide and to continue His work of healing. 

The great missionary to India Amy Carmichael who died in 1951 at 83 years old after a lifetime of mission work wrote:

“He comforts, he lays his right hand on the soul wounded by weariness, or fear, or any kind of weakness, and he says, as though that one were the only one in all the universe, “O man greatly beloved, fear not; peace be unto thee, be strong, yea, be strong.” (Daniel 10:19) And when he has thus spoken unto us, we are strengthened.” 

That is the first part of the verse: The God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.  However the verse does not end there, it continues that we are to comfort others going through trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received.

Just as spiritual gifts are not intended solely for the our own benefit but are to be used for the service of others, so comfort received from God enables us to comfort others.  

The comfort that the Holy Spirit gives us comes through people like us. We are the instruments of the Holy Spirit comfort .We are God’s hands and feet to comfort others.

Let’s look at 2 words: sympathy and empathy.  Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone;
Empathy is knowing how they feel because you have been there.

Empathy does not come through reading about stuff in a book, empathy comes from experience.  It is our experiences of suffering and comfort that we can then give to others.  Not only the fact that we have experienced the same pain that people are going through, but we can encourage them because we have been comforted by God in our pain and come through it.

In 2 Corinthians 7:6 Paul writes
6 But God, who consoles the downcast, consoled us by the arrival of Titus

Comforting someone may not an easy task. It may be well outside our comfort zone. Just think of Ananias in Acts 9:10–19;
 11 The Lord said to Ananias, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. 

Here was Ananias, a persecuted Christian called by God to go to his persecutor Saul (later to be Paul), the one hunting down and killing Christians, to offer comfort.

We can be the consolation, the comfort to those who are suffering, because we ourselves have suffered and been consoled and comforted by the Holy Spirit.

But we are not alone, we do not operate in isolation; Christianity is not about the individual, it is about community.  The “You” in the New Testament is invariably plural.  Even the scripture “You are God’s temple” is plural. We as the church are God’s temple.

We as the church are the ones who comfort.

One writer describes the church community as “a place of friends with strong arms to hold us, a safe place to fall. In a supportive community we can take risks and large leaps. If we fall, our friends and colleagues will catch us. A network of friends forms a net that cushions our fall and protects us from major injury. A community also comforts and holds us after a scary fall until we are bold enough to try again.” 

Because we have the life experiences, we can use those to help others; we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

That is why it is important to have the mix of older and younger people in a church; older Christians and new Christians; people who have overcome addiction and those still fighting addiction; people who have restored their marriages, those who have felt the pain of a failed marriage and those starting out in marriage; those whose children have left home and those who are struggling with infants, kids and teenagers.

None of our experiences are wasted. All of them can used to give comfort to those struggling.

One day we will be comforting, the next day we may be being comforted.  And that can only happen in a community, and what better community than that of a church.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

Who is it you need to comfort today? Who is it that you can encourage with your testimony of God coming through for you?

Or alternatively, who is it you need to go to and ask how God helped them through the issue you are struggling with.

Be a comfort, or be comforted…