Two Sides to Every Comfort

October 17, 2014 at 10:23 am | Posted in Two Sides to Every Comfort | Leave a comment
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In this series of lessons, I have been trying to do three things:
1. Recognize our need for comfort
2. Recognize that our comfort comes from God – Who is the God of all comfort
3. Correct the misunderstanding that God’s comforts are one-sided

In other words, God does not comfort us merely because He has a vague and passing interest in not allowing us to suffer too much. So we need to revise our view of some of the specific comforts that God gives to us, turning them over and looking at their other sides. I hope that this will give us a broader view of what it means to be comforted by the God of all comfort – a more comprehensive view that looks beyond the obvious, and looks with eyes of faith, to see at least two sides to every comfort.

There is a difference between being comfortable and being comforted, but the Holy Spirit has a way of comforting the uncomfortable, and making uncomfortable those who are merely complacent. The Christian life is not designed for self-comfort. It’s designed by God to challenge us to walk by faith through the zones of discomfort and find true comfort in God alone. Will you start exploring what He directs you to do, even if it makes you uncomfortable? If so, you will know the sweetness of His unique comfort.

C.onsolation / C.atastrophe
O.pportunity / O.bstacles
M.ercy / M.emory
F.ellowship / F.aults
O.versight / O.bedience
R.est / R.epentance
T.eaching / T.emptation

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Teaching / Temptation

October 15, 2014 at 10:06 am | Posted in Biblical Teaching, Two Sides to Every Comfort | 3 Comments
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Teaching

In the first lesson in this series I explained the original meaning of the word comfort: “with strength.” Strength is imparted to us by God, but it pleases Him to use circumstances to do it. He has given us His Holy Spirit to guide us and to teach us through these circumstances.

But the Comforter, [which is] the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

John 14:26 (emphasis added)

The Greek word translated as Comforter is parakletos, and it means someone who comes alongside (para) and helps (kletos). One way to describe it is that a parakletos is like a soldier who helps his wounded comrade in battle – except instead of carrying him back to camp, he strengthens him to keep going forward – and he teaches him as he strengthens. The Holy Spirit teaches us the right way to think about our circumstances and the right things to say about our circumstances.

What a comforting thought to know that God has not left us alone to navigate our own sanctification! We could never do it on our own. But remember the comfort that comes from knowing that we have God’s Own Spirit as our teacher has a flip side. The other side of teaching is:

Temptation

God does not teach the way we teach.

Take heed, regard not iniquity: for this hast thou chosen rather than affliction.

Job 36:21

Job was told to be on the lookout for the temptation of iniquity. The “quick-fix” lie of Satan is that we can escape affliction by sinning.

Behold, God exalteth by his power: who teacheth like him?

Job 36:22

God has a very hands-on, trial-by-fire teaching method.

Who hath enjoined him his way? or who can say, Thou hast wrought iniquity?

God is never the author of sin.

Remember that thou magnify his work, which men behold. Every man may see it; man may behold [it] afar off.

Job 36:24-25

God allows temptation, but He also makes the way to escape, and when we emerge victorious over temptation, God gets the glory – and we learn a lesson.

Do you see the connection? We will be tempted, but we will not face it alone, and we will not be left without a comforter. When we fall, He will come along and help us up, and teach us – and we will get comfort.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

John 14:27

The peace that Christ gives is not like the counterfeit peace that the world offers, but it is true peace. It is the blessing and comfort of learning and knowing that God is orchestrating our lives.

Rest / Repentance

October 2, 2014 at 11:17 am | Posted in Hebrews, Two Sides to Every Comfort | 7 Comments
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Rest

“Rest” can have different meanings. It can mean to take it easy – sort of the opposite of hard work. It can also mean to cease from activity. On the seventh day God “rested” – not because He was tired, but because He was finished with the original work of creation. When a lawyer has finished putting on all his evidence and calling all his witnesses, he says, “I rest my case.” But in this lesson I am talking about a specialized kind of “rest” that we find in the Bible.

For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses.

Hebrews 3:16

To set the scene, Hebrews Chapter 3 is discussing the exodus out of Egypt, when God’s people were on their way to the Promised Land and they provoked God with their lack of faith.

But with whom was he grieved forty years? [was it] not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?

Hebrews 3:17

The people left Egypt, but they did not reach their “rest” at that time because of their disobedience and lack of faith.

And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?

Hebrews 3:18

Notice the Holy Spirit’s logic here. God responded to their unbelief by giving them the logical outworking of failing to trust the God Who had miraculously set them free pursuant to prior fulfilled promises.

So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

Hebrews 3:19

If you are truly a Christian, then you were saved by grace through faith, but you also receive the assurance of salvation by faith.

Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left [us] of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.

Hebrews 4:1 (emphasis added)

This is the kind of rest I’m talking about it in this lesson – the kind of rest that is truly “comforting” now – but not the precise kind of rest that we’re going to have when we reach Heaven.

A mistake that many Bible teachers have made – even some of the hymn writers – is equating the crossing of the Jordan River (the crossing over into Canaan, the Promised Land) with going to Heaven. The entering into Canaan is not an Old Testament picture of believers entering into Heaven, because in Canaan there were still enemies to fight, still giants to drive out, still mountains to conquer, still idol-worshipers and sinful tribes all around to tempt God’s people. None of that will be in Heaven.

There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.

Hebrews 4:9 (emphasis added)

The Greek word translated as “rest” in Hebrews 4:10 has a connotation of the calming of the wind after a storm. It reminds us of Jesus commanding the wind and the waves and telling the storm, “Peace, be still.

Biblical rest comes with inner peace. It is the comforting peace of God that goes beyond even knowing that our sins are forgiven. God could have saved us and locked us away in a dark place other than hell. He could have made us servants like the angels. But instead, God has given us His presence, so we do not have to wait to get to Heaven to experience the peaceful soul-calming rest of knowing God. You can abide in His presence right now – by faith. You are not a slave to sin – and you are not a slave to any laws or rules – if you are in Christ Jesus. You are a child of the Father.

But remember, I said that this rest is not the opposite of work. In fact, if we turn this comfort over and we examine the other side, some of us will be completely surprised with what we find there. Others will not be surprised at all. When you turn over the comfort of “rest,” you see:

Repentance

Repentance is an ongoing part of resting in Christ, and it is not – as some might imagine – antithetical to rest. It is the other side of the same pancake along with rest. In Psalm 38 we can see an extreme example. David was a man who went after God with wild abandon, and he was a man who, when he turned from God and went after sin, he went after it with the same wild abandon.

[There is] no soundness in my flesh because of thine anger; neither [is there any] rest in my bones because of my sin. For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds stink [and] are corrupt because of my foolishness. I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. For my loins are filled with a loathsome [disease]: and [there is] no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and sore broken: I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart.

Psalm 38:3-8 (emphasis added)

The first step in repentance is admitting that I have sinned and that my sin is against God. Have you ever felt like David in these verses? So distraught and devastated and downcast that you thought couldn’t stand it? Perhaps when you lost your job? When one of your kids got into serious trouble? When the medical tests came back positive? When somebody close to you betrayed you or ignored you or mistreated you?

But what about when we sin? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that sin has separated you from God’s two-sided comforts. David didn’t.

For in thee, O LORD, do I hope: thou wilt hear, O Lord my God.

Psalm 38:15

For I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin.

Pslam 38:18

Forsake me not, O LORD: O my God, be not far from me. Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation.

Psalm 38:21-22

David was resting in God, but his rest was the flip side of his repentance. They were inextricably linked together. David knew the paradox of the rest/repentance principle. He knew that the man of God, and God’s people, must labor to enter into rest.

Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.

Hebrews 4:11

That’s why, so often at the end of a “hard sermon” on sin, you will see the older saints weeping in repentance: not because they are doubting God’s assurance, but because they find rest in Godly repentance.

Oversight / Obedience

August 29, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Posted in Two Sides to Every Comfort | 2 Comments
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Oversight

The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;

I Peter 5:1-2

What a comforting thought for us sheep. Not only is the Good and Great Shepherd watching over us, protecting us, providing for us, and leading us, but He has also assigned undershepherds – here the reference is to a pastor or an elder – to exercise oversight of us, and to help us, and to look out for our best interest. He has assigned them to feed us the Word of God, and to fight off wolves who might come in to deceive us.

The idea that Almighty God would exercise such meticulous oversight is very comforting. He wants every step you and I take to be monitored, but there is another side to the blessing of oversight, which is:

Obedience

Is obedience truly comforting? Don’t we struggle enough with being obedient to God? And now, how humbling! Willingly submitting to another human being!

Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:

I Peter 5:5-6

A previous lesson in this series was partly about opportunity. Here is a great opportunity – the opportunity to humble ourselves before God has to do it for us.

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that [is] unprofitable for you.

Hebrews 13:17

We make a big mistake when we think of obedience as drudgery instead of comfort. God says that obedience to His ordained authorities is profitable – that it is working itself out for our benefit.

Fellowship / Faults

August 6, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Posted in Two Sides to Every Comfort | 1 Comment
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Fellowship

Aren’t you glad to be part of a church fellowship? I hope you are. There may come a time when you need the help of a brother and sister in Christ. God made us for community – and not just in the good times, but also in the bad. That’s one reason fellowship is so comforting.

Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

The law of Christ is loving God with all your heart, and loving your neighbor as yourself. It can be extremely comforting to have someone to help you bear your burden, or to bear it for you. But, there is a flip side to the comfort of fellowship, which is:

Faults

Faults are not precisely the same thing as sins – although the faults certainly can be sins. Take someone who talks too much, for example. That’s not necessarily a sin, but it is a fault. Or someone who gets sick every time it’s her turn to work in the nursery – or his turn to help count the offering. Those are not sins, but they can be faults. Some people are really clumsy. It’s not sinful to be clumsy, but being clumsy and volunteering to carry a crystal tray of punch across the foyer carpet is a fault.

Faults are comforting because they help to integrate us into Christian fellowship, and because they remind us that: (1) we’re part of a Christian fellowship; (2) as fellow Christians, we’re all in this together; and (3) we need each other.

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

Galatians 6:1

The comfort of fellowship is like a body. All the parts are important and all are supposed to work together. But when one part’s not working right the other parts pick up the slack. They bear burdens in fellowship and bring comfort in faults.

Mercy / Memory

July 11, 2014 at 2:59 pm | Posted in I Corinthians, Two Sides to Every Comfort | 2 Comments
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Mercy

Mercy is an attribute of God. From our point of view – when we are thinking correctly – it is one of His most glorious attributes. We love mercy. Throughout the ages, God’s people – when they were thinking correctly – have loved mercy. It is the withholding of what we deserve when we deserve punishment. It is a concept that is very prevalent in the sections of the Bible that contain poems and Psalms of praise to God. One of my favorite Psalms is built on the theme of God’s mercy: Psalm 136.

However, there is a flip side to mercy that we need to remember.

Memory

As Christians, the memory of who we were before Jesus saved us reminds us why mercy is so comforting.

Who remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endureth for ever:

Psalm 136:23

Our estate was that of a sinner – an enemy of God. God justifies sinners who trust Christ, and erases their sins, but we have the comfort of remembering why we needed mercy.

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

I Corinthians 6:9-11 (emphasis added)

The memory of what I’ve been forgiven is comforting because it reminds me how much God loves me. He who is forgiven much, loves much.

Opportunities / Obstacles

June 16, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Posted in Biblical friendship, Two Sides to Every Comfort | 6 Comments
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Opportunities

Opportunities are a great comfort. Many of us would like to get get a call from someone who says, “Hey, I’ve a got this great opportunity for you!” (Unless it turns out to be Amway.) Advertisers use the enticement, “Stayed tuned for an exciting opportunity!” America has even been called “the land of opportunity.” Opportunities are openings or events where, if you take advantage of a situation, you can really benefit.

God comforts us by giving opportunities. He gave you the opportunity to trust Him and be saved; the opportunity to obey Him in baptism; the opportunity to join a great church; the opportunity for free Bible instruction on Sunday mornings (we call it Sunday School at my church). Life is full of wonderful opportunities given to us by God.

The Bible says that no temptation has taken you but such as is common to man, but God is faithful in that – with every temptation – He has made a way to escape – an opportunity to do what’s right – so that you may be able to bear it and to get the victory over the temptation. That’s very comforting!

But there is a flip side to opportunity:

Obstacles

You’ve probably been there: You get stuck in a traffic jam. You’ve got three choices. You can turn around and go back. You can cheat and drive on the shoulder to the next exit. Or you can wait. I don’t have any advice for you when it comes to traffic jams (the older I get, the more I just decide to stay home), but I do have some advice concerning spiritual obstacles: Wait on the Lord.

The good [man] is perished out of the earth: and [there is] none upright among men: they all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net.

Micah 7:2

Micah prophesied in a time when nobody was doing what was right. It seemed like everything was working against God’s people. Everywhere they turned, there were obstacles.

That they may do evil with both hands earnestly, the prince asketh, and the judge [asketh] for a reward; and the great [man], he uttereth his mischievous desire: so they wrap it up.

Micah 7:3

Sometimes this is how it seems to us. We look to the government for help, but we meet an obstacle. We don’t qualify or we’re left waiting on hold. We go to court, but we find out the law isn’t just. We appeal to wealthy or influential individuals, but they are unwilling to help.

The best of them [is] as a brier: the most upright [is sharper] than a thorn hedge: the day of thy watchmen [and] thy visitation cometh; now shall be their perplexity.

Micah 7:4

We remind ourselves that God will make sure the wicked get what they deserve, and we turn to our close friends.

Trust ye not in a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide: keep the doors of thy mouth from her that lieth in thy bosom.

Micah 7:5

But even they are no help.

For the son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter in law against her mother in law; a man’s enemies [are] the men of his own house.

Micah 7:6

Even your family tuns out to be unreliable! So what do you do? Do you say, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?” Do you cheat? Go around the obstacles unlawfully? Do you go back? Give up? Do you say, “This can’t be the opportunity I thought God was giving me, because it has turned out to be an insurmountable obstacle?” No.

Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me.

Micah 7:7

Instead, you wait on the Lord to turn your obstacle into an opportunity. If we are willing to wait upon the Lord, obstacles make great opportunities. When you are prosperous and healthy and well-loved by men, people in general don’t give God glory for that. They think you’re lucky or smart or strong. So, how are we going to give God glory? We are going to praise Him in our obstacles, and treat them like opportunities.

“I know God will deliver me when I’m poor, when I’m sick, when I’ve been betrayed.” That’s what we tell people when they ask us why or how we can be so happy just waiting. Then:

Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD [shall be] a light unto me.

Micah 7:8

New lights don’t shine bright in already-existing light. New lights shine bright in the darkness. Now when you are delivered, the heathen and the pagans will know Who gets the credit.

Consolation / Castastrophe

May 30, 2014 at 10:29 am | Posted in Two Sides to Every Comfort | 7 Comments
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The Bible has much to say about comfort, and comfort is something we all need, for none of us are above things like fear, depression, anxiety – even hopelessness. One of the many names that the Bible gives us for our God is “the God of all comfort.”

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: Grace [be] to you and peace from God our Father, and [from] the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed [be] God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;

II Corinthians 1:1-3

“Comfort” is a word that comes from combining two other words. “Com” simply means “with” and “fort” means “strength.” For example, a military “fort” is supposed to be a position of safety and strength. Some types of foods are described as being “fortified,” which means they are strengthened with vitamins or minerals. We say someone who is courageous has “intestinal fortitude,” which colloquially means that he has “strong guts” (gross). So when the Bible says that God is the God of all comfort it is reminding us that the strength that we need – our “fortification” – will always come from God… which is, of course, a “comforting” thought. But it is also an often misunderstood thought.

Here is how it is misunderstood. We become frightened or confused or stressed out or panicked, and we want comfort. We remember that God is the God of all comfort, and we expect Him to show us comfort or to give comfort or to bring comfort in certain ways, but those ways do not at first always make us “feel” comforted. Therefore, we lose sight of God’s promises, and we begin to doubt God.

Look at what the next part of the passage from II Corinthians says:

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. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.

II Corinthians 1:4-5

Words like “tribulation” and “trouble” and “suffering” don’t sound very comforting, but the Bible is reminding us that every comfort that comes from the God of all comfort has two sides to it. You may have heard the expression “two sides to every coin.” Bill Parcells, when he was Head Coach for the Dallas Cowboys, used to like to remind the media that “there is another side to that pancake,” expressing a similar sentiment. In this series of lessons I want to look at some of the specific “comforts” that God gives to us, and turn them over, and look at the flip side.

Consolation

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. And our hope of you [is] stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so [shall ye be] also of the consolation.

II Corinthians 1:6-7

Consolation is a great gift from the God of all comfort, but we tend think of consolation as kind of the “loser’s prize.” A “consolation game” is where two competitors who have already lost and been eliminated from a tournament play each other without any real consequences riding on the outcome. Consolation is not like that with God. God’s consolation comes with real relief, real rescue, and real redemption.

However, there is a flip side to consolation:

Catastrophe

In order to experience true consolation, you have to first experience some kind of catastrophe – some kind of trouble that you can not get yourself out of in your own strength. We talk about “tragedy” and “accidents” and “mistakes,” forgetting that God is sovereign and that He ordains the catastrophe so that He may grant the consolation. Who would think of a catastrophe as bringing comfort? But be honest: When have you drawn closer to God than ever before in your life? In the good times or the bad times? And how are you going to share the consolation with which God has comforted you, unless you have been through the same catastrophe that someone else is going through? When catastrophe strikes, draw near to God, depend upon Him, and wait for Him to turn the page from catastrophe to consolation.


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