The original meaning of “comfort” is “to fit a person for battle by coming alongside to strengthen, encourage, and bear the burden.” This is different from today’s definition. The Greek word for comforter is “paraclete,” the name given to the Holy Spirit. Another understanding of comforter is advocate, or attorney, one who represents our case and pleads on our behalf. I Jn. 2:1 describes Jesus as our Advocate. God’s nature is for us—our hidden source of strength in the midst of problems. Unfortunately, religion, the manmade, man-centered organization, has misrepresented God and perpetuated an image of Him as an angry deity holding a club over us ready to punish for the slightest infraction of rules. This notion promotes unrighteous fear and keeps people from an intimate relationship with God Who is love (I Jn. 4:8).
Pharisees of Jesus’ day typify this religious attitude. They were religious people proud of their separation to God and the Law. Their biggest problem was they hated all who weren’t like them. One of their strong belief and oft-quoted statements was, “There is joy in heaven when a sinner dies and goes to hell.” Jesus turned their words around as He gave three parables about God’s heart of compassion for the lost: the lost sheep (Lk. 15:4-7), the lost coin (v. 8-10) and the lost son (v. 11-32). In Lk. 15:10, Jesus said, “Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Paul’s second letter’s theme to the church at Corinth is God of all comfort. This letter, more than any of Paul’s writings, reveals Paul’s heart and dealings with life’s pressures. It holds a key that can open the door to many who have never received the full measure of God’s mercy and comfort. This letter was written after a great trial in Paul’s life that is not mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. We can follow Paul through most of his ministry by reading the Acts. In fact, Acts 19 and 20 through verse 14 cover the time frame which Paul writes about in this letter. We can only speculate about why Luke did not mention the reason for this great conflict in Paul’s life. Paul had three great pressures at that time.
· Across the sea, Paul had been receiving word of trouble in the church in Corinth. He heard about splits, immaturity, and fleshly activities and was greatly troubled—so much that he wrote the first of his two letters to that church and sent it by Timothy. He was anxious to hear about the letter’s impact.
· Intense demonic pressure was placed on Paul by satanic priests in Ephesus. Paul’s ministry had been so successful many believed and burned their magic books. This created a spiritual attack which Paul mentioned in 2 Cor 12:7-10.
· Paul’s ministry in Ephesus caused a trade union riot by silversmiths who made silver shrines for the temple of Diana. Paul’s ministry was so successful no one was buying these idols and a riot ensued which ultimately forced Paul to leave the region for Macedonia where he had arranged to meet Titus at the small part of Troas.
During this time this X-Factor began pressuring Paul. In 2 Cor. 1:8-11, Paul gives a glimpse of this conflict. He wrote, “We were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.” The phrase, “burdened beyond measure” was used as a description of an ancient torture as a man would be staked out with his hands and feet tied to the ground; then a large rock would be placed on the man’s chest so he would slowly be crushed to death by the weight of the rock. This describes the type of pressure Paul was experiencing.
When Paul arrived in Troas, he could not find Titus. It is hard to imagine Paul as lonely, depressed, even desperate, but this was exactly his emotional state. 2 Cor. 2:12-13 states, “Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord, I had no rest in my spirit because I did not find Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I departed for Macedonia.” Maybe you’ve never seen Paul in the scriptures as weak, hurting, having no hope—but here he is. Paul was not even able to take advantage of an open door for ministry provided by the Lord. My first question was, “Paul, why don’t you just handle this problem yourself? You wrote Phil. 4:13, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,’ didn’t you?” Then, “Paul, why don’t you go the God of all comfort yourself?’
Most questions concerning Truth are found in Genesis. The Holy Spirit led me to Gen. 2:18 which says, “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’” Understand this was before the Fall when Adam had unlimited access to God. Adam didn’t have a lot of time on his hands either, for God had Adam name all animals on earth. The problem was Adam had no one with whom to communicate. When he looked into an animal’s eyes, nothing but a vacant stare looked back. The Hebrew name for man is “Ish.” Adam was “Ish” alone until God created Eve from his rib. When Adam saw Eve, he saw another human like himself, yet different. His response was “Ish-Ah!” the Hebrew name for woman.
Man was created with an innate need for human companionship. This was God’s original design expressed in the Garden. Sin and man’s subsequent fall altered God’s design and resulted in a blitzed-out human existence barely recognizable as being created in God’s image. However, through God’s divine wisdom and plan of redemption through Jesus, man through faith in Christ was restored by power of Holy Spirit and became the channel and instrument of God’s mercy and comfort. Isaiah prophesied of God’s Kingdom and those who live by power of Holy Spirit in Isa. 32:1-2, “Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule with justice. A man will be as a hiding place from the wind, and a cover from the tempest, as rivers of water in a dry place as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” This is a perfect description of a comforter! We are princes called to be the hiding place, cover, river of living water, and great rock to others in need!
Important to note, Paul did not consider his weakness to be sin, nor was he ashamed of his need. This letter was more of a celebration of how his neediness was supplied by another believer. 2 Cor. 7:5-6 explains, “For indeed when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts; inside were fears. Nevertheless God, Who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus.” Little did Titus know how badly Paul needed him! Titus, the protégé, was designed by God to bring comfort to his mentor Paul. How do you prepare for such an assignment with no time to fast and pray or prepare choice words of encouragement and exhortation? No, it was enough just to be there!
I know how difficult being really honest is about how I sometimes hurt. In fact, I’ve been warned by other ministers never to let others know my weaknesses because I’ll likely be taken advantage of. Paul is teaching the opposite! When we remain silent and stoic, we rob others of an opportunity to be a comforter. We also shut off the opportunity to receive God’s comfort which comes through believers. You may have never heard much about Titus, Barnabas, Silas, or Timothy before, but they all fill powerful roles as comforters and agents of compassion.
Today, as much as any time in history, our world needs the church to lead as agents of compassion to meet needs of hurting people. If God’s love has been poured out in your heart by Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5), be the vessel of honor to pour His love out on others! Amen.