Comforting Words - Part 2
Comforting Words II
In Psalm 119 various attributes are assigned to God’s Revelation (The Bible). The writer said that God’s Word "revived" him (119:25),"strengthened" him (119:28); gave him "comfort" in his affliction (119:50); "I have remembered Thine ordinances of old, O Lord, and comfort myself" (119:52). The word "revived" means to live, hence to restore to life, nourish, keep alive, and to refresh. The writer was convinced that God’s Word could comfort, restore and revive us even if we are like a "wineskin in the smoke" (119:83). That is, he feels like a wineskin in a smoky room or in the fire. He feels that all the life has been drained out of him, he is cracked, dry, and shriveled. Such "bottles," hanging in tents where the smoke had little opportunity to escape, would, of course, become dark and dingy, and would thus be emblems of distress, discomfort, and sorrow. The meaning here is that, by affliction and sorrow, the psalmist had been reduced to a state which would be well represented by such a bottle. A somewhat similar idea occurs in Psalm 22:15: "My strength is dried up like a potsherd."
Hebrews 9:27 "It is appointed for men to die once"
One might say, "How is this a comforting passage?" It is comforting in the sense that we only have to die once. Secondly, everyone dies. Somehow death does not seem so bad when we realize that death happens to everyone. Death is not something unfair, seeing that all are treated alike when it comes to departing from this life. If death only happened to us, then it would be tragic, but death happens to everyone. In addition, death is a great leveler of mankind, it happens to the famous and the forgotten, the rich and the poor, the wise and the foolish(Ecclesiastes 2:15-16).
Luke 16:25 "But now he is being comforted here"
Death does bring rest for the righteous, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!" "Yes", says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors for their deeds follow with them" (Revelation 14:13). Anyone who becomes a Christian needs to realize that serving God is a life of "labor". It does involve hard work, continual diligence, and many sacrifices. Even though we might not be presently physically persecuted for our faith (2 Corinthians 4:8-11), being a faithful Christian still presents many challenges, "Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?" (2 Corinthians 11:28-29); "But I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:27). Paul spoke of the Christian life as being a race (1 Corinthians 9:24-26), and death for the Christian is the chance to stop running and competing. From the standpoint of the faithful, there is something comforting about the death of the wicked, that is, such people can no longer hurt others. Death does stop the rebellious sinner from sinning. There is a great comfort at times in the fact that all men are "vapors" that appear for a little while and then vanish away (James 4:13-16).
The Gospel For the Ordinary, Average Guy
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 "For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, 29that no man should boast before God. 30But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31that, just as it is written, "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord."
"Consider your calling", that is, look at the type of people who have accepted the gospel call. How many "wise, powerful or noble" ones are among you? The statement, "wise according to the flesh", means "as men reckon wisdom". "Mighty" would refer to those in positions of power or the ruling class and "noble" refers to those from the noblest families, from those from the aristocracy. In verse 27 the text says that God has chosen the foolish and weak things of the world to shame the things that are strong. The "things" in the gospel message (the cross, the suffering Messiah, God humbling Himself and becoming a man) matches the type of people who often accept it, and the world despises both. "What God did in the cross and in calling lowly Corinthians not only exhibits His own character, that He is gracious, but also illustrates that He is not beholden to the world. Thus He is not accountable to the wise of this world" (Fee p. 83). In verse 28 Paul talks about things that are "base", that is ignoble. That is, in the gospel message contains things that the world holds as contemptible. The expression, "the things that are not" could mean either, "and what the world thinks does not exist", "things that to it are unreal", and this could also refer to people that the world considers to be nobodies. God purposely designed the gospel message to appeal to the humble, so that all human boasting would be removed. In the gospel message there is no room for the attitude, "I did it my way" or that somehow I either earned, or I deserve to be saved more than someone else. God deliberately designed the gospel message and constructed the church in such a way that is should shame the world. God ignored everything on which the world places such great importance, when He designed the church. "To bring to shame; or that he might make them ashamed; that is, humble them by showing them how little he regarded their wisdom; and how little their wisdom contributed to the success of his cause. By thus overlooking them, and bestowing his favors on the humble and by choosing his people from the ranks which they despised, and bestowing on them the exalted privilege of being called the sons of God, He had poured dishonor on the great, and overwhelmed them, and their schemes of wisdom, with shame"(Barnes Notes). This verse gives me comfort because it says that God is concerned about the average person. God designed the gospel message to appeal to anyone who would be honest and humble. If I can read, and think and do so in a humble attitude, then I can be saved.
Things That Do Not Really Matter
"Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave" (1 Corinthians 7:21-22).
There are so many things that people today view as a horrible tragedy or something that simply means that your life here and any chance for happiness is over. To Christian slaves in the First Century, God said, "do not worry about it". What a comforting verse! A slave could spend so much time obsessing about his condition that he would be ineffective in serving God. A job is important, but the type of job you have is not the final determining factor of how well you can serve God. If you can do better, then do it, but if not, do not worry about it. Our society is so concerned about careers, physical exercise, and staying perpetually young. God points us in another direction (1 Timothy 4:8 "bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things"; 1 Peter 3:2-4).
Purity In An Evil World
Many people in our society have probably given up on any idea of remaining pure. "We are all jaded and corrupted" is a common excuse. "Everyone has to have some vice" is another dogma. But God points us in another direction, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of God. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3-4). "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1). "But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior" (1 Peter 1:14). Now God never gives a command that people cannot keep, God never sets a standard that is impossible, or only attainable by a select few. While such commands at first might seem challenging, they are comforting, "God believes that I can do this!" For so many becoming an adult means becoming cynical, refusing to trust anyone or anything, and the loss of any sort of ideals. When trying to talk to some people about God or the Bible and immediately you are met with all the "excuses", all the doubts, and all the complaints. It is amazing how many of the excuses offered by unbelievers simply boil down to a lack of trust in God. "The Bible has been corrupted." "People or church councils removed books from the Bible". "Hypocrites are in the church". "Nobody is really doing what the Bible says". "No two people can understand the Bible alike". "Everyone has angle; no one is really honest". How wonderful that Christians have a God that they can completely trust! How wonderful to have "ideals" again!
Galatians 6:1-2/Matthew 18:15-17/1 Thessalonians 5:14
So often the point is made that the above passages are obligations of all Christians and not just the elders, deacons, or the preacher. We live in a world that is so afraid of trying to help someone. "Do not even try, you will make things worse!" What a comfort to realize that God expects every Christian to be involved in trying to help people get out of sin. Instead of being paralyzed into inaction, God commands us to move and do what we can.
"I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance".
There is tremendous encouragement here to come back to God! If we are humble and repentant, God will welcome us back, and His people will welcome us back with open arms (15:18-24). God rejoices even in the recovery of just one lost person! "It is a principle of human nature that the "recovery" of an object in danger of being lost, affords much more intense joy than the quiet "possession" of many that are safe. This our Savior illustrated by the case of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Many other things might also illustrate it. Thus we rejoice most in our health when we recover from a dangerous disease; we rejoice over a child rescued from danger or disease more than over those who are in health or safety. We rejoice that property is saved from conflagration or the tempest more than over much more that has not been in danger. This feeling our Lord represents as existing in heaven. "Likewise," in like manner, or on the same principle, there is joy" (Barnes Notes). In view of such a picture of God rejoicing at the return of one lost soul, no man or woman should ever hesitate to repent, for just look at the reception that God wants to give you!
Luke 15:17 "But when he came to his senses…I will get up"
Notice how simple repentance is at times. This young man finally realized the condition he was in and made the decision not to remain in it any longer. Notice how repentance is easy when we simply admit that we are in the wrong (15:18). Be impressed that there are no hopeless cases as long as there is time to return. This young man had hit rock bottom and yet in a short time he was back on track.
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017