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Our tormented world is a picture of Mary standing and weeping outside the tomb (John 20:11), altogether perplexed about her master’s death. When she encountered the risen Christ, her anguish turned to astonishment.  The Church of the risen Christ is under siege throughout the world. There is universal agony with despicable persecution of Christians in many lands.  The horrendous distress is beyond all comprehension: wars, arms production, violence, terrorism, syndicated crime, conflict with major religions, particularly with one. Then we think of the sale of little children for sex, girls and young women exploited by mafias, the scourge of AIDS, expanding drug abuse, and internet pornography. Besides all these are universal poverty, hunger and natural disasters such as droughts in some places and floods in others.   Global warming and environmental pollution call for the attention and action of all concerned people. Then there are the ruthless dictators with their harsh oppression of great masses of helpless people. All these torments and many more are before our eyes every day. They all happen in our troubled global village which is supposed to be enjoying advanced electronic technology and easy communication of every kind.  In the midst of these, a crucial accountability of Christians everywhere is to reach out and encourage those in need (paraclisis).  This is one of the twenty-one gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament. A category of these gifts is found in Romans 12:8. The meaning of ‘paraclisis’ is to call a person to one’s side to offer support.  The Holy Spirit is named the Paraclete.  Once in the New Testament, Jesus Christ himself is referred to as our Paraclete or Advocate (cf. I John 2:1). 

The purpose of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is:

  1. To strengthen believers (Romans 1:11).
  2. To reveal the working of God’s power (Ephesians 3:7).
  3. To equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11, 12).
  4. To offer a benefit to believers for the common good (I Corinthians 12:4-11; I Peter 4:9).
  5. To glorify God through Jesus Christ (I Peter 4:10).

There are nine words in the New Testament which describe the concept of God’s gift to his children.  The gift of paraclisis is often translated as ‘exhorting’ or ‘preaching’. However, there is a strong element of consoling embodied in this gift coming with God-inspired words which stir and uplift the hearer. We can confidently surmise that this gift does not apply exclusively to the man or woman in public ministry, but to all Christians.  We are all called to provide consolation to fellow human beings in our afflicted world, to believers and unbelievers alike. 

Jeremiah is probably the writer of the following psalm where he pleads for a comforter in the midst of his tormented personal life and ministry: “Insults have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” (Psalm 69:20). This psalm is attributed to David, but it represents more of Jeremiah’s quandaries and ordeals.  Job is exasperated with his injudicious comforters, protesting their lack of perception “…I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all” (Job 16:1, 2). The writer to the Hebrews reminds the Christians who were neglecting their meetings that one of the responsibilities of believers everywhere when meeting together is to encourage each other ‘parakaleo’ (Hebrews 10:25). The anonymous writer of this epistle is emphasizing that meeting together brings about a very important element, ‘encouraging’ (parakaloundes). This admonition reminds us of one of the necessary functions of the church, i.e., to encourage the communicants with worship, teach, exhort, celebrate the Lord’s Table, and heal the wounds of the oppressed and afflicted.  In Luke’s account, the persecuted church enjoyed peace, was built up and walked in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, being multiplied (Acts 9:31). Undoubtedly, those who drank from the bitter cup of hostility received uplift from their fellow-believers (cf. Acts 16:40; Heb. 10:34).

Isaiah, the evangelist of the Old Testament (ca. 700 B.C.), often refers to the comfort God’s people receive from their Lord (cf. 12:1; 40:1; 49:13; 51:3; 52:9; 61:2; 66:13).  Hosea offers God’s comfort to a people that are being severely judged (cf. 1:7; 5:15-6:3). The Hebrew word for comfort is the verb, ‘naham’. Strikingly, the name of ‘Nahum’ the prophet (664-612 B.C.) means ‘full of comfort or relief’. Again, the name ‘Nehemiah’ (445 B.C.) means ‘Yahweh comforts’. What a leader of comfort and relief he was, supported by none other than Yahweh himself!  Nahum is comforting Judah in the phase of Ashur Banipal’s (669-626 B.C.) merciless onslaught during whose reign Assyria’s expansion reached its zenith. In reading the prophet’s vigorous indictment of Assyria we can draw concrete comfort regarding the ultimate passing of tyrannical rulers and dictators.  They are at work everywhere to undermine the general equanimity of helpless multitudes.  A natural question may enter the minds of people who live under the shadow of Al Qaida or have the foreboding of a Jihadist terrorist attack.  People everywhere are in search of answers to the causes of alarm. Sad to say, even readers of the Bible don’t know the divinely-inspired relief expressed in Nahum’s prophecy. A quieting word in the face of the disquieting furor may be found in the prophet’s message. He was commissioned to offer calmness to disturbed hearts of his day.  In 609 B.C., Assyria’s demise was complete.  The sovereign God took care of this tyrannical empire. Nahum’s message is apropos to people living in anxiety in our time. 

The person commissioned by God is called to comfort those who live in daily fear.  He is charged to tell them of God’s unfailing care and His promise to deal with the powers that cause suffering. The New Testament offers a tangible suggestion as to how to use this gift of the Holy Spirit in order to effect another gift: “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged” (I Cor. 14:31). This is an amazing admonition to those who claim to have the gift of prophecy.  They are to utilize this gift to inform and encourage. What could be more comforting than the use of this gift within the community of believers? The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews reminds Christians who were neglecting their meeting together.  He introduces a vital element: “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25). It is clearly stated that one of the important functions of the church is to encourage the participants through worship, preaching, exhorting and communion. By these, a balm of comfort is extended to heal the wounds and meet the needs of all who feel oppressed or are afflicted in some way. 

Joel, the forceful prophet of the Old Testament, cries out to God: “Spare thy people, o LORD, and make not thy heritage a reproach” (2:17).  Barnabas was called ‘son of encouragement’ (cf. Acts 4:36).  His fiery messages had a rich element of consolation to the fledgling church striving for her survival.  Our ominous times abound with people dragged down by life’s multitudinous burdens. They need words of exhortation and consolation from those who claim to have the gift of prophecy, as well as from others. 

Christ, the Man of Sorrows, who underwent terrible trials, is ready to make us sons and daughters of consolation.  He will stand next to the comforting individual with effective support. He alone can enable the person who is called to comfort, to share in the griefs of the person in crisis. Christ faced persecution during the time of his ministry.  When he stood against Pilate, Herod, the religious hierarchy and the wild crowds, he was alone. In the Garden of Gethsemane while his soul was sorrowful even to death he faced his agony alone. His closest disciples could not offer him any comfort. According to some manuscripts, an angel appeared from heaven and strengthened him (cf. Luke 22:43, 44).   Job’s fourth comforter, who could not offer any concrete encouragement, poses a heart-searching hypothetical question regarding the remote possibility of an angel’s mediating for the person in distress (Job 33:23ff).  True comfort comes only from persons directed by the mighty Comforter, the Holy Spirit.  He alone can offer the needed consolation to the person gripped by anxiety and grief (cf. II Cor. 1:6).

The ministry of encouragement and consolation is God’s charge to every believer to exercise among people buffeted by trouble.  Neglecting this responsibility is failing one’s mission in someone’s hour of trial. Becoming an instrument of comfort to a burdened person brings the promised uplift to his heart, as foretold by our Lord: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).  Mourning with some mourner will not go unnoticed by the Lord.  The person who is involved in this ministry is accruing eternal comfort to his/her account.  There are precious lives all around with the pressing need for comfort: the poor, the hungry, the unemployed, the social outcasts, the old, the sick, the bereaved, the lonely, those struggling with family problems, AIDS victims, and drug addicts, et al. Our churches are full of people harboring heart-rending unexpressed problems, crying for the comfort of Christ. We can also intercede for persecuted Christians in many lands where we cannot have a direct ministry, and we can make their cause known to other Christians.  The agony of these saints often remains unnoticed and neglected in our prayers.  “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in the body” (Heb. 13:3).

How should we Christians equip ourselves to comfort our fellow-believers and fellow-humans in this needy hour? 

1. Have a good knowledge of the Scriptures and how to apply them to a given situation, 

  1.  Be under the full control of the Holy Spirit,
  2.  Know how to pray,
  3.  Be convinced of Christ’s Second Coming and know how to relate this truth to the ministry of paraclisis.

Our heavenly Father is the ever-present comforter about whom the Apostle Paul speaks in beautiful terminology: “…the God of all comfort, 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 (II Cor. 1:3b, 4). Job, who complains about the comforters’ lack of understanding, receives due recognition and a small measure of comfort from Eliphaz, the Temanite.  He brings to memory Job’s instructing many, his strengthening weak hands, with his words upholding those who stumbled and making firm the feeble knees (Job 4:3, 4).  While he had a good beginning, he went off track and became an accuser like the two others. 

Isaiah, in his brilliant picture of the manifestation of God’s glory, depicts the restoration of the polluted land as he sings a beautiful melody. He has in mind the comforting of those who moan and mourn about the hapless outlook of our devastated environment (cf. 35:3, 4).  Paul aims to cheer and comfort the troubled and to a certain degree, confused, Thessalonians by reassuring them of the triumphant return of the Savior (cf. I Thess. 4:18; 5:4; II Thess. 2:16, 17). In these, and many other acts of exhorting believers with what the future will bring in God’s sovereign plan, the gift of prophecy misunderstood and misapplied in many circles is being properly exercised (cf. I Cor. 14:31). Downtrodden fellow humans everywhere seek comfort and support in their devastating conditions, and they don’t know where to turn.  So many people, especially the young, succumb to substitutes, such as alcohol, drugs, free sex, gambling, and heretical religions which are nothing more than broken cisterns (cf. Jer. 2:13). 

We probably discount the effect of prayer in comforting Christ’s body (Col. 2:1, 2). Paul also talks about God who comforts the downcast (II Cor. 7:6). He was experiencing a severe affliction (not known to us) while in Macedonia (v. 5) and God arranged at that time for Titus’ visit in order to comfort him (v. 6).  Furthermore, Titus was coming to Paul as a person having been comforted through the Corinthians’ whole-hearted return to Christ (v. 7). Paul also during his imprisonment in Rome sent Tychicus to the churches in Asia to encourage their hearts (cf. Eph. 6:21, 22; Col. 4:8).  While Paul was in Athens, he heard about the persecution the Thessalonian believers were enduring. So he sent Timothy to establish them in their faith and encourage them (I Thess. 3:2, 3a).   Many of us can gratefully recall the comfort we have received through the visit of a fellow-believer at a time of severe testing.  Likewise, Paul was comforted by the faith of the Thessalonians (I Thess. 3:7). Such events from real life can prove how important the work of comforting and exhorting is in the community of believers. Notice again the element of comfort in Paul’s pastoral benediction (II Thess. 2:16, 17):

“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself,
and God our Father,
who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”

Thomas Cosmades --- 2007


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