Tuesday, April 22, 2014

P1 The Holy Spirit - The Strengthening Comforter

Acts 9:31 "So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase."

In past posts we have looked at various portions of the Book of Acts to discern the person and work of the Holy Spirit. We have considered what it means to wait upon and follow the Spirit's leading.  We also have considered how it is the Lord grows His church through preaching, persecution and prayer - all of which entail the Spirit's working in one way or another.  In a post last week we considered how Saul was converted by His dramatic encounter with the risen Christ, and featured in that post the Spirit's work of regeneration and conversion. In today's post we aim to look at another important ministry of the Holy Spirit - namely His work as "The Comforter" of what we are calling "Strengthening Comforter".  It is hoped that you will discover what God's Word has to say, and in the process learn what the Bible truly means by the Spirit's comforting ministry.

1. What the Old Testament has to say about the Lord as the "Comforter" or "Helper" 
Before we consider the Holy Spirit's comforting ministry as stated here in Acts 9:31, we first must realize its significance beginning in the Old Testament. Jesus of course spoke to His disciples of how He was going to send to them the Holy Spirit as the "comforter", or as this term is rendered in other translations "Helper" (John 14:16; 15:26-27; 16:7). This promise from Jesus has in mind all of the references to Yahweh as the "Helper" or "Comforter" of Israel. In one of the first mentions of this title we read in Deuteronomy 33:26 “There is none like the God of Jeshurun,Who rides the heavens to your help, And through the skies in His majesty." Isaiah 49:8 is another example where the LORD identifies Himself as the "Helper" of His people: "Thus says the Lord, 'In a favorable time I have answered You,
And in a day of salvation I have helped You;
And I will keep You and give You for a covenant of the people, To restore the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages.'" Other Old Testament passages repeatedly use this title translated "Helper" to describe the LORD's redeeming work on behalf of and in the lives of His people. (Deuteronomy 33:29; Psalm 115:9; Isaiah 41:14, 44, 49:8; Hosea 13:9).  

It is very clear as one studies the revelation of the Old Testament that the primary attribute of God that is disclosed by this word translated "Helper" is that of God's strength. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament explains this word (Hebrew "ezer") translated helper as referring to how: "God exercises this strength on behalf of His people people against their foes. This is particularly well illustrated in Exodus 13:15. This word is used figuratively to describe the security enjoyed by the righteous....Thus in hymns of praise God's strength shows itself as His overwhelming majesty, and in the laments it appears as His helping protection."1 So in all reality, the LORD as the believer's "Helper" is truly the One who strengthens.2 

2. What Jesus teaches about the Holy Spirit as the "Helper" or "paraclete" or "comforter"
Clearly the Lord revealed Himself as the "Helper" or "Strengthener" of His people in the Old Testament.  Such a title was clearly assigned to the God of scripture in the Old Testament, and continues on in Jesus' statements about Himself and the Holy Spirit. When Jesus says in John 14:16 that He will send to the disciples "another comforter" or as rendered in some English translations "another Helper", He is speaking of another who is of like-kind to Himself. The word Jesus uses to describe the Holy Spirit and Himself has the same meaning as the word we saw earlier in our study of the LORD's self designation in the Old Testament.  Quite clearly the Divine idea of the God of the Bible being the strengthener and source of strength in His peoples' lives is ascribed to all Three Persons of the God head.3 R.C Sproul in his studies on the Holy Spirit suggests that the word translated "comforter" (paraclete) referred to a family lawyer who was always on retainer and could be called upon to come to the aid and support of the family in times of need. 

Without a doubt the Person of the Son, being fully Divine while being a man, promised His disciples that upon his exit from this world in His ascension that He would send them another "Comforter" who would exercise the same level of strengthening ministry as Himself. Case in point consider John 15:26-27  “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, 27 and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning." Similar words are mentioned in John 16:8, with the promise being that the apostles and ultimately every Christian will not be devoid of the power and presence of God as expressed by the Person of the Holy Spirit. 

3. So why the word "comforter"?
When the King James Translators (as well as other Older English Translations, such as the Geneva Bible, 1560 and 1599 translations) were producing Bibles, many of the scholars were learned men who being theologians knew Latin. The Latin term that they knew of that was used in the Bible translation called the Latin Vulgate was the term "comfortis".  This term is made up of two Latin words: "com" meaning "with" and "forte" meaning "to strengthen". Thus you have heard of a "fort" or "fortress" - i.e a place of strength, protection.  In music we will run across the term "forte" which means to make the music "louder" or "stronger". Thus when the English translators were producing those early English Bibles, they simply took the best Latin word they knew and put English letters to it - hence the title "Comforter". In our day and age we often think of a "comforter" as someone who soothes and makes us fell better.  Without a doubt the Holy Spirit can do those things and does by way of His peace for example. (Galatians 5:22) However when considering what the word "comforter" was intended to mean, as well as Jesus' terminology and the Old Testament revelation, we discover that the Person of the Holy Spirit is literally God Himself coming alongside and strengthening us inside.  It is His comforting strength that urges us on to complete the work He has called us to do and to live the Christian life He convicted and converted us to at saving faith. 

4. The Holy Spirit's comforting or strengthening ministry in the early church
In light of the above study it is hoped the reader will understand the significance of Luke's statement in Acts 9:31. Notice the following outcomes in the early church that are attributed to the Holy Spirit's comforting ministry:

a. Peace. Acts 9:31a "So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace....".

b. Built up. Acts 9:31a "being built up...."

c. Feared the Lord. Acts 9:31a "and going on in the fear of the Lord." This "fear of God" speaks of a deep reverence and desperate dependance upon God, fearing what life and ministry would be like if He were to remove His hand or if we were to do anything to provoke His Fatherly discipline. 

These first few statements describe for us the effects that were taking place in the life of the church in the wake of Saul of Tarsus' conversion and the temporary repreive from persecution that the church would enjoy as a result (compare Acts 9:1-22 and 9:23-30). But now what is the ultimate Cause or Agent behind the peace, the building up and the increased dependance or fear of the Lord  in the early church? The next part of Acts 9:31 gives us the answer: "and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase."  

The first part of 9:31 views the mighty effects and activities that were taking place, whereas the second part takes us in the walls and behind the scenes and inside the people to see Who the source is - the Holy Spirit, the Mighty Comforter Himself.  He is the One who "comes alongside" and Strengthens the church to do the bidding of the Lord. Peter's healings of Aeneus in Acts 9:32-35 and the raising of the little servant girl Tabitha in 9:36-43 following on the heels of the statement of the Holy Spirit's comforting ministry in 9:31 shows us Who is responsible for any ministry done in and among God's people.  

Were it not for the Holy Spirit, the Great Comforter or "Helper", there would had been no ability for Peter to say to Aeneus to "take up his bed and walk" nor for Aeneus to have such an ability. Also too the same can be said of how the Spirit's worked through Peter to raise the little girl Tabitha from the dead. The Spirit of God is the author of life - both physically and spiritually.  

More tomorrow on the strengthening comfort of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians today.....
1. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Moody. 1980. Page 1597.

2.  As an interesting side note, when God tells Adam that Eve is going to be His "helpmeet" in Genesis 2:20, the idea is that without her, Adam would be incomplete.  The same Hebrew word "ezer" is used in Genesis 2:20 as we find throughout the self-revealed title that the Lord uses for Himself in describing the need of His people for His strength and help. The bringing of the woman to the man not only would complete him but actually supply strength - i.e help. 

3. The word translated "comforter" or "helper" in John 14:16 is the word "parakletos" from the verb "parakaleo" from whence comes the sometimes used title for the Holy Spirit "The Paraklete". The word refers to someone who "comes up alongside and offers strength and support". Jesus Himself is described as being our Heavenly "advocate" or "Paraclete" in 1 John 2:1 who ever represents our interests before His Father in Heaven as the believer's Prophet, priest and King. Hence the Holy Spirit then is the believer's "paraclete" or "advocate" here on earth Who works in concert with Jesus, the believer's "Advocate" or "Strengthener" in Heaven. 


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