Wednesday, April 23, 2014

P2 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."

Introduction & Review:
Yesterday we began consider how the Holy Spirit is the Comforting Strengthener in the life of His people and the church.  Starting with what the Old Testament has to teach on this Divine title of God as "Helper" or "Comforter", we moved then to Jesus' teaching on this important title.  In John 14-16 we see Jesus ascribing this Divine title indirectly to Himself and directly to the Person of the Holy Spirit. We discovered that in the New Testament's usage of the word "paraclete", the Holy Spirit (and Jesus as well) are both assigned the same title that God the Father had in the Old Testament as the Helper, Comforter or Strengthener of His people.  We also considered why our English translations retain the term "Comforter", and how that word refers to the Strengthening and "Coming alongside" ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life.   We ended yesterday in Acts 9:31, noting how the Holy Spirit in particular strengthens His church in His comforting ministry by way of building up, working forth fear of God and strengthening His people in the calling He issues forth to them.  

In today's post we aim to continue this series on the Holy Spirit - the Strengthening Comforter, by noting how the remainder of the New Testament beyond the Book of Acts develops this truth.  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.

The Holy Spirit's Strengthening Comfort in the New Testament Epistles
It is important for the reader to recall how the New Testament is structured in terms of its main divisions: The Gospels present Christ and His achievement; Acts preaches about Christ and His achievement; Epistles explain Christ and His achievement; Revelation portrays Christ as exalted and victoriously returning due to His achievements. Without a doubt the Promise of the Holy Spirit in the Gospels is the reason why we see the Power and Person of the Holy Spirit presented and explained throughout Acts and the Epistles. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit as the Strengthening Comforter in John 14:16; 15:26-27 and 16:7. We saw yesterday specific reference to the Spirit's Strengthening Comfort in Acts 9:31. So now the question is: so what? What bearing does this particular ministry of the Holy Spirit have on your Christian life in today's world.  This is where some statements from the Epistles aid in the reader's understanding. 

Consider for example Romans 15:13-14 "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. 14 Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another." What passages such as these do is to put flesh and life on what would be an otherwise abstract concept.  In context the Apostle Paul is connecting this important ministry of the Holy Spirit to what he noted earlier in Romans 15:4 "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope."  How often have you found exactly what you needed in your weakest moment through a passage of scripture? You can thank the Holy Spirit - the strengthening comforter. 

Further reflection on this text in Romans unfolds what it looks like in the life of a person who is regularly benefting from the Strengthening Comforter. Such a person is full of hope, joy and is able to admonish or encourage their fellow believer onto love and good deeds.  All of these activities can only occur as a result of the strenghtening comfort of the Holy Spirit.  

Galatians 5:22-23 states - "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law." Whenever you survey all of the passages in both Testaments that speak of God's strengthening comfort in the lives of these people, oftentimes these fruits will be found in some measure.  These fruits or behaviors will come to characterize the Christian who is regularly proceeding in the strengthening comfort of the Holy Spirit.

One final passage that we will briefly mention in today's post - 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 "Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work." The underlined word in the passage is the same word used by Jesus back in John 14:16; 15:26-27 and 16:7 to describe God's divine "coming alongside" ministry of strengthening.  Even though the Person in focus in the passage is the Father, we can readily say with everything discovered thus far in this study that the Father does this comforting by way of the Person and Agency of the Holy Spirit. The Three Persons of the Trinity, though to be distinguished, yet ever work together as One God for the sake of the Trinity's glory and completion of every believer's salvation. 

Life applications - drawing everything together we have learned thus far
We have explored the scriptures concerning the Holy Spirit - the strengthening comforter.  It should help the reader to realize that no matter what the circumstance, the Holy Spirit's ability to strengthen and come alongside the people of God knows no limit.  Theologian Michael Horton says concerning this ministry of the Holy Spirit: "The Spirit mediates Christ's royal ministry by subduing unbelief and the tyranny  of sin, giving sinners the faith that unites them to Christ so that they can receive all His heavenly gifts.  The ascended Christ gives, and the Spirit equips ministers and elders as His undershepherds (Eph 4:11-16).1 No fear, no situation, no challenge is too great for the child of God to handle who is relying upon the Paraclete - the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit, in His strengthening comfort, points us to our Heavenly Strengthener, Advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 John 2:1) We also know that in understanding this important work of the Spirit, the Christian has hope where there is hopelessness and joy in the face of despair.  The aim of this short series is to introduce the reader to the wonderful strengthening comforter - the Holy Spirit. May you and I avail ourselves of His desire to strengthen us for the journey to being more and more like Jesus in this life and in preparing for the world to come. 

More tomorrow.....

1. Michael Horton. The Christian Faith. Zondervan. 2011. Page 560

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