January 29, 2018

A Christian Eulogy of Comfort

Theme: A Christian Eulogy of Comfort

A common misconception today is that the church at the time of the apostles was pristine and flawless. Many Christians today who despise the traditions of the Western church call for a return to the ways things were around the time of the apostles. Many paint a picture of the early church as a group of people who didn’t’ suffer from the same problems we do today: things like greed, jealousy, deviations from God’s Word, and petty arguments. In their minds it was a simpler time where Christians joyously gathered in house churches and had no barriers inside cliques and factions that threaten our churches so often today. Much like the trendy movement today of returning to organics in our diet, there is a spiritual movement to seek the organic church, and a promise is given that things will be better if we do so.

Anyone who feels this way should read 1 Corinthians. The letter begins by denouncing petty factions that were currently going on in the congregation. The letter continues by listing fire after fire that Paul was trying to put out. The Corinthian church was a disaster. They were barely a church. They allowed open adultery to exist. Members were suing fellow members. People were getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper. Members were denying the Lord’s supper. Much more was happening too. 1 Corinthians is not the most delightful read. A Christian who wants a good pat on the back should steer clear of it, because it’s a thoroughly condemning piece of writing.

But, it was exactly what they needed, and at times what we need too. This is not to say there is nothing to gain from the practices of the early church. Nor is that to assume that everything we practice in our modern church is the best. However, the truth is that there are still many things in our church that mirror the first Christians. The problem is with those who think that the simple, organic practices of the early church are the solution to our problems. God offers one solution for all generations, the gospel message of salvation in Jesus Christ. Being more trendy is not more important than the gospel.

Recognizing the context of 1 Corinthians is important also to understanding 2 Corinthians. Think about all the judgments that Paul had to make in the first letter and then consider these words, from his introduction to the second letter:

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 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. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (ESV)

Ten times in these verses the word “Comfort” is used, both as a noun and as a verb. Paul’s message right away is not hard to detect. The Corinthians had been beaten back by the law of God and now they needed the comfort of the gospel. In fact, the word comfort is used 20 times in 2 Corinthians, the most of any New Testament book and almost a quarter of all the occurrences in the New Testament. Rather than focusing on the Corinthians’ sins, Paul is now looking at the ways in which they are being persecuted for trying to follow God’s will. Things had certainly changed from the first letter, but one thing they still needed was comfort.

The dominant theme of comfort in these verses centers on one word. The very first word of the text: Blessed. Today, people think that to be blessed means that there is something special about you that sets you apart from other people. But, the biblical meaning of blessed indicates a passivity of the recipient. In other words, being blessed is not about you, it’s about the one giving the blessing.

Here, Paul is speaking about blessing God, or praising Him. But, that gift can only be given once we are first blessed by God. This is where comfort comes in. Because of the great comfort we have in Jesus Christ, we are able to bless God’s name.

There’s something else about the word “blessed” that reminds of us God’s activity. In the Greek language, there is more than one word for “blessed.” When you think of blessings in the Bible, the Beatitudes are probably near the top of the list. Jesus began each of those statements with the word, “Blessed.” That Greek word is the most common for blessed, literally meaning a state of happiness or joy.

But this particular word in our text shows us the source of the believers’ joy. It is a combination of two Greek words – good and word. It’s also where our English word “eulogy” comes from. A eulogy is most often given at a person’s funeral. It is a statement that speaks a “good word” about a person’s life. The dictionary defines a eulogy as “a speech or piece of writing that praises someone or something highly, typically someone who has just died.”

Paul, here at the beginning of his second letter to the Corinthians, presents the Christian’s eulogy. What is the reason for this good word of praise? He writes, 4 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. For Paul, his praise of God is bound up in the comfort that God has freely given through the forgiveness of sins. This comfort is received by faith and then extended to others through the sharing of the gospel. When Jesus broke the sequence of sin that led to death He also established this sequence of comfort so that we would have hope.

In contrast to man-made eulogies, which so often ignore God and focus entirely on the person’s life – Paul’s eulogy is directed first and foremost to God. Likewise, in all moments of life, especially at a person’s death, a eulogy that points only to them holds no comfort. Within this word of blessing itself holds the key to the comfort that the Christian enjoys and shares. This blessing is literally a “good word.” This reminds us of the gospel, the “good news.” In fact, the Greek word “gospel” is almost exactly parallel to the Greek word for “blessed” here. The gospel is literally the “good message” and synonym to the “good word.”

This “good word” blessing was a common greeting in the early Church. It was used by Zechariah during his song of praise to God at the birth of John the Baptist. It was used by Paul to the Romans, Ephesians, and Corinthians. It was used by Peter in his first letter. In each context, God is being blessed and specifically because of Jesus Christ the “well-spoken” One who is the Savior of the world. This eulogy is even an extension of the title “Word Incarnate” by emphasizing the gospel portion of that Word. Jesus is “Word” but even more specifically the “Good Word.”

What a profound lesson we see in this section. In order to properly bless God in our lives, we must first receive the blessing He gives in Christ. Only by faith can we offer the eulogy that glorifies the Father; which is a mirror of the eulogy God has spoken for our comfort in His Son.

How sad, though, that this great blessing by faith is so often forsaken. Like the modern eulogy, very often the praises we think and speak are directed at ourselves. When we complain about the circumstances of our lives, as if God has slighted us – it’s a cry for attention, a plea for someone to offer us “good word” instead of letting all our doings in life point to the Lord.

When we get self-righteous about a difficult part of God’s revelation to us and we’d rather ignore it than obey it, we’re showing that we place a higher priority on our thoughts than God’s. We’re trying to scratch out a “good word” for ourselves, rather than trusting that God’s way is best.

When we embrace praise from others over the challenges that faith in Christ presents, we mirror the Pharisaical eulogy that seeks to be proven better than others, and we thereby set up an idol of the self before God. The list could go on. Many and perverse are the ways that we seek to have some praise heaped upon our names at God’s expense.

In a man-centered eulogy there is a glaring lack of comfort. That’s why funerals without the gospel are so shallow. There’s nothing wrong with remembering a person’s life but if memoires are all there is there is no comfort. It can be an offensive thing to hear this message. I have seen that offense at funerals when loved ones of the departed are shocked that we would spend so much time reading and sharing the gospel word, rather than talking about memories. It’s the same shock and offense we feel when the law of God strikes our hearts in the deep recesses where jealousies, grudges, lusts, and all pet sins reside. It’s a blow to the mythical fairy tale of the perfect eulogy for mankind – because no such thing exists.

The unshaken hope that Paul uses to encourage the Corinthians is found in Christ Alone. That sacred fact is not some secret that we Christians alone know and the rest of the world must struggle to find. It is not a security blanket to make us comfortable in our sins. Hope in Christ was not given to us because we were worthy, nor does it remain with us for that reason either. The truth is that we are up against the dangers that threaten our faith just as much as anyone. Those dangers can be brought about by sin, much like the content of 1 Corinthians. Those dangers can come from enemies who want to steal hope away, like the persecution of our text.

We are not immune to these threats. To remain in the faith, we need God’s blessing. We need the “good words” of life in Christ spoken to us each day. We need to receive that blessing daily because the dangers bombard us daily. The life of the repentant and trusting believer is the eulogy directed to God from the eulogy given by His grace in Christ.    

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. 

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