1 John, 1 John 3:16–18, 2 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, Affliction, Biblical Counseling, Comfort, Discipleship, Faith, Holy Spirit, Hope, James, James 2:14–17, love, Preaching, Psalm 46:1, Puritan, Richard Sibbes, Richard Sibbes, Service, Suffering, The Danger of Backsliding, Trial
Now lets us consider the observations of Sibbes upon the text, with a particular eye to the lessons that can be learned for practical ministry:
BLESSED St Paul, being now an old man, and ready to sacrifice his dearest blood for the sealing of that truth which he had carefully taught, sets down in this chapter what diverse entertainment he found both from God and man in the preaching of the gospel. As for men, he found they dealt most unfaithfully with him, when he stood most in need of comfort from them.
First, God’s people must comfort and minister to God’s people:
As for men, he found they dealt most unfaithfully with him, when he stood most in need of comfort from them
God ministers comfort in two ways: First, God ministers comfort immediately: That is, God provides his Spirit directly and without means as a comfort. Paul references this in verse 17:
But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me
Paul has mentioned this elsewhere. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:
3 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,. 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 (ESV)
When I say that the comfort of God is immediate, I do not mean that it is without means. The typical manner of comfort is through the Holy Spirit making the Word of God living and active in our heart so as to bring comfort. Thus, one person may read Psalm 46 and experience no comfort and another may reads the words and find themselves resolute and at peace:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1 (ESV)
God becomes an effective refuge in the act of reading, meditating, praying, believing.
Second, God’s comfort is meditated through the actions of other believers. The concluding portion of 2 Corinthians 1:4 reads:
[God comforts us] 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.
God comforts us immediately, so that we may comfort those who need comfort. We receive comfort to give comfort.
The obligation to provide aid, the command to love is a command to do – which no believer may safely ignore:
16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:16–18 (ESV)
John’s command is no warning. James makes this plain by appending the most severe consequence to the one who will not love in word and deed:
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2:14–17 (ESV)
While Paul was sustained by the Lord, the Lord’s body, the people of God, owed comfort and help to Paul. The failure to provide such comfort was a failure of faith, hope and love.