Not Your Typical Comforter

Whenever I study the bible, I usually open up a Greek & Hebrew concordance in order to get richer meaning from the words I'm reading. This morning, I came to John 16 - a passage that is filled with some of Jesus' final words before the cross. In one particular section of this passage, Jesus talks extensively on the work of the coming Holy Spirit. In verse 7-15, Jesus says:


7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 of sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; 11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 However, when He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.


In this passage, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as "The Helper" and "The Spirit of Truth." Most often in church services, I find that the Holy Spirit is taught to be "The Helper" or, as the synonym, "The Comforter." We often ask for The Comforter to come and be among us as we worship, to be near people who are hurting, and strength to the weary. Our idea of a comforter invokes images of warm, motherly affection - a cozy love that wraps us in contentment (we call our overstuffed blankets that cover our beds comforters for a reason.). It is absolutely true that the Holy Spirit pours out God's tender affections into our hearts. Even Jesus said in the above John 16 passage, that the Holy Spirit will "take of what is His and give it to us." In the Father's heart is a never ending supply of love for His people, so we can rest assured that the Holy Spirit will pour this out on our hearts (Romans 5:5, "the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit").


But as I was opening up my concordance this morning to study this word, I found that there is so much more to The Comforter than loving affection. The word Comforter/Helper in Greek in this passage is "Parakletos". This word comes from two words: "pará" meaning "close-beside" and "kaléo" meaning "to make a call". One who comes close beside to make a call. But what kind of call? A call to be hugged and surrounded by comfort? Well, Strong's Concordance says, "It is a legal advocate who makes the right judgment-call because [they are] close enough to the situation; it is the regular term in New Testament times for an attorney; i.e. someone giving evidence that stands up in court." So the Holy Spirit is like an attorney who stands up in court with first hand evidence of truth; in this case, the Truth of the Father & His Son. He is both the lawyer and the witness. With this picture in mind, my idea of Comforter is given an entirely different perspective. I don't watch a lawyer or a witness in a courtroom and think to myself, "Wow. What loving affection I feel flowing in this place." What I say to myself is, "Wow. What evidence of truth is presented in this place."


This makes so much more sense that in this passage Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as both Comforter and The Spirit of Truth.


3 However, when He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.


Even the idea of the Holy Spirit "not speaking on His own authority" plays into the legal language here. He is, for lack of a better word, under oath - speaking only as a witness to truth. So, what do we do with this definition of Comforter? Didn't we just say He pours love out into our hearts?


I think the problem most Western believers run into with this understanding of Holy Spirit, is that we have a hard time harmonizing legal language with affectionate emotion. Like I said, I don't watch Law and Order with the same expectation of emotion as when I watch Cinderella. We like the ooey gooey feeling of love when it comes to God so we open up our hearts to this experience, but when it comes to His truth, we often categorize this into our brains and not our hearts because, for us, truth is something we examine, we analyze, and we debate, not something we feel ooey-gooey over. Yet these two things - analyzing and experiencing love - in the Kingdom are not mutually exclusive. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can enter into an examination of truth, chewing on it, yes - even analyzing it, but in such a way that at the exact same time, His love is being poured out into our hearts, causing that truth to become living and charged with passionate affection.


Jesus himself told us that, for those who abide in His word, you will both experience truth & love. In the well known passage of John 15, Jesus says in verse 7, 9-10, "7If you abide in Me and my words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you...9As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep [obey] My commandments, you will abide in My love." Here we find Jesus calling us to experience love through abiding in His word. But not just abiding in His word - abiding in obedience to those words. Another way of saying it, abiding in obedience to His Truth. So as we embrace His truth and live out His truth, we experience an abiding love that is divine and empowering. Freedom flows from a love for truth!

That's why in John 8:31-32, Jesus says, "31 If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” I find it fascinating that Jesus doesn't say, "my love will set you free"; He says "my truth sets you free." Yet, love is found in His truth! But Jesus is making it very clear to those who have an ear to hear and eyes to see: he calls us to be more than lovers of His warm, affectionate presence - He calls us to be lovers of Truth; and if we love Truth, we will walk with Him in His affectionate presence.


In this hour where truth is becoming more and more divisive, there is a greater cost to being a lover of truth. And where there is a greater cost, there is a greater discipline required, therefore there is a greater chance of things slipping away. We cannot simply spend time soaking in His love - it is vital that we spend time knowing His truth or our very foundations in this nation and in many congregations will slip away (Matt. 7:24-27). In this season of history, the world desperately needs the people of God to stand firm in His word and, from a heart of love, declare His truth. But if the people of God don't know how to experience His love in His truth...if we can only experience God when a powerful worship song tugs at our emotions...we are on shaky ground. In other words, we cannot stand in the place of being the true witnesses He has called us to be if we don't actually examine the evidence and personally know the Spirit, not just of Comfort as we have defined it, but of Truth.


This is the hour, saints. Let us answer the call of Jesus to abide in His word and thereby abide in His truth. Let us learn to experience the overflowing love of God together, not simply in a powerful worship service, but as we examine and study His words. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to be more to us than a motherly, affectionate friend - let us ask Him to be our Faithful Witness and Giver of Truth.