At the Mockingbird Conference a couple of weeks ago, Dr. Mark Mattes made the statement that ministry involves speaking “the comforting word to the afflicted and the afflicting word to the comforted.” Initially, I was a bit worried by this, especially the part about delivering an “afflicting word” to people. Chalk it up to my people-pleasing tendencies, but I do not like giving bad news. In light of Dr Mattes’ comment, I found myself trying to determine exactly what the two words were and who needed to hear which and when. I was confused.
After thinking about my own experience with hearing the Gospel, Dr. Mattes’ statement began to make more sense to me. I was threatened when I first heard the Gospel. The message that I could not do anything to help myself was an attack. I thought God wanted and expected me to do my part, and I thought I was doing pretty well. It was a two-way street in my mind. The Gospel, however, smashed through these preconceived ideas. It exposed the fact that I thought pretty highly of myself and that as a result, I had a lower view of what Jesus did for me. In other words, it afflicted me.
Then something changed. The message of God’s one-way love began to sound like good news. My resistance had been slowly broken down and, more accurately, put to death. Instead of feeling attacked by the idea that it was all up to God and I was a passive recipient, I was relieved. It was really comforting.
Dr. Mattes wasn’t making a statement about the word itself, as much as he was making a statement about the people hearing the word. The word itself never changes (Heb 13:8); we just hear it differently, depending on where we are in life. When we are weighed down by problems and affliction(s), it comforts. But when we are comfortable or self-satisfied, it afflicts. And it does this so that we might be truly comforted – by the promise that God has already accomplished everything through Jesus, and all that remains for us is true hope and real freedom.