Some years ago, a friend of mine lost her mother quite suddenly. Like any good friend, I attempted to offer comfort, telling her that it was “ok” and about how “I understood”, when quite suddenly and tired of my empty words, she burst out in pain and said “you don’t know anything of what I am suffering right now!” I was taken aback – I had been trying to offer comfort, but clearly I was only adding to her grief. I was at a loss as to what to say, and so I ended up just standing there, silent.
In this last year alone, we as a church have been hit incredibly hard by the deaths of fellow believers in Christ. We’ve lost precious family and friends.
And the question we have is “how do we comfort one another when we suffer death”. It seems like such an obvious question with an obvious answer, and perhaps it is. But it’s an important one nonetheless, and one that must be answered by scripture.
Our passage concerns itself with death of believers, and so I will mostly addressing death as it concerns Christians.
It seems like the Thessalonian church had lost several precious believing friends and family since Paul had been with them since they had first turned to Christ by Paul’s preaching, and for a church as young as they were, it cut them to the core of their hearts.
Their understanding of the resurrection was weak and incomplete. Having obviously been told by Paul and the apostles of how glorious and wonderful the return of Christ would be, they were in absolute despair because they thought that it meant that the believers who had already died would miss out on that great and glorious day. They thought that only the living would see and experience the second coming. So they must have been full of inconsolable grief and and perhaps even the fear of death, lest they should suffer the same fate. But Paul addressed their anxiety saying
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13 ESV)
Notice that Paul does not say to them “you must not grieve” but rather, “so that you many not grieve as others who do not have hope”.
Paul knew that death results in sorrow and mourning – whenever we experience death, there will be there will be grief -and therefore when we give comfort, we must first acknowledge the pain of death, which is our first point.