Luke, the narrator of the book of Acts, often paused in his recounting of events to summarize the condition of the church (see Acts 2:41, 46–47; 4:32; 5:12–14, 42). After writing about the conversion of Paul and his initial boldness in ministry and moments of intense persecution (Acts 9:1–30), Luke presents a snapshot of the present situation of the earliest Christian congregations: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied” (Acts 9:31, ESV).
Before Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, He promised the disciples that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In Acts 9:31, Luke stops to highlight that the apostles are accomplishing just what Jesus said they would—the successful spread of the gospel and expansion of the church. The Word of truth was getting out.
Despite fierce opposition and hardship, the fledgling church communities are growing strong in faith and increasing numbers (see Acts 4:4; 5:14; 6:7; 9:35, 42). In Acts 9, the believers are “walking in the fear of the Lord,” meaning their behavior reflects their profound respect and reverence for God. They are also walking in the “comfort of the Holy Spirit.”
This “comfort of the Holy Spirit” is the unique ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. Jesus said He would send the Holy Spirit to be our “Comforter” (John 14:16, KJV), “Advocate” (John 14:26, NIV), or “Helper” (John 16:7, ESV). The Greek word for the Holy Spirit in these verses is parakletos, meaning “one who is called to our side.” When we receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, God dispatches His Holy Spirit to reside in us, always ready to assist, console, reassure, and guide us in times of distress or need.
The comfort of the Holy Spirit supplies Christians with a failproof, world-reaching ministry operating in and through them: “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26–27, KJV).
The “comfort of the Holy Spirit” in Acts 9:31 refers to the encouragement available to believers because of the Spirit’s indwelling presence. “Comfort” (paraklēsis in Greek) here refers to exhortation and includes the idea of earnestly supporting or encouraging someone. This same word is found frequently throughout the New Testament (see Acts 13:15; Romans 12:8; Hebrews 12:5; 2 Thessalonians 2:16; Matthew 5:4).
We walk in the comfort of the Holy Spirit when we happily recognize that God has given us a Helper to be always at our side. We are never alone. Through the Spirit, we receive constant assurance that we are God’s children (Romans 8:16). He draws us closer to Jesus and strengthens us in our inner being (Ephesians 3:16–17). The comfort of the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness when we don’t know how to pray (Romans 8:26). The Spirit gives us the power and wisdom to witness with boldness (Acts 4:31; 1 John 5:6–8). He teaches us (John 14:26; 16:13; 1 John 2:27). The Holy Spirit even reveals to us the deep mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 2:9–10).
We can walk free from sin’s control in the comfort of the Holy Spirit because the Spirit is a righteousness-producing, life-giving source for every believer: “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. . . . And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you” (Romans 8:9–11, NLT).