Comfort in, comfort out

CrisisSome days, you can’t seem to catch a break. It’s easy to feel down and discouraged when things are going wrong all around you, and you have other worries of your own to boot. What you need is some encouragement — divine comfort, if you can get it.

Funny thing about that kind of comfort: sometimes it comes in very ordinary forms.

As we’ve seen in previous posts, after a blowout with the church in Corinth, Paul composed a no-holds-barred letter of correction. It was painful for him to write, and he knew it would cause them pain as well.  But it had to be done; their faith was at stake.

He entrusted his colleague Titus to be the delivery boy, and it seems likely that Titus was a bit hesitant. Who could blame him? But Paul optimistically insisted that the letter would go over well (2 Cor 7:14), and Titus went.

But that’s not to say that Paul didn’t have his doubts and anxieties. He wrote the letter from Ephesus, and arranged to meet Titus later in Troas, northward up the coast. But Titus didn’t show, and Paul was worried (2 Cor 2:13): What could have happened to him? Was I wrong about the Corinthians?  Paul was concerned enough that he left behind an open opportunity to preach the gospel in Troas and continued north to Macedonia, hoping to find his friend.

Macedonia proved to be its own kind of challenge: “we couldn’t rest physically. We were surrounded by problems. There was external conflict, and there were internal fears” (2 Cor 7:5). From his letters to the Macedonian churches of Philippi and Thessalonica, we can guess that the external conflict was persecution; the fears may have been his unresolved anxieties about Titus and the letter.

But then, the answer to Paul’s prayers:

However, God comforts people who are discouraged, and he comforted us by Titus’ arrival. We weren’t comforted only by his arrival but also by the comfort he had received from you. He told us about your desire to see me, how you were sorry, and about your concern for me, so that I was even happier.  (2 Cor 7:6-7, CEB)

Titus finally showed up. He wasn’t dead. He wasn’t shipwrecked. And even better, he brought good news: the letter worked (in part due to Titus’ diplomatic skills, one presumes). The Corinthians were sorry about what happened, and in fact, were concerned about Paul.

“God comforts people who are discouraged”: we could translate, “God encourages the lowly,” those who have been brought down by life. It’s the same theme with which Paul began the letter:

He’s the one who comforts us in all our trouble so that we can comfort other people who are in every kind of trouble. We offer the same comfort that we ourselves received from God. (2 Cor 1:4, CEB).

Paul, in the midst of all his apostolic woes, had been comforted by God, and passed that comfort on to the Corinthians. They in turn — after a series of discomfiting missteps! — comforted Titus. And Titus, with his presence and his words, comforted Paul.

Comfort in, comfort out. One of the ways God comforts his people is through the assurances and ministry of others. From whom have you received divine comfort? And to whom might you be an agent of comfort in turn?