2 Corinthians 7:5-7 “For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn – conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.”
This second letter to the Corinthians is one of the longest epistles of the New Testament. It seems to have been written over a period of time, Paul taking with him on his journey the scroll on which the letter was written, and adding various sections at different places. These words of our text commence a new section but they actually return to an earlier theme, the account of his travels. He left off that theme in chapter two and verse thirteen where he was telling the Corinthian church about his time in Troas where he had no peace of mind, “because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-bye to them and went to Macedonia.” Then he proceeds to write at length in a section that lasts until our text about the ministry and the glory of the new covenant and God’s great enablings. At this juncture in the letter Paul has returned to Troas and he picks up the thread of his travels again.
Paul tells them that he finally met up with Titus in Macedonia, and that he heard from Titus an encouraging report that things were better in the Corinthian congregation. But before he gives them any more counsels he first discloses to them that he had gone through a time of personal anguish when he arrived in Macedonia. Again it brings this lesson to us of how open Paul was about disclosing his emotions. Remember that he has just been writing to the congregation in Corinth expressing his love for them, how proud and confident he is in them, and that he is being sustained by boundless joy in all his troubles. Many husbands find it hard to express their love to their wives. Many fathers find it hard to tell their children that they love them. And many ministers find it almost impossible to express their love for a congregation. A minister called Charles Warr was once serving in a church called St Paul’s in Greenock. He says that one particular conversation had helped him there: “One day Mr Arthur Caird … looked in to see me. He was always perfectly groomed, and as everyone said of him, was just as nice as he looked. After some desultory conversation, he ran his hand over his silver hair, turned on me his kindly eyes that always had a twinkle in them, and delivered himself of some flattering and heart-warming words about my first year’s ministry at St Paul’s. Then he paused and after a short sentence went on: ‘Yes, everything in the garden’s lovely – or nearly everything.’ I waited, now a little anxious. Arthur Caird rose and came over to me and laid a fatherly hand on my shoulder. ‘My boy,’ said he, ‘the garden’s still waiting for the blossoming of one flower without which the garden of no minister can be perfect.’ Another pause: ‘I know we’re not everything we ought to be, and no doubt we need a lot of scolding; but we’d all be a great deal better than we are if only you would try sometimes, instead of lecturing us, to show us that you love us.’ Charles Warr records, “These words were a turning point in my ministry’ (Charles Warr, “The Glimmering Landscape,” Hodder and Stoughton, p.117).
We see how Paul seizes every opportunity to encourage and express his love for various congregations, but now in these verses he makes no attempt to hide from them a very different picture of the Christian life, of the dark valleys that even he occasionally passed through.
1. A TRUE CHRISTIAN KNOWS TIMES WHEN HE IS CAST DOWN.
“When we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn – conflicts on the outside, fears within” (v.5). It is reminding us that it is perfectly possible for a greatly blessed and mature Christian to fall into such emotional anguish. He can fall into physical restlessness. He can fall into harassment at every turn. He can fall into external conflict and internal fears. That was the apostle’s experience. There is no guarantee of the mere fact of being a Christian, meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus, baptized in one Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, and having been caught up to the third heaven, that such privileges were going to banish emotional lows for ever from his experience. There is no need to conclude that because we sometimes fall into those kinds of depths that therefore we are not believers at all, for it is very plainly suggested here that those who are true Christians may experience such disquiet that wherever they turn, inwardly or outwardly, they simply meet more harassment.
See what the apostle actually says. “This body of ours had no rest”: when he tried to sleep he failed; he tossed and turned, waiting for the dawn. During the day his flesh was not at peace. He was in a state of continual fatigue. Then he says, “We were harassed at every turn” – if he decided to evangelise there was harassment. If he taught the congregation the great truths of union with Christ or the sovereignty of God there was harassment. If he went to the synagogue and debated with the Jews there was harassment. If he talked to the Greek philosophers he was quickly harassed again. The Roman governor and the priests from the temple were all harassing him. Teenagers broke up his meetings; men set their dogs on him; women spat on him; Christians turned against him. Paul was harassed at every turn. He had no space to himself. Then he says there were, “conflicts on the outside, fears within;” when he looked around and about he saw the threat of persecution from the world and quarrels spreading through the congregation, while in his heart there were unresolved anxieties, a sinking feeling in his stomach, a sense of failure and guilt, a perplexity about what to do next. What was going to happen in Macedonia? Would the fledgling church there be attacked by heretics like the Galatian congregation had been? How were matters working out in Corinth? Paul carried with him the cares of all the churches. So this was Paul’s state during the months he was serving the Lord in Macedonia.
There is no need to conclude that because we sometimes fall into that kind of anguish that we are not believers at all, or that this is so shameful a condition we should never mention that we going through a time like this, because here is this mighty Christian and he tells us that there was a period in his life which was characterised by restlessness, conflict and fear. It didn’t mean that for those months he was temporarily not a Christian. It is perfectly possible for the Lord’s people to be utterly downcast.
We find this time and again in Scripture. Jeremiah the prophet wrote a whole book of lamentations. Think of the psalmists’ struggles in psalms 69, 88 and 102. They say such things as, “the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths where there is no foothold” (Ps. 69:1&2); “my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near to the grave” (Ps. 88:3); “My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass” (Ps. 102:11). The psalms have many such expressions of a downcast believer. Or again think of Elijah after the conflict with the prophets of Baal. He runs from the threat of Jezebel far from the land of promise, collapses under a juniper tree and gives vent to the sentiments that he would rather die than live, that his life has been as much a failure as his fathers. There is this unexpected anticlimax after such a tremendous blessing. The Lord has dealt with him and through him in a marvellous manner. There has been a spiritual struggle and he has won a great moral and spiritual victory. He has expended his strength and faith in the service of God yet so soon afterwards he feels a complete failure.
It is quite possible that that kind of reaction follows some grand spiritual attainments which will long be praised after the little outburst of troubles are long forgotten. A man will feel, “What have I done for the Lord? What has my church done? The struggle has been to no avail. Let me not cumber the ground any longer.” There is no reason why after a time of conflict in which all have been spending themselves in serving truth as they see it that both those vindicated and those defeated should not fall into black despair. The second verse of the hymn, “What a friend we have in Jesus,” says, “We should never be discouraged, Take it to the Lord in prayer.” It is a bit glib isn’t it? I cannot see myself saying to a church member on a pastoral visit, “You shouldn’t be discouraged, sister. Take it to the Lord in prayer.” Her heart is breaking and all you can say is, “Take it to the Lord.” It is one of those lines in a hymn which one sings putting one’s own interpretation on the words, rather than suddenly stop singing in a rather pretentious way. I hesitate criticising any hymn because hymns have their own history in our lives of helping us at special time, and “What a friend we have in Jesus” is one such hymn. We should always be contented, but there are times when God gives us his own bitter cup to drink, and those periods were not easy even for the Lord himself.
Think of the patriarch Job. There are some terrible sentiments in the book of Job, but a large part of its lesson is that the Lord’s people can sink into such depths of emotion that they can speak blasphemously of God and his dealings with them and with those they love. The very fact that Job curses the very day of his birth and complains to God that the biggest evil ever done to him was in being allowed to draw his first breath – that is no proof that Job didn’t know the Lord. Jeremiah felt the same, wishing he had never been born, longing for death like a man digging for treasure. He was an inspired prophet who spent long in the presence of God.
You think – on a far more sublime level again – of our Lord Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane and he was greatly distressed. The Amplified Bible gathers together all the nuances of his state and his words to his disciples: “He began to show grief and distress of mind and was deeply depressed. Then he said to them, My soul is very sad and deeply grieved, so that I am almost dying of sorrow…” (Matt.26:37&38). Here is God’s great definition of what a true man – the archetypal man – is like, and yet Jesus felt like that, without at all sinning.
We find God telling the church that sometimes it walks in darkness and there is no light. But maybe some of us have never known those moods, or depths, and yet that should not prevent our attempting to understand those who do experience them. That is why God has recorded them in the Bible. Furthermore, those who think that they stand should take heed lest they fall. We have no idea of how providence may yet handle us. We have no idea how we would cope with certain pressures. We are not aware of what harassment, and conflict and fears we may be asked to undergo. We may take certain decisions, and as a result of them find ourselves in Macedonian darkness with Paul. We may not say then that it was a wrong decision – a sinful decision – that we took. How can we tell that they are? Are easy times the best for us or for anyone? Certainly tough times should not lead us to conclude that those passing through them are not Christians, or that they are ‘carnal Christians’, or backslidden Christians or non-Spirit-filled Christians. You would not make such a judgment about our Lord in Gethsemane; you may not say it about Paul here in Macedonia, and you may not say it about Christians today walking through such valleys. Christ has legitimised this condition and made it consistent with grace. It is found in all who are of the seed of the woman. It is not found amongst the seed of the serpent. Those who never felt the love of Christ have nothing of this condition. They are not people who grieve because God seems so far away. They don’t know the cares of different churches. They don’t know the weight of cross-bearing. They don’t know the enmity of the world and of Satan. The world loves its own. Only Christians know the peculiar heaviness Paul speaks of here.
There was a famous Southern Baptist preacher named Vance Havner who had the gift of some wonderful observations and aphorisms. He is often quoted to great effect. This man’s wife died and Vance Havner kept a diary of his those months. He says some good simple things, for example, that Christian experience has three levels. First, there are the mountaintop days when God restores our souls, and we see the eternal city clearly. For example, Paul speaks about a special experience he had in chapter 12 when he was “caught up to paradise” (12:4). But Paul’s life did not consist of leaping from one mountain peak to another as if there were no plains or valleys in the world. So Havner talks of “ordinary days” and for us these days are those wonderful long periods of our lives when we had work, and families that loved us, our children were growing up, our cupboards were full, and our churches were at peace and the time slipped by. We did not lack anything – those beautiful ordinary years of God’s blessing on our lives. We did not know how precious they were until they were over. Then thirdly, there are these Macedonia days, when our bodies have no rest, and we are harassed on every turn – conflicts on the outside, fears within. Sometimes these days string out into months. The psalmist says, “iniquities against me prevail from day to day.” That again is part of Christian experience. You find all three kinds in Psalm 23. The ordinary days when the Lord is our Shepherd and we lack nothing and he leads us beside the still waters. Then better days when he restores our souls, and then those days when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The Lord Jesus is the Shepherd who leads us through such days, and we know that he himself passed through them. Richard Baxter wrote,
“Christ leads me through no darker rooms
Than He went through before;
And he that to God’s kingdom comes
Must enter by this door.”
2. GOD COMFORTS THE DOWNCAST.
“But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us” (v.6). The greatest set of sermons on this theme were preached in 1648 by a minister in Stepney, London, named William Bridge. They are thirteen magnificent messages, and I don’t believe that in London today there is a pulpit where you would hear such preaching. Contemporary Christians sometimes act as if we’ve made extraordinary progress to this 21st century, even claiming that we are living in times of spiritual awakening. Yet over three and a half centuries ago evangelicals were packing a church week by week to hear a man dealing with such themes as spiritual depression at a level of wisdom and biblical understanding that is absent from British pulpits today. I was looking through those sermons this week once again. They have been reprinted by the Banner of Truth, and to my surprise I notice that I had written inside the front cover, “preached through with much profit at Alfred Place autumn 1985.” I had quite forgotten that I had taken the germane thoughts from each of these sermons and preached on them here sixteen years ago. My own edition is full of my scribblings. This paperback is called “A Lifting Up For the Downcast” and you will see that this is the very theme of our text – “God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us” (v.6).
Be assured that God is going to comfort everyone of his people – the very same God who decreed and permitted everything that happened to then. The God who might give our bodies no rest, and allows harassment at every turn – conflicts without and fears within – that same God will also most effectually comfort the downcast. Let me give you some illustrations of people being comforted by God.
There was a Shunammite woman, and she was contented and unambitious and she loved the Lord and his servants. There was but one thing that she and her husband lacked, and that was any children, and then God in his mercy gave her a son. The baby became a little boy, and he would follow his father on the farm everywhere. One morning he was in the harvest with Dad and suddenly he had terrible pain: “My head! My head” he cried to his father (2 Kings 4:16). His father told the reapers to carry him home to his mother and she nursed him until noon when he died in her lap. She laid him on Elisha’s bed and had the servants saddle a donkey and off she rode to the prophet’s home at Mount Carmel. Elisha saw her coming at a distance and sent his servant Gehazi with a message to inquire whether everything was all right “Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is your child all right?” “Everything is all right” she said.
This was her only child, the son of all her love, the son of her old age. He has been taken away at a stroke, and yet she says everything is all right, that there is nothing amiss in what God has done. It is well. Had she been able to choose it she would not have had it so, but as Almighty God himself has chosen it, “Everything is all right.” It was not a cruel fate, nor mindless chance that did it. The Lord has not stepped down from the throne of the universe for a moment leaving the devil in charge. God reigns, of whom and through whom and to whom are all things, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. The Shunammite raises no objections. She submits to what God has done, and she has faith in what God can yet do in that age of miracles through the power and gifts of Elisha. Her God was able to raise the dead. She believed that, and so she said to the prophet, “Everything is all right.” That is the voice of assurance that shows that her God was already comforting her. As Charles Mudie writes:
“How can I, Lord, withhold
Life’s brightest hour,
From Thee; or gathered gold,
Or any power?
Why should I keep one precious thing from Thee,
When Thou hast given Thine own dear self for me?
We were thinking about Vance Havner who lost his wife after a long illness, and he finally said this, “Whoever thinks he has the ways of God conveniently tabulated, analysed and correlated with glib answers to ease every question from aching hearts has not been far on this maze of the mystery we call life and death … God has no stereotyped way of doing what he does. He delivered Peter from prison, but he left John the Baptist in a dungeon to die … At this writing I never knew less how to explain the ways of Providence, but I never had more confidence in my God … I accept whatever he does, however he does it” (Vance Havner, “Though I Walk Through the Valley,” Old Tappen, NJ, Revell, 1974, p.67). God took Vance’s wife, but Vance accepted whatever God did, however he did it. Everything is all right. That is the reality of the divine comfort.
In the 17th century at the time of the Scottish ‘killing fields’ when covenanter Christians, men and women, young and old, were killed in horrible ways for holding non-Anglican services one such man named Richard Cameron had his head and hands cut off. They put his head and hands in a sack and took them to the prison cell in which his father was kept locked up and they tumbled them out at his feet. “Do you know them?” His son’s hair was fair like his own. “I know them. I know them. They are my son’s, my own dear son’s. It is the Lord. Good is the will of the Lord, who cannot wrong me nor mine, but has made goodness and mercy to follow us all our days.” That is the answer of a man who is being comforted by the Lord, a man who trusts in God with all his heart and does not lean on his own understanding.
At times we are beset with doubts about a number of issues, for example, is God keeping his servants when some of them fall into such gross sin? Is God really sending his labourers into the harvest field when the fields are white and there are so few workers? Does God honour reverence and godly fear in public worship? We are perplexed about such things, but we do not and cannot question the fact that God comforts the downcast. We have experienced it, and we have seen it in the lives of so many Christians. If earthly fathers comfort their children will not our heavenly Father comfort his own children whom he has loved for all eternity? “Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). God blesses the mourner and comforts them. Even the world looking on sees it and is mystified.
Imagine you are looking through sound-proof glass into a room and you see there a crowd of people, old and young, jerking about, jumping, falling, skipping, lying down, twitching and dancing, individually and together. You would think that they were mad, But when a sound-proof door was opened you heard the sound of some modern music. This was contemporary dance. They were carefully moving under the directions of a choreographer to the tunes and rhythms of some instruments. Then it became clear. You didn’t wonder any longer, and you didn’t think that they were mad. You laugh at yourself for being so ignorant. So it is with an unconverted man. He sees people standing in great crowds outside the churches in surrounding streets in Aberystwyth on Conference Sunday. He sees people going to a prayer meeting, and rejoicing in the ways of God, and he thinks that they are mad, but if he himself comes, hears and understands the gospel of the reigning loving Jesus Christ then he no longer wonders at them but at his own stupidity for being ignorant of reality for so long.
In the public house opposite the church a publican and his wife lived for years and they would watch from their upstairs flat the congregation on Sundays entering and my shaking hands with them as they left the building. They would often think, “Why are they going? What do they get out of the services?” So they themselves later told me. They had never been inside a church except for weddings and funerals. Then someone invited them to another church in the town, and they began to attend, and were converted, and today he is a vicar in the Church of England near Liverpool. The ungodly notice the unusual walk of hope and contentment and peace that believers enjoy. They cannot give a reason for this. Are they whistling in the dark? Are they deluded? Then, when they themselves know and trust God, they receive his comfort and they experience the way he lifts up the downcast.
3. GOD COMFORTS THROUGH THE MINISTRY OF OTHER CHRISTIANS.
“But God … comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever” (vv. 6&7). God uses means to comfort us. There can be other times when a protracted ache in our hearts is suddenly lifted. We went to bed one night with it as we had for months, and we awoke the following morning and it had gone. That can happen and it is wonderful when it does. But the normal means that heaviness is lifted is through people, who they are and what they do and say.
Paul’s search for Titus came to an end, Titus actually discovering Paul in Macedonia. Did he immediately start shopping for Paul, cooking and making him some of his favourite food and washing his clothes? Did he just mother the old man and clean up his room and run his errands for him? Did he insist that he go to bed earlier and Titus would look after things? What Titus actually did restored comfort to Paul, and then what he said to Paul also helped him. God blesses our words. When some people in the congregation in Thessalonica were depressed the response of the apostle was not to urge others, “Hug them!” but to comfort them with words, and Paul gave them great words of biblical truth about the return of Jesus Christ and what would characterise that day. “Tell them these words,” he said, “and comfort them.”.
That is the Christian way of pastoring. I have been reading extracts from an old book written in 1603 by a German Lutheran Christian called Felix Bidembach, a court preacher in Stuttgart. The book is one of the very first to be written on the work of the pastor. It is called, “A Handbook for Young, Beginning Ministers of the Church.” Felix tells the young minister what to do when he visits a sick Christian. He says, “On the first visit to the sick person you naturally first turn to the members of the family who had opened the door and invited you inside. You assure them of your sympathy, and speak a brief word of encouragement and comfort – depending on the circumstances. Then you approach the person himself and greet him and assure him of your sympathy and ask him how he is feeling. Then you can quote to the person such words of the Lord Jesus as those that tell us that the very hairs on our head are all numbered. Then you tell them that the condition they are passing through has not come upon them by chance, or without the foreknowledge of God, but everything that happens does so according to God’s own counsel and will.” In other words you start with great assurances about the loving Lord being in charge. Then you tell them, “Receive and accept this, and do not doubt it at all. If this sickness is for life or for death it will turn out the best for you. So take a believing attitude towards it.” (quoted C.F.W.Walther, “Pastoral Theology”, Lutheran News, Inc. New Haven, Missouri, 1995, p.203).
There is an example of this in the ministry of Alexander Whyte. He went to see an elder’s wife. She had an incurable illness and before leaving her bedside Whyte quoted her the words from Isaiah 40, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (v.31), in the Scottish paraphrase version. Then he walked to the door, and turning around said to her as if it were an afterthought, “Put that under your tongue and suck it like a sweetie” (G.F.Barbour, “Alexander Whyte,” Hodder, p.363). The book of Proverbs says, “How good is a timely word” (Provs. 15:23).
So Paul was in Macedonia, his body had no rest, he was harassed on every side – fightings without and fears within, and God, who determines to comfort his own beloved children, sent to him Titus. Titus so young, Paul’s son in the gospel, Paul so mature and brilliant and deeply exercised in religion. How inadequate Titus must have felt for the task, but he was up to it. Paul says that God “comforted us by the coming of Titus” (v.6). No doubt Titus comforted him with truths that he had learned from Paul himself. I remember sitting with one of my professors from Westminster Seminary fifteen years after graduation. He was discouraged about a number of things, and I quoted to him a number of things he had said to me years earlier which I have found such a help ever since I first had heard them.
There is no better way we can encourage our minister than by talking to others about the thoughts he has given to us, recalling them to someone who heard him as we did, repeating them to some who did not have the opportunity of hearing him. So we multiply the good thoughts of the preacher and keep them alive in our own minds and the minds of fellow Christians.
There was a Texas widow who had a twelve year old son and she asked if she might meet the Baptist theologian and preacher John A. Broadus. This was her story. Her husband was once a student at the University of Virginia and during that time there was a chaplain there who was a fine preacher. Her husband came from a Presbyterian family in Alabama and he heard the preacher very often, but he never spoke personally to him. As a result of this chaplain’s influence her husband was led to take hold of Christ. He returned to Alabama, made his profession of faith in his home church and became a member. Then there was the Civil War, and after it ended he met and married this lady. She said that it was his habit to talk often in his family of the things that he used to hear that chaplain say. The words of that preacher became household words in the family, and when he married her he taught some of them to her, and was often repeating things he once had heard the preacher from his student days saying. Since he had died she repeated these things to her little boy and he had learned them.
Think of it! Your poor words, most of which you have wholly forgotten, which you never thought had any vitality, being repeated amongst strangers, being repeated by a student when he went home to his mother and father, being repeated by a young widow to the child – your poor words, which had become mighty by God who was determined to comfort his people, used by God to strengthen people decades later. We never know when we are doing good. Sometimes we think that we shall do something great and we achieve nothing. Sometimes we feel that we have done nothing and yet God has blessed our words and some truth has been lodged in the mind of a man and borne the fruit of strength and comfort many years later. William Bridge, preaching a series of thirteen sermons in a church in Stepney, London, over 350 years ago, could never have dreamed that those sermons would be printed and read and preached by Christians in the 21st century.
So Titus came and cheered Paul with his presence and his words. But more than that, “not only by his coming” says Paul, “but also by the comfort you had given him” (v.7). Titus passed on to Paul some comforting words he’d been given by the Corinthians. My mother sang hymns unconsciously as she did her housework, and some were from “Sankey’s Sacred Songs and Solos”. She had learned them as a little girl, and I heard them around the house as I grew up. She sang one called “Pass it on” (no. 801):
“Have you had a kindness shown?
Pass it on!
‘Twas not given for thee alone;
Pass it on!
Let it travel down the years,
Let it dry another’s tears,
Till in heaven the deed appears:
Pass it on!”
Remember the opening words of this letter where Paul says, “we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (1:4). I met a man in the Philippines earlier this year who had been plunged into debt when a chicken business he had started collapsed though a combination of factors and he became bankrupt. At that time Gordon Hawkins of Wattisham, Suffolk, went out and took meetings there, and Gordon heard his tale of woe and sympathised with him. Gordon then said to him, “I nowhere find in the Bible that we are commanded to understand God and his ways, but I find many exhortations that tell me to trust him.” It was a simple word but it was God’s word to him. It helped him enormously, just to believe that, and he told me, and it has helped me, and I pass it on to you. The Corinthian church had given Titus much comfort and he passed that comfort on to Paul. Now we actually know what some of these comforting words were:
i] The Christians in Corinth were longing for Paul: “He told us about your longing for me” (v.7). the apostle had written them a stern letter, and then he had written the long letter which we call I Corinthians. In that epistle he had answered their questions and given them counsel how they had to behave. How would they take it? Would they disdain his words? Would it make them angry with him? What actually happened was this, that after reading it they longed to see Paul again. The letter awakened all the loving relationship they had with him, how they had rejoiced in hearing him preach, and they said to one another, “How I’d love to see and hear Paul again.” “Me too.” “And me.” All the congregation were blessed by God through this great letter and they longed for him. A decade after Dr Lloyd-Jones had died that same Gordon Hawkins said to me, “Wouldn’t it be great to have the Doctor back for six months!” Of course. We know it would be impossible and wrong and you can say that it is a foolish sentiment but he was saying that we long to see again those whom we love, who have been such a help and blessing under God to us, and I am saying to you that the Corinthians longed for Paul.
ii] The Christians in Corinth were deeply repentant about their attitudes: “He told us about … your deep sorrow”. They looked afresh at their party spirit, dividing and bragging about Peter or Apollos or about Paul and arguing who was the best; their turning their love feasts into exercises of neglect and show; their pride in a defiant unrepentant sinner in their midst; their attitude to the virgins in the congregation; their attitude to the weak; their cynicism about the resurrection of the body – for all these wrong attitudes they were now very sorrowful. They turned from them all. There was a great reformation in the Corinthian church born in repentance.
iii] The Christians in Corinth had a new interest in Paul as to what they could do to help him; “He told us about … your ardent concern for me”. They made sure that Titus got back as quickly as possible with this message of their new love and obedience. Were they planning taking an offering to send him some money to help support him? Were they going to send him other men to help him? How different their whole attitude was now, through the letter which God had inspired him to write and which God blessed to the transformation of this church.
Paul begins by sharing his deep melancholy with them. He ends by sharing with them his rejoicing: “my joy is greater than ever” he tells them. The blessing of God has done it, on Paul’s letter to them, and in the gift of repentance God gave them as the letter was read out in the church meeting. Did the people cry out, “Men and brethren what shall we do?” But they knew what they should do, turn immediately from all their evil ways and ask God to forgive them. A spirit of deep repentance fell upon the church there. Then they sought to be reconciled to their faithful pastor Paul and tell him how deeply sorrowful they were for what they had done.
Is there anywhere a better sign of God’s blessing upon a church than members of a congregation broken-hearted over deep-seated sinful attitudes and practises, so that they cry to God, “We confess our sin to Thee and ask Thee for forgiveness. Have pity Lord! How can we repentant sinners live? But there is mercy with Thee that Thou mayest be feared.” Whatever words they used, and however they expressed their grief at all that was sinful and tolerated in the congregation, confess it they did, and turn from it they did. And for the Corinthian church it was life from the dead. And is there nothing in your life that needs deep sorrow and a determination not to let it continue an hour longer in our lives?
This was the way Paul’s discouragement came to an end. His burdens were lifted, and he knew a joy that was greater than ever. There is no other way.
26th August 2001 GEOFF THOMAS