The first century Roman Empire wasn’t exactly open to the gospel or those who shared it. In fact, in most cases people were downright hostile towards those bearing the good news. This was especially true throughout Paul’s life. He faced numerous trials and hardships as an apostle and evangelist. While for the most part he was able to remain positive and keep his eyes fixed on the eternal goal, there were times that his spirit was brought low and his outlook wasn’t so cheerful. This was the case while he was in Macedonia on his third missionary journey. But God had some good news in store for Paul. So let’s see how God lifts Paul’s spirit and comforts his heart.
“For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.”
~II Corinthians 7:5-7
Paul poured himself into the lives of the Corinthians. He gave all he had in heart and soul and held nothing back. Imagine his pain when they rejected him and accused him of falsehood and heresy. It must have been incredibly discouraging and hurtful. Nevertheless, Paul didn’t give up on the Corinthians. He was determined to complete the work God entrusted him within the lives of the Corinthians, and he was not going to give up just because they didn’t like what he had to say. But just because Paul was stubborn and persistent enough to stick with the Corinthians and not give up on them, doesn’t mean that this situation didn’t affect him deeply or break his heart.
While we often look at Paul as a giant in the faith—and rightly so—he was still a man who had emotions, feelings, and heartbreak, just like us. He was still affected by the accusations of others and especially of those whom he gave and invested so much into, both spiritually and emotionally. So think about what this rift must have felt like for Paul and how heavy-hearted he must have been for the spiritual welfare of the young believers in Corinth.
In Macedonia, Paul was downcast or literally depressed. His spirits were low. But then God did a miracle. Notice that Paul gives God all the glory and credit for his comfort. He didn’t say, “You guys did such a good job of raising my spirits during a dark time!” No, God is the One who gets the credit for lifting Paul’s heart with the news of restored relationship with the Corinthians. Hmmm…what does that teach us?
Those are ponderings for another day; now, back to our topic. Paul was depressed and discouraged but now his joy is overflowing and his comfort great because of the restored relationship. Those whom he loved and had formerly rejected him now wanted forgiveness and reconciliation with their apostle, shepherd, and spiritual father. All the agony of doing what was right was worth it. All the pain of discipline, rejection, and heartbreak, was worth it. Paul was now overjoyed and filled with comfort, rejoicing at the restoration of the Corinthian church.
Even when the Corinthians didn’t appreciate it at the time, Paul did the hard work of showing them tough love. They didn’t like it at first, in fact, they pushed him away. But eventually they saw the error of their way and returned, seeking forgiveness, restoration, and renewed relationship. How this must have blessed the apostle’s heart!
Are we like the Corinthians? Do we push people away when they say things we don’t want to hear even though it’s the truth? Are we accepting of harsh words of discipline when they’re needed in our lives?
Or are we in the position of Paul? Do we need to share a word of tough love with someone but are afraid to because we know they won’t receive it well? What will we do? What’s right and what God’s calling us to or what’s comfortable and non-confrontational?
There are things for us to learn from both sides of the story—the Corinthians’ and Paul’s. So take a few moments and prayerfully ponder what lessons God has to teach you from this examples and how He wants to comfort your heart today.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
~II Corinthians 1:3-4
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