“When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us. We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside. But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. His presence was a joy, but so was the news he brought of the encouragement he received from you. When he told us how much you long to see me, and how sorry you are for what happened, and how loyal you are to me, I was filled with joy! I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while. Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right. My purpose, then, was not to write about who did the wrong or who was wronged. I wrote to you so that in the sight of God you could see for yourselves how loyal you are to us. We have been greatly encouraged by this. In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was about the way all of you welcomed him and set his mind at ease. I had told him how proud I was of you—and you didn’t disappoint me. I have always told you the truth, and now my boasting to Titus has also proved true! Now he cares for you more than ever when he remembers the way all of you obeyed him and welcomed him with such fear and deep respect. I am very happy now because I have complete confidence in you.” (2 Corinthians 7:5-16, NLT)
The conclusion of chapter 7 serves as the other bookend to the larger framework regarding Paul’s “painful letter” cited all the way back in chapter 2:1-4. Here, he writes of his overflowing joy and comfort based on the factors that he lists in the above text.
First, he found comfort and joy in the comfort provided by God (7:5-7). In addition to the discouragement Paul faced from the Corinthian’s behavior, he also faced additional challenges while in Macedonia. To top it off was his concern for the safety of Titus. Paul’s work undoubtedly extended beyond the Church at Corinth, and it was important that he disclose these issues lest the Corinthians think that they were the singular focus of his concerns. Here we find a passive reminder in this portion of the text that we should always keep in mind that every person we encounter is facing multiple battles in life. These additional battles are usually undisclosed, yet impact the interactions we have with them. Any time we are confronted by a problematic person, we should remember that there is usually more going on than meets the eye. Paul credits the comfort and encouragement he received from the arrival of Titus to God.
Second, Paul found comfort and joy because of the Corinthians response. Not only were they concerned for Paul’s health and well being, they had received his letter and responded with repentance. Confrontation that is motivated by love will always be difficult. In fact, I never trust the motives of a person who claims to enjoy confrontation. Paul acknowledged that his letter had been hard to write as well as hard to hear. Perhaps this is what he meant by “speaking the truth in love.” (cf. Ephesians 4:15) His regret diminished when he learned that the recipients responded appropriately. Repentance is part of our ongoing discipleship process and not limited to the initial profession of one’s faith. It’s not merely feeling sorry or being sorry. It is a change of heart and mind that leads to a change of behavior. It has been said that the two greatest motivations for change are pain and beauty. In the Corinthians case, the pain of confrontation led them to the needed change.
Finally, Paul found comfort and joy because of their emerging relationship with Titus (7:13-16). Some are more receptive to emissaries and representatives than others. The fact that they had welcomed him with open arms demonstrated a true breakthrough in Paul’s work and marked a new level of trust between him and the church. This step would enable Paul to continue his work through Titus and allow him to devote more time to other projects and demands.
Paul was able to celebrate progress without demanding perfection. The fact that no one is perfect is not new. But we cannot allow our imperfection to be an excuse for not attempting to make progress and grow. If we demand perfection from ourselves (or others, for that matter), we’ll do one of three things. We’ll either become discouraged and give up, we’ll break every rule necessary to accomplish our goals, or we’ll affix blame on others and make excuses. A healthier, more balanced way to live is to focus on making progress, one step at a time.