2 Corinthians 7:2-16
2 Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. 3 I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. 4 I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.
5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 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. 8 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.
10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. 12 So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. 13 Therefore we are comforted.
And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. 14 For whatever boasts I made to him about you, I was not put to shame. But just as everything we said to you was true, so also our boasting before Titus has proved true. 15 And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. 16 I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you. 
In the summer of 1527, plague struck the city of Wittenberg, Germany. One of its first victims was the great reformer, Martin Luther. Though he was ordered to leave the city, Luther refused. He insisted that it was the duty of the church to minister to the sick and dying. Even more threatening than the plague itself was the melancholy that overtook Luther during this time of exhausting ministry. One writer described Luther’s lifelong struggles this way:
Luther’s depression was always marked by the same features: a feeling of profound aloneness, a sense that God was singling him out for suffering, a loss of faith that God is good and good to me, and a resulting inward self-reliance. Luther’s depression only intensified under the burden of the Reformation’s unforeseen fruit. The more that regularly hurting Christians sought him as a physician of souls, the more acutely he felt the weight of responsibility for his teaching and writing. He couldn’t shake the notion that the reforms he advocated might destroy—rather than revive—the church. Sickness, unbelief, and anxiety conspired and drove him to the brink of despair.
Luther found that turning his scripture meditations into hymns allowed him to process God’s great love for him and lifted him out of those seasons of despair that he referred to as anfechtung, “assault.” For Luther, like the Apostle Paul, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is the declaration of our enemy’s demise (Col. 2:13–15). His kingdom is forever (Heb. 1:8; John 16:33) and the devil’s kingdom is rotting away (1 John 2:16).
Our reality in this sin-cursed world is that believers sometimes get depressed. Those of us who have set our minds on “the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1) are not immune to times of assault from the world, the flesh, and the devil. If those who have climbed to spiritual heights most of us will never attain in this life have been subjected to despair, then we can be assured that eventually we will all catch “that common cold of the soul.”
Seasons of depression were part of the Apostle Paul’s experience. Paul describes himself as “downcast,” which the NASB translates as, “depressed.” In 6:11 he wrote, “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open.” In this section, he proves that statement by opening up his heart to tell the Corinthians why he had been down in the dumps and what snapped him out of it: “5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we had afflictions at every turn—intense conflicts without and severe fears within” (the three main verbs are pleural indicating great intensity).
His “misery in Macedonia” was largely due to his anxiety over the Corinthian church to which he had written a severe letter after they rejected his apostolic teaching in favor of their own immoral desires. Deeply concerned about how the Corinthians would respond, Paul sent Titus to Corinth, carrying the severe letter with him, to find out how the church would respond. Titus was then to meet Paul in Troas and report on the results. But the plan fell apart. Titus was delayed and Paul’s stress increased.
Fearing for the state of the Corinthian church AND for Titus’ wellbeing, Paul left Troas and traveled to Macedonia (2:12-13). Proving that “no matter where you go, there you are,” Paul entered another mess in Macedonia. His “fightings without” refer to angry disputes with believers and unbelievers alike.
By this time in his ministry, Jewish synagogues were on the lookout for Paul the “heretic.” Pagan priests and religious artisans zealously defended their livelihood from this man who turned their worshippers into Jesus-followers. Judaizers infiltrated the churches with their false teachings of human “covenant loyalty” as a condition of salvation. Paul endured a flood of conflict he could not escape.
In addition, he experienced “severe fears within.” He was not afraid of losing his life. He’s written clearly to the contrary:
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
Paul’s inner fears we’re always about his ministry. He wrote to the Galatians, “I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain” (Gal. 4:11). To the Thessalonians, he wrote, “for this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain” (1 Thes. 3:5). In chapter 11 of this letter, he will write, “there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and am I not weak? Who is made to fall, and am I not indignant?” (11:8-290).
Ministerial fears pressed down upon the apostle. He was constantly fearful over the troubled souls in his congregations and the possibility that they might fall away from the faith. There was never a time when everyone was happy with him, and someone was not bad-mouthing him. As R. Kent Hughes writes:
Ecclesiastic conflicts were his daily fare, and he was constantly writing to calm the waters and set things straight. Such depressing fears were recurrent for Paul, and the aggregate sometimes got him down.
To work in ministry means always accepting new happiness and new distress. One who gives himself or herself to others can never be completely sad and will never be someone of unclouded gladness. To those who minister, there is before us a cup of yet-untasted joy. But it will always be mixed with a tinge of sorrow.
The true minister is others-focused far more than self-focused. All of Paul’s fears and fightings came because of his concern for others. Paul’s connectedness to others was the basis for his depression and for his comfort and joy. This is a passage about how God ministers comfort and joy to those who minister through the new covenant of reconciliation.
THROUGH TITUS (6-7)
How would you comfort the downcast Apostle Paul? Would you send him a website article on depression or joy? Would you quote him some Psalm he knows from memory? Maybe you would remind him of things he’s previously written or preached. Perhaps you would shove some theology in his direction and demand that he repent like Job’s friends ultimately did to him. We love to “fix” other people’s problems, usually in the most unloving and insensitive way possible because that draws attention to us and makes us feel good about ourselves in an uncomfortable situation (self-focus). When we do that, we’re not really leaning INTO someone’s problems. We’re leaning AWAY from them.
God’s antidote for Paul’s depression comes in verse 6: “6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus….” Unexpectedly, Titus showed up in Macedonia, alive and safe and brimming over with good news! Paul’s discouragement began to lift like fog in the sunshine. God’s love and care flowed through Titus to Paul. God sent Titus, the one person who could calm Paul’s personal and professional fears. The joyful hug from Titus was God’s tender hug for Paul.
Paul quotes Isaiah 49:13, “Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.”  Paul knew his relief was entirely from God and spoke of God’s grace to his believing people through the new covenant of reconciliation Isaiah promised. Regardless of the human source, the comfort was from God. Titus’ words and actions were his alone, but primarily, they came from God’s will and decree. So, the glory belonged entirely to God.
As great as Paul’s joy was at seeing Titus, greater was his joy at the news that Titus himself was comforted by the Corinthians’ positive response to Paul’s severe letter. Verse 7, “7 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.” Paul’s others-focused life shines here. His downcast state was NOT for himself or his bruised ego but for Titus’s well-being and for the spiritual dangers faced by the Corinthians. But now his others-focused joy surges over Titus’ safety and the repentance of many in Corinth, evidenced in the longing, mourning, and zeal.
Verses 8 through 16 expand our view of the apostle as one who finds comfort and joy in the well-being of others as Paul then rejoices over those in Corinth who have repented.
THROUGH THE CORINTHIANS (8-13a)
Paul found writing his second letter to be a painful, distasteful necessity. He described it in 2:4, “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” Paul’s purpose in writing was to bring them to grief and repentance over their failure to follow the instructions of his first letter (1 Corinthians).
Following Titus’ news of the Corinthians’ response of Godly grief to the severe letter Paul opens his heart to them in verses 8-10:
8 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
Paul establishes something of what a believer’s repentance over sin looks like. He distinguishes it from the way our flesh naturally responds to being caught in wrongdoing. There is a fleshly, worldly grief that can be bitter and intense. Esau grieved and wept over the loss of his birthright but did not repent (Heb. 12:16-17).
Worldly grief is self-centered. It laments the circumstances, not the inwardly-curved, self-seeking attitudes that led to being caught. It sees itself as the center of the world. The horizon depends on upon where I stand. It has no concern over offending the Holy God. It simply aches with embarrassment and self-pity and the innate shame that all humanity received as its constant companion when Adam and Eve rejected God.
But godly grief comes from knowing your actions have displeased the God who reconciled you to himself at the cost of Christ’s blood. It’s the response Messiah Jesus commends in the second beatitude: “blessed are those who mourn” because their comfort is in Christ’s cross work to remove all their guilt and shame.
Such a grief is “blessed” because it drives us to God, not from God. It’s a necessary consequence of the work of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life. But tears are not always evidence of repentance. Worldly sorrow often cries over consequences and accomplishes nothing other than a weak promise to try harder to do better – which Paul says leads only to death.
Godly grief is so crucial for Paul to see that he describes it with an increasingly-intense sevenfold description: “11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.”
First, Paul commends their “earnestness.” Those among the congregation who were convicted by Paul’s second letter rejected their indifference and become intentionally serious about their lives. They eagerly desired to change their minds about their sin.
In the Garden of Eden, the serpent-dragon suggested to Adam and Eve that God was “toxic” and needed to be cut out of their lives. The Corinthians had responded to Paul in the same way. Paul was toxic and needed to be cut out of their lives because he was interfering with their self-salvation projects. Now, many had been eager to reconnect with both Paul and God.
Second, the repentant showed an “an eagerness to clear” themselves. Before his disciplinary letter, the people were, at best, apathetic to Paul and the words of God he spoke. Now, they were striving towards loyalty to the apostle and to the Lord. “Rid yourselves of toxic people in your life” is nothing more than a Satanic self-salvation project. The repentant flee towards God and towards God’s people.
Next Paul commends their “indignation.” As Barnett explains:
The now-lost “Severe Letter” arose from Paul’s second visit to Corinth when, so it appears, he suffered an act of injustice at the hands of another man (v. 12). In all probability Paul had been attempting to rectify a moral crisis in the congregation, perhaps connected with ongoing sexual and cultic involvement by some of the members (see on 6:14–7:1; 12:21–13:2). The failure of the church to support Paul the apostle in disciplining the offender meant that Paul’s future apostolic relationship with the church was in question.
Likely the repentant Corinthians were now indignant against the offender(s) who openly opposed Paul and indignant against the world, the flesh, and the devil manifested in their having seen Paul as a toxic false apostle.
Next, he praises their “fear.” They now had a greater understanding of God’s holiness and their own offenses against him by rejecting his Word given through Paul. On the flip side of the coin, they saw more of their need for Christ and more of his love for them.
Then, Paul commends their “longing.” They have a desire to set things right with Paul and showed it by their hospitable treatment of Titus. They displayed a “zeal” to honor Titus and Paul and restore their relationship.
He next marvels over their sense of “punishment,” likely referring to their disciplinary actions against those who openly stood up to Paul when he made his emergency visit and was driven out by the congregation.
Finally, after describing their sevenfold repentance, Paul exults in their Spirit-wrought change of mind. “At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” Their eventual response of repentance demonstrated a majority of the congregation really did possess the Holy Spirit through trust into the perfectly-lived life and sacrificial, blood-shedding death of the risen, ascended, and glorified Lord Jesus.
Again, Paul’s joy comes through others-focus, not in getting his own way. He concludes this section by writing: “12 So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. 13 Therefore we are comforted.” Paul’s others-focused distress was now quenched by others-focused comfort and joy as God worked in his people, in his timing, and in his way. His way is the great Christian two-step: trust and repentance.
Paul’s comfort arose out of his pastoral, others-directed heart to minister Christ to the lost and found alike. Others were now prospering spiritually, the very thing for which pastor Paul longed. This was the outcome he sought when he wrote the “severe letter.”
As he earlier explained in 2:1-3, “For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. 2 For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? 3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all.”
Others-sourced joy was a mark of Paul’s apostolic ministry. He called the congregation in Philippi, “my joy and crown” (Php. 4:1). He inquired of the Thessalonians, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy” (1 Thes. 2:19-20). One chapter later he writes in 1 Thessalonians, “for what Thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God?” (1 Thes. 3:9).
This others-focused joy was a characteristic of all the apostles. We see it in the Apostle John who writes of it in his third epistle. “I have no greater joy” he writes, “than to hear my children are walking in the truth” (3 Jn. 4). Self-centered, inwardly-curved hearts that trust themselves as the center of the world can never find the comfort that Paul and John experienced. Inwardly-curved hearts find it exceedingly difficult to discover joy in other people’s prosperity. They can only envision comfort and joy in terms of their own felt needs.
THROUGH TITUS’ REFRESHMENT (13b-16)
Paul’s cloud of discouragement was fully lifted by the report that Titus was refreshed by the penitent Corinthians. “13b And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all.” You can imagine Titus would have been worried about the kind of reception he would receive when carrying Paul’s letter of strong reproof to the church that had either virtually or directly kicked Paul out during his emergency visit. It was a long way to travel for a poor reception and nobody likes being the bearer of unwelcome news.
But any of Titus’ worries turned to joy as the Holy Spirit did his work among the people through the Apostle Paul’s inspired words. There was not only repentance, but there was also mutual love and joy.
14 For whatever boasts I made to him about you, I was not put to shame. But just as everything we said to you was true, so also our boasting before Titus has proved true. 15 And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. 16 I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you.
According to Paul, Titus and the repentant Corinthians developed a deep connection. The Corinthians treated him as a messenger of God. God used Titus’s safe arrival to minister comfort and joy to the downcast Apostle Paul. Second, God used the news of the Spirit’s work in Corinth to raise Paul’s flagging soul. Third, God used Titus’ joy to encourage Paul. God’s comfort and joy lifted Paul only because Paul had a Spirit-wrought heart able to receive it because he was others-focused, not self-focused.
God’s comfort comes most often through the ministry of others. In this sense, every believer is a minister to others when they offer God’s love and comfort to the downhearted. Your loving care of others, like that of the Corinthians to Titus, can even ripple out to still in need. The kindness is yours, but the consolation you offer flows from God.
Depression, discouragement, exhaustion visit even the godliest believers who follow God into battle against the world, the flesh, and the great serpent-dragon. They become squeezed and battered by fightings without and fears within. They need a loving hand to sooth their others-focused hearts.
Together, you can sing with Paul in his opening lines of this letter:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 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. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 7:2–16.
 Hughes, 2 Corinthians. Kindle Edition.
 2 Cor. 7:5. Trans. mine.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Php. 1:21–24.
 Hughes, op. cit.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 49:13.
 Barnett, 372.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 2:1–3.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 1:3–5.