There I was, on the coast of southern Maine, and desperately homesick. It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college, and I had joined a ministry team doing beach outreaches. In addition to the usual challenges of team-based work, I struggled with being away from my family for the first time. After a while, all I could think about was going home.
Mom and Dad were more than willing to help, but they sensed rightly that abandoning my team would leave me more discouraged than sticking out the summer would. So, instead of paying for me to fly home, Mom bought herself a round-trip ticket to visit me.
During our week together nothing about my circumstances changed. All the same frustrations were still there. But Mom’s presence bolstered me. She reminded me why I’d traveled to Maine in the first place, and she helped put the remaining weeks of my ministry into perspective.
In 2 Corinthians 7:5-7, the apostle Paul talks about a similarly encouraging visit he was blessed to receive. During his second missionary journey, when he and Silas were staying in Troas on the northwest tip of Asia Minor, Paul had a vision of a man saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:6-10). Believing God was calling them to this new region, they immediately headed that way.
In Macedonia, Paul and Silas found an audience eager for the gospel. However, it didn’t take long for circumstances to turn tragic. The two men were arrested in Philippi (Acts 16:16-21) and later were attacked by a mob in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9). Paul was growing weary. “Our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side,” he wrote. And he wasn’t dealing only with “conflicts on the outside” but also with “fears inside” (2 Cor. 7:5). Troubles during his time in Macedonia were unrelenting. But in the middle of all this turmoil, “God, who comforts the discouraged, comforted us by the arrival of Titus,” Paul writes (2 Cor. 7:6).
The dangers of daily life in the first-century Roman Empire were unavoidable. What Paul needed, however, was not relief from his situation but a reminder of his calling.
Of course, there was little Titus could do to change Paul’s circumstances. The dangers of daily life in the first-century Roman Empire were unavoidable. What Paul needed, however, was not relief from his situation but a reminder of his calling. Seeing Titus, whom Paul considered a “true son in a common faith” (Titus 1:4), helped the apostle recall why he was enduring the difficulties of preaching the gospel.
There was an added dimension to Titus’s encouragement: He himself had just received the same comfort during his visit to Corinth. When Titus finally met up with Paul, he came refreshed and with a message about the “longing, mourning, and zeal” of the church of Corinth (2 Cor. 7:7). It’s like what Paul described earlier in his letter to the Corinthians: God “comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:4).
In His mercy, God sent Titus to Paul in Macedonia—and Mom to me in Maine—to pass on the encouragement He had provided to them. And He calls us to do the same for those in our own life who face discouragement. Sometimes that means showing up to offer tangible help: We bring meals, we mow the lawn, we offer a ride. Other times simply being present is enough. We’re the face in the audience, we fill a seat at the table, we occupy a chair at the bedside. And always with the knowledge that God has and will bring the same comfort to us through others when we need it.