Well, let’s open our Bibles to 2 Corinthians chapter 7. Chapter 7 and back to the section – verses 5 through 16. I really thought that this would be a two-message section, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.
And as I told you a couple of weeks ago, this section is very personal; it’s the apostle Paul talking about some very personal issues regarding his own feelings, his own attitudes, his own relationship to Titus and to the Corinthian church. And we titled this section “Comfort out of Conflict. Comfort out of conflict. We can all identify with conflict. Maybe not specifically that which occurred in the life of Paul here, or that which might occur in a pastor’s life, but we can all identify with conflict, and we can all identify with finding comfort in the midst of that conflict.
And so, this passage, while it is specifically Paul and the Corinthians, certainly has overtones that relate to all of us. And as I said last time, it could easily be titled “Restoring the Grieving Pastor’s Joy,” because that’s really what is chronicled here. It is a narrative section. It’s not a doctrinal or theological section. It’s not polemical. It’s not argumentative. It’s just Paul talking about his attitude with regard to the Corinthians and all that is going on at this particular time, waiting for Titus to come back and report on their response to the letter that he sent them.
And you remember that until the time he wrote this letter, he was “depressed.” That is the word used in verse 6. He was depressed. Depressed because he was grieving about the Corinthian church. They had allowed false teachers to come in and pollute the situation. One of them, one of the members of the Corinthian church had become literally a ringleader in an anti-Paul group and led a sort of mutiny following these false teachers. Apparently, when Paul went there to confront that in a personal visit, that individual confronted him, attacked him face to face, and the church did nothing about it. They never dealt with the man. And Paul was deeply hurt because they allowed the false teachers; deeply hurt by the rebellion and the mutiny, and saddened greatly by the fact that they failed to deal with that man or the others who were part of the rebellion in the church.
And it wasn’t just self-pity; he wasn’t that kind of a person. It wasn’t for his own sake that he grieved; it was because if they were alienated from him, then they were alienated from the voice of God and the one through whom God spoke. And they would be alienated from his teaching and from his leadership, and they would fall under the tutelage of false apostles.
So, he had sent this other letter, called the severe letter – it’s not in the New Testament – and also sent Titus, and he was waiting for Titus to come back and give him a report about how they responded. And until Titus came, he was very depressed about the whole situation.
So, he has identified the conflict, the anxiety of his heart as he waits for Titus. Look at verse 5, “Even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest. We were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus.”
And as we saw in our last message, when Titus came, the news was basically good. He had been suffering a severe trial. He couldn’t rest. He was distressed on the outside and the inside. And, of course, you can add to that, as we mentioned a number of times, persecution. He wasn’t just troubled on the inside, he was involved with conflict on the outside because there was so much persecution, as we noted in other passages, every day he awoke, realizing this might be his last day on earth because he might be killed by an enemy of the gospel.
So, you can take all the persecution on the outside; you can take the worry, the fear, the anxiety on the inside caused by the breach due o the sin of the Corinthians. And then he waits for the severe letter, waits for Titus, and he has no comfort until finally Titus comes. And in verse 6, “When Titus came, he comforted us.” Verse 7, “Not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you.”
When Titus finally came, just having Titus there was comforting, and then when Titus told him that he himself had been comforted by the Corinthians, that even added more greatly to Paul’s comfort.
Now, the idea here then is simply this, broken relationships produce pain - any kind of broken relationships, but especially those which are spiritual. It is a grievous thing, for example, when you have a very dear friend, and that friend defects in some way spiritually. And the relationship is broken, and it is – it is hampered. It is maybe even severed significantly.
And you long for the relationship for the relationship’s sake, but more than that, you grieve not only because the friendship has been so severely violated, but because this person has wandered off into sin and the implications of that are even greater. The same thing is true in a marriage. When a partner steps into sin, the severing of the relationship is pain enough, but when that partner engages in sinful conduct, it is compounded. The same thing happens in a family where children alienate themselves from their parents. It’s one thing to bear the alienation; it’s something else if that child moves into some kind of conduct which is disobedience to God, and which puts them in a position of suffering the consequence of iniquity, and that even compounds the severe pain.
And so, that’s where Paul is. He is hurting deeply because there is an unrequited love with the Corinthians. There is a severing of the relationship, but more than that, it is compounded because they are putting themselves under the seducing of false teachers and cutting themselves off from the blessing of God and bringing themselves into an iniquitous situation which can produce discipline from the Lord.
So, Titus comes and gives the good news, and the good news is the Corinthians have responded positively. So, you can feel what Paul felt. It would be like sending a messenger to your friend and trying to bring reconciliation, and the messenger comes back and says, “Yes, your friend wants full reconciliation.” Or to your spouse that has left you and engaged in sin, “Yes, your spouse wants to come back and restore the marriage and wants everything to be as it was. Or that wayward child. And you send someone to that wayward child, and the child comes back, and the message is, “Yes, I want that restored relationship.”
While we were in Brazil, a missionary couple came to us, a mother, and she handed me a letter, and she said, “Would you please do me a favor? Would you give this to my son? My son lives in Los Angeles. My son has wandered away from the Lord. Here we are down here in Brazil. We don’t know how to deal with this young man whom we love so deeply.” This is exactly what they were feeling. “Could you please make sure he gets this letter” - and then the kicker on the end was - “personally?” “Please don’t mail it. Please invite him to come to church and give it to him there.”
And I understand all of that. And I know that that mother is going to wait for me to write her and tell her exactly how her son responds to the obligation that she has presented to me with regard to her son. And believe me; she will be waiting with baited breath, as well the husband, for whatever word we can bring about the response that they seek. I don’t know the contents of the letter, but I’m sure it’s a pleading letter to this young man. Well, that’s where Paul was. And when the news was good, he was thrilled.
Now, the response has several elements in it. And I’ve tried to divide this up in a manageable way. And I don’t want to – I don’t want to give more credit to this outline than it deserves. It’s maybe not that brilliant an outline, but I think it kind of sorts out the issues that are in this chapter that are part of the cause for joy in a restored relationship. And the first one is loyalty. Loyalty. He says, “He reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me” – and you could put “for me” – and you could put for me at the end of all three of those - “your longing for me, your mourning for me, and your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more.”
“Even more than just being with Titus, even more than hearing he was comforted, I rejoiced because of your longing, mourning, zeal for me.” Those three things describe, in my mind, the components of a loyal love. “Longing” means and intense yearning for a restored relationship. “Mourning” means sorrow and regret for their foolish disaffection toward Paul, who loved them so deeply. “Zeal” – passion to make things right.
So, Titus says the majority attitude is loyalty. And as I mentioned to you last time, disloyalty’s the most crushing thing that a pastor – or for that matter anyone – can receive from someone to whom they have poured out their love and service. It cuts the heart as deeply as anything. Disloyalty is a crushing blow. Pauli experienced plenty of it. We all experience it. It’s part of life. People betray us. They are disloyal to us, but it never is easy.
I remember a number of years ago, walking into the office here and looking at several of the young men who were a part of our staff in those early years, and saying to them, “I just want you to know that it is one of the great riches of my life to count you as friends.” And there was silence in that moment.
And then the reply came from one, “If you think we’re your friends, you got another thing coming.” And that day surfaced a mutiny that had been brewing in this church, in its early years, among some on the staff. And in all the years, as I look back over the ministry here, that was the most crushing day that I ever experienced. I couldn’t understand it.
We all know what it is to experience disloyalty. By the way, I’m happy to say that over a period of five years or more after that – probably five to six years – every one of those men, all of whom left the church at that time, came back and sought forgiveness with tears. And that was cause for infinite joy.
But disloyalty is a crusher. And Paul knew it; he experienced it; we all do. We all know the joy of the restoration of that. Loyalty doesn’t depend on perfection. “Loyal love covers a multitude of sins,” as Peter says. Paul knew what it was to have loyal love; he also knew what it was to lose it. And here he knows what it is to have it back again.
The second thing I want to talk to you about, and we’ll move on to our second point and probably take up the morning, is that Paul was encouraged not only by their loyalty – he rejoiced over their loyalty – but secondly, this repentance. After much opposition and confusion and his strong confrontation to them, they proved to be loyal to him – the majority did – and as I said last time, that’s the most desirable of human virtues in terms of human relationships, but they also demonstrated repentance. Repentance.
It’s one thing to be loyal to the person; it’s something else to see your disloyalty as an iniquity, as a sin. And that you have to address before God. And that’s part of it. I mean that’s part of a real restoration, whether you’re talking about a friendship, a marriage, or a family. Yes, there can be a restoration on the human level and a reconstructing of a loyal love, but there has to also be, if it’s going to be genuine and last, a recognition that that disaffection was sinful. And certainly with regard to Paul and the Corinthians it was indeed sinful.
So, he moves from how they responded to him to how they responded to God about how they had responded to him. Their response to God was right. Look at verse 8. “For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it – for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while – I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful, according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.”
Well, this is a very, very important and enlightening two verses. Let me just give it to you very simply, and then we’ll look a little more deeply. He knew the letter he had sent was very harsh, very confrontational, and very severe. He knew that it would strongly confront their sin, and he knew it could produce sorrow. After all, it was written with tears, as he says in chapter 2, verse 4.
It was written out of anguish of heart. And the letter must have been just loaded with pathos, loaded with confrontational words directed at them, bringing sanity to their insanity and taking a hard look at what they were really doing. Paul wrote it with a broken heart. It must have bled all over the place. It must have wept when they held it in their hands as they read it and caused them tears. And in regard to that, he says in verse 8, “Though I caused you sorrow by my letter.” “By” - literally the Greek – “by the letter of me,” referring to the severe letter which confronted their mutiny. He said, “I know I caused you sorrow, but I don’t regret it.” And the reason he doesn’t regret it is because of what it produced. His purpose was not to make them sad. It wasn’t just that; he wasn’t just trying to drown them in emotions. He wrote not to make them sad, but to bring them to repentance. And sadness is a part of repentance, and I want you to mark that in your mind, because that is crucial. He was motivated by his love for them and his love for the truth and his fear of the consequence of their sins. That’s what motivated him. He didn’t want them to lose their relationship to him, because that would affect their ability to be taught the truth, and he was afraid of the consequence they would suffer for their sins.
In fact, in chapter 2, verse 9, referring to the severe letter, he said, “I wrote that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient. I’m concerned about our obedience, not just your sorrow. I don’t want you to just wallow in sorrow.”
Now, ministry demands strong, confrontive words. Sin crouches at the door. False teachers are everywhere. Satan seeks to destroy the work of God. And there are times for very strong words. And these words are meant to produce obedience, which can only come about when there is repentance, which can only come about when there is sorrow over sin. And so though he had not written just to make them sad, sadness was the path to repentance, repentance the path to obedience, as we will see later in the passage.
Now he says, then, “Though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I don’t regret it.” Then he puts this little phrase, “though I did regret it.” That’s just a parenthetical phrase. “I did regret it.” What do you mean you did regret it? During the period of time, when he was waiting for Titus to come back, and feeling anxious, and feeling worried, and feeling depressed, and having no rest for his spirit, no rest for his flesh – he uses both those phrases – during that period of time, he had some emotional remorse about having written it, because he was afraid it might have pushed them further away.
This is a very important note, because when you’re dealing with people who need to be confronted, you always feel this. You say, “I have to be strong; I will be strong. This calls for strong words; this calls for confrontation.” And then you do the confrontation, and you always have sort of a bit of remorse, feeling, “Oh, boy, maybe I pushed this deal too hard, and maybe the effect is going to be to drive this person away.” And Paul felt that. It’s comforting to me because I know what that feels like.
Sometimes, when you’re in a confrontational situation, at the time you are exercised by the iniquity and the sin, and you are confronting this issue with the individual or individuals, and you put it all out in the strongest way that you can, and then later on, you walk away, and you say to yourself, “Oh, I wonder if I was lacking compassion or grace, or maybe it was too much, maybe it was too firm, it was too strong, and I hope it won’t push them the wrong direction.”
Paul struggled with that very same thing. And I suppose you could conclude that sometimes, in confronting sin, we have to go beyond what our emotion would normally allow us to go, beyond what our love might allow us to go, beyond what our normal compassion might allow us to go because we’re dealing with a killer here. We’re dealing with something that is so deadly.
I don’t think there’s a parent in the world, who has disciplined their children, who hasn’t walked away from some discipline situations and said, “I hit him too hard; that was too severe. I wish I hadn’t said that.” And sometimes you run back and pull that little one into your arms, and even suggesting by your action, if not your words, that maybe you overdid it. We all understand that, don’t we? We all understand that sometimes when we confront a friend, maybe it was too much, too strong. And that’s what Paul was feeling.
In reality, he knew it was right. It had to be dealt with. “I do not regret it, though for a while,” he says, “emotionally, when I look back on it, I did regret it.” It’s like a father. Like a father who struggles with ambivalence about how firmly he disciplines his loved child, wanting to inflict pain, at the same time not wanting to inflict pain. And you gave that little speech, “This hurts me worse than you,” which your child could not comprehend.
Paul had no pleasure in such rebuking, no pleasure at all. It hurt him. It hurt him so much that it depressed him. Now, that’s an honest disciplinary. There’s no abusiveness in this man. He finds no morbid pleasure in necessary punishment, no morbid pleasure in necessary confrontation. He finds no ego satisfaction in it. In fact, he has an initial regret, a metamelomai is the Greek term. Fearing that he may have been too harsh, that always should be – and let me say it clearly – that always should be the lingering heart of one who disciplines or confronts the sinner. It indicates real compassion. But when he saw the results, he didn’t have any regrets.
“I did regret it,” he says in verse 8, “but I don’t now, because I see that that letter caused you sorrow, but the sorrow was just for a while.” What love, what affection this man has. He is a very reluctant disciplinarian. Why? Because he loved his people so greatly. This is such a marvelous model. There are strong and ugly authoritarian type people who throw their weight around and crush people in the process. Sometimes their sin needs to be dealt with, but it’s dealt with in a compassionless, loveless way. Not Paul. He was a reluctant disciplinarian. And that’s the kind of discipline that comes out of a compassionate heart.
He loved his people so deeply – listen to this – that he actually felt the pain when they were hurt. Can you identify with that as a parent? You know you have to discipline your child. You know you have to confront your child. You know you have to sometimes put the rod to your child. And it does hurt you as much or more than them. It crushes you. You are a reluctant disciplinarian. You know it’s right, but your love is so deep and so profound that you can’t do it without feeling the pain. That’s what puts the controlling element on your discipline. And that is the proper attitude of a parent. That’s the proper attitude of a pastor. That’s the proper attitude of anyone who confronts sin. It’s even God’s attitude.
Go to Hebrews 12 sometime and read it. God chastens every son whom He loves. And believe me, it is a grief to him to do that. But Paul’s sorrow was short lived. His regret was brief, because their sorrow was brief. That phrase “only for a while” in the Greek is literally an hour. Metaphorically refers to just a brief time. Your sorrow is just for a while.
Let me give you a little principle. In sin – in sin, the pleasure is for a little while, and the sorrow remains. In repentance the sorrow is for a little while, and the pleasure remains.
Paul had no pleasure in their grief, only in their good response. Summarizing, he said, “Yes, even if I caused you pain by my letter, I’m not sorry for it. While I was tempted to feel sorry, when I saw how my letter had caused you momentary pain, but now I’m glad. And I’m not glad because of the momentary pain, but because the momentary pain produced repentance.
In fact, verse 9, I now rejoice. Not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance. He had no joy in their sin; he had no joy in their sorrow; he had joy only in their repentance. Theirs was the right kind of sorrow. It was not the sorrow of selfish sympathy, “Poor me,” self-pity. It was not the sorrow of getting caught and being cut off from the pursuit of your iniquity and thus your lust is unfulfilled. It was not the sorrow of interrupted iniquity; it was not the sorrow of weak sensitivity; it was not the sorrow of despair; it was not the sorrow of bitterness; it was not the sorrow of wounded pride; it was not the sorrow that’s often expressed of manipulative remorse. It was the real thing.
And he says it here in verse 9, “It was the sorrow of repentance.” The sorrow of metanoia, the sorrow of turning around and going the other direction. It was the sorrow of a real change. No defensiveness, no victimization mentality, no self-vindication, no self-justification, no self-defense, and no resentment. Just sorrow unto repentance, the real deal, the real transformation, the real change.
“And this sorrow” – he says in verse 9 – “is sorrow according to the will of God.” This is the kind of sorrow God wants you to have. It is consistent with God’s will for you, the very kind of sorrow God intended them to feel. And God approved of their sorrow. As I said, it wasn’t just self-pity or human remorse, which leaves God out all together. It was that healing, transforming, uplifting sorrow over sin that has God at the core of it, because it produces repentance.
Now, you remember 2 Timothy 2:25 says, “God may grant them repentance.” Repentance is the work of God in the heart, but, of course, not apart from the willingness of the individual. God had done His work in their heart, and they had willingly responded.
This is an ideal picture of a restored relationship. You confront the sin. The person responds with sorrow – sorrow that is not, in any sense, self-preserving, but sorrow that is a full admission of sin. And that sorrow leads to repentance.
Why was this so comforting to Paul? At the end of verse 9 he adds this final statement, “In order that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.” What is he saying? SO many spiritual things come to you through us. There’s so much for you in this relationship that God is going to do through me. And he always uses us because he’s so selfless. He uses a sort of a collective editorial plural pronoun, but he’s talking about himself and those who minister along side of him, too.
But he’s saying there’s so much that comes to you through us, and I don’t want you to suffer the loss of it. I mean it would be like a – if you take this into the family, it would like a godly spouse saying to a sinning spouse, “You’re gone, and I feel the hurt, the loneliness. You’re gone, and you’re in sin, and I feel the pain that you’re suffering because you’ve chosen to sin. But the thing that really breaks my heart is God is working through me and desires to work through me in your life, and you’ve cut yourself off from that.”
It’s the same with a parent. You would look at a wayward child, and you would feel the pain of the separation; you would feel the pain of them falling into iniquity, but you would hurt because you have no opportunity to minister to them as God works in your life, because they’ve severed that. And the same is true in a church.
And Paul is saying, “Look, you’ve cut me off. And God is working through me, and you’re going to suffer loss – the loss of those things which God would do in your life through the agency of this apostle.”
The phrase “suffer loss” also appears in 1 Corinthians 3:15. It says there, “If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss.” Looking there at the future, there could be things in our lives, and certainly there are, and there will be accumulated things that when it comes to the judgment, they’re just going to burn up because they were nothing but wood, hay, and stubble.
And Paul could be looking that far ahead as well. “You’ll suffer the immediate loss of my ministry in your life and all the things that God can do in your life through me. You’re going to suffer the loss of all of that, and in the end, you’re going to have a lot of wood, hay, and stubble” - because these are believers. “You’re going to have a lot of wood, hay, and stubble that’s going to go up and smoke. You’re going to suffer loss then as well.”
It’s a good thing, you know, for people to remember that if you have the privilege of being married to a godly person, if you young people have godly parents, if you have godly influences in your life through friendships, if you have godly pastors and leaders in your life, you need to stay as close to them as you can because God works through them to your benefit, to your advantage. Stay as close to them as you can.
You remember in 1 Corinthians chapter 7, where it even says an unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife. Why? If you’re just in the same house where God is pouring out blessing on an unbeliever, it’s going to splash on you.
Paul says, “My fear is that you’re the one who suffers loss.” Now, there is the compassionate heart. He’s not a man with a wounded ego. This isn’t some kind of thing where he feels somehow he’s not getting his due because they’ve turned their back on him or he’s going down the ranks in popularity. His pain has to do with what they lose, not what he loses. He couldn’t lose anything anyway; he didn’t have anything. All he wanted was Christ, and that was enough.
You could lose your present blessing; you could lose your reward. Second John 8, “Look to yourselves, that you lose not the things which you have wrought, but that you receive a full reward.” You could bring yourself under the chastening of God; you could separate yourself from the – from this beloved apostle and all the truth he preaches and teaches. I mean you’ve have to be an absolute fool to do that.
I mean it – but, you know, I think people are foolish enough. I’m sure that if the apostle Paul was a pastor in this town, right here in the San Fernando Valley, a lot of people would go to other churches. It never ceases to amaze me how people make decisions like that. But if I was anywhere near where this guy was, I’d be there every time the man stood up to speak, and I’d be walking behind him everywhere he went, asking him every question I could think of, and getting every insight into life I could possibly find. How absolutely foolish would it be to cut yourself off from the single greatest channel of divine revelation alive in the world.
He wanted their spirituality. He wanted their eternal reward to be everything that God would have desired it to be for them. He wanted the positive results of their repentance. So, that’s the very good point. It wasn’t that he just wanted them to be sorry so that he could enjoy their pain in his own self-pity and say, “See, suffer a little yourself; you made me suffer.” It wasn’t that. It wasn’t that he just wanted them sorrowful; it wasn’t that he just wanted them repentant; it was that he wanted them blessed. That’s why.
And that’s why you discipline. That’s always why you discipline. Because it produces the peaceable fruit of righteousness Hebrews 12 said. It’s seems grievous for the time, but it’s what it produces in the end that makes the difference.
Paul then extends this thought into verse 10, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation” – or literally to salvation – “but the sorrow of the world produces death.” This is a very important verse. The sorrow that is according to the will of God that is produced by the Holy Spirit over sin. Okay? This is sin sorrow.
The sorrow that is according to the will of God 0 that kind of sorrow that pleases God, that kind of sorrow that is right because it leads to repentance, will produce a repentance without regret. No one who truly repents will ever regret doing it. Get that? No one who truly repents will ever regret doing it - listen carefully – and there’s no way to repent apart from sorrow.
So, you have to look at the situation, recognize the sin, and part of repenting is sorrow. And if there’s no real sorrow, it’s questionable whether there’s any repentance. And this is a non-regrettable repentance because – that little phrase – it leads to salvation, or it produces salvation, or it belongs in the realm of salvation.
So, Paul is not talking about some human kind of repentance, some kind of human moral shift. He’s not talking about some sociological change. He’s not talking about changing what you do in order to somehow tweak the circumstances and produce a better effect. He is talking about a repentance that involves a real sorrow over sin, that has God at the very heart of it and is a part of the whole saving environment. It leads to salvation. It is part of salvation, the outcome of which is eternal salvation. It’s that kind of repentance.
He is saying what God is pleased with and what God wants is the kind of repentance that belongs in the realm of the redeemed or the saved. Real repentance, real sorrow over sin, sorrow toward God that issues in a desire to leave that sin, turn from that sin, restore completely the relationship, that’s in the sphere of salvation.
And the little phrase “leading to salvation” or “to salvation” – you see “leading” is in italics; maybe that’s not the best verb to you – this kind of salvation that is a – or this kind of repentance that is in the sphere of salvation, that is to say it is transcended, it is not human, it is not psychological, it is not emotional, it is not circumstantial, it is not behavioral, it is spiritual, because the end of the verse, any other sorrow short of that doesn’t produce repentance and salvation; it produces – what? – death.
All human sorrow without God, all unsanctified remorse has no healing power, no transforming power, no saving power, no redemptive capability. The only sorrow that makes a difference is the sorrow that leads to repentance before God, and only that is redemptive, healing, saving sorrow - any other kind of sorrow doesn’t lead to life; it just leads to death - and that’s the kind of sorrow you never regret. Such sorrow that is real, that comes in an honest recognition of sin, produces genuine regret over sin and shame and guilt, leads to repentance that leads to salvation. And the Corinthians were demonstrating, by their kind of repentance, that they were really in the sphere of salvation; they were really believers.
Now, this is, in my mind, the best or equal to the best passage in the Bible to teach about repentance. It’s kind of the one doctrinal thing in this whole flow of verses here.
So, let me make a comment or two that is very germane. There are people – and I just heard this again on the radio the other day, and I was chagrined and appalled to listen – Christian radio station – there are those who insist on denying that repentance is necessary for salvation.
I was listening to a very well-known Christian radio program in which they spent the whole half hour trying to make everyone understand that sorrow over sin and such attendant repentance is not necessary for salvation. To those people, this verse presents an impossible obstacle. It couldn’t be more clear that the sorrow that is according to the will of God, which is defined in verse 9, as a sorrow to the point of repentance, produces a repentance one never regrets, that leads to salvation, and any other kind of sorrow produces death. I mean you can’t escape the significance of this. Confront sin. It produces sorrow; it leads to repentance, which leads to salvation.
You cannot escape the clear, explicit statement of this verse. For those who insist on denying that repentance is necessary for salvation, this verse presents an impossible obstacle.
And for those who are wise enough to recognize the necessity of repentance, and realize that repentance is necessary for salvation, but are still foolish enough to define that repentance as simply changing your mind about who Jesus is, this text is also insurmountable. I engaged myself in that theological debate in 1988 when I wrote The Gospel According to Jesus. That book, as you perhaps remember, catapulted that particular debate into massive proportions.
There were people saying that you don’t have to repent to be saved. And there were others saying that you do have to repent, but repent just means change your mind about who Jesus is. You didn’t think He was the Savior; now you do. It has nothing to do with sin and nothing to do with sorrow. In those cases, this verse becomes an insurmountable problem. Because this passage defines repentance as sorrow, and the context defines that sorrow as sorrow over iniquitous behavior. It is that kind of sorrow, which leads to that kind of repentance, which leads to salvation.
So, the repentance which leads to salvation is defined as being sorry. Not just having a new idea about Jesus Christ, or getting some new information about who He is. The Corinthians had been confronted about their sin. They’d been called to repent. They had to see their iniquity. They had to feel sorrow over it, abandon it, and seek to do what pleased God. And what pleased God was that they would turn from their sin and turn to Him.
Now, even the elements – the elements of this sorrow are spelled out in verse 11, and this even goes deeper into it. How do you define this sorrow? What does it look like? Here it is, “Behold, what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you.” So, wherever godly sorrow is, there’s an earnestness.” And then, “What vindication of yourselves, what indignation” – what are you mad about, what are you indignant about? – your sin – “what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong!” I mean that sorrow. That is it.
There is an earnestness about it. There is – there’s a desperate need to vindicate yourself, to change, to get back where you need to be. There’s indignation over your sin; there’s fear of the consequence. There’s a longing for what is right, there’s a passion for what is pure. And when you have that, you have godly sorrow. And godly sorrow produces repentance, and repentance leads to salvation. And by the way, we’re going to study verse 11, but not this morning.
Now, the only other kind of sorrow Paul describes is deadly, the end of verse 10. The sorrow of the world produces death. The sorrow of the world is wounded pride, self-pity, unfulfilled hopes.
I see a lot of sorry people, don’t you? I see them on the news all the time. Sad people. Sad people. Sorry – sorry about all kinds of things. And their sorrow is a killer. Do you know what it produces? Guilt, shame, despair, depression, self-pity, hopelessness, anguish, resentment. Do you know what that does? That kills people. That kills people. People die because of sorrow. I tell you, I can’t tell you how many times I have seen older couples living happily along; one partner dies. The other one, in perfect health, is dead in a year. And when you ask why, just abject sorrow, unable to live without that partner.
Psalm 32 talks about guilt over sin. David says, “My life juices have dried up.” Literally, the mental torment, the anguish of guilt affected the bodily fluids, which affected the bodily function.
And sometimes - you have Judas; he was so sorry he killed himself. On the other hand, Peter failed greatly, denied the Lord. But his sorrow was not the worldly sorrow that makes you hang yourself; his was the godly sorrow that makes you weep and ask forgiveness.
The Corinthians were not moved by worldly sorrow. They weren’t simply moved by worldly remorse, but real sorrow, leading to real repentance, inextricably linked to salvation. Titus came, and he gave the report, and Paul rejoiced. Why? Because he told him of the people’s loyalty, and he told them of the people’s repentance. Now, that’s just two. We’ve got more to go next time. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank You this morning for, again, your Word, what a treasure it is, what a joy, privilege – so profound, so insightful, so rich, so practical. We are just so greatly encouraged to learn what we’ve learned today. Thank You for Your truth.
And, Lord, we ask that You would continue to produce in the hearts of those of us who are believers a real sorrow over real sin. We pray, Lord, that You’ll make us sorrowful unto repentance if there’s anything that we have done. If there are any relationships been broken and violated and breached, may we seek to be restored even as this congregation did. May we come to real sorrow, genuine repentance, and restoration. Fill us with a longing, a mourning, and a zeal for restoration.
For those, Lord, who’ve never known true repentance, I pray that You would grant them repentance leading to salvation, that You would cause them to see their sins, to see the desperate condition in which they exist now, and the even more desperate eternal condition which they will see future. And may they come, desiring to turn from sin and embrace the Savior, who by their repentance will grant to them eternal life. Give all of us, Lord, a repentance never to be regretted because it leads to joy; it leads to eternal reward.
Thank You for Your word to us, in Christ’s name, amen.
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