The great time of looking into God’s Word that culminates our worship service I trust is a time that you look forward to as we hear the very voice of God through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit through the pages of Scripture.
We find ourselves in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that we know as 2 Corinthians, chapter 7. We’re looking at a portion of Scripture, starting in verse 5 and running to verse 16 to end the chapter.
We have entitled this section “Comfort out of Conflict.” And this will be our last message in this chapter. In John’s Gospel, chapter 13 and verse 20, Jesus said this, “He who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” That is a very, very important and notable statement. Let me say it again. Jesus said, “He who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”
The Corinthian church, frankly, would have done well to remember and honor that truth, but they did not. In fact, in rejecting Paul, as they had done, they rejected both the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father. By not receiving the one whom Jesus sent, they rejected Jesus and the one who sent Him, God the Father.
It is, then, an appalling sin that these Corinthians have committed against Paul, against Christ, and against God, because all three are inextricably linked together. The Father sends the Son, and the Son sends the messenger. It is then a serious thing to rebel against the one whom the Lord sends. That is why, in the book of Hebrews, we are reminded to submit to those who are over us in the Lord. They are sent by God, and we are to obey them and submit to them. And in so doing, thus we submit to Christ and to the Father who sent Him.
They are given the responsibility, according to Hebrews 13:17, of watching over our souls. And they have a delegated responsibility, on behalf of God and Christ, to watch over our souls. And the apostle Paul was a noble and faithful soul watcher, soul keeper.
In 2 Corinthians chapter 12 and verse, he said, “I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls.” He was a soul watcher, so serious and so devoted, that he would literally expend himself and even give his life to protect their souls. He understood his duty; he understood the nature of it; he understood who he represented as an undershepherd of Christ. But unfortunately, the Corinthians didn’t. And so, they had rebelled against Paul, defected from him, joined in a series of accusations made against him by false apostles, and they had allowed a mutiny to begin in their church, perhaps led by one in particular who had in him a messenger from Satan or at least was being assaulted by a demon who was leading this effort to discredit the beloved apostle.
And Paul, of course, then lost his joy and found in its place grief when his people did not treat him properly. Grief, by the way, that inner, unexpressed agony and groaning that can lead to tears was not alone the experience of Paul. You can go back to Jeremiah, who also had a similar situation, where faithful to the Lord he spoke the truth of God and endeavored to shepherd the people of God and was completely rejected to the degree that his sorrow ran so deep he said this, chapter 9, verse 1, “Oh that my head were waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night.” He said, “I don’t have enough tears to express my sorrow.
A similar attitude, of course, was that of our Lord Jesus Christ, who wept over the city of Jerusalem and said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I would have gathered you, but you would not.”
The Corinthians had brought intense grief to Paul. And as Hebrews 13:17 says, it became unprofitable to them. Because once his grief reached the proportions that it did, he no longer wanted to visit them; he no longer wanted to go see them, because he feared only greater sorrow. And so, they were severed from his influence and severed from his teaching.
Furthermore, the grief was compounded, because when he did write them, what he wrote them was confrontational rather than instructional. It was chastisement rather than encouragement. And so, the relationship had reached serious – a serious breach.
We’ve been looking at this relationship all the way through this letter. And you will remember that before writing this letter, he had all of these very depressing feelings about the Corinthian situation and their disaffection for him and their leaving him and violating the relationship and turning against him.
And so, he wrote them a letter called the severe letter. We’ve called it that. He also sent them Titus. They have received the letter; they have received Titus. Titus is on his way back, and Paul is waiting for Titus to report to him how they responded to the letter and to Titus’ visit. Did they turn from their mutinous attitude? Did they desire to restore the relationship with Paul? That was his heart’s desire, and he was waiting for Titus to bring him the report.
That’s where we pick it up in chapter 7, verse 5. Let me just set the scene by reading it, “For even when we came into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on very side: conflicts without” – no doubt referring to persecution – “and fears within.” No doubt referring to the depression he felt over this breach in their relationship. “But God” – verse 6 – “who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you.”
And so, the apostle Paul finally has his long-awaited rendezvous with Titus. It isn’t at Troas, as he had hoped it would be; it’s somewhere in Macedonia; he pursuing, Titus finally met him. And Titus brings him comfort by his own presence. Titus secondly brings him comfort because he reports how he was well received by the Corinthians. But Titus brings him comfort most of all, verse 7 says, because of his report. Based on that report, the end of the verse, he rejoiced even more.
It was wonderful to have Titus; it was wonderful to hear how they treated Titus, but it was most wonderful of all to hear the report of Titus. And Titus’ report is very simple, “They want your forgiveness; they want the relationship restored.” This brings tremendous joy to the heart of Paul. He loves these people dearly, and the broken relationship has been a depressing thing in his own experience.
Now, to bring this into the world in which we all live, we’ve been saying that we all understand the dynamics of a broken relationship. We all understand that – a broken friendship, a severed relationship with someone who was important to us, a broken marriage, a broken family where children leave, a broken relationship between brothers or brothers and sisters. We all understand that. We have all endured broken relationships. We’ve endured people who once were our friends who, by some inexplicable circumstances, have now become our enemies. And we all know what that feels like, and we all know how we would long to have that relationship restored.
Paul wanted to have restoration from the sorrowful, sinful breach that had come between himself and the Corinthians, due to no fault of his, but the sin in their own lives and the deception of the false apostles.
Well, Titus brings the good news, and the good news is that Corinthians want a full restoration. And immediately the question is, “Well, how can we be sure.” Right? We’ve heard that before. Somebody has done something to violate us; they’ve broken the relationship, gone off, said terrible things about us, behaved themselves in a very sinful way, and now, all of a sudden, they want the relationship back. How do we know it’s really real? How does a wife know she should take that husband back? How does a husband know he should take that wife back? How does a parent know he should take back those children? How does a friend know he ought to expose himself to that once-faithful friend after such sinful betrayal and not get hurt all over again even more deeply? How do we know we can trust that individual? How do we know that the desire for restoration is from the heart and is genuine?
Well, that’s a fair question, and it needs to be asked, and it always is asked. I suppose when we talk about divorces and broken marriages, which we do every week of the year here as a pastoral staff, the question that comes up all the time is, “How do I know that I can believe this person when they tell me they’ve changed and they really want to come back and make it right?” That is always the issue. “What do I look for? What’s the evidence of reality here? How do I know repentance is real?”
And so, in this text, as Paul rehearses for us this meeting with Titus, out of this terrible conflict comes comfort to the apostle’s heart, because he can see there are several elements that indicate genuineness. The elements of a genuine desire for a restored relationship, whether it’s to a friend, to a church, to leadership of a church, to a marriage, to a family - whatever it might be - here are the elements by which you will recognize a genuine desire for real restoration.
Element number one is loyalty. We saw that in verse 7, “He reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me so that I rejoiced even more.” And I simply need to remind you that the fact that they longed for Paul, they mourned over the thing that had happened between them, and they had this passionate drive to make it right and to be restored indicates they were reaffirming their loyalty. And that’s at the heart of everything. “Please, we regret the disloyalty. We want to reaffirm we are loyal.”
And that little phrase “for me” should be put after each of those statements in verse 7 – “longing for me, mourning for me, your zeal for me.” They wanted that relationship restored. They were loyal from the heart. And they wanted to reestablish the broken relationships.
Secondly, we said another element of genuineness in a restored relationship is repentance. Repentance. And we talked about that last time. Let me just read you verses 8 to 10. “Though I caused you sorrow by my letter” – obviously because it confronted this sin – “I do not regret it; though I did regret it” – he had a little bit of remorse, a little fear that they might not react positively; but he says – “I don’t regret it now - because 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” – or with a godly sorrow – “in order that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.
“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation. But the sorrow of the world produces death.”
He says, “I know that your heart’s desire for a restored relationship is real, because I see your repentance, and your repentance is not just worldly sorrow; it’s godly sorrow. That is evident. I rejoice that you were made sorry, and that your sorrow was godly sorrow that leads to repentance. This was sanctified remorse, demonstrating that they were saved. It was in the sphere of – the realm of – with reference to salvation.
Remember now, Paul was a reluctant disciplinarian. He found no pleasure in their pain. It hurt him because he loved them so deeply that any suffering they suffered, he suffered by empathy. He had no pleasure in their grief; he only had pleasure I their repentance. He got no pleasure out of their sorrow, only that it was godly sorrow that led them to repentance. It was a real sorrow for sin, and a desire to turn from it, and it brought him joy.
Paul saw godly sorrow; he saw true repentance. And we went over that in detail last time. So, in a restored relationship, there is loyalty, and there is repentance. Let’s take a third point and pick it up this morning: purity. Purity.
This really is inextricable from the issue of repentance, but I simply make it a separate point just to break this up in manageable bites. What does repentance look like? When somebody systems they repent, what are we to expect? What do they do? How do they define that in attitude, and how do they define that in practice? How can we know that the repentance is really true and genuine? Answer: because there will be an aggressive turning toward holiness. There will be an aggressive turning toward purity.
Let’s look at verse 11 where we find this point. Verse 11, at the end of the verse, Paul says this, “You demonstrated, in everything, that you were innocent in the matter.” It’s an interesting thing. “In everything, you manifest, you reveal, you put on display your innocence in this issue.
The word “innocent” here is hagnos in the Greek. It means pure. It means holy. He is saying, “You demonstrated the integrity of your repentance by your holiness, by your purity, by your guiltlessness, by your innocence. And that is always the indicator of real repentance. When John the Baptist said, “Bring forth fruit unto repentance,” what was he looking for? He was looking for evidences of holiness, purity.
Now, they weren’t always pure, but they were since their repentance. And now there was no sin; now there was manifest demonstrable, visible holiness. And that’s why Paul rejoiced. Comfort swept over him because they had moved from impurity to purity, from unholiness to holiness, and that’s the evidence of a real repentance.
You say, “Well, now, how do you see that? How do you – how do you sense that that’s really there, when you can’t see everything they do, how do you know that’s there?”
Well, in verse 11, purity is defined in a list of attitudes – manifest attitudes that are absolutely essential to an understanding of repentance. I suppose, in my lifetime, I’ve read a lot of books on repentance. Old books and new books. I suppose I’ve heard a few messages on repentance. I suppose I’ve had a myriad of discussions about repentance. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody refer to this particular verse, which in my mind is the clearest definition of evidences of true repentance anywhere on the pages of Scripture.
So, when you are looking to assess of evaluate the legitimacy, honesty, or integrity of anyone’s repentance, here is a verse you can go to for a measure that will validate it.
And Paul begins in verse 11 by saying, “For behold” – and I have to stop there and say that he is really overwhelmed. I mean the repentance is so manifest that he can’t resist beginning with an exclamatory statement. I suppose in the vernacular, it would be something like this, “Wow! This is really overwhelming. I mean you really are making it clear how you feel.”
This phrase “For behold” shows the exhilaration. It is a phrase in the Greek language meant to demonstrate an exclamatory, exhilarating attitude. Paul is literally thrilled about what he sees and what he has heard as Titus reports to him his firsthand, eyewitness account. Their repentance had real substance: practical, visible, observable effects. And he gives them right here. And these are the things you look for.
“For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you.” You can just feel the emotion and the intensity of that statement. “Wow!” he says. “This very thing, this godly sorrow, so to be treasured, has produced in you: what earnestness” – and by the way, the use of “what” all the way through here – what, what, what, what – he just keeps repeating it. It’s to add a greater intensity. He doesn’t just say, “For behold, this has produced earnestness in you.” No. He says, “For behold what earnestness” – in other words, it’s a comparative. Not just earnestness, but an elevated, high-level category of earnestness. “What an amazing level of earnestness.”
So, here’s the first thing; where there is real repentance, there will be a manifest earnestness produced. What is it? It’s a word for eagerness. Eagerness. And what it means is an eagerness toward righteousness, toward purity. It ends the indifference towards sin, the indifference towards iniquity, the complacency about evil and deception that led the person into that in the first place. It produces a strong desire to do right, to make things right, to make restitution, to correct, to restore the broken relationship. There will be a passion; there will be a movement to make it right, an eagerness.
It’s not a situation where you have to – you have to sort of cajole and badger, and you have to push, and press, and intimidate, and command, and drive this person to do what is right. It is the very most initial reaction of true repentance to eagerly and aggressively pursue righteousness no matter what. You don’t have to beat them into that; you don’t have to push them into that; you don’t have to force them into that. When they really come to genuine repentance and see the seriousness of sin, there will be a literally overwhelming eagerness to pursue what is right. So, that’s what you look for.
If the person comes back and says, “Well, I don’t know how I feel; I’m not real sure, but I’m willing to give it a try,” you can be sure real repentance has not taken place. They almost knock you over with their desire to do what is right. They won’t need to be pressured to do it.
Secondly, verse 11 says, “What vindication of yourselves” – not just a vindication of yourself, but “what a level of vindication of yourselves.” What is this? What does it mean to vindicate yourself? It means to clear your name. “What a longing you have to clear the stigma that has been attached to you because of your sin. What a strong desire to make up for your iniquity and your failure and to rid yourself of all your guilt, and to remove that sin from you and restore people’s trust and confidence in you.” The Corinthians had this tremendous desire to clear their names, to get the stigma off because of what they had done.” And that’s part and parcel of real repentance.
When there’s real repentance and a seeking to restore a relationship, there is an eagerness to do what is right, and there’s a strong desire to clear your name and remove the stigma of your sin from you. And how do you do that? By making sure everyone knows that you have repented, and you have turned around, and you are pursuing righteousness, and you want it known as far and wide as your sin was known.
Thirdly, what indignation. And again, not just indignation, but what a high level of indignation. What is the word “indignation” saying? Anger. It’s a word about anger. We often associate it with a holy anger. A “righteous indignation” we call it. It is anger at your sin; it is anger at the shame you have brought on yourself, on the apostle Paul, on the Lord Jesus Christ, on God, on the Church.
There is a real anger over the fact that you have been deceived and discredited. They hated their disloyalty. They hated their iniquity. They hated their sin. They hated their reluctance to deal with that man who was leading an assault against Paul, under the influence of some demon. They hated the fact that they didn’t come to Paul’s protection and defense. They hated the fact that they had fallen victim to the lies of deceivers who were spreading things that weren’t true about Paul. They hated the fact that they had identified themselves with defectors. They were literally outraged over their sin.
That’s an indication of real repentance. Of real repentance. There’s a – there’s a meekness in real repentance. There’s a brokenness in real repentance. And what it is is this outrage and indignation over your own iniquity.
And then fourthly, Paul gives us another in his list of attitudes germane to a real repentance. “What fear” – what fear or to put it in terms that will convey the meaning – “what reverence toward God who has been so grievously offended.” Your irreverence has turned to reverence. Your brash, bold sinning has turned to a fear that the holy God might be dishonored. You have a new sense for God, a new healthy fear for the one who chastens and judges. You could even say what worship. You’ve turned away from your sin and now you’ve come holy before God in worship.
There will be a longing, believe me, when real repentance takes place. There will be a longing, driving, eagerness to make the relationship right. There will be a strong desire to clear one’s name and remove the stigma that sin has brought. There will be hatred, outrage, indignation over iniquity in one’s own life, and there will be a longing to reverence God, and fear God, and exalt God, and worship God appropriately. A new sense of holy fear.
Number five in Paul’s list, picks up a word he used back in verse 7 also to describe the attitude of the Corinthians, “What longing.” What yearning. Here again is this yearning to have the relationship right. This yearning to be restored to Paul.
And then he adds the word, “What zeal.” “Zeal” is a tremendous word. I love this word because it’s so rich. It’s a two-fold emotion. Zeal speaks of loving something so much that you hate anything that hurts it. You could say you have zeal toward God when you love God so greatly you hate anything that dishonors his name. You have zeal toward your church when you love your church so much you hate anything that would destroy its testimony. You have zeal toward the Word of God when you love it so much you hate anything that strikes a blow against its integrity and its truthfulness. When you love your partner in life so much you hate anyone who would harm them, you love your children so much you hate anything that would injure them, that’s zeal.
And the Corinthians had esteemed now the Lord, and esteemed the apostle, and esteemed the church so highly as to hate anything that harmed whom and what they loved.
And then number seven in this list, as he sort of culminates it – and it interests me that there are seven of them, sort of the number of completion; he’s pulled it all together here – “What avenging of wrong!” What avenging of wrong.
Let me tell you something. When process is real, in the end it seeks that justice be done. Wherever repentance is real, it seeks that justice be done. It doesn’t protect itself anymore; it wants the wrong avenged. It deals with the wrong, including accepting whatever might come.
Now you remember that these people in Corinth finally did confront that man. Background in chapter 2, Paul refers to that. And they demanded justice. In fact, they were so strong that Paul said this to them, “Sufficient for such a one is the punishment which was inflicted by the majority. That’s enough.” You’ve done what needed to be done. You avenged the wrong. You enacted what justice demanded. That’s enough. Don’t go beyond that or you’ll just ring grief upon grief upon grief. Sufficient is the suffering inflicted already. That’s the stuff that repentance is made of. It’s all about an eagerness to do what is right. It’s all about a desire to clear one’s name and remove the stigma of terrible shame because of sin. It’s all about an outrage and indignation over one’s own sin, a proper fear and reverence of God, a longing to restore the relationship, a zeal for what is pure and holy and right and good. And it’s all about demanding that justice bring what justice would. That’s repentance. That’s the kind of purity that flows out of true repentance.
So, they repented. And that repentance was manifested in the purity demonstrated in the attitudes right here, indicated in verse 11. In every way, from every perspective, they demonstrated the real thing in terms of repentance.
What do you look for then? When someone says they want to be restored, and you want the relationship back, you look for loyalty; you look for real repentance manifesting itself in a passion for a purity. It’s not reluctant. It’s aggressive. You don’t have to push it; it’s going to happen. You don’t have to force it on the outside by some kind of high levels of accountability; it’ll just come right out of a totally repentant heart. It’ll come from the inside out; it’ll just explode. That’s the stuff of real restoration.
Let’s take a fourth term as we divide this passage up. We’ll use the term spirituality. I don’t know if that’s really the right title for this part, but maybe it’ll help us address the point that Paul makes here in verse 12. Spirituality.
Now, obviously someone who has wandered away, severed a relationship, entered into sin, gone into error, spoken critically, unkindly, mercilessly, caused division – whatever may be involved in the breakup of that relationship. Obviously, they’re behaving in a way that could be simply defined as carnal, fleshly. And when they come back, what you’re looking for is not carnality but spirituality. And I think that’s indicated in verse 12 in the words that Paul says.
A very interesting verse; let me read it, “So although wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the offender nor for the sake of the one offended, but that you eagerness” – or earnestness – “on our behalf might be made known to you in the sight of God.” It’s a very curious verse. First of all, it involves a Hebrew way of speaking by which the Hebrews, in order to make a point strong, would use a series of comparisons to do that. It was a dramatic device in speech. And so, Paul uses it here.
He could have said, “My purpose was that you might know your own earnestness,” but he doesn’t say that. Instead of just jumping to what his purpose was, he creates a dramatic effect by saying what it wasn’t. And that just leads you up the ladder to the main point. So, he says, “Although I wrote to you the severe letter, it was not for the sake of the offender. My main goal didn’t deal with the man who had caused such a great offense and led the mutiny, nor was it for the sake of the one offended.” Who’s that? Him. “I really didn’t write that letter for the sake of the man, although certainly he had a part in that. I didn’t write that letter for my own sake either. Those are important issues, but not the main one. I wrote that letter for your sake. It’s my concern about you that gets to me. I have a measure of concern about the man, and I have a measure of concern about myself. But the main issue is you. And my concern about you” – listen to this – “was that your earnestness, on our behalf, your eagerness for me” – put it in other words – “your loyalty to me, your love for me, your confidence in me might be made known to you, right out there where everybody can see, including God.”
You say, “What do you mean by that, Paul?”
“What I mean is this. You’re Christians, and you know me, and your spiritual side knows me well. You’ve met me, and you’ve followed my life, and you’ve heard me teach, and you’ve seen my example. And I was there 20 months or so, and you know what I’m like. And the spiritual nature, your down-deep heart, the real core of who you are in Christ knows me for who I am. And what I want to do is bring you to see your real attitude toward me.” That’s what he’s saying. “That your earnestness on my behalf might be made known to you so you’ll get in touch with how you really feel.”
Isn’t it amazing the Corinthians literally had been deceived to the degree that they held a view of Paul that wasn’t really what they felt down deep. They knew better. What he’s saying is, “I wrote that letter to strip off the carnality and get back to the spirituality. And I knew that if I could get to your spiritual core, you’d get in touch with how you really feel. You know that I preached the gospel to you, and by it you were saved. You know that I taught you the principles of sanctification, and by them you were blessed.
“You know that I told you the standards and patterns for the life of the church, and you followed them and have enjoyed the fruit thereof. You know down in your spiritual heart what you feel about me, but you have been deceived. And layer upon layer upon layer of deception has been laid to cover that spiritual reality. I want you to know what you really feel. I want you to know that when you get in touch with the real heart attitude down deep, you love me; you trust me; you have confidence in me, and you know that I am the servant of God. But your sin has covered it up.
“You have forgotten how you really feel. You have forgotten what you really know. You have forgotten what you really believe because you’ve cluttered your life with so many carnal deceptions, and I just want to get it out in the open so you’ll know how you really feel in the sight of God. Right out there where everyone can see, including God, who has most at stake in your defection.”
He wasn’t in it for personal honor, and he wasn’t in it for personal vengeance. He says, “I didn’t write that letter just so you could give me some satisfaction by nailing that guy, and I didn’t write that letter just so I could feel better about my reputation. I wrote that letter for you because I wanted you to understand what your real feelings were.”
Boy, there’s a depth of love in that. Paul is saying, “I know down deep, beneath your present attitude, that you really love me. I know your real spiritual attitude, but you’re so carnal and you’re so sinful that you can’t even get in touch with how you really feel.”
Boy, that is so sad, and that happens so often. That happens in a marriage, where a husband gets so – his life so cluttered up with sin and deception that he loses touch with how he really feels about the gift of a wife that God has given him. That happens with children who get so messed up and so cluttered up in a world of sin that they forget how they really feel about a precious mom and dad. That happens in a church where people get so messed up in their deceptions that they forget how they really feel about those who have brought them the truth of the gospel and fed them the Word of God. And they become bitter and hostile toward the very ones to whom they owe the most.
It happens in a friendship. It happens in broken relationships because sin and deception takes over and covers up the real feeling. And Paul’s saying, “I wanted to get the carnality off; I wanted to rip that stuff out, unload the baggage so you’d know how you really feel, and we can get back to the relationship that is the right one, and the one that you know in your heart is the most honest reflection of your own attitude. If I can just get in touch with the depth of your heart, our relationship’s going to be okay. I just got to strip the deception away.”
What makes the sorrowing pastor’s heart rejoice? Loyalty, repentance, purity and spirituality. When you get people down to who they really are in Christ, and you get all the sins stripped out of their life, then you’re going to have the relationship restored.
It’s amazing, through the years, when I think about how many people have left our church because of some wild deceptions that they have concocted on their own - or they have heard from somebody else - who left the church, forsook the ministry, turned away, made a furor of some proportions, stormed away. And in my heart of hearts, I knew that wasn’t their real feeling. That wasn’t a spiritual attitude toward the leadership of this church. That was the carnal deceptions that had stacked up. And if they ever could be dealt with, there could be a real restoration. And where they are dealt with, there will be real restoration.
I’ve known people who’ve left this church who years later came back to me and said, “I don’t even know why. I have absolutely no idea why, but I got away, and I was away for a while, and I realized, ‘Why am I doing this? This is where I love. This is where my people are. This is where my shepherds are; this is where I need to be.’”
I’ve seen children do the same thing – wander away from the family and say, “I don’t even know why I’m where I am.” Certainly the prodigal had those kinds of thoughts. It happens in a marriage. “Why did I do this? What am I doing? This is so foolish,” when the deceptions become clear, and back you go to the place of your first love.
Spirituality will bring you back. And the Corinthians were demonstrating spirituality. They were manifesting the real spiritual attitude toward Paul.
Number five, unit. In verse 13, Paul begins by saying, “For his reason we have been comforted.” It means he’s been comforted because of their spirituality, purity, repentance – all rolled into one – their loyalty, everything he said from verse 7 on down. He says, “We are comforted. And besides our comfort,” he says, “we rejoiced even much more for the joy of Titus, because his spirit had been refreshed by you all.”
By the way, he uses the phrase “you all” in verse 15. He uses the phrase “you all” twice. Some people think that because of that it indicates he was from the South. Very possible. South Tarsus where they all said “you all.”
But the point I want to make here is he was comforted because Titus was so full of joy. I mean now look, Paul didn’t get all this firsthand. He got it out of Titus. But Titus was so filled with joy, because Titus had seen the loyalty, the repentance, the purity, the spirituality. And Titus had also seen the unity. Because he is refreshed by you all. “He saw” – verse 15 – “the obedience of you all” – and we go right back to chapter 2, verse 6, where he says, “the majority of you.” And this was a sweeping movement here. There was real unity.
And by the way, unity was at a premium in the Corinthian church. I mean they defined division. Whenever you want to talk about division, you always go to 1 Corinthians – don’t you? – and talk about, “Are you not carnal? I can’t speak to you as mature, but as babes, because there’s divisions and schisms and fights and quarrels. And you say, ‘I’m of Paul,’ and you say, ‘I’m of Apollos; and I’m of Cephas; and I’m of Christ.’ And why can’t you ever get together?” And he talks about how they were fractured. And that was their – that was characteristic of their whole life as a church. 1 Corinthians 1, 1 Corinthians 3, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Corinthians 11. And you even see wrong kind okay, great unities, illicit unities in chapter 5 and chapter 8. I mean they were divisive and divided and fractured. And you see it in chapter 14 and the misuse of spiritual gifts, and the chaos all over the church. You see it in the way they desecrated the Lord’s Table, and held back food from certain people, and got drunk, and gorged themselves, and some folks had nothing to eat. I mean it was a chaotic bunch of people who were disunited in many, many ways. And here, all of a sudden, he sees unity, and they were all comforting Titus, and they were all agreeing with the letter, and they were all wanting to restore the letter – the relationship with Paul.
And Titus was refreshed – anapauō. He literally was given rest or relief, a truce. It’s a word usually referring to a temporary relief as opposed to a permanent peace. For the moment there was relief. Pal knew there was still some pockets of discord back there. And he addresses them later in this letter. There were still some pockets of dissent. There were still a few people who could foment another wave of this stuff. But for the moment, there was a truce, and the majority were involved. And it shows the unity of the repenting assembly.
This is a great joy in the light of the tendency of that congregation to be so fragmented. And where I really believe you have a real repentance, there will be a coming together. And how would it happen? Well, it would be very, very obvious to sort of dramatize the scene like this. He letter comes, and a few folks are convicted to the heart. And they begin to take the responsibility to go around and start to spread the message, “This is wrong what we have done. We must repent of this.” And as they spread the word, the majority begins to grow and grow. And everybody joins in, and it’s a collective repentance.
Let me tell you something about repentance. Where true repentance takes place, the individuals who are repenting will do everything possible within their power and capability to make sure that they go back to everyone who has been a part of the dissent and embrace those people and pull them into that repenting circle. If they have gone and spread things far and wide, their deceptions and their iniquities have caused them to speak evil of the one with whom they are disaffected and broken, they will go back as far and wide as they can to make it right, to re-embrace that group of people who were a part of their dissent and bring them back to unity of support.
Where you have real repentance, I really believe the culprits who have become committed to holiness are going to go back and go as far and wide as they can to embrace those who have joined their dissent and called them to holiness along with them. And they feel that since they are the cause of the problem, they need to be instrumental in the solution as well.
You know, wherever there is a violated relationship, people want to justify what they did. So, the sinning person, in order to justify that, usually starts a campaign against the person that they’re leaving.
I was talking to a friend of mine, whose wife left him for no reason of his doing whatsoever. And I said, “Get ready, because before this is done, she will do everything in her power to destroy your reputation. It is necessary to justify and sanctify her evil choices. The destruction will come fast and furious and far-reaching. Expect it.” I wasn’t surprised to talk with him and find out, as he shared with me, through his tears, that that is precisely what is happening.
It’s not new; it’s always the way it is. When someone sets out to break up and sever a relationship and becomes deceived, in order to support and justify their own disaffection, they will attempt to gain a hearing. And so, they will take their lopsided case to those who will listen, and they will create a fortification around themselves of those who support and sustain their attitudes.
And on the other hand, when real repentance comes, they’ll take that circle back and do everything within their power to restore the relationship as far and wide as they have been instrumental in destroying it.
It was wonderful news to Paul. It would have been good news if the man alone, who had led the mutiny, the one who had confronted Paul had repented, but the thing went like a fire from place to place to place, and pretty soon everybody in the majority was restored.
When true repentance takes place, when there’s a real desire for restoration, there is a passionate desire to embrace everybody who’s been caught in the deception and bring them back.
Number six, obedience. Obedience. The next thing would be - in the case of Paul would be what? If the repentance was real, these people who were at odds with Paul would immediately come back and say, “We want to follow you again.” Right? Hebrews 13:17, “Submit to those who are over you in the Lord; obey them.” And that’s exactly what happens, verse 14, “If in anything I have boasted to him about you, I was not put to shame; but as we spoke all things to you in truth, so also our boasting before Titus proved to be the truth. And his affection abounds all the more toward you as he remembers” – here it is – “the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling.”
This is a wonderful little section here. Just very briefly I’ll tell you what it’s saying. Paul says, “If in anything I had boasted to him about you” – and he had done that background in verse 4, “Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf. Do you know what he had told Titus, when Titus went to Corinth? He had told him something like this, “These were saved people. These are people who down at the spiritual level love me, believe in me, and trust me, and know I’m the servant of the Lord. These people, when confronted with their sin, are going to see it, and they’re going to respond to it. I believe that.”
“Why do you believe that, Paul?”
“I know these people. I know – I know from the beginning their conversion. I know their story. I know how they were saved. I know what they’ve done since then. I’ve followed the path of their sanctification. I know these people, and I really believe they’re going to respond, Titus.”
And so, he says in verse 14, “If in anything I have boasted to him about you, I wasn’t put to shame.”
Somebody might have said, “Well, what does he know? After all, they didn’t repent. So, ha-ha, Paul.” Huh? “So, we can’t trust your discernment, can we?” I mean he stuck his neck out; he really did. But he was so confident of the work of God’s grace in the lives of the Corinthians, that he really believed they were genuine believers.
He had seen the reality of a transformed life. He staked his reputation on it as a man of spiritual discernment. And so, he told Titus, “They’re going to respond right.” And he was vindicated. “I wasn’t put to shame.” And that was very important to him. Notice the next line, “But as we spoke all things to you in truth, so also our boasting before Titus proved to be the truth. Truth was everything to Paul. I mean his stock in trade. And he took a little bit of a risk. I mean it was fine when you said, “This is the truth of God, this is divine revelation. I speak for the Lord. The Holy Spirit told me to say this.” That’s all fine. But when you step outside the realm of revelation, and you’re starting to make judgments, and you’re starting to say things for which you don’t have divine revelation, that’s a little risky.
And he was very concerned that if he was wrong about that, they would not trust his judgment, and they would say, “Well, he didn’t tell the truth about that, so maybe – maybe he doesn’t always tell the truth.”
It was very important that he maintain their confidence as one who spoke the truth. And he literally says, “We spoke to you in truth all the time, and even our boasting on your behalf to Titus proved to be the truth. So, you can just continue to trust me because I speak the truth when I speak the Word of God; and I speak the truth on the basis of my own spiritual discernment when I can recognize the hand of God at work.” His joy was seeing his conviction upheld because it meant his integrity was intact. And he makes the point, “I always speak truth, and I was speaking the truth then.” And, you know, that has to be sort of backhanded encouragement to them, that even in the midst of all of this, he still believed in them. And he speaks of their predictably obedient response, “And it was so much of a joy to Titus because he remembers the obedience of you all, how that you received him with fear and trembling.” In other words, “You received him as a messenger, from a messenger from Christ, who is a messenger from God. You received him as he should have been received, with a holy awe.”
The false teachers trying to discredit Paul, trying to say he didn’t speak the truth. And so, a lot was at stake when he boasted to Titus about them. But Titus and they would know that he knew. His discernment was sound. And Titus rejoices. And he says, “Titus has had an increase in his love for you. His affection abounds all the more toward you. Titus loves you more now than ever, because he’s seeing your obedience. You’ve just come right back in line.” And their obedience had caused the fearful Titus to develop strong affection for that church.
What does he mean by obedience? Their willingness to submit to the words that Paul spoke, because he spoke the Word of God. They went right back under submission. Do you know how you can tell a person who’s really repentant? Here’s something of what they’ll say, “I just want to be obedient. I just want to do whatever you want me to do. Just show me what to do. Tell me what to do. Please give me guidance. What do I do now?” There’s no reluctance. There’s no caveats. There’s no qualifications; there’s just open obedience.
The highest joy of the pastor is to have such a congregation. And they received Titus with fear and trembling, which indicates the attitude behind obedience is one of reverence toward God and a healthy fear of judgment.
Well, the sad pastor’s heart is comforted because of all these matters: loyalty, repentance, purity, spirituality, unity, and obedience. And when you see those things happen in a relationship, and a person comes back and just says, “Look, I want to be what you want me to be. I want to submit myself to this relationship.” That’s brokenness. That’s a contrite heart. That’s the evidence of a real desire for restoration.
And then there’s a last one. Number seven, trust. Trust. Verse 16, “I rejoice that in everything I have confidence in you.” That, folks, is the capstone. That’s it. No more concerns. Paul says, “I trust you.” That’s always the thing that stands as the last step that finally closes the door on the issue. Can that wife finally look that man in the eyes who has been unfaithful to her and violated that relationship and gone out into sin and say, “I’ve seen enough; I rejoice that in everything I have confidence in you”? Trust.
Can a parent say that to a wayward child? Can a pastor say that to someone who has done everything to destroy the reputation of a church? “I now trust you again.” Can you say that to a friend who has cut your heart out? “I trust you. I place my life in your hands.”
And by the way, the basic meaning of that word “confidence” here is tharreō, the verb to be courageous. To be courageous. Literally to be bold, to dare. I dare to trust you. Or to put it another way, “I will – I am so courageously confident of your loyalty, and your support, that I’ll go to battle next to you and believe you’ll defend me. I’ll go out into battle and believe you’ll protect me. I’ll trust you. I have the courage to put my life back in your hands.” That’s what it’s saying. “I have the courage to give you my life again and believe you’ll care for it.”
In some ways, when you see what happened here with these Corinthians, you’d have to conclude that the worst church has just become the best church. It’s amazing. And it’s a great and dramatic illustration of the power of restoration.
Yes, there were still a few people there who were in dissent. But the majority had completely turned around. What a picture of real restoration of a broken relationship.
And that concludes the section; chapters 1 to 7 is the first section. And it gets you ready for the next section, chapters 8 and 9, followed by the last section, chapters 10 to 13. Let’s bow in prayer.
Father, we have been instructed so profoundly and deeply from the inspired pen of Paul. We have a grasp on things perhaps like never before in terms of the restoration of broken relationships.
We pray, Lord, that You’ll apply these things in our lives, apply them in the lives of those experiencing these very things. Thank You for giving us measures, standards, principles that we can look to to see if repentance is real.
Thank You for what You’ve shown us in this tremendous personal insight between Paul and the Corinthians. We pray, Lord, that You would restore all the broken relationships in this church, in these families, in these homes, among these people. And may we enjoy the fullness of a rich relationship like Paul now had with his beloved Corinthians. Thank You for this instruction, in Christ’s name, amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.