Sorrow Without Regret
2 Corinthians 7:1-16
Key Verse 7:10
“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
One time I had someone ask me to write them a recommendation letter to get into seminary school. I was honored and surprised. I thought to myself, “Can my letter really help them? I’m not a professor or doctor, and I’ve never written this type of letter before.” So, I looked on the web to see what people even put in these things. And as honest as I could be, I wrote based off the points I thought reasonable. And by the grace of God, this person was accepted, and is now feeling the full brunt of what seminary has to offer. I say that because this passage of scripture reminds me of the things people might want to put in such a letter. If getting to the kingdom of Heaven required recommendation letters, this passage of Scripture would be a good one to have in your portfolio. This passage does start with a request, but the rest of it is laden with approval, boasting and joy. And what child of God would not want to gain the approval of someone like an Apostle of Jesus Christ. Out of all people they might be the ones you want to bring joy to, gain their trust and confidence. What I mean is that if we can encourage a godly man or woman and make them joyful, then we must be doing something right in respect to our Christian walk. If we can make it so that one of them wants to be by our side, to share with us in life and in death, there must be some comfort we are providing them. What eases a godly person’s soul when they are enduring trials of all sorts? What revives their heart and gives them strength to continue carrying the cross that the Lord has given them? Nothing seems to do it like seeing the flock of God submitting and advancing His will for their lives. And on the contrary, we can say that a mature servant of the Lord would want nothing from you at all, accept to see you flourish in humble obedience and fellowship with the Lord. Paul ends this passage with these oh so promising words, “I am glad I can have complete confidence in you.” (16) Let’s see how they were met with these words of approval, for I’m sure this is something we, as children of God, would want to hear someday.
Let’s read verses 1-4. “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.” Whenever there’s division or conflict, it’s never easy to be the first to extend the hand of reconciliation. Especially for Paul who knew what he had said to the Corinthian brothers was said with a clear conscience, and was done through the conviction of the Holy Spirit. But for these people who seemed to comfortably bring reproach and accusation to Paul, he still extends this sort of hand of reconciliation to them. And to those who would easily look for any occasion to rouse up others against him, Paul responds by cautiously and tenderly dealing with them. Paul could have easily remained hurt, since they had attacked him with unjust claims and accusations. Accusing someone falsely can potentially do much more damage than accusing someone truthfully, especially in a close relationship. But call it crazy what Paul decides to do next! He assures them of his deep affection for them in their moment of repentance. That’s amazing! Raise your hand if this would be your first move! It’s usually not our first move. This kind of love and forgiveness does not come naturally to us. It takes people time to process and recover, if indeed they want to. But Paul quickly lets bygones be bygones, and with readiness of heart, he is filled with joy at the first sign of their genuine repentance. This kind of readiness comes from the Holy Spirit. And it comes when we really know God’s love for us and ask him for the strength to demonstrate it every day. This heavenly love is the love that Paul showed the Corinthians. And this kind of love is not just the barely kind-of-love, or the begrudgingly kind-of-love, but so much so that he basically says that if he could choose who to spend his last breath on this world with, it would be with them! What affection! What gentleness! What love!
Paul’s request to be restored to them in fellowship is not single sided. But it is genuinely for his benefit as well. What had happened was someone among the Corinthians, an opponent of Paul, spread some things and swayed the church from their love for him. Perhaps his authority or his character had been slandered. Judging from the rest of the passage it seems as if Paul was put in a situation where he had to speak a measure of truth in their lives and correct some wrong or sins that were being committed. Repentance was clearly needed in order to restore fellowship. Paul had to write a stern letter addressing this situation, a letter now lost to us. Though it was necessary for him to write such a stern letter of correction using harsh words, that position is not always easy to assume, especially for people who are dear to one’s heart. He had to write them something that was intended to cause godly sorrow and to bring conviction of heart. He knew that if they were to receive this truth, it would be hurtful to them if and when they realized their sin and acknowledged it before God. So, in a way, it was not easy for him either to write that letter or to send it to them. Whether we’re put in Paul’s shoes, the side that must serve the truth, or we’re put in the Corinthian’s shoes, the side that needs to listen and to receive the truth, either case, we have to watch our hearts. We should always be ready and willing to either administer truth or receive truth. Proverbs 28:23 says (ESV) “Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.”
Paul explains the reason behind their reconciliation in verses 5-7. Let’s read them together. “For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn- conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you have given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.” Paul starts this with his own problems. He admits that he was in a miserable state. Have you ever felt like you had no rest, harassed on all sides, conflict everywhere you turned, then to top it all off you’re now experiencing great inner fears, insecurities and sadness? Paul admits that his face was downcast. The man just couldn’t crack a smile to save his life. How easy it is in a moment like this to look for some worldly relief amidst our intense suffering; some worldly smoothening to curb the intensity of our struggle. But Paul wouldn’t have any of it. Instead he waited for the Lord to be his source of comfort. And God sent this long-suffering man a treat— something that would send him radiating with joy. He sent him his true son in the faith— Titus arrived.
If there was any one who could refresh Paul, it was this man Titus. He must have had a way of steering people’s hearts to the good things of God, especially when all looked gloomy. He was probably a great encourager and peacemaker. Titus probably delivered Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, and graciously explained it to them answering all their questions. Maybe at first glance, many of the Corinthians were very angry. Which by the way is usually our first response when our sins are pointed out to us or when we are rebuked and corrected— right? After a rebuke, many of us are quick to come back with harsh defenses and retaliations. But after everything was explained by Titus, the Corinthian church members realized that they had done a terrible thing in their criticisms against their Bible teacher and long time mentor and friend Paul. They were broken hearted. And in their sorrow, they turned to God realizing that they had actually broken God’s heart because they had sinned against God. Their sorrow was so genuine that they repented. It was all they had to do to receive God’s forgiveness and the outpouring of his grace. Then suddenly they were restored at heart to God and to their shepherd Paul. When Paul heard these words from Titus his joy was beyond measure— it went through the roof according to the tone in his words here. He went from low to high all because of the news that his son Titus brought him. It’s worth mentioning here that though people, or things or circumstances might bring us joy, Paul acknowledges that all joy comes from God who comforts the downcast. This means God is concerned for us in our low seasons. And that he has great comfort on the way as we stay steadfast in his will and purpose for our lives.
Let’s read verses 8-10. “Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it— I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” Sorrow is something that everyone is familiar with in one degree or another. But the question is, what kind of sorrow do we allow ourselves to experience? There are only two kinds, and both bring about two utterly opposite results. Sorrow can either destroy you, and lead you to death, or it can be the grace that saves you and leads you to life. If we’re not sure what kind of sorrow we’re experiencing, one way to find out is by looking at its fruit. When we’re honest with ourselves, we should admit that we have certain sorrows in us that need to be revisited and dealt with the right way.
Look at Peter and Judas. Both disciples experienced two different types of sorrows and regret and they did the same wrong thing. Judas actually was the one who was quick to renounce what he did. The moment his conscience was roused, he went immediately to return the money exclaiming, “I’ve betrayed innocent blood, take it back!” But Judas could not trust the love of God for himself. His sorrow was a worldly sorrow and it remained so on that same level, never developing into godly sorrow. Peter on the other hand, remembered that the Lord prayed for him that his faith would not fail. Though his faith also failed, it didn’t fail completely, and it was enough to restore him. In his moment of deep deep sorrow when he denied even knowing his friend and teacher Jesus, he wept and wept. Then he remembered Jesus’ words, and Jesus’ love for him and his deep deep human sorrow developed into godly sorrow. He trusted Jesus’ love and forgiveness, repented and met the Risen Christ. The difference in these two men’s grief was one sorrow led to suicide and the other led to life. Another example is Joseph in the bible. He experienced one great sorrow after another. Though he was sold as a slave by his own brothers, then innocently arrested and thrown into prison, he always seemed to persevere. He didn’t let human sorrow overwhelm him nor consume him with hatred nor bitterness nor anger, until he died in anguish. Instead, his godly sorrow led him to trust God until he became mankind’s teacher in trusting God and his sovereignty. How about King David, who committed adultery and murder? When confronted with his sin, he was devastated with sorrow. But it was godly sorrow, the kind that took responsibility for his sin, the kind that repents immediately for the wrong it has done, and the kind that seeks God’s forgiveness. The Psalms he wrote after that to teach us about God’s mercy are his legacy that godly sorrow indeed lead to life and joy!
When speaking about the gospel in today’s culture, it’s easy to make it sound nice and sweet. But look at verse 10 one more time. It’s easy to make our Lord sound like someone who just offers benefits. But the truth is that there are souls out there that don’t need benefits, they need salvation. And the only way they will get it is through repentance. And the only way they’ll get to repentance is through godly sorrow. And how will they get this godly sorrow? Let me tell you, certainly not on their own! They won’t just wake up one day and think to themselves, “Hmm… I wonder if I’ve sinned against God and need to make amends with him.” They will get there by a voice of truth and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. That might be the hardest part of Christian people’s witness, which is helping others understand the sin problem, recognize that their sins and then sorrow over them. But it happens by the voice of those who know and have the gospel in their hearts and are called to share it— you and me. And with the help of God the Holy Spirit we can help them take steps towards faith and commitment. Paul was that voice to the Corinthians, and we have to be that voice to God’s flock. The harvest is plentiful. We are the harvesters, and we have to be willing to say the things that will momentarily hurt or grieve them, for the sake of the sweet salvation of their souls. Sure, we don’t want to go out as wrathful fire and brim stone evangelists, but we can’t afford to give them a watery gospel either. A new semester is on its way. And we must be prepared. As I speak right now, we should be prepared to help lead students to repentance. Are we ready to speak the painful truth? Are we prepared to be the voice that leads to God’s salvation?
Look at the next few verses. Verse 11 shows what Matthew Henry calls the happy fruits & consequences of a repentant heart. That heart becomes genuine seeking solely what’s good and holy. I would say that these fruits are what the Lord will bear in the life of anyone who lives a humble repentant life in the Lord’s grace. As this chapter comes to a close. The Apostle Paul breathes out one last spells of comfort for the church in Corinth. In verse 12 he reminded them that he didn’t write the previous letter for some personal gain, nor to condemn the person who started everything. He wrote it only because of his affection for them, and so that they might not continue in unnecessary division and resentment. That’s true. When parts of the body are divided for whatever reason, it really hinders the work of God. That’s why we must follow Paul’s example of reconciliation. We should never divide and go our own way as if nothing happened but make every effort to live at peace. If sin is in the way, then we deal with it. And afterwards, come together.
The last few verses 14-16 are all about Paul and Titus’s rejoicing over this church. So again, we see how godly grief bears much fruit. The last fruit to mention is joy. A joy that as Paul put’s it, knows no bounds. I’d like for us to think to ourselves for a moment about our joy or lack of. If it is there and it knows no bounds, then praise God. But if we are among those know seemed to have been sapped of our joy then let’s ask the Holy Spirit to search our hearts this very moment. We want this to be for the sole purpose of God revealing to us any unnecessary division, or sin or slander against someone, any sorrow that is not godly. And we want to confess it to the Lord in our heart. Use this moment to be still, and if the Lord brings to mind any of these things, confess it and repent of it. Don’t look to your own strength but trust in the goodness and power of God to bring about the happy fruits of repentance each day.