The Working of Godly Sorrow
For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. 9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. 11 For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.
2 Cor 7:8-11 (KJV)
Paul had written the 1st Corinthian letter to rebuke and chasten the church there for various sins. In chapters 1 and 3, he rebuked them for their sectarian spirit. In chapter 5, he reprimanded them for 2 things: 1) adultery in the congregation and 2) failure of the church to discipline the offenders. Taking disagreements between Christians before worldly courts was dealt with in chapter 6, …and so on throughout the book.
These are the reasons why Paul was saying in our beginning text from 2 Corinthians “For though I made you sorry with a letter…” He was referring to the 1st Corinthian letter.
From these things we can glean some deep lessons that will be good for our souls if we accept them and apply them to our lives.
First, God has a ministry that is charged sometimes to rebuke and chasten the flock. And while it is true that some ministers may abuse that solemn responsibility, we must keep in mind the gist of this scripture is that a true shepherd must, at God’s behest, at times chasten the flock.
Paul did not write 2 Corinthians to “take back” the things that he said previously. He freely admitted that he realized that he caused them sorrow, but it was necessary that he do so. At another time Paul stated “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” Gal 2:11 (KJV) Was Paul a monster, a man taking delight in causing pain? No he was not, but just the opposite. He loved his brethren everywhere so much that he would rather see them suffer temporarily in this life rather than go to the judgement with their sin and be cast into hell for eternity.
And then he pointed out that there is a right way to receive rebuke and a wrong way also. He told them that he was so glad to see that they “sorrowed to repentance”
This is the right way for us to receive a godly rebuke. Let it work godly sorrow in our hearts. He said, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation”. Paul rejoiced. That may sound weird that someone would rejoice in someone else’s sorrow, but if you study the whole situation, you will see that Paul saw the greater good that comes at the end of godly sorrow. He sees people making things right with God and their fellow man. Without godly sorrow, this cannot happen.
And then there is the wrong way to receive rebuke. Paul said “but the sorrow of the world worketh death”. The issue thus becomes Godly sorrow vs. the sorrow of the world. What is this sorrow of the world? What is it like?
One example is the little boy who, knowing better, steals a cookie from mommy’s cookie jar. Mom catches him and spanks his fingers. He cries and says, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” But later, when he is very sure that mommy is way in the back of the yard talking to a neighbor, he reaches in and gets another cookie!
This is the sorrow of the world. It leads one to put on the appearance of repentance, but for the wrong reason: to make mommy quit spanking! On the other hand, godly sorrow would cause one to repent because you know you have done wrong and disappointed mommy. When that is your motive, you’ll never go back to steal another cookie!
This scenario is also played out in the adult world. When a Christian sins, God has stated emphatically that his Holy Spirit will convict us of sin. At this point, we have another choice; repent or begin to make excuses for our sin (justify ourselves).
The Corinthians chose to repent. In verse 11 of our text, we see the complete and uninhibited repentance that godly sorrow wrought in them:
“For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.”
It wrought carefulness. These people determined that they would be very careful to watch their hearts and minds in the future, and to adhere to the admonitions that Paul brought to them from God. They did not take the attitude that Paul was a faultfinder. They did not resent him. Today, we see people in similar circumstances that resent the man of God bringing sin to their attention. “Oh poor me! The man of God is holding me accountable! Oh no! What will he hold me accountable for in the future? I feel like he is watching me! Oh no, poor me!” Paul held these folks accountable, and when he saw that they resolved to be more sensitive and careful in the future, Paul counted that as a good thing. But hypocrites surely do not want anyone watching their lives or holding them responsible for sin.
“What clearing of yourselves”. We know that many times when Jesus exposed the sins of the Pharisees, they would automatically justify themselves. (See Luke 10:29) We commonly see the same thing today. But though the Corinthians may have done that formerly, now that Paul has stepped in and rebuked them, they threw away all self-serving justification. They came clean, confessing their wrong, and eagerly proceeded to clear themselves by submitting to the rebuke of God which was delivered through Paul. “What clearing of yourselves”, something we rarely see in our day and time.
These Corinthians embraced Paul’s rebuke as the life-giving gift that it truly was. (Faithful are the wounds of a friend.- Proverbs 27:6) They became indignant, not with Paul, but with their own sins.
They indeed experienced fear - fear of an angry and almighty God. And they did not characterize that fear as something evil, but as righteous and appropriate. They let a healthy fear of a righteous God draw them to repentance.
“What vehement desire…” Upon realizing their error, these children of
God had a strong, overwhelming, and consuming desire to correct their hearts and minds and actions. This contrasts with many, which, in similar circumstances, have vehement desires to cover up their sins and stone the messenger who was sent from God.
What zeal and revenge! This was zeal to get revenge on Satan for the work that he had accomplished in the Corinthian congregation! How sad it would have been if they had zealously exacted their revenge upon Paul! That would have been sad for Paul to suffer unjustly, but more importantly, how sad it would have been for the Corinthians to forfeit an opportunity to get right with God!
Hebrews 12:7-8 says “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” Sometimes, God will send the rebuke through the Spirit, sometimes through a message, but also sometimes through another child of God. If we say “That’s just his opinion”, we are not just rejecting a brother’s opinion, we are rejecting a chastening message sent by God. If you reject God’s message and God’s messenger, you are in fact rejecting God himself. You are not a son.
What if David had taken that course with Nathan? (Please read 2 Samuel 12) How different the flow of history would have been if David had not come clean and confessed. But, thank God, David did come clean! He did not deny his sin and then attack Nathan. He confessed his sin and repented. That is the ONLY proper response as far as God is concerned.
The Bible says that David was a man after God’s own heart. Yes, he sinned at times. But David was always willing to confess and repent. That is what made him stand out.
Friends, let us remember Paul’s (and God’s) admonition and apply it to the situations that confront us in life today: “… godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.”