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Godly Sorrow

Date: Jan. 10, 2021

Author: Michael Mark

2 Corinthians 7:2-16

Key Verse: 2 Corinthians 7:10

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

We are no strangers to sorrow; sorrow is a part of everyone’s life.  Job said it this way, “Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble. (Job 14:1)”  Sorrow can cover a wide range of situations, from grieving a loss, from experiencing disappointment or misfortune, or from remorse from doing something wrong or harmful.  Think back to a time when you were convicted of doing something wrong, whether it was in your heart or from someone else – what were your thoughts and how did you feel?  Likely you felt regret, anger, depression, or maybe thought of some way to get even.  This is pretty much a picture of how the world reacts; this is what worldly sorrow in general looks like.  The results are kind of mixed.  Sorrow is a natural part of our lives and helps us resolve our conflicts, but there are times where sorrow turns deadly, and every situation carries that risk.  But there is a different type of sorrow that seeks to do better, where there is no risk of death, but instead, gives potential for full reconciliation, healing and restoration.  This is a sorrow not from this world, but outside of it, from God, and we will learn more about these two kinds of sorrows from today’s passage.

As many of you know, this book of 2 Corinthians is actually the fourth letter Paul wrote to the church at Corinth.  The third letter was known as the harsh letter, where Paul had to rebuke the church for its rebellion against him.  In this chapter, we will see exactly how the Corinthians responded to that third letter.  Look at v.2, where we begin: “Make room for us in your hearts.  We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one.”  Paul here is exhorting the Corinthians to bring him back, so to speak, into their hearts.  It’s like if I asked each of you to remember and keep me in your hearts.  It’s almost a call to love Paul again after they had rejected him, and to receive him once again as their Apostle, shepherd and teacher.  “Receive me,” he says.  Paul is completing the reconciliation.   Now he seems to take a little swipe at them by saying “We have wronged, corrupted, exploited no one.”  This was probably what the Corinthians thought of him.  Paul had gone there to collect some offering for the church in Judea, but the false teachers might have slandered him as a scammer and fraud.  So he repeats again that he is clear.  Verse 3 says, “I do not say this to condemn you.”  Here, Paul just re-iterates his innocence, but also tells the church he never condemned them, even though they might have deserved it, even though the harsh letter sounded like it: it was never Paul’s intention to condemn or judge them.

Paul wrote the harsh letter in hopes that they would repent, but maybe like most people in his situation, he was nervous about it.  Have you ever written an email confronting someone, and then became anxious and wondered how they received it?  That was Paul here, in v.8, “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.”  Paul might sound confusing or contradictory, but what he means is that he did not regret it because it was confirmed that they did repent.  He did not regret the contents of his letter, but the situation that resulted in the letter.  He probably did not want to write it, but he had to in order to try and get them back on track.  He sent the letter through Titus, but unlike email, he literally had to wait until Titus returned to hear back.  Until that time, not only was he nervous, but he was still facing the usual dangers to the church.  He says in v.5 that he was harassed at every turn, and in his heart he had no peace yet.  In Ch. 2 we see that he also had no peace of mind in Troas while waiting for Titus.  In this chapter, after some time, Paul finally meets Titus in Macedonia.

Their response finally gave him peace, comfort and great joy.  They had repented, as he had hoped, and he was more than satisfied.  Even though he was facing trouble inside and out, at every turn, still he told them: I’m so happy for you; my joy is greater than ever.  Look at v.9-10, “yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led 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.”  It is important to know the difference between the two types of sorrows.  One leads to life, and the other to death, so it is even more important to understand godly sorrow, so we can see how we might have it.

To help in understanding godly sorrow, we will first consider what is worldly sorrow.  As Paul said, worldly sorrow leads to death, and the news has no shortage of stories where lives were lost in sorrow.  At some universities, the suicide rate is high because the students can’t meet up to certain expectations.  In a certain country, there is a forest known for people going there to commit suicide for various reasons.  In some countries there is a culture of hermits who feel that they cannot fit into society, so they withdraw and cut off contact with even their closest family members, and many end up dying alone, sometimes not being found for weeks after they had passed.  We all know the story of Judas Iscariot, who was one of Jesus’ disciples, who hung himself out of a deep remorse and regret for betraying Jesus.  These are examples of how worldly sorrow can lead to physical death.

Worldly sorrow can also lead to spiritual death.  A person can be stuck in anger, and either only see others’ weaknesses, or be fixated on trying to get revenge or thinking about how the other person should pay.  This person might think God doesn’t care, or blame and yell at God for their situation.  Another person can be caught up in depression or despair, and only see their weakness.  They might only feel sorry for themselves, or want others to feel sorry for them.  They also may think God can’t help, nor anyone else.  Another person might just feel hopeless, helpless and powerless, and constantly give in to a temptation that is destroying them, and either doesn’t care about God, or think God doesn’t care.

The common characteristic between all the worldly sorrow examples are that they are all self-centered, and the deeper the sorrow, the more drawn in they are of themselves.  Many may be strong enough to weather through the sorrow, but may have some residual effects like holding a grudge.  Because they only rely on themselves and not God, eventually this leads to eternal death.

By contrast, godly sorrow is a God-centered sorrow.  There is still a recognition of our sin, there is still an acknowledgement of our weaknesses: our pride, or anger, or greed, or lust, or despair, or self-righteousness, but there is recognition that God can help, and he will help us.  Sorrow is just that: it is an unhappiness, a distress about our current state, but instead of wallowing in self-pity or depending on the self, it brings us to God.  Paul says godly sorrow brings repentance – and this is what repentance is: it’s a turning to God, and a turning from our sin.  More than that, it’s a running to God, and a running from our sin.

Look at the Corinthians in v.11: “See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.”  This is what repentance looks like; this is what it looks like to run from your sin – it’s to run to righteousness.  There is an earnestness, not a deflated despair, but a diligent striving to do good.  There’s an eagerness to clear themselves: they want to make things right.  I’m reminded of Zacchaeus in Luke 19, who declared to Jesus that he will pay back 4 times the amount of anyone he has cheated.  There’s an indignation – a hatred of sin.  This person sees sin for what it is, and is disgusted by it.  There’s an alarm, a fear of God, a respect, a trembling to be holy just as God is holy.  There’s a longing for God, and a concern for others, and a readiness to see justice done.  They want to do right.  Their love was also restored to Paul.  What encouraged Paul, and gave him such satisfaction and happiness, was this in addition to their repentance: their longing for Paul, their deep sorrow and ardent concern. Repentance restores relationships.

Peter is the classic contrast to Judas with respect to repentance and sorrow.  Peter was also a disciple of Jesus, and he also betrayed Jesus by denying him 3 times.  He too was sorrowful and gloomy at the death of Jesus, and perhaps like all the other disciples, slow to believe that Jesus is the Messiah.  But when news broke out that Jesus’ tomb was empty, Peter raced to the tomb, only second because John outran him.  When they saw the risen Jesus at the shore, Peter jumped out of the boat and ran to him.  And when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, Peter was the first to proclaim the good news to the Jews, and 3,000 people were saved that day.  What was the difference between the two?  Judas did not turn to Christ, but took his life before that.  Judas felt remorse, but did not change his heart or mind.  His life remained the same, and it was on a trajectory to death.

A change of heart and mind: this is the definition of repentance.  The difference between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow is repentance: it is a change of mind towards Christ, and a change of mind towards sin.

Godly sorrow will still be painful; it will still be unpleasant – but as it says in Hebrews 12, God’s discipline is unpleasant but it is a sure sign of his love.  As long as we are still in the flesh, though we have been reborn, we will see ever more clearly the depth and depravity of our sin.  We will still feel sadness about sins we commit, we will still feel anger or impatience toward others, we may still wonder about God’s love.  The godly sorrow convicts us of our sin.  Or a good shepherd will confront us about our sin.  I still remember when Sh. Bob confronted me, but he pulled me out of the pit.  Godly sorrow leads us to confess our sins, and depend not on ourselves, but on God.

Because godly sorrow brings repentance, it naturally follows that godly sorrow leads to salvation.  This salvation is eternal life in Jesus Christ.  It is a salvation and deliverance from our sin and sorrow.  Though we might slip into the swamp now and again, we always have Christ to pull us out.  In the book, Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character Pilgrim got caught up in the Swamp of Despondency.  The harder he struggled the deeper in the mire he went, until one man from the outside named Help came and pulled him out.  Help is Jesus Christ.

In Christ, there is no need to be sorrowful anymore.  At the cross, Jesus turned sorrow into joy.  Jesus told his disciples, “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.  You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy…Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. (John 16:20,22)”  This is why Paul was so happy; this is why he and Titus rejoiced at the news of the Corinthian’s repentance.  They received the joy of salvation.  This came through Paul’s harsh letter, but remember what Paul said in v.3, he did not condemn them, but he confronted them.  Although God will discipline us from time to time, confronting and convicting us of our sins; through the Holy Spirit or through others, God never condemns us, and we can be assured of this.  Rom 8:1 tells us, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Rom 8:37) – so neither death nor life, angels nor demons, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 8:37-39).

It is the love that creates our earnestness, it is this love that motivates us, it is this love that compels us, it is this love that reanimates us, gives us a new life, and refreshes our soul.  Even Titus was refreshed when he saw the Corinthians and their repentance.  The love of God is our driving force and our security in sorrow.  Have you ever seen a newlywed couple, and the silly things they do for one another.  They buy gifts on every anniversary date they can think of, they call and email each other every day.  They compete for who hangs up the phone first.  And for older couples, though they might not have the energy to keep this up year after year, their love matures into a deeper security and relationship.  Now then, see how much God loves us – that He gave us his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, and that will forever be an enduring sign and token of his love for you.

The difference between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow is repentance.  In v.12 Paul writes that the purpose for that harsh letter was so that before God the Corinthians could see for themselves how devoted to Paul they were, and they proved faithful and repentant, and Paul was overjoyed.  In v.4 he says “in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.”  In v.7 he says “my joy was greater than ever.”  Twice Paul used overflowing words of joy.  We will still experience sorrow.  Even as I was writing this message, Ellie cried for an hour last night, woke mom up at 4am, and she tests the limit of my patience every day.  But she is the most beautiful daughter and she surprises and delights us every day.  I can get wrapped up in anger and my judgment sometimes clouded, but when it’s cooled down I turn to the Lord and ask forgiveness.  When you catch yourself in sin, don’t despair, don’t let it linger even though you might want it to, but repent, and turn to Christ.  Humble yourself and confess your sins, and he will help you every time, and give you times of refreshing.

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