Series on II Corinthians, I Dedication of Paul to Ministry, G Sorrowful, Text: 7:2-16, Title: Joy from Sorrow.

Introduction


The great principles of the kingdom of God were enunciated by the Lord Jesus Christ as he began the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. Hear him say, Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God, and Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted. Our text for today is a perfect picture of what Jesus meant when he said blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted. Out of godly sorrow comes joy. In our text the apostle Paul may appear to be digressing, but actually he is giving us important background information that reveals his motivation in writing both First and Second Corinthians. What we read here helps us to understand much of what Paul says in both of these letters. Writing sternly as he did gave Paul a lot of grief, but it ended in joy. He begins by appealing again in verses 2 and 3, 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. He writes just as he did in 6:15, As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also. Opening their hearts to Paul was inseparable from opening their hearts to the Lord and this passage shows that they had already begun to do that. Here we see the essence of Christian growth, of sanctification and discipleship, and it is deeply mired in openness to God, in repentance, and in amending our ways. Let us follow the process in four steps.

I Paul's Glorying

The first vital step is confidence in the grace of God. Paul mentions here how highly he thought of the Corinthian believers. Of all the churches which Paul ministered to, the worst by far was the church in Corinth. It gave him the most difficulty yet he says here in v.4, I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds. That this confidence is something Paul felt all along is clear because he says in v.14, I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well. Our problem is that we expect too little of the grace of God both in ourselves and in others. And it’s worse with others because we tend to be more critical and judgmental of them. In effect many people would have given up on these believers in Corinth, but Paul opened his first letter with the highest expectations even though he had many difficult things to write. Notice what he says in I Corinthians 1:4-9, I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. The bottom line is we need stop giving up and persevere because if we work through the hard things God will bless.

II Paul's Grief

The Apostle's confidence meant that he had to persevere with the Corinthians, and that meant addressing their sin. Something that we would all rather not do. First of all, Paul was greatly disturbed in having to do this. He mentions in v.5 his fears within, For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. Those fears had to do with the Corinthians and his anxiety over them. This is the same conflict which he mentions earlier in chapter 2:13, I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-by to them and went on to Macedonia. As we read on, Paul describes his feelings in some detail in v.8, 9, 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.  Obviously he had reservations because he was human and fallible and anxious and worried. All these are emotions to which we can relate. It was painful. The specific incident  to which he is referring is the sin of incest in the church discussed in I Corinthians 5 which they had not dealt with. Paul's command was, hand this man over to Satan, expel the wicked man from among you. Though there were many other problems, this was like a growing cancer in the bosom of the church. So if we want to grow we must first of all not give up on one another, and secondly we must be willing to inflict pain. And its not supposed to make us happy. What makes Paul happy is the result,  and thus we learn of Paul's unbridled joy.

III Paul's Good News

Titus finally came with the good news. He himself was overjoyed according to verses 6 and 7 and also verse 13, 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 had 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....In addition to our own encouragement, he was especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit had been refreshed by all of them. And as a result Paul was filled with joy. The essence of the good news is that the Corinthian believers had repented. The sorrow produced in them by Paul's letter led to repentance.  Here is the key, verse 10 & 11, Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 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. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation, and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. Notice the Apostle's language, godly sorrow leads to salvation. It is not the cause of it. God does not save us on the basis of our repentance. He saves us because Christ paid the price for our sin, but true sorrow, godly sorrow is a sign of the grace of God in operation. It was a token to Paul that all his glorying and boasting about the Corinthian Christians was right. They were true children of God. Of course the opposite is worldly sorrow. which is the essence of sin itself. It is a sorrow  we have because of the painful and unwelcome consequences of sin. The central reference point is self. It is self pity. The Bible says Jacob's brother Esau sorrowed in a worldly way over his lost birthright in Hebrews 12:16,17,  See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears. And so Paul rejoices in their true  and godly repentance and says in verses 14 and 15, I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well. And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling. This is true sanctification, and growth in grace. In the words of Jesus, Blessed are those that mourn for they shall be comforted. Comfort is what Paul received from the good news, verse 16,  I am glad I can have complete confidence in you.

IV Paul's Gain

What did the Apostle gain from this? Look again at verse 7, He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever. He gained the fellowship of the Corinthian Christians. He told us about your longing, your deep apologetic sorrow, your ardent concern. and it made him rejoice even more because there was healing, there was blessing. Notice the fruit of this process in verse 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. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. And this was, after all, the main reason why Paul wrote as he says in verse 12, So even though I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong or of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. He doesn't mean that he didn't care about the  offender or the victim, but rather he means that the most important thing was the church and its progress. Now as a member of Presbytery i know how every time a charge is brought, or an appeal or complaint comes before us everybody groans. It is hard for us to see the good in this. I serve on the Standing Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church in America, consisting of 24 men who hear every complaint and appeal that comes up from over 40 presbyteries and over 1000 churches. Sometimes I think it is the most discouraging and depressing task in the Church. It is easy for any Session or Presbytery or even for the Standing Judicial Commission to think that these things are an exercise in futility. But, I have had to revise my thinking. The right way to look at this process is as a means of growth and purification. That's what Paul did. It was painful but productive, and at the personal level we need to realize this too. We need to have confidence in God's grace and God's people. We need to be willing to sorrow and wrestle with regret in order to see repentance. When that repentance comes we are joyous and growing, and even when it does not, we learn from the process.