Second Corinthians 7:2–16 . . .

Of Sorrow and Joy

There's no getting around it: We all need to repent. Whenever we hurt someone else, break a law, tell a lie, take something from someone else, gossip, smear another person's reputation, and so on, we need to repent, to change our mind, attitude, and behavior. Today's passage gives us marvelous insight on how to repent properly.

Apostle Paul's opening paragraph (vv. 2–4, shown below) shows the right approach and attitude for repentance in another. Please read those three verses now. . . . Notice the positive, encouraging approach that he takes. The apostle doesn't attack, condemn, or accuse these people. He's very careful to do three things with the Corinthians believers.

First, he clears his conscience, saying "We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one" (NIV). Obviously he doesn't mean throughout their lifetime, because Paul himself had been a persecutor of the church, doing a lot of wrong things. He means, while an apostle in Corinth, he hadn't injured, corrupted, or taken advantage of anyone; he wants them to first understand that. As far as his conscience is concerned, he must start out by admitting that he was wrong. This is where Jesus' words (Matthew 7:5 NIV) come in. So, unless we start with a clear conscience, there's no hope for repentance.

Second, Paul says, "I do not say this to condemn you" (v. 3). Instead, and most importantly, he speaks very affirmatively.

Third, after repentance is realized, he encourages them: "I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds." What a marvelous note of encouragement! Paul's approach at repentance of another starts by encouraging them and affirming that he loves them and is supporting him.

Paul shows the Corinthians how he shared their hurt with them (v. 5–7). These three verses are a flashback to what we've already looked at in chapter 2. Paul's very reason for writing this letter was his distress over these people while he awaited Titus' return with word as to what was happening in Corinth. Today, the one thing that helps us bear our burdens and pressures is to remember that God knows about them; he knows better than you how much you can bear.

In vv. 8–11, we come to the heart of this matter of repentance, finding a wonderful analysis of the actual process of bringing someone to repentance. Notice that it starts with a very loving confrontation. Verse 8 refers to the "severe letter" (that Warren covered in our study of 1:14–2:4). In it the apostle said some very straightforward things to the Corinthians, knowing that he'd surely hurt them while writing it in distress. What a "loving admonition"! He gently confronts these people with what's wrong, which is the start of repentance.

In vv. 9–10, Paul raises a new point leading up to repentance. Whenever somebody accuses you of not being right, whenever somebody tells you the truth about yourself, it hurts. It can produce one of two reactions, which Paul calls either "godly sorrow" or "worldly sorrow." With sorrow we often feel hurt; we might wonder which type of sorrow we feel?

But repentance isn't a sorrowful "feeling" to have; instead, it's an "act" that you take. Merely "feeling" sorry for what you've done definitely isn't repenting. To repent means to change your behavior. Paul describes more fully in v. 11 what godly sorrow is like, and what effects it produces. Have you ever blamed and accused God, but later saw the truth and realized how foolish you'd been? That's godly sorrow. In contrast, there are those who suffer from worldly sorrow, with an unwillingness to face the matter, demanding you to "Drop it!" If you don't forgive them immediately, their worldly sorrow makes them become upset and angry.

"Of Sorrow and Joy": Paul's Four Main Points  Paul first describes "the joy of recovery" in vv. 12–13a; it's what happens when godly sorrow leads to repentance. We discover in those verses a renewed awareness of who we are. In effect, Paul's saying, The real reason I wrote wasn't to straighten out this problem. You got into this condition because you forgot who you were: sons of God and children of light. You have understanding of life that others don't have; you have power to act that others don't possess. I wrote to show you who you are so you'd want to change your behavior. That's what's happened, why I rejoice, and why I'm comforted.

Next, Paul writes in vv. 13b–14 about "vindication," i.e., to clear people of blame. All that Paul had felt about them and had even said about them to Titus, while the trouble was still going on, was vindicated by their recent behavior. That's one of the joyful things about repentance: It enables people to regain confidence in what they'd always felt.

When you treat repentance in this godly, scriptural way, it renews a sense of "confidence" — in Paul and in Titus. That's the third point. It awakened the respect of others, as he writes in v. 15. Titus was impressed by the Corinthians' repentance. Their change of heart and actions impressed him. When we handle truthful accusations in a godly way, that is, instead of fighting back and getting defensive and angry, we acknowledge the truth and change our behavior. Such change leads to increased respect on each side.

The fourth point Paul emphasizes is "the increased joy that repentance gives." He closes his account with v. 16. The end result of all God's dealings with us is that it increases ours and everyone's joy, thanks to the powerful, loving, encouraging Spirit of God who's actively at work in these kinds of matters. Hopefully Paul's "Of Sorrow and Joy" lesson today will have practical effects in your life, enabling you to learn how to handle those truthful accusations. Regarding untruthful accusations, we can, of course, quietly point out what's wrong; there's nothing wrong with that. However, when truth is behind an accusation, then godly sorrow and hurt lead to our repentance, which leads inevitably and thankfully to our liberty and freedom. Thank you, Holy Spirit, amen.

It Makes You Wonder . . .
  • Q. 1  Why does Paul want the Corinthian believers to open up their hearts to him (vv. 2–4; see 6:11–13)?
  • Q. 2  What intentions does Paul clarify in vv. 8–13 and 2:3–4)? Practically, how do godly and worldly sorrow differ?
  • Q. 3  When did godly sorrow motivate you to make a real change (i.e., to repent)?

This Week’s Passage
2 Corinthians 7:2–16

New International Version (NIV)
[You can view it in a different version by clicking here; you can also listen to chapter 7.]

Paul's Joy Over the Church's Repentance

2Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. 3I 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. 4I 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.

5For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn — conflicts on the outside, fears within. 6But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7and 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.

8Even 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 — 9yet 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. 10Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11See 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. 12So even though I wrote to you, it was neither on account of the one who did the wrong nor on account of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. 13By all this we are encouraged.

In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you. 14I 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. 15And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling. 16I am glad I can have complete confidence in you.