Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.
For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear 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 with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. – 2 Corinthians 7:2-9 ESV
Paul had written a letter to the Corinthians, which has long been lost. It was evidently written some time between 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians, and contained some difficult topics that Paul was forced to address. In writing the letter, Paul was concerned that its tone and content would be poorly received by them. But he was encouraged to find out that, while the letter did produce grief among the Corinthians, it led to their repentance. Paul’s intentions were always for the best. He loved ministering to the churches he had help plant and he was zealous to both encourage and convict. He never meant to hurt, deceive or take advantage of anyone. Each of the letters he wrote were couched in love. Yes, they sometimes contained tough words that had a convicting influence. Paul was not one to pull punches or worry about political correctness. He could be painfully blunt and direct, speaking with “great boldness”.
Even in the midst of his trials and difficulties, Paul could find joy in knowing that the believers in Corinth had received his last letter appropriately and were responding properly. This news made the difficult circumstances he encountered in Macedonia easier to endure. He was encouraged. He was comforted. The good news he received from Titus of their longing for him, sadness at hearing of his troubles and strong desire to see him again was a boost to his system. Rather than being mad at him for his letter, they missed him.
Paul eludes to the fact that his most recent missionary journey had been anything but easy. He says, that while traveling through the region of Macedonia, “our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within” (2 Corinthians 7:5 ESV). He doesn’t elaborate on what kinds of struggles he encountered, but they had been enough to cause him to fear, even for his own life. Paul was used to facing opposition and found himself on more than one occasion of having to leave a city with a crowd in hot pursuit, seeking to take his life. But it was all worth it if he could see people come to faith in Christ and have the unique privilege of helping young believers grow in their faith.
That is why their positive reception of his previous letter meant so much to him. Their repentance was what his heart longed for and was the reason he had written the letter in the first place. And while he felt some regret for having had to write it in the first place, he knew that it was for their own good. “Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way” (2 Corinthians 7:9 NLT). Tough love is hard to administer and equally hard to accept. But Paul had been motivated by his love for them and his deep desire to for them to see their sin, repent of it and enjoy the restoration that God can bring.
Paul’s letter had left them feeling bad, but in the end it produced a good kind of grief – a grief that led to their repentance. The truth is, each of us as believers should long to have our sins exposed in order that we might repent of them and enjoy the forgiveness that comes with confession. The apostle John would have us remember, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NLT). But in order to confess our sins, we have to be made aware of their existence. Sometimes this happens as the result of a loving friend, who like Paul, is willing to speak truth into our lives. Other times, our sins are exposed to us through the Word of God by the Spirit of God who reside within us. And if repentance is so important to restoration, it would seem that we would want God to reveal to us any sins we are ignorant of and incapable of seeing. That is what led King David to pray…
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139:23-24 NLT
The exposure of our sins, while unpleasant, is critical to our ongoing transformation into the likeness of Christ. Asking God to “point out anything that offends” Him is risky, but well worth it. When it comes to sin, ignorance is not bliss. It is totally untrue to assume that what we don’t know can’t hurt us. Unknown sin becomes unresolved sin. And unresolved sin leaves us in an unrepentant state. And as long as we remain unrepentant, we are unable to enjoy the full joy of our relationship with God. As Paul will elaborate on in the following verses, there really is a good grief, a godly grief that produces good results.