For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. Therefore we are comforted.
And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. For whatever boasts I made to him about you, I was not put to shame. But just as everything we said to you was true, so also our boasting before Titus has proved true. And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you. – 2 Corinthians 7:10-16 ESV
Something had happened within the church at Corinth. There was some situation that had taken place about which Paul was compelled to write a now-lost letter. In that letter he had be forced to confront the issue. He writes, “although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong” (2 Corinthians 7:12 ESV). Paul says the purpose in having written them his confrontational letter had been to reveal to them just how truly loyal they were to him and his leadership. Evidently the individual to whom Paul refers had been critical of his ministry and authority, and “the one who suffered the wrong” had been Paul himself. Paul always had critics. There was no shortage of those individuals who questioned his apostleship or argued against his authority. Whoever this individual was, he had been misleading the church and undermining all the work Paul had done there. So, in this letter, Paul is following up with the Corinthians, after having heard back from Titus, whom he had sent to check on the situation first-hand. The report from Titus was encouraging. “Therefore we are comforted,” Paul proudly states. They had remained committed to Paul’s teaching and committed to following his leadership. In fact, Paul states that any grief or sorrow his letter might have produced, had resulted in “a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10 ESV). That is why he can refer to it as godly sorrow, rather than worldly sorrow. The sorrow associated with this world can only produce death. Sorrow over sin that does not result in a willingness to repent of it can not produce life change. Sorrow over sin that does not drive us to the foot of the cross for cleansing by Christ’s blood can never produce life. Worldly sorrow can only produce despair, resentment, anger, and a growing callousness. We find ourselves becoming less and less sorrowful over our sin, finally reaching the point where we claim that we have not sinned at all.
But for believers, godly sorrow produces repentance, and repentance leads to forgiveness. Paul points out that the sorrow of the Corinthians had had a positive outcome.
Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right. – 2 Corinthians 7:11 NLT
It had revealed their desire to do what was right. They had been saddened at the thought that their actions had caused Paul pain. They were motivated to show him that they remained faithful to him. It alarmed them that their behavior had led Paul to question their loyalty. And they realized that they had been lax in dealing with the one who had been causing the trouble. All Paul had done was point out their sin. The Holy Spirit had done the rest. He had used the words of Paul to convict the Corinthians and the outcome was their repentance and the restoration of their relationship with Paul.
Paul even comments that Titus had been encouraged by his visit to check on the Corinthians. Paul says, “his spirit has been refreshed by you all” (2 Corinthians 7:13b ESV). He returned joyful and telling Paul that all his boasts about the Corinthians had been true.
Paul ends this section of his letter with the word, “I have complete confidence in you” (2 Corinthians 7:16 ESV). It is the same he started it. “I have great confidence in you; I take great pride on your behalf. I am filled with encouragement; I am overflowing with joy in the midst of all our suffering” (2 Corinthians 7:4 NET). Paul was encouraged greatly by the news that the Corinthians had not wandered away from the faith or rejected his role as their spiritual father. He had a deep, deep longing to see them grow spiritually. He had a father’s heart that desired to protect his spiritual children from harm and to keep them from straying away from the truth. So the news that they remained faithful was enough to help Paul make it through the trials and troubles he faced as he continued to share the gospel throughout Macedonia and the surrounding regions. He could rest easy knowing that his flock in Corinth remained safe and secure. His loving confrontation had resulted in their sorrow. Their sorrow had led to their repentance. And their repentance had resulted in their salvation. They had been rescued or delivered from a potentially destructive path. Because of the love of Paul and with the help of the Holy Spirit, they had been able to make a course correction and return to the path God had intended for them to follow. But what if Paul had never written that now-missing letter? What if he had chosen to ignore their sin? What if he had refused to confront them because he didn’t want to offend them? Love is not the same as tolerance. Godly love is willing to say the hard thing. It compassionately confronts. It affectionately admonishes. Allowing a brother or sister in Christ to continue in sin because you don’t want to offend them isn’t love. That would be like allowing your child to play in the street because you don’t want to spoil all their fun, because you don’t want to come across as the “bad” parent. But that’s not love, it’s a subtle and dangerous form of child abuse. Godly love is willing to hurt. Godly love is willing to produce godly sorrow, because godly sorrow leads to repentance and life.
My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. – James 5:19-20 NLT