Monday, March 12, 2012

The Explosion of Repentance — 2 Cor. 7:5-11

We live in a world where people feel bad for all sorts of things: People feel sorry for the pain they inflict on others. They feel sad because they do things that affect themselves. They sorrow over the loss of various things, homes, family, jobs, money, etc. People feel bad when they are caught in their sin, either by someone or by God. Shouldn’t we feel bad when bad things happen? Shouldn’t we be sorrowful when we do sinful things against one another? This passage has something to say about sorrow and what godly sorrow, that is sorrow that is helpful, looks like.

For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn--fighting without and fear within… 2 Cor. 7:5-11

Paul begins our text by telling the Corinthians he has been afflicted in every way while he has been in Macedonia [he went there because he did not find Titus in Troas—2:13] (v. 5), but was comforted by God when God sent Titus to him (v. 6). Titus’ visit brought him comfort, but also and for the purposes of this letter the news brought Titus brought great comfort to Paul (v. 7). He then moved on to apologize for a letter he had previously written to the Corinthians. Apparently this letter was taken with a bit of offence at first and had caused the Corinthians some grief, which is why Paul sent Titus to them (v. 8). Paul told them that he had a difficult time writing it because he knew it would cause grief, but he also knew that not all grief was bad (v. 8). This letter had caused the folks to grieve only until they realized that what Paul had written was true and their grief turned to joy as they repented from their sins and turned to God (v. 9). And Paul is rejoicing because the repentance caused godliness, it did not cause them any permanent harm. They suffered no loss because of their sorrow (v. 9).

Then Paul contrasts the two kinds of directions grief and sorrow can take people: they can either respond in ungodliness, which leads to death, or they can respond in repentance which leads to salvation (v. 10). Paul finishes our section by describing the repentance produced by godly sorrow (v. 11). Godly sorrow produces repentance that is in a big hurry, desires strongly to clear the person’s name, indignation against the sin, fear of God, longing to be cleared of the offence, zeal to live a right life and revenge or punishment on all sinfulness (v. 11).

Comfort God’s Way: Let’s talk about comfort for a moment.
Paul describes comfort as something that comes from God. God comforts the downcast (v. 6). God is a comforting God. Who does he comfort? The downcast, those who suffer. In this context Paul is suffering in Maccedonia presumably for preaching the Gospel, for having written a hard letter to the Corinthians and not knowing the outcome, in being lonely. He says the conflict is coming from outside him, presumably from the Jews and Gentiles he was preaching the Gospel to, and from the fears and insecurity that comes along with ministry on the inside, namely concern for those who had heard and believed, those who were being seduced by false teaching, those where scandalizing weaker believers, and fearing the outcome of those who were being preyed upon.

It is important to know that God is a God of comfort. Peter (1Pe 5:7) said to, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (Ps. 55:22). But how does God give comfort? In this case he sent Titus to Paul. Typically God comforts his people by sending others to them. In Eph. 5:14 Paul tells us that those who have the light shined on them become visible and not only do they become visible, but they also become light. When God sends one of his little ones to us to give us comfort, God himself is coming to us. And when we go to someone who needs comfort, we are God giving comfort. We are incarnating Christ to someone in need. There is a strong sense in which, when we comfort someone in the name of Jesus it is Jesus we are reflecting and Jesus we have become to them. God coming and giving us comfort.

This comfort is increased when the messenger comes with good news. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns." (Isa 52:7). Titus brought good news to Paul. When you go to visit someone who needs comfort, you have the opportunity to bring good news to them. It might come in the form of information that sooths their soul, but it might also simply be a word from the Lord, a kind word, an uplifting word, or a simple blessing.

Grief Two Ends:
Worldly grief, the text says, leads eventually to death. But what are some of the steps along the way? It helps a bit to talk first about worldly joy. What kinds of things give worldly people joy? They exult in the work of their hands, the works of the things around them, as if they made them. They exult in their families, friends, acquaintances. They boast in their minds, their thoughts, and their ability to think. They rejoice in their ability to play God with everything in their reach. They find joy in the ability to control things, situations, and people.

Now, take a look at their grief. What causes sorrow in the worldly person? Take away the things that give them joy and watch what happens (or point out that the thing they found joy in is either a lie or empty). Sorrow in a non-Christian produces resentment, anger, striving, bitterness, hardness of heart. And as Paul said in Romans 2:5 “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. Think of Esau, Judas, the grief stricken merchants in Revelation 18:11ff. think of the co-worker who wakes up after a bender and feels horrible for what he’s done, but then does it again the very next weekend. That kind of sorrow traps and kills.

Grief that is in accord with God’s Will produces godly repentance which in turn produces life with no regrets. Look at what Godly sorrow produces. What repentance looks like from the outside. Paul really emphasizes this when he says, “Just look at what it produces!!!” (1) What hast, eagerness, zeal, and earnestness. What seriousness of purpose. (2) What defense of yourselves, the word is the word we get apologetics from. It is the kind of defense that is actually a very strong offense. (3) What indignation: probably at the source of the problem Paul is attacking, and at themselves for falling for that old trick. (4) What fear: probably something like a fear that their sin has caused great damage in the world that God so carefully made, and the Kingdom of God that Christ died to create. (5) What yearning, what longing, KJV has vehement desire: probably related to their zeal to do what is right and to be what God has for them. In Eph. 5:1 Paul tells the reader they are to imitate beloved children who want to be like their father, so we too are to be like God as beloved children. (6) Paul used a different word here from the Zealousness he used before. They have very similar meaning. The difference is that the first one has to do with speed. The second may have to do with depth of change. And (7) What Punishment, revenge, avenging the wrong, a strong desire to see wrongs righted and justice carried out and God lifted up.

At every point, the person who expresses godly repentance explodes with unreserved godliness and God focus. Every fiber of the repentant person is focused on serving, pleasing, and imitating God. They are so wrapped up in the joy of having been forgiven and given the opportunity to turn things around that they are almost literally on fire for God. Godly repentance produces an explosion in the life of the one who sorrows for their sin in a godly way. And it is the kind of explosion that everyone around him or her can see.

Regret, remorse, sorrow, etc. for sin and repentance are not synonyms. “I’m sorry” is not the same thing as I repent and turn to God with my whole heart. Repentance is an explosion changes that reflect received grace and mercy.

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