Actual Good Grief

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Authentic Ministry 16/Second Corinthians

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There are three kinds of grief in this passage. The first is Paul’s godly response to the pastoral meltdown at Corinth. Paul had been entirely “cast down” (v. 6), and these were the troubles out of which the coming of Titus had been the deliverance. Then there is the godly sorrow and grief that follows after sin, and which results in true repentance (v. 10). But the third kind, the sorrow “of the world” leads only to death (v. 10).

The Text

“Receive us; we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man. I speak not this to condemn you: for I have said before, that ye are in our hearts to die and live with you. Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation. For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears . . .” (2 Corinthians 7:2–16).

Summary of the Text

The first exhortation here to “receive us” is echoing the earlier summons to open or enlarge their hearts (v. 2). Paul says he has wronged no one, corrupted no one, and defrauded no one (v. 2). This is perhaps an indication of the nature of the charges that had been made against him. Paul is not trying to condemn the Corinthians who are still on the fence—with all his heart he wants to die and live with them (v. 3) Paul is bold in writing to them because he is overjoyed in them, and filled with comfort (v. 4). We now learn about how torn up Paul was in Macedonia—fears within, quarrels without (v. 5). But Paul was comforted two ways—the first through the coming of Titus (v. 6), and second by the news Titus brought (v. 7). Paul was greatly comforted to learn about the Corinthians’ “earnest desire,” their “mourning,” and their “fervent mind toward” Paul (v. 7). Although Paul had made them sorry with that letter, he did not regret it now (v. 8)—although there had been some moments where he did regret it. Perhaps right after he hit “send.” Their sorrow was just for a season (v. 8)—the sorrow was a fruitful sorrow, not a damaging sorrow (v. 9). For there are two kinds of sorrow and grief—one leads to repentance and salvation, while a worldly sorry just works death (v. 10). He then describes their godly sorrow, the components of which were diligence, clearing themselves, indignation, fear, vehement desire, zeal, and vindication (v. 11). In all this, they went above and beyond. Paul was not aiming at the ringleader in the congregation who had caused the trouble, nor was he defending himself, but rather that they might see his pastoral care for all of them (v. 12).  This is why the news from Titus about how refreshed he was in them was so good (v. 13). When Paul had bragged about the Corinthians to Titus, this was simply the same kind of truth he used to speak to them. And they had not embarrassed him (v. 14), so now Titus is warmly attached to that congregation as well (v. 15). Note that this deep affection is not inconsistent with obedience, and fear, and trembling (v. 15). The whole episode has caused Paul to rejoice in all things (v. 16).

A Mess in Corinth, and Another One in Macedonia

Paul had a meltdown situation in Corinth, which he had sent Titus to deal with by means of a severe letter. He came to Macedonia, expecting to find Titus there, but Titus had been delayed. And instead of Titus, he found a bad situation there in Macedonia—everywhere he turned he ran into conflict (v. 5). But mark this while remembering that the Macedonians receive some high praise just a few verses later.

Internally, Paul was beset with fears that all his work might come crashing down. This was a common concern of his—were all those floggings for nothing? Consider Gal. 4:11; 1 Thess. 3:5; and 2 Cor. 11:28-29.

In the Person of Titus

When Titus came, God was the one who comforted Paul (v. 6). Titus was the instrument, and God was the agent. This expression is likely an allusion to Is. 49:13 in the LXX—where God brings eschatological comfort to His people. The coming of Titus was like that. Christ has a body in this world, and He works good for His people through that body. You are the hands and feet of Christ Himself in the world.

Sevenfold Repentance

The repentance of the Corinthians before Titus had been a convulsive and dramatic one. They were not at all trying to preserve their dignity, putting things right without ever having to humble themselves. Remember that Paul mentions their obedience, their fear, and their trembling. This is a combination of a felt and very real authority with deep and open affection—the kind that Paul displayed with his enlarged heart.

So the sevenfold repentance could not be described as being in any way nonchalant. They were diligent, they worked to clear themselves, there was real indignation, they feared, they showed vehement desire, they displayed their zeal, and their hunger for vindication. And notice that Titus accepts all of this kind of behavior, as does Paul.

Actual Good Grief

Paul sharply distinguishes godly sorrow from a worldly sorrow. There are two kinds of sorrow. The fact that you did something wrong, and are sorry about it, does not by itself mean anything. Suppose you did something that was pretty tawdry, and you are humiliated about it. Every time you think about it, your forehead gets hot. You sinned on Monday, and you are sorry on Tuesday. Comes Friday, and you are still gnawing on your sorrow, like a dog with a bone. You are sorry yesterday, sorry today, and sorry tomorrow. At this rate, you are going to die sorry. That kind of sorrow is one of the things that needs to be repented of. You are trying to pay for your sin with sorrow, and it is an insulting and inadequate payment. It fails necessarily.

The godly sorrow that Paul describes right alongside this worldly sorrow is a godly sorrow that “works repentance to salvation.” That salvation, remember, is Christ. Godly sorrow drives you where? Godly sorrow leads straight to Christ. Godly sorrow leads you straight to the place of no regrets (v. 10).

This is how you distinguish the right kind of sorrow from the deathly kind. The right sort of sorrow brings closure and healing. The wrong kind of sorrow is an open, ongoing festering wound.

The only way such a thing could ever be possible is that if all our regrets, and all the sins that produce such regrets, are bundled up together and laid on the shoulders of Christ at the moment when He bowed His head and died.

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