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Mar 06, 2016 | Ryan Bleyenberg

2 Corinthians 7:2-16, "The Joy of Grief"

The Apostle Paul came to the city of Corinth on his 2nd missionary journey and spent one and a half years there. As you are obviously aware, we have record of 2 letters he sent to the church in Corinth which make up the books of 1 and 2 Corinthians. But these weren’t the only letters he wrote to them. While Paul was in Ephesus on his 3rd missionary journey, disturbing news came to him. Therefore he wrote a letter to them addressing the issues he had heard of. That was the first letter which has since been lost, but we know the church asked for clarification on some things. That request, along with more disturbing reports, prompted Paul’s 2nd letter which we know as 1 Corinthians. Now Paul wasn’t able to utilize email or send a letter in three days by the postal service. Instead, he had to send messengers to deliver his letters. The messengers would not only deliver their message, but they were able to observe how it was received and of course bring back a response. The response to the letter known as 1 Corinthians was bad. So bad in fact that it caused Paul to abandon his work in Ephesus and go to Corinth to personally address the church. This was was referred to in 2 Corinthians 2 as “the painful visit”. Paul was not well received and he returned to Ephesus.

            Paul then received, you guessed it, more bad reports. 1 Corinthians would not have been an easy letter to receive. It reveals a whole host of very dangerous issues going on. But as harsh as it was, it does not compare to his next letter, which is referred to as “the severe letter”. It was delivered by Titus. By this point, there had been riots in Ephesus which forced Paul to go to Troas. We read in 2 Corinthians that a door for the Gospel was opened to Paul there but he could find no rest until he heard Titus’ report from Corinth, so he went to Macedonia to look for Titus. Upon finding Titus and hearing his report he wrote another letter, the letter from which our text comes tonight, 2 Corinthians. False teachers had come to Corinth who challenged Paul’s apostleship and criticized his ministry. The church of Corinth was now questioning Paul, his authority, and his ministry. He was not well received during his painful visit. In spite of ministering to them for a year and half, their relationship was filled with tension as the people were distrusting this man who had filled the role of pastor. Nothing is ever just business. Official roles and responsibilities cannot be separated from a relationship with someone. Sometimes when I meet new people, our conversation gets off to a good start and we’ll be getting along quite well. But then, inevitably, a question will come up that I can’t avoid... “What do you do for a living?” or “What brings you to Canada?” At the first mention of Jesus or church, the walls go up. They feel duped, as if they already said too much. And this happens within the church too. If I ask someone to coffee, it’s not uncommon for them to assume that they’re in trouble for something. If someone is afraid of God, and afraid to speak to a pastor, then they don’t just simply avoid you during working hours and on Sundays, they avoid you altogether. Kind of hard to have a relationship. That is some of the tension that is going on as Paul writes this letter. As we’ll see from our text tonight, his words address both of those aspects of their personal relationship and respect for his authority to teach and lead them. [READ 2 CORINTHIANS 7:2-16]

            Vs 2 begins with this command from Paul, “Make room in your hearts for us”. Those words are immediately followed with a defense of his ministry. Chapter 10 reveals that the false teachers in Corinth were probably very skilled speakers and attacked Paul for the fact that he spoke such strong words in his letters while he was away but was a meek man and speaker face to face. Paul’s defense here is short and sweet. He wronged no one. He corrupted no one. He took advantage of no one. In fact, we read in Acts 18 how Paul worked as a tentmaker in Corinth. So he worked and ministered in order that he might proclaim the Gospel to them with no burdens or charge. All these qualities are opposite of the false teachers who were there. Also, in spite of the painful visits and letters, Paul does not act out of anger, but love. He loves them so much that he pursues them with great boldness. Think about that for a moment, that boldness could be evidence of love. On our first dessert night together in December, we had a lot of hand shakes and a lot of very surface level conversations. However, as time goes on, the conversations have become much deeper, much more personal, much more encouraging, filled with much more laughter and even vulnerability. The handshakes are turning to hugs. As that happens, the phrase “it was nice to meet you” turns to “it’s so good to see you”, and even expressions that we love each other. Even amongst ourselves, we see that our boldness grows with our love. Paul acted with great boldness which was motivated by great love. He lets that testimony be a defense for his strong letters and an appeal to soften their hearts. To receive him. To receive his teachings. To do both together. Don’t reject me, I have not rejected you.

            Next, Paul speaks of his joy and comfort, or encouragement. Vs 5 “afflicted at every turn - fighting without and fear within” but yet encouraged and overflowing with joy. How so? He speaks of circumstances that encourage him, but notice in verse 6 that all of his joy is rooted in God. Every person and circumstance that he finds comfort and joy in, he does so in relation to God. The Corinthians as well, they bring comfort and joy to Paul in relation to God, because of their relationship with God. That’s one thing we need to be careful to observe in our leaders. Where do they find their joy. Is it in personal joys, or is it in Christ? The answer to that question makes a big difference. If a person’s joy is not in Christ, then their ministries will be empty, they’ll be nothing more than mere responsibilities and duties. In time, the demands of ministry will cause frustration, bitterness, and separation. In Paul’s example, we see that true love for the Lord will breed integrity and innocence in us, a reliance on the Lord for our every joy, and the ability for us to boldly express true selfless love.

            So what about the Corinthians brought Paul joy? It was their grief. No, Paul wasn’t a sick or twisted man. He regretted his actions. He wished he could take back his actions, but the Corinthian’s grief turned Paul’s regret to joy. Vs. 9, “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.” He found joy in them having right hearts before God. Even though he hurt them, he recognized that that hurt would disappear in their embrace of the grace of Christ.

            Next, he distinguishes Godly grief from worldly grief. We need to be acutely aware of these differences in two ways: in the sorrow we receive and feel as well as in the ways we may cause others sorrow. This is not a license to hurt. If you go about spitting daggers and fire and sneaking in little jabs at everyone, then you simply cause pain. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, if I “have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” You’re not contributing to the masterpiece of a symphony that God is composing; you’re off beat and a distraction. Our goal is not pain, but humble sorrow. Godly grief will not just break down, but it will always point to hope and grace in Christ. We seek not pain and guilt, but gracious and truthful corrections.

            Worldly grief brings no hope. Worldly grief brings a sense that an individual has been wronged. It leaves guilt with no opportunity to repent. Worldly grief is hopeless and breeds bitterness and anger. As Paul said, worldly grief produces death.

            So let us now look more intently at what Godly sorrow and conviction produces in an open and humble heart that is ready to receive truth and be taught. Vs. 11 “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.” Depending on your translation, this verse could read very differently, so let’s look at each of these items.

            Earnestness. The Greek word used here is “spoude”, which means haste,eagerness, diligence. This word conveys 2 things. A desire to do right, and a desire to do so quickly.

            The next item is eagerness to clear oneself, or vindication. They did not embrace sin but desired to be found innocent before the Lord.

             The next fruit of repentance we find is indignation. They became angered at wrong doing. Their hearts were desiring more and more the things that God desires. They were becoming holy.

            The next fruit we see is fear. The Greek word used here is “phobos” and it conveys a sense of reverence. This not a sinful cowardice, but a reverent and respectful fear. The text doesn’t go into anymore detail here about their fear. This may have been a fear of God and the consequences of their sin, not just their own punishment, but the harmful effects it has on others.

            The next two are longing and zeal. These two were also mentioned in vs. 7 and Titus’ report “your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me.” These are intense and emotional words. Our desire to correct our actions is not one of stoic detachment, but it should be with great passion and energy that we seek God’s word and seek reconciliation with those we’ve wronged. And this is hard, because often in our guilt we still tend to give in to pride and hope our wrong doings will simply be unnoticed and forgotten without any further shame for us. But true repentance, grounded in the boldness of Godly love, should push us and cultivate a passionate desire to learn and to reconcile. We are to receive God’s message, and we are to receive the one who corrects. Repentance leads to reconciliation with God and others.

            Finally, we see punishment, or “ekdikhesis”. This is a giving of justice. Their conviction and Godly sorrow gave them a desire to be just and right their own wrongs as well.

            When we feel sorrow and pain, we must careful how we respond. If the pain is focused on ourselves, how we’ve been wronged, that is a worldly sorrow that looks away from Christ. It leads to death because it leads away from Christ. We must take our sorrows, fears, anxieties, and criticisms and search for how we can better produce earnestness, eagerness to be innocent, indignation and justice against wrong doing, reverent fear and zeal. And if we do not have these things in mind when we speak to others, then we are causing worldly sorrow. We are leading the recipients of our words to hopelessness and death. If our lives are full of people we don’t want to talk to, or that don’t want to speak to us, then we need to really observe if  we have lost sight of Godly sorrow and given into worldly grief. Whether we are on the giving or receiving end of an action, everything we do must be rooted in the hope and truth that is found alone in Jesus. When it is, we see the beauty of repentance, which brings encouragement and joy.

            In the last few verses of this chapter, Paul continues to speak about the comfort, or encouragement that the Corinthians’ repentance brought to Titus and to Paul and those with him. He also mentions that he had boasted of the church in Corinth to Titus. Now let’s think about that. Paul spent 18 months of ministry with them, wrote 2 letters of rebuke, had a painful visit of rebuke in which his words were not received, and then what is called a “severe letter”. There seems to be a lot of negative reports and exchanges here. And yet, Paul is still boasting of them, even before he hears  news of their repentance. How? Why? Please turn to 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. I read this passage last week, and I believe it is applicable here again, especially since Paul wrote this to the church in Corinth. Paul knew the truth of the Gospel that had been declared to the Corinthians and he knew the power of the Gospel which they received. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord”. Paul was convinced of God’s working in this church and was confident that God would continue to work and sanctify. He truly viewed every relationship in perspective to Christ.

            Verse 16 concludes with these words, “I rejoice, because I have perfect confidence in you”. This statement brings us full circle. Paul has confidence in them because he has confidence in the God they serve. When every action, and hope, and relationship is rooted in Christ, then with every difficulty and sorrow that we face, we must work toward Godly sorrow and repentance. It is there, in repentance to Christ, in submission to His leadership, that we bear fruit.  When our strength and joy is in Him, we find encouragement wherever we see Him, in every relationship and in every sorrow that is turned to fruit.

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