2 Corinthians 7:7-11
By Drew Zuverink
“He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever. Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it - I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while - yet now I am happy - not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed by us in any way. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
The apostle Paul claims that there are two distinct types of sorrow that a person experiences over sin. One type leads to repentance and positive change, another leads to death.
This is Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. In the first letter he had received reports from members of the Corinthian church that things weren’t going so great since Paul had left. There were divisions within the church and a whole lot of arguing, so much so that some were about to take each other to court. There was a member who was sleeping with his own fathers wife, which was such a disturbing thing to do that Paul says, “even unbelievers would not tolerate that kind of behavior.” He also had heard that when the church would celebrate the
Lord’s supper, some people would eat so much and drink so much that they would become drunk, while others did not receive any food or drink and left the service hungry.
This church was a mess and so Paul wrote his first letter to them so that he could address some of the things that he had been told. Rightfully so the apostle was very tough on them, telling them that their services often did more harm than good! I’m not sure there would be a worse thing for a church to hear than that their services do harm and not good. And so he rebuked some of the members of this church and he commanded them to do better.
Fast forward to 2 Corinthians chapter 7. Paul’s tone has changed. He has received another report about this church and this time it is a good report. Titus tells him that the people were so grieved by Paul’s first letter that they repented of their sinful behaviors and began to change for the better. This makes Paul very happy and he says that, “my joy was greater than ever.” Then he goes on to tell them that how they responded to their sins was exactly how God intended it to be. He tells them that, “Godly sorrow brings about repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings about death.”
You see not all sorrow over sin is a good thing. Becoming sad and remorseful over one’s sin is a good thing, so long as it is the kind of sorrow that God intended us to feel. There is another kind of sorrow over sin that only leads to death.
Worldly sorrow over sin begins to self deprecate. It begins to hate oneself and to want to punish oneself. It overwhelms us with such guilt and embarrassment over what we have just done that it pushes us away from the presence of God because it tells us, “God doesn’t want anything to do with you right now, go and feel the shame of what you have just done.”
This kind of sorrow does not produce repentance or helpful change in any way. Punishing ourselves by staying away from God is never helpful. This kind of sorrow will actually lead to more sinful thoughts and behaviors.
Godly sorrow is much different. Godly sorrow still hurts because we know that we just sinned against the God that we love, but Godly sorrow awakens us and pushes us towards God’s direct presence so that we can apologize and receive his forgiveness.
When we sin we often feel the weight of disappointing and hurting God. This can cause us to either hate ourselves, or go to God for reconciliation. God intends for us to be drawn back into his loving arms when we feel sorrow over sin, he never wants to push us away.
And so today, my fellow sinner, you may be a mess right now. Your recent track record of obedience to God might look almost as bad as some of the members of the early Corinthian church... But if God accepted those people when they came to him for forgiveness and reconciliation, with all of the horrible things they had been doing, he will certainly give you the reconciliation and love that you want. Just go to him, it’s what he wants too.