Introduction An Italian neighbour returned from the woods near where we stayed with a large quantity of wild mushrooms - they had a very distinctive taste. She warned, ‘If you are going to pick any yourself you must learn the difference between those that are harmful and those that are safe to eat! Making the wrong choice can be fatal’. Paul describes two kinds of sorrow in v10, godly sorrow that leads to salvation and worldly sorrow leads to death. It is equally important that we are able to distinguish between the two. The Corinthians had made the right choice and are commended for it. In order to develop this important distinction we need to remind ourselves of some background.
Presentation 11 Background Paul's relationship with the church at Corinth had begun to deteriorate. It had become strained. This had been caused by the hostility of his rivals in the church and also by [cf.Ch2v14] the sharp public rebuke that he had sent to the church for failing in the business of church discipline. Titus had gone to Corinth to ensure that Paul's letter of rebuke was acted upon. So concerned was Paul by the whole affair that he could not settle down to the business of preaching. And so he abandoned the work in Troas and sailed back to Macedonia in the hope of meeting Titus returning from Corinth.
Presentation 11 Background Paul’s arrival there was not without its difficulties. The ‘conflicts on the outside’ v5 mat refer the Macedonian authorities recalling that his previous visit to Philippi had been marked by a public riot, an earthquake, the collapse of the local jail and the embarrassment of the public officials who had been responsible for Paul’s wrongful imprisonment. Authorities can make life difficult for foreign missionaries if they wish to do! Paul also describes ‘fears within’. Was Paul worried by the letter he had sent? Had it played into the hands of his rivals who might exploit it to their advantage? Many of us will know what it is to be haunted by fears that we have not made the right decision, or said the right thing, or handled a situation as best we might.
Presentation 11 Background God stepped into this stressful situation at just the right time by bringing Titus to encourage Paul with good news that the Corinthian crisis seemed to be resolving itself v6. We can sense the overwhelming sense of relief in these verses for many of Paul's fears had been groundless. He is told that the Corinthians were sorry for the way in which they had behaved. However, Paul is concerned to discover what kind of sorrow they had expressed. He knew that only one kind of sorrow would be of benefit to them. This gives Paul's teaching on the subject of repentance in this chapter its great significance.
Presentation 11 Appropriateness Of Godly Sorrow Paul tells his readers that he does not regret causing them sorrow, Why? ‘For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us’ v9. There are some kinds of sorrow about which Paul could not say, ‘For you became sorrowful as God intended’. There are depressive, guilt ridden psychiatric conditions that are the products of unhealthy and abnormal minds. Far from resulting in a liberation into newness of life they sometimes quite literally result in death. One in ten seriously depressed persons attempt suicide. What then is the difference between this self-destructive melancholy and godly sorrow. The difference is vitally important for the sorrow that is produced by an unhealthy mind is always an inappropriate sorrow.
Presentation 11 Appropriateness Of Godly Sorrow Sorrow can be inappropriate because the sin over which it grieves is totally imaginary. The clinically depressed person can be reduced to despair over appalling crimes which they mistakenly believe they have committed. Sometimes people's sorrow is inappropriate because it is grossly exaggerated. The depressed person can see a personal failing that is out of all proportion to its true seriousness. After a minor scrape in the car they behave as though responsible for a multiple motorway pile-up. In these cases sorrow is inappropriate because it reflects a guilt that is either the product of illusion. But this was not the case in Corinth. A real sin had been committed. The church had been negligent in exercising discipline and therefore their sorrow was quite appropriate.
Presentation 11 Appropriateness Of Godly Sorrow One of the most disturbing effects of humanism in the field of psychiatry has been a weakening of people's grasp of 'appropriate guilt'. Freud taught that morality is simply a matter of social convention, and any sense of right and wrong is the product of the conditioning we receive as children. Our conscience is nothing more than a commentary on our parents value systems. Hence feelings of guilt are best ignored! As a result many people today regard guilt feelings as unhealthy. We no longer speak of 'the conviction of sin' and send people off to speak to a Christian minister, we speak of a 'guilt complex' and send them off to a psychiatrist for therapy.
Presentation 11 Appropriateness Of Godly Sorrow Have you heard Anna Russell's 'Psychiatric Folk Song‘? I went to my psychiatrist to be psychoanalysed To find out why I killed the cat and blacked my husband's eye. He laid me on a downy couch to see what he could find, And here is what he dredged up, from my subconscious mind. When I was one my mummy hid my dolly in a trunk And so it follows, naturally, that I am always drunk. When I was two I saw my father kiss the maid one day, And that is why I suffer from Kleptomania. At three I had a feeling of ambivalence towards my brothers And so it follows, naturally, I poisoned all my lovers. But I am happy now I've learned the lesson this has taught: Everything I do that's wrong, is someone else's fault
Presentation 11 Appropriateness Of Godly Sorrow This guilt denying attitude abounds today. The goal of Christian ministry is not to eliminate guilt feelings but to help people to recognise the source of their guilt and then to deal with it appropriately. Christianity is not an elixir of happiness. There are times when people ought to be sorrowful. This is why Paul could say, 'I do not regret it, even if I caused you sorrow because you have not been harmed by it'. When we feel guilty the first questions we must ask is, 'What do I feel guilty about? How serious is it?’ Be suspicious of vague feelings of guilt. The Holy Spirit is specific when he convicts of sin. He points to words, actions and thoughts that we can identify. God intends us to experience only appropriate godly sorrow. It's always a response to real sins.
Presentation 11 Godly Sorrow Practically Expressed It is not only possible to have a sorrow for sin that is inappropriate, it is possible to possess a sorrow that is insincere. The classic example is Pharaoh’s reaction to the plagues that threatened Egypt. Pharaoh refused to free God's people from bondage and God would send a plague, Pharaoh would repent or, appear to, and the plague was removed. But then the old resistance re-emerged and he repented of his repentance. This ‘crisis repentance’ is not uncommon today. People go through the motion of feeling sorry for their sins to get God’s help in some emergency, perhaps the loss of a job, or an illness but once the crisis is over, their sorrow evaporates like the morning mist.
Presentation 11 Godly Sorrow Practically Expressed There are other people who practice what has been described as 'ritual repentance'. They will make a great song and dance about confessing their sins. They are happy with saying a few prayers or lighting a candle but they are back the next week confessing precisely the same things. Nothing has changed nor have they really wanted anything to change. Repentance is merely a ritual habit which makes them feel better. It is something which is performed both thoughtlessly and superficially.
Presentation 11 Godly Sorrow Practically Expressed There's another brand of repentance around; ‘manipulative repentance’. It exudes self- reproach which is designed to extract the sympathy of others. Children often perform in this manner, hoping that by turning on the waterworks their parents might be more indulgent of their crime. Adults discover that looking depressed they can gain attention that might not otherwise be theirs. Charles Dickens character, Mrs Grummigde, developed this art. She played on others with her feelings of misery.
Presentation 11 Godly Sorrow Practically Expressed What is the big difference between these different kinds of worldly sorrow and godly repentance. Quite simply godly sorrow will always result in practical actions designed to put things right. Paul describes the practical evidence of the Corinthians godly sorrow in v11. First, it was marked by earnestness, not simply a whimpering that says, “What a mess I am in”. An earnest person is a man of action. The Corinthians were determined to do something about their past sin. And so Paul goes on to speak of their eagerness to clear themselves. They wanted to make up for their past failure.
Presentation 11 Godly Sorrow Practically Expressed And then he speaks about their ‘indignation’ not against Paul but against the sin which they had allowed to make itself at home in their midst. They were alarmed as they reflected upon the moral seriousness of their situation and of incurring God's judgement. They also wanted to see justice done, [a reference to 2v6] and so they put aside their earlier indolence and disciplined the sinful offender. This reaction demonstrated that they were not, as Paul feared, complicit in the offender’s sin. As a result of their action reproach had been lifted from the church.
Presentation 11 Godly Sorrow Practically Expressed This kind of active, practical response can be expected when repentance is real. It is illustrated in Zacchaeus’ life. He repented of his racketeering and invited those he had cheated to recover their money with interest. The queue outside of Zacchaeus' door would have been a long one! Repentance is not merely an emotional response but a practical one. “The truest and most acceptable repentance is to reverse the acts and attitudes of which we repent. A 1000 years of remorse over a wrong act would not please God as much as a change of conduct and a reformed life”. A. W. Tozer
Presentation 11 True Repentance Is God-Centred The literal translation of the phrase 'godly sorrow' v10 is in fact 'according to God sorrow'. In other words a sorrow which has God as its focus. Worldly sorrow is always self- centred. Indeed that is how you recognise it. Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote, “Repentance is not self-regarding, but God-regarding. It is not self-loathing, but God-loving”. Ask a person, suffering from worldly sorrow why they are unhappy and they may talk about being disappointed with themselves or, the hardship they have brought upon themselves or, their failure to reach their goals. It is unlikely that they will say, 'I have offended a holy God and brought great shame and dishonour to his name.' Such people are not sorry for their sins but sorry for themselves.
Presentation 11 True Repentance Is God-Centred Shakespeare’s McBeth enquired of a doctor concerning his wife's grief stricken and diseased mind after she had murdered the king. The doctor replied, ‘Therein the patient must minister to himself.’ In other words medicine has no answer to guilt. No amount of medication could restore Lady McBeth’s untroubled sleep pattern. She paced the floor each night because real guilt lay on her hands and troubled her conscience. It began to suffocate and crush her. It was not a doctor she needed but a Saviour. One who can say, 'Your sins are forgiven you'. This is why the hope of the guilty lies only in godly sorrow, for its focus is upon God and not upon self or sin. This is why Paul tells us here that this sorrow alone leads to salvation.
Presentation 11 True Repentance Is God-Centred Godly sorrow always brings with it blessing. When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral one of them read, ‘When our Lord and master said, 'repent', he called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance'. Repentance, godly sorrow, is an attitude rather than a single act. God holds before us those areas of our lives which fail to conform to his will and says, 'What are you going to do about these things which are distancing you from me?‘ We are then immediately confronted with a choice - to cling on to our sin or let it go as an indication of ‘godly sorrow’.
Presentation 11 Conclusion Whenever someone is weighed down with guilt, it is important to ask is it real guilt? Does it point to specifics rather than a to vague feeling? If specific then genuine repentance will do something practical about that discovery. It will not be content to wail and moan and beat its breast. It will ask a number of questions, “Is there some restitution I must make? Are there new habits I must cultivate? Is there someone whose forgiveness I should seek?” For repentance to be genuine we need to possess godly sorrow as Paul has defined it. There needs to be a real concern to put matters right.
Presentation 11 Conclusion But more than that we need to stop looking in upon our situation, stop putting ourselves centre-stage, stop wailing is self pity. We need to wheel something far bigger onto centre stage. Something bigger than our sin? Yes there is something bigger on which to focus our gaze. The cross on which our Saviour died. And the Grace of God which conceived a plan of salvation which not only deals with sin but with guilt. Where sin abounds grace does much more abound. If our hearts condemn us God is greater than our hearts. Only God can acquit the guilty. Like the father of the Prodigal Son, God can see penitents returning from a great way off and runs out with arms wide open to meet them. Repentance leads to reconciliation with a holy God whom our sin has offended.