I will admit that the title of our series – “We Got Issues” – and accompanying statements about how we are messy people like the Corinthians is a bit “out there.” And I’ve been surprised that no person has taken me on a bit by these negative, downer designations. It is not popular to have and express negative self-images, or to include others in some deprecating class of people.
But the fact is that we are a mess. The issues of the Corinthians are not unique to 2,000 years ago. Inter-personal relationships are still tainted by our residence in a sinful world where we are stuck within imperfect bodies.
There is a lot of awkward conversation in the 7th chapter of 2 Corinthians that we turn to today. The relationship between Paul and these new Christians was very strained at a variety of points – some of which we are unclear as to the full nature of the conflicts and controversies. But it clearly involved some strong feelings and very frank communications.
Paul references here some writing to the Corinthians that is beyond these two inspired letters in the Scripture. It must have been smoking! Paul was apparently very blunt. Titus was hesitant to be involved in the middle of it all. But the results had proven to be generally very good. There was repentance and a vast improvement in attitudes toward one another. Paul and Titus were blessed by this positive turn, even while still saying there was space for greater warmth and restoration of relationship to a highest level of mutual regard.
When your children misbehave or fall into a sinful pattern necessitating your engagement, you step in strongly to bring a change in both attitude and understanding, as well as a change in behavior that demonstrates the reality of their growth. This is essentially a definition of repentance: a change in belief that show its genuine nature through a change in action. It is saying the right thing and then also doing the right things.
Genuine repentance brings about very positive spiritual change. Paul writes of their true sorrow, followed by true actions to rectify the situation. This a godly sorrow, not just a mere worldly sorrow. The difference could be seen in the actions of Peter and Judas at the time of the trials and execution of Jesus. Judas was sorry, though not genuinely repentant. Peter was crushed with a godly repentance that of course was exhibited through the passionate ministry that characterized the rest of his life.
When we are confronted with truthful reality about our sin and deficiencies in Christian character, we need to have an immediate reaction that always considers the reality that these descriptions may indeed be true. We need to avoid the natural reaction – to be immediately defensive and dismissive, thrown into a self-righteous mode of protection without any thoughtful consideration.
Beyond that, our relationships together may involve times of needing to confront another brother or sister about blind spots and serious character faults … even sins. This is difficult to do, as who wants to appear self-righteous and judgmental? From both experience and observation, we know that these types of intentional confrontation often do not go well. We know that they may bring out violent reactions that seem worse than glossing over the clearly-evident deficiencies.
But that is not love; that is mere expediency. And we want our lives to be better than that, and they can be in the family of God through the body of Christ.
2 Corinthians 7:1 – Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.
2 Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. 3 I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. 4 I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.
5 For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.
8 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— 9 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 in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. 12 So even though I wrote to you, it was neither on account of the one who did the wrong nor on account of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. 13 By all this we are encouraged.
In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you. 14 I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well. 15 And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling. 16 I am glad I can have complete confidence in you.