“For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while—I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.” – 2 Cor 7:8-9
These verses center around a rebuke the Apostle Paul gave to the Corinthian Christians and more than that the response that they had toward his rebuke. What are some things we can learn about “sorrow according to the will of God”?
1) First, we learn that this “godly” sorrow comes from rebuke. Our common desire is to get to heaven. But we can’t get to heaven unless we repent. And we cannot repent without godly sorrow. And godly sorrow only comes from someone telling us, “You’re not behaving right.” When it comes to my sin, isn’t it true that I’m often the last one to see it? Whether it’s God rebuking me from scripture or whether it’s one of my brethren rebuking me because I’m not seeing it or have forgotten, we need to be informed when we’re not living right.
2) Second, godly sorrow is painful; and vs. 9 tells us it is God’s will that we experience that pain because pain is good for us. Pain tells us when something is wrong. And when something is wrong, we go to the doctor to hear him tell us what we need to fix it. But few want this spiritually. Most people want to hear the good news about the gospel; that Christ died to save us. But few want to hear the bad news that He died to save us because we’re wrong and we continue to be wrong. The Great Physician came to heal us of our sickness but we will not take the remedy until we realize we’re sick.
3) Third, rebuke should never be rude, lack tact, or lack compassion. It must be grounded in love toward a person straying from righteousness. It’s the picture of the shepherd who puts his life on the line to find the one lost sheep who has strayed only to bring him back on his shoulders to the flock. Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. And may we strive to keep that bond tight through faithful rebuke.
4) Fourth, I need to be humble enough to heed a brother’s rebuke. It is an immutable truth that the gospel never appeals to the proud. So if I am so touchy and sensitive that I’m going to stick my nose in the air and walk away because someone said something that made me angry while never stopping to ask the question of whether or not it is true or whether I needed to hear it, can I get to heaven with that attitude? “But I want to feel good!” There are a lot of churches that will provide you that. But will they help you? “But I want to be lifted up!” But what if you need to be taken down in order to be right with God? We should want to be surrounded by Christians who when I am wrong step up and tell me so I can go to heaven.
5) Finally, being the one delivering the rebuke is not easy. I have no doubt there were many people who thought Paul a harsh man for his dedication to correcting those in sin. But we know better. We know the man whose epistles are stained with tears and lived his life a living sacrifice better than we ever will. We know he cared deeply about his brethren. And may the Lord help us to find the courage to be like Paul in this regard so that none may “suffer loss in anything through us”. And may we always be gracious towards who do rebuke us when we desperately need it.