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2 Corinthians 7:1-16

So is stress good or bad?

Experts say the answer is…Yes.

There is Good stress (Eustress) (Eu as eulogy means good)


There is bad stress (Distress) (Dis as in disease means bad)

There is stress that makes us sick and there is stress that makes us healthier…makes us grow.

It could be mental stress, skill training stress, or physical stress…stress that is necessary to increase capacity.

Stress a muscle and it becomes stronger…over stress it and it becomes weaker.

One of the key things that athletes must learn is the difference between good and bad pain.

“I am hurting…is this good or bad…growing me or injuring me?”

If you stop training just because it is painful…you will never improve….because training is often painful.

If you keep training when the pain is “injury” pain…you will be unable to keep training.

Of course training pain and injury pain are different things…but it takes some awareness to differentiate between the two.

This principle has implications for our walk with God, marriage, jobs, life in Christian community…pretty much everything.

Is this pain in our relationship evidence that I should persevere in or change what I am doing?

Hard good–I need to press on.  Hard bad–I need to stop what I am doing…try something else.

If you get out of relationships because they are hard…you probably won’t have any relationships.

If you don’t change what you are doing in relationships at all…you probably won’t have good relationships.

There is even a “good” and a “bad” kind of sorrow over our sin.

What makes it good or bad is defined in Scripture as by what it leads to in our lives.

Good sorrow…leads to certain actions.

Bad sorrow…may bring some emotional pain but it doesn’t motivate us to appropriate action.

We are working our way through 2 Cor…today we are in chapter 7

7          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.

This first verse is really a continuation of chapter 6…

What are these promises?

6:18 That God will be a Father to us, we will be his sons and daughters.

In light of that great promise…he restates the call to live as God’s holy people.

Holy means to be set apart for a purpose…and then to live that “set apart” life.

To say “be holy” in culture at large evokes images of  “Glassy-eyed…hordes of Christian zombies…who roam about trying to stop anyone from enjoying anything.”

But holiness is a life-style of being fully connected to the world as God has made it.

It is what God is “for” not what he is “against” that defines a holy life.

Holiness is separation from sin in order positioned to maximize God’s glory with our lives…and our own joy.

For instance, in terms of human sexuality…God invented humans and sex.

What was designed for pleasure and procreation and deep human connection between a man and a woman in a covenant marriage.

…has historically been the cause for deep wounds, brokenness, crime, addiction…loss of connection, increasing self-centeredness.

The non-Christian culture in Corinth was highly sexualized, much like ours is.

It was also, just like ours, tied to worship.

Worship…is what we give our hearts away to…what we wrap our hearts around.

We become like the things we worship…worship shapes us into certain kinds of people.

When we worship God, as he is…we become more like him.

Holiness, then, is not being “anti-sin”…it is being “pro-godliness”…being more like Christ.

We are to live separated from sin…because that is to be connected to God.

So we have this conditional promise from chapter 6… “If you come out from them (be holy…don’t worship like they worship), then I will be your Father.”

“Hey, isn’t a conditional promise conditional love?”

No, you can love someone unconditionally…but to be in actual relationship with them clearly involves conditions.

“If you want to be in relationship with a holy God, then you must pursue holiness…because he is holy God.”

He is not going to stop being holy, but we can stop living in sin…that is the condition for growing relationship with God.

You can’t go north by walking south…you can’t be with God while walking away from God.

The language he uses here is that of contamination versus purification.

Sin is not freedom…it is contamination (think: bacteria, virus, dirty water, disease)

-This is really how we should train our minds to see sin

Holiness is freedom…it is purity (think: clean fresh water, healthy bodies, life giving food)

-This is how we should train our minds to see obedience to God’s commands.

Perfecting holiness means a lifelong direction…not reaching Christlike perfection in this life…this is about a journey towards a deeper relationship with God.

Next Paul continues his appeal that they open their hearts to him as he has opened his heart to them.

2 Make room for us in your hearts.

He then gives three good reasons why he is qualified to make this request.

The tense of these verbs indicate that these are not just general principles but some specific actions he had taken in regard to them…he had lived a certain way among them…a way that should bring trust.

We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one.

  1. He had been wronged by them, but he had not wronged them.
  1. They had been fooled (corrupted) by false teaching, he had stuck with the gospel.
  1. They had been taken advantage of by some slick frauds, he had only given and not taken from them.

At this point perhaps he envisions the believers reading this letter and thinking…

“Sheesh Paul, we already told Titus we are sorry…now we are getting beat down again.”

So, he adds…

 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.

His point was not to make them feel bad…but to encourage them to go ahead and open their hearts to him…don’t live afraid because others have ripped you off in the past.

Because you had been fooled before…doesn’t mean you can’t trust me now.

If they would just think about it…if they would remember how he had lived…they would know that they had reason to trust him.

He uses an idiom that expresses deep friendship and commitment.

You have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you.

Perhaps you have reason to distrust…you have been hurt before…now, there is a part of you that believes you can never open your heart to someone again…at least not at a deep level.

You can suffer by what you do not experience but could have.

Don’t allow those who have mislead you in the past to continue to mislead you in the future…they can do so by continuing to turn you into a person who will not fully trust anyone.

You will miss a lot if you trust no one.

Then Paul piles on the encouragement…

4 I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.

Wow…this is different than the picture of Paul, that is common…a broken down, complaining,  grumpy sort of guy.

He is pretty exuberant here…downright buoyant.

“Great confidence, great pride, greatly encouraged…even in my troubles…my joy knows no bounds because of you.” 

If he were texting this there would be a lot of emojis or exclamation marks…

Very often we operate with the assumption that if someone has taken a wrong turn theologically…then they are intentionally wicked or just bad people.

These Corinthians were not wicked…they were young in their faith…they were mislead.

As young believers…they had been fooled by some slick talking people…with some slick ideas.

But to Paul’s great joy…they had responded well to his correction.

He had in fact, been very direct with them…but direct is not by default unkind, it’s just direct.

In fact, you can be indirect and unkind.

We have all been the recipients of passive aggressive indirect unkindness…this indirect unkind approach can be the result of a lack of courage or love, or both.

Paul had courage and he loved these people…so he was direct in his correction and now he is direct in his affection.

Then he models transparency at a very deep level.

5 For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours 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.

A quick refresher on the back story here:

Paul had written what he called his “harsh” letter, a letter we don’t have a copy of.

He sent the letter to Corinth via Titus.

Then he remained in Turkey, working and waiting to hear back on their response…but he couldn’t wait any longer so he headed to Europe (Macedonia) to try and find Titus.

When Titus finally showed up the news was very good.

“Paul it went great!  They treated me very well.  They long to see you, they were so sorry for how they treated you. They were very concerned with how you are doing.”

Man…what good news…Paul is filled with joy.

Have you ever been at odds with someone who you cared deeply about?

Then you know the stress, the sadness, the heartache that Paul felt.

Have you ever been restored to relationship with that person?

Then you know his joy as well.

But this was not just about his relationship with them…but about their relationship with God.

Their restoration to relationship with him…also meant that they had fully embraced the gospel.

But let’s back up…look at his brutal honesty.

“When I came to Macedonia my entire being could find no rest, nothing but conflict on the outside and nothing but fear on the inside.”

But what a minute here…this is the guy who wrote about the peace that passes understanding…and all that stuff about trusting God…and living by faith.

Now he is saying he was consumed with conflict and fear.

Paul, like every believer lived in two worlds…the one that is and the one that is yet to fully come.

He already had peace, yet he did not yet fully and consistently live in that peace every moment.

He was hurting…it was hard…and God brought him comfort.

Look how God did it in this instance.

It wasn’t through an angelic visit…though God could have done that.

It wasn’t through a burst of “inner peace” where he suddenly “felt” better.

God himself comforted Paul through the coming of Titus.

Then, God comforted Paul through the news that the Corinthians had comforted Titus.

This showed their hearts had turned back to the truth.

Two things we don’t want to miss in all this:

  1. Paul’s brutal honesty was so important to his leadership and his relationship with them, but there is a balance here that is not immediately obvious:

-No one expects you to not struggle as believer (or at least they shouldn’t)

-But we must struggle moving forward towards Christ and others.

Paul was in turmoil…conflict without and fear within…and yet he went to Macedonia looking for Titus.

He didn’t hide under the covers back in Turkey.

He also didn’t hide his struggles…he was honest about them with those he led.

The balance here for leadership in the lives of others is this…and I would say relationship at large is:

  1. Honesty about our lives and struggles can bring trust and sets a good pace for what it means to live as a follower of Christ.

-No one can live as superman(or woman)…we should not set that false image before others.

People are challenged by your strengths, but they are encouraged by your weakness.

Openness with struggle is helpful…for us and others.

Now to the balancing side of this…

  1. A failure to move forward, in spite of struggles, will not inspire courage and faith…it is not good for us or others.

Paul was wounded, he was hurting…he was honest about his wounds…but he didn’t merely sit around and lick his wounds…he moved forward in life.

Towards God and others.

*This is a really important tension to take hold of.

We can all have wounds, and it’s important to be appropriately honest with them…but we must keep moving forward.

*The injury rate in the NFL is such that by mid-season virtually every player on the field is playing with some injury.

I know for some this is not going a compelling illustration because you think football is dumb and this proves it…but humor me.

My point is that those who are enjoying being on the field and playing the sport (probably about any pro sport)…are often playing “hurt.”

Not as in an injury that they shouldn’t be playing with…but playing with one that keeps them from being completely pain free or competing at their absolute best…but they play on.

We must be honest with our wounds…but we cannot let them keep us from moving forward in pursuing God and others.

Everyone who is engaging others in ministry…investing their lives for the gospel…is to a degree…playing hurt.

So we want to be honest with God and others about our wounds…but not allowing wounds to keep us from living life with God and others.

  1. Second thing we don’t want to miss in this story:

God encouraged Paul through others.

What we sometimes want is for God to make us “feel better” without any human intervention…then it is really God and not just some person who is helping me.

“Thanks for the encouragement and for being here for me, I appreciate it, I’m very encouraged…but I was really hoping for God to show up.”

When Titus brought encouragement to Paul…it was God bringing him encouragement.

Paul said this was so.

In addition, when the Corinthians comforted Titus…it was God comforting Paul and Titus.

He was encouraged by God’s answer to his prayers…as evidenced in the activities of the people around him.

*Don’t miss God in the encouragement of others in your own life.

Okay, let’s land on verses 8-13…the difference between what Paul calls godly sorrow and what he calls worldly sorrow.

Good pain versus bad pain.

Pain that heals versus pain that harms.

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.

Paul loved these folks…he didn’t enjoy writing that direct letter to them.

In fact he initially regretted sending it…because it had hurt them.

But now he had no regrets…because it was a good pain.

It was the pain of a surgeon’s scalpel…not of an enemies knife.

You were sorrowful as God intended…he wrote.

What does that look like?

God’s “good sorrow?”

Let’s read:

 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.

The essential difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow is the difference between:

-Real Repentance & Mere Remorse

Repentance is a word that means a change of mind leading to a change in behavior.

Remorse is a word that means you “feel” bad about something…it may or may not lead to a change in behavior.

Here the implication is that worldly sorrow does not lead to any real change and therefore it leads to death…you stay in your guilt.

What does he mean by “death”?

It means to possible “feel bad” for sin…but to not have the grace of God applied to your sin.

I think it can mean to live, even as a believer, outside the realm of the spiritual and relational life that God wants for us and offers to us.

Look at the words used to describe godly sorrow:

-Earnestness:  We think of this as an emotion…of being “sincere.”

And the word Paul used means a kind of motivation…an eagerness…it also means “diligence, haste”

The idea is that godly sorrow is not “I’ll get around to it when I get around to it.”

It is “I will deal with this right now, I will not hesitate”

There is proactivity in “godly sorrow” to make things right.

What eagerness to clear yourselves:  This is not about denying wrong doing or playing the part of your own lawyer.

-This is about a zeal to make things right.

What indignation: This was probably about their anger at having been duped by the one who was at the center of all the trouble.

-They were not denying personal responsibility but they were rightly angry for having been taken in by the ones who had attacked Paul.

 What alarm: They felt genuine fear.  “We have been getting this wrong and there is a lot at stake.” 

God is the God of truth…and we have not been on his side.  They took this seriously.

What longing:  They sincerely wanted to restore friendship with Paul…they wanted their mentor back in their lives.

What concern: It was clear that they were thinking not just of themselves but how this had impacted Paul.

What readiness to see justice done: Not as in criminal justice but as in the right thing being done.  “You are right Paul, what can I do to make this right.”

In all this, Paul wrote, we are encouraged.

Not much is said about worldly sorrow here.

Probably because not much is done with worldly sorrow.

Worldly sorrow…a kind of guilt, a feeling remorse…that doesn’t lead to actions…or at least to life giving actions.

“I wish I hadn’t done that.”

“Certainly, wish  hadn’t been caught doing that.”

“Wasn’t really my fault”

“I’m terrible, I’m no good…what’s the use”

We can’t live well for long with unresolved guilt in our lives.

Worldly sorrow…guilt that is unresolved…can immobilize us or it can harden us…either way is a bad outcome.

We will deal with guilt or it will deal with us.

So worldly sorrow is a remorse that doesn’t lead to appropriate action.

Godly sorrow…involves remorse…but it is coupled with appropriate action.

Action empowered by the gospel…the grace of God in regards to our sin.

Worldly sorrow immobilizes

Godly sorrow mobilizes.

Mobilizes us “how”?

Look at verse 12, 13…they are a little hard to understand but they offer a clue as to how godly sorrow mobilizes us.

12 So even though I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong or 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.

**This is a picture of a bad, unhappy, broken situation in Corinth…turned around.

Relationships have restored by the gospel…this is what happens with godly sorrow is in our lives and is applied to our sins.

Godly sorrow then…is responding to our sins with the reality of the gospel…and it will lead to restored relationships with others.

(Assuming of course, that both parties are open to God’s restoration)

We saw in his first letter how Paul had addressed the sins of division, wrongful lawsuits, sexual immorality, even incest.

We can only imagine how direct he had been in his “sorrowful” or “harsh” letter.

A letter he initially regretted writing…until he saw that is didn’t immobilize them or cause further division but mobilized them to life-giving actions.

Here he specifies why he had written it…not to  inflict guilt but to open their eyes to the reality of what God had done and how he wanted them to live.

The outcome of their living-giving response to their guilt…was restoration of joyful relationship with Paul and life-giving interactions with Paul’s friend, Titus…the very one who had delivered the letter of sorrow.

Sorrow had turned to delight and joy…because the power of the gospel had been applied to their sins.

So…let’s finish with a model for knowing the difference between a good guilt and a bad guilt…a pain that heals and a pain that hurts.

This model isn’t strictly from this passage but is drawn from several other places in Scripture as well.

I’ll use Paul’s categories of godly sorrow vs. worldly sorrow to give what I have found to be a very helpful framework for knowing the difference between the two…knowing how to mess up, fess up, move on.

Godly sorrow:

  1. Specific…not generic

-This is wrong

-Good parents don’t say “you messed up, figure it out

-God will, if we are paying attention reveal the specifics of our sins

-Paul did this in pointing out what they had done that was wrong.

  1. Targets your choices…not you

-What you did, thought, wrapped your heart around is wrong

-Not…”You are terrible, worthless, hopeless”

  1. Relenting…when you confess your sin, God is done with it.

-He doesn’t intend to continue to inflict pain…he doesn’t pout and have to “get over it”

-Paul models this in his letter: he was direct in rebuke and direct in saying “hey, forgive the one who offended.”

  1. Mobilizes: Leads to actions:

-A desire to restore relationship with others

-A willingness to do whatever is appropriate to make things right

  1. Brings the fruit of the gospel into our lives:

-The Freedom of forgiveness

-The joy of Relationships that are life-giving

*Mobilizes us to move towards God and others in ways that are full of life.

Worldly sorrow:

  1. Vague…maybe you have specific sins in mind, maybe not…just a general sense things being wrong.

-Satan is the accuser, the spiritual finger-pointer…he isn’t going to be specific because he doesn’t want you to live in the freedom of forgiveness.

  1. Targets You not just your sins.

-The good parent says “I love you, you are a good girl…but that was wrong.”

But immobilizing guilt targets you…you are wicked, stupid, worthless 

  1. Unrelenting

-Confess and confess and confess…and it won’t go away

  1. Immobilizes:

-Hardens us (we don’t do well with guilt…so we can just harden our hearts to conviction)

-Paralyze us (we don’t do well with guilt…so we can just surrender to guilt, become hopeless)

-Continues to harm relationships

*We don’t move towards God and others…because we have hardened our hearts…and have just lay down in the dirt to lick our wounds…because we don’t have hope they will be healed.

*Even Christians, who have the promise of eternal life…can live in this kind of temporal death.

*A death to joy with God and others that is not their birthright…but yet they continue to experience it.

I watch friends, families, churches…enjoying life together

Not because they have super powers, or they have no problems or never sin against each other

But because they know godly sorrow that continually brings life.

They are perpetually…messing up, fessing up, forgiving/being forgiven, and moving on.

I watch friends, families, churches…live miserably, missing life

Because they are immobilized or hardened by the deceit of sin.

We are going to sin, we are going to mess up…but godly sorrow, brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.

I regret many things I’ve said and done in my relationship with God and others…but yet, regret does not define or describe my relationship with God and others…grace does.

Grace can define your relationship with God and others…God offers this to you.

There are those who will refuse to forgive or to be forgiven…you cannot choose for them.

If they are people who ought to be close to you…it will always be painful for you.

But God has others of his people…who are living in his joyous grace…and you can experience relationship with them…I see it all around me.

And God, of course…extends his joyous grace to you…if we draw near to him, he is always going to draw near to us…he will never draw away.

Is there something you need to do to repair a relationship?  If so…then do it.

Godly sorrow leaves no regret.  That’s because it leads us to take action. 

We will, in the end, regret the times we could have acted and didn’t. 

Godly sorrow motivates us to appropriate action right now.  That will decrease the opportunity for regret in the future.

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