The Blessings of Godly Sorrow
Some of the most bitter tears are the ones cried over my sin. To “sorrow after a godly sort,” as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 7:8-12, is not only appropriate but necessary for restoring our relationship with God after sin has affected our lives. When we look deeper at the concept of godly sorrow, we find not only the sweet forgiveness that God offers but the numerous blessings provided in the process. These offer hope on the other side of our tears. Look at the long list the apostle gives of the positive outcomes of the godly sorrow of the church in Corinth:
First, godly sorrow in general works “repentance to salvation” (2 Cor. 7:10). It’s what creates the desire in our hearts to change our behavior. Feelings of guilt or remorse that do not lead us to repentance are worthless for securing our forgiveness, so Paul points out that they only “work death.” The Christians in Corinth were provoked to change by the words Paul wrote earlier. He told them clearly that although the brother in need of discipline would have to destroy the desires of his flesh, if he chose to repent it would be for the saving of his spirit (1 Cor. 5:5). Paul’s words to the Corinthians created godly sorrow within them for the way they had been handling the situation, and their new behavior and words toward the erring brother were enough to provoke the same in him, so that by the time of the writing of 2 Corinthians it was time to forgive and comfort the man (2 Cor. 2:7).
Some of the most bitter tears are the ones cried over my sin. To “sorrow after a godly sort,” as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 7:8-12, is not only appropriate but necessary for restoring our relationship with God after sin has affected our lives.
Paul next said that the Corinthians’ godly sorrow had worked carefulness, earnestness, or diligence within them (2 Cor. 7:11). This Greek word spoude means speed and shows eagerness to do God’s will in the matter. Once their minds were made up, the Corinthians needed no further persuasion; they were now fully committed to taking action without delay. We as Christians are not to “lag” in diligence to obey God’s instructions (Rom. 12:11) but to abound in it (2 Cor. 8:7).
The Corinthians also had the benefit of “clearing” themselves. This is the Greek word apologia and means plea, answer, or defense. The church in Corinth had this opportunity to prove whose side they were on—and what an answer they had given! Godly sorrow can help us be convicted that what the Bible teaches is the best course of action, come what may.
Paul also mentioned the Corinthian church had the spiritual benefit of “indignation” through their godly sorrow, a word that conveys strong grief, displeasure, or affliction. The picture Paul painted for them of the problems in the church were unsettling to them and led them to take action. When King David was rebuked for his sins with Bathsheba and against her husband Uriah, he mentioned his grief and what he desired to follow it when he wrote, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” and “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit” (Ps. 51:12, 17). Let us not be weighed down into inaction by these feelings; rather, let us allow them to motivate us into readiness to return to God.
Godly sorrow wrought fear in the church of Christ at Corinth. They could be assured that every thought and intent of their hearts could be seen by the omnipresent, omniscient God in heaven. We are to fear God (Matt. 10:28), and undoubtedly that helps us act according to His will even when the assignment is uncomfortable. The restored brother now knew that his church family would do hard things to protect him and love his soul, because of their fear of God. Can this also be said of us?
Another spiritual blessing the Corinthian church enjoyed is described as “vehement desire.” This Greek word means a longing for or earnest desire. The brethren took action out of a desire to please Christ and help their brother. If we find ourselves struggling to care, more time sorrowing for sins may help us rekindle our desire to serve Him faithfully. Consider how Jeremiah’s work in Lamentations could benefit the Jews struggling to come to grips with the Babylonian captivity as a consequence of their sins. He cried to the point of being sick alongside Jerusalem as she wept “bitterly in the night” (Lam. 1:2; 2:11). These tears would also help future generations have an earnest desire to never return to idolatry but seek only the Lord.
Paul said godly sorrow had created zeal in the Corinthians, a word properly meaning “heat” and figuratively fervor of spirit in pursuing something. This emotional heat fueled their ability and commitment to do the hard work of church discipline in a situation that previously had been a boast of theirs (1 Cor. 5:2, 6). We have to do what God asks regardless of how we feel about it; nevertheless, our emotions can be a help or hindrance to the task at hand. Sorrowing over sin can help us to feel the necessary excitement of mind required to get busy addressing the problem.
The KJV renders the final blessing of 2 Corinthians 7:11 as “revenge,” from a Greek word that involves doing justice to all parties. It includes the ideas of requital and vindication. What justice did the Corinthian church owe to all parties involved? To God, their obedience; to the erring brother, care for his soul; to each other, trustworthiness and mutual spiritual protection from sin; and to Paul, their faithfulness in continuing to obey the message the apostle had brought. Their godly sorrow was the impetus to act in each direction. As a result, all parties were able to rejoice (see 2 Cor. 7:7, 9; 2:7,8; Luke 15:10). After my godly sorrow leads me to repent, I can rest in the assurance that my relationship with God has been restored and enjoy the consolation of God “who comforts those who are cast down” (2 Cor. 7:6).
By Summer Haffner