2 Corinthians 7:2-16
July 9, 2017
Faith Presbyterian Church – Evening Service
Pr. Steven Nicoletti
We are returning tonight to a passage I preached on five weeks ago. The first Sunday of June I preached on 2 Corinthians 7:2-16, though really my focus was on verses 10 and 11 and their discussion of the concept of “godly grief” vs “worldly grief.” Tonight we will look at the rest of the passage, and how the “godly grief” we discussed a few weeks ago fits into the passage as a whole.
But as we approach the text, it’s helpful to get some context.
Paul begins his letter to the Corinthians with a greeting and introduction in chapter one, verses one through eleven. From verse 12 of chapter one through verse 13 of chapter two, Paul goes into a discussion of some of the specific issues going on in Corinth, and going on between him and the Corinthians. In that section Paul deals with the nature of his confrontation with the Corinthians.
Then, from chapter two, verse 14 through chapter seven, verse one, Paul goes off on a massive aside – an aside that takes up over a third of the letter – to defend his apostolic ministry as a whole. That defense of his ministry ends at the beginning of chapter seven. And so in our text tonight, Paul is returning to the specifics of the situation in Corinth. He is essentially picking up where he left off back in chapter two, verse 13.
In terms of my “occasional” series here on Second Corinthians, this means that the text we are looking at tonight links up with the text we looked at about two years ago, in a sermon I preached in July of 2015, on redemptive confrontation. I’ll forgive you if you don’t remember the details of that sermon exactly.
But in fact, our text tonight has a lot in common with that text. But its emphasis is a little different. In chapter two, and in my sermon in 2015, the focus was on the nature of the conflict between Paul and the Corinthians. Here in chapter seven, I think the focus shifts from the nature of their conflict to the nature of their relationship. And so whereas we looked then at redemptive conflict and confrontation, tonight we will consider redemptive relationships.
So that is where our text tonight falls into the letter as a whole.
But we also need a bit more context – we need the historical context as well.
Paul in our text tonight is discussing an issue that came up in Corinth at his last visit, and the events that unfolded after that. Now first of all, we should just be aware that we don’t know for sure exactly what the nature of that conflict was. But I agree with commentator Paul Barnett that we can do a pretty good job of reconstructing what was going on here. Barnett argues that what happened was that some man in the Corinthian church, who is unnamed in this letter, wronged Paul in some serious way – likely by publically opposing his authority or somehow thwarting his attempts to minister to the Corinthians. And when this happened, while the majority of the Christians in Corinth do not seem to have fully supported the man who was thwarting Paul, they also did not defend Paul, or come to his aid, or really show him any particular deference or even loyalty as an apostle, and instead they allowed the man opposing Paul to stay in good standing in the church while Paul felt he needed to leave town.
Paul saw this lack of loyalty and allegiance as not just a personal pain to him, but as a serious spiritual threat to the church in Corinth, as they refused to submit to one of Christ’s apostles, and also refused to stand up to a man openly opposing God’s apostle and God’s law. [Barnett, 380-381]
In response, Paul sent the Corinthians a “severe letter” – a letter that is lost to us now, but that called the Corinthian Christians to repent. Paul sent Titus to deliver this letter. And then Paul had to wait to see what they would do. We take fast communication for granted today. But Paul had to wait for Titus to go, to spend time with the Corinthians, and then to return, before he knew how they responded to his letter. And we read here that that was a difficult thing for Paul. We learn also of how the Corinthians’ reaction made Paul feel. Paul opens with a plea to the Corinthians about how they should relate to him now, and then he recounts what happened after he sent his “severe letter” to them.
So with all that in mind, let’s hear now from our text – 2 Corinthians 7:2-16. Paul writes:
2 Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. 3 I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. 4 I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.
5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear 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 with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. 8 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.
10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. 12 So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. 13 Therefore we are comforted.
And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. 14 For whatever boasts I made to him about you, I was not put to shame. But just as everything we said to you was true, so also our boasting before Titus has proved true. 15 And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. 16 I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you.
This is God’s Word.
The theme that overwhelms this passage, if you noticed, is joy. Paul keeps talking about joy and comfort that has come to him through the Corinthians. In verses six and seven he talks about how he and Titus were comforted through the Corinthians. In verse seven he says that because of what the Corinthians have done he rejoices. In verse nine he says again that the Corinthians have caused him to rejoice. In verse thirteen he speaks of the comfort he has received, the rejoicing he has done, and the joy that Titus has, all because of the Corinthians. In verse sixteen he says again that he rejoices in his confidence in the Corinthians. And of course, at the beginning of it all, in verse 4 he says “In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.”
What is it about the Corinthians that gives Paul such joy? What have they done? Is it their perfect obedience to Christ? Is it all the ways they have blessed him and made his life pleasant? Is it all the help they have given him in his life and ministry? Is it how perfect they are or what he has been able to get from them?
Well, no … it’s none of those things.
So what is it then? He tells us in verse nine. He tells us that it is their repentance.
The thing that gave the Apostle Paul such joy and comfort in his relationship with the Corinthians was their willingness to repent.
Now, there is a lot that is unique in the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians. Paul is an Apostle. The Corinthians are a church. But it was still a real relationship among real people, and for whatever might be historically unique, Paul is still giving us a pattern here. And what we see here is the pattern of redemptive relationships. What we see is that repentance is a key component of healthy Christian relationships – that in healthy Christian relationships repentance is highly valued, and that as a result, Christians are to seek out relationships with those who will help them to repent (much like the Corinthians do in our text), and Christians are also to seek to be people who help others repent (much like Paul does in our text).
And we will talk about that more in a minute. But first, I think we need to address the fact that, if we are honest, repentance often does not characterize many of our Christian relationships. And maybe, again, if we’re honest, we don’t really want it to characterize our relationships most of the time.
Why is that?
Why aren’t more of our relationships characterized by repentance? Why isn’t that a regular staple of our Christian relationships?
I think there are two main reasons.
One is that many of us are shaped, whether we want to be or not, by our culture’s value of what R. R. Reno calls “nonjudgmentalism.” Reno argues that while there has been a tendency for Christians to say that our culture believes in moral relativism, that’s not really accurate. There are few people out there actually claiming that there are no moral realities. Reno writes “The sort of person inclined to say that morality is a psychological projection of the superego or a patriarchal social construct or the upshot of evolution is also likely to affirm an extensive menu of ‘human rights,’ suggesting less a rejection of moral truth than a shift in its focus.” Reno then suggests the term nonjudgmentalism, which he says “is like market deregulation” in the moral sphere, the result of which, he says, is that “we find it difficult to critique anyone’s personal behavior in specifically moral terms.” [Reno, 51-52] Charles Murray describes the same phenomenon by labeling the moral code that many in our culture live by as “the code of ecumenical niceness” [Murray, 293]
Now, if you are here tonight and you’re not a Christian, maybe you agree with this code of nonjudgmentalism. After all, what place is it of ours to tell another that they are doing something wrong? Isn’t it arrogant of us to tell someone else to turn away from their actions, to, in the Bible’s words, “repent” of their “sin”? Isn’t it better to be nonjudgmental? To let those we are close to live their lives? To mind our own business?
Or if you are a Christian, maybe you wouldn’t explicitly agree with the ethic of nonjudgmentalism, with the code of ecumenical niceness … but if you think about how you interact with other Christians, even with those who are kind of close to you … is that not the code you actually operate on … even if you would never affirm it out loud?
In any case, what is wrong with nonjudgmentalism?
Well, as is often the case, Tim Keller is helpful in answering that question. He points out that what might really be at the root of the issue is a difference in perspective on how much of an impact a morally objectionable course may have on a person, based on how we think about the lifespan of a human being.
In The Reason for God Keller talks about the significance of moral problems in a person’s life like this – he says: “Both the Christian and the secular person believe that self-centeredness and cruelty have very harmful consequences. Because Christians believe souls don’t die, they also believe that moral and spiritual errors affect the soul forever. Liberal, secular persons also believe that there are terrible moral and spiritual errors, like exploitation and oppression. But since they don’t believe in an afterlife, they don’t think the consequences of wrongdoing go on into eternity. Because Christians think wrongdoing has infinitely more long-term consequences than secular people do, does that mean they are somehow narrower?” [Keller, 80-81]
Keller’s point here is actually about the doctrine of hell, but it applies to how we think about the sin or moral errors of others as well. Because it brings out the fact that if a human being only exists for a few decades, then nonjudgmentalism sort of makes sense. Sure, moral defects and moral errors, sins as the Bible calls them, may negatively affect a person. But if a human being only follows that path for a few decades, maybe the consequences won’t be that bad. Maybe it’s not worth bringing up. Maybe we should just leave it alone.
It reminds me of a scene from the TV show The Simpsons. In the scene, Homer Simpson, the father of the family, is suddenly attacked by a bear. This big, angry bear appears out of nowhere, knocks him to the ground, and then towers over him and angrily growls. And Homer realizes that his situation is not good. And he clutches his head and blurts out the obvious, yelling: “I’m going to be killed by a bear!” Then he stops, shrugs, and says “Well, I guess I don’t need to worry anymore about the dangers of smoking.” And he pulls out something to smoke, leans back, and begins to puff away before the bear swings at him again.
If you’re about to be killed by a bear, you don’t need to worry about the dangers of smoking. And if you’re going to cease to exist when you die in a few decades, you probably don’t really need to worry about the dangers of sin, or moral failure. At least not “ordinary” sins or moral failures. At least no sins where, as people say, “you’re not really hurting anyone else.” In both cases, whether smoking in front of a bear, or sinning before you cease to exist at death, in both cases, you’ll cease to be around before your harmful actions can yield any real consequences.
But if you are not about to be killed by a bear … if you hope for many, many more years of life, then you do need to consider the health effects of smoking. And if someone you love begins to smoke heavily, you might have a good reason to say something to them about it.
And in the same way, if a human being will exist forever, then you do need to consider the long-term effects of sin and moral failure on the human soul. And if someone you love is heading down a morally dangerous path, you may need to say something to them. You may need to call them to repent – to turn from the path they are on. Because while a self-centered or morally declining path may lead to only some problems in 30 or 40 or 60 years, what kind of problems will that same path lead to in a thousand years? Or a million years? Or a billion years? If the human soul goes on forever, that is the kind of question we need to ask.
And so, while nonjudgmentalism might be the dominant moral code in our culture, while it might be the functional code of many of us even as Christians, it depends on a metaphysical claim that humans cease to exist at death, because only then is it unnecessary to call those we love to repentance. If we love someone, and if we believe their sin will lead to eternal consequences, then nonjudgmentalism is not an option. Nonjudgmentalism either requires us to deny the eternal nature of the human soul, or to cease loving other people.
So we sometimes avoid cultivating repentance in our relationships because of an ethic of nonjudgmentalism.
Paul here in our text refuses to do that. He does not stay silent. He speaks up. He writes them the “severe letter.” And he calls the Corinthians, whom he loves, to repentance.
But we don’t only avoid calls to repentance just through nonjudgmentalism. We are also sometimes guilty of the opposite problem. We are sometimes guilty of a sort of selfish judgmentalism. We sometimes condemn others rather than calling them to repent.
What does that look like? What is the difference between condemning someone and calling them to repentance?
Well, we know there must be a difference, because Paul points it out in our text. He says in verse three that his goal is not to condemn them. He says in verse eight that he regretted – he felt sorrow over – having to cause them grief by confronting them. He says in verse nine that what he really wanted was for them to repent. Paul’s goal was not condemnation, but to lead the Corinthians to repentance and restoration. And those are two very different things.
One seeks to put the other person down, while the other seeks to lift the person up. One issues global criticisms, holds out no hope, and maybe even walks away with a sneer and a smug sense of superiority. The other helps the person see exactly where they have gone wrong, holds out hope for a different path, and embraces the one who erred.
There is a world of difference between condemnation and a call to repentance. But, if we’re honest, when most of us do confront someone we are in a relationship with, when we do push aside the ethic of nonjudgmentalism, we far too often go for the jugular instead of the heart. We far too often lash out in condemnation rather than reaching out in a call to repentance. Which, among other things, is a great way to damage others and destroy a relationship: whether it is a marriage, a friendship, or a relationship between a parent of a child.
So in our own relationships we often relate to others with either nonjudgmentalism or condemnation.
And as different as those things are, they actually have a common foundation. Both grow out of a kind of selfishness. Both treat the other person in a utilitarian way. In both responses we put ourselves before the other person.
In nonjudgmentalism, we are willing to let someone walk down a road on which they will damage themselves or others, and we’re willing to let them do it for the sake of our own peace. Intervening might upset things in our lives. So we let it go. We let them suffer the consequences in order to preserve our own convenience.
On the other hand, when we condemn others, we usually do it because it makes us feel better. It makes us feel superior. There is a real enjoyment, though a twisted one, that comes with the sneer of contempt. We do not want to help the other person repent. We want to rub their face in what they have done so that both we and they can know how much better we are than they are.
In the end, nonjudgmentalism and condemnation are two sides of the same self-centered coin. And too often we give in to one or the other of them.
What then is the alternative? What is the alternative that Paul and the Corinthians model for us here?
Well, as we said earlier, Paul and the Corinthians give us a pattern here of redemptive relationships. And what we see in that pattern is that repentance is a key component of healthy Christian relationships – that in healthy Christian relationships repentance is highly valued, and that as a result Christians are to seek out relationships with those who will help them to repent (as the Corinthians do in our text), and that they are to seek to be people who help others repent (as Paul does in our text).
So let’s look at each of those elements in turn. First, we’ll consider how we as Christians are to value repentance. Second we’ll consider how we are to seek out relationships with those who will help us to repent. And third, we will consider how we are to be people who help others repent.
First, how do we value repentance? How important do you tend to think repentance is?
It might be helpful to start by asking: What are the things you monitor about yourself? What are the things you keep track of about you? What are the things you use as benchmarks for how you are doing?
Maybe during the school year, it’s your GPA, if you are a student. Maybe if you are a parent, it is your kid’s GPA. Maybe it’s how much money you are making. Maybe it’s how much you weigh. Maybe it is how successfully things are going at work. Be honest with yourself. What is it for you?
Now, those might be general things, but you probably have some spiritual markers you keep an eye on too. Maybe it’s how many times you have read your Bible and prayed this week. Maybe it’s how well you did at being patient with your kids. Maybe it is how much you are giving, or how much time you are volunteering.
How often do you stop and think about how well you have been repenting? How often do you assess your spiritual health by thinking about how you respond when you are confronted by someone you love about your sins or failures?
Because biblically speaking, repentance is probably one of the most important vital signs for how you are doing spiritually.
I think it’s been mentioned recently from the pulpit here, but it is worth repeating: Martin Luther’s first point in his 95 theses was “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ ([in] Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
Luther knew that our lives were to be characterized by repentance, over and over and over again – that the pattern of repentance was to be as much a pattern of our lives as eating, or sleeping, or breathing.
And, we should clarify, what do we mean by repentance? Well, that brings us back to the idea of godly grief, which Paul talks about in verses nine through eleven and which we discussed back in June.
Paul lays out for us in those verses that when we sin, we are faced with two paths. One is worldly grief. And worldly grief is about us. It is a kind of grief over our failure, but it is a grief rooted in selfishness. And so it looks out for itself. It might do that by responding to calls for repentance with denial, and self-protection. Or it might respond with despair and surrender and hopelessness. But just feeling bad about what you have done is not what Paul is aiming for here, or what Luther is promoting in his 95 Theses. Feeling bad about yourself is not necessarily a sign of spiritual health.
What is a sign of spiritual health is godly grief. Godly grief is rooted in a love for Christ – a love for Christ that leads to a hatred of sin itself. And that love for Christ and hatred for sin lead to repentance, to turning away from our sin, not just once, but again and again and again. And it is that repentance that puts on display our salvation, and which leads to the joy of new life.
This repentance rooted in godly sorrow, in a love for Christ and a hatred for sin, is what Luther said is to mark the entire life of believers. And that same repentance rooted in godly sorrow is what led Paul to rejoice over the Corinthians. This kind of repentance is the spiritual vital sign we should value.
It is repentance that we should be looking for in ourselves. In fact, we should be more focused on that than we are on our career, or our income, or our GPA, or the number on the scale.
Because, as we said before, if our human lives go on forever, it is our repentance that will matter one million years from now, and not our bank account or our waist size.
And repentance is also what we should value in other people. It is what we should value and look for in a potential spouse. It is what we should most want in our friends, and family, and fellow church members. Because when sin breaks into our lives and the lives of those we love – and it always does – it will be the quality of our repentance and their repentance that determines the future course of our lives.
And so we should follow Luther and Paul, and see the value of repentance.
And if we do, that leads to our next point.
If we do see the value of repentance then we should also see the value of having people in our lives who help us to repent.
It’s fairly logical, right? If you value money, you value having people in your life who will help you get rich. If you value popularity, you value people who will help you get popular. If you value power, you will value people who will help you gain power.
And if you value repentance, you will value people who help you repent.
So how much do we value those who lovingly call us to repentance? How much we value such people that God has placed in your life is a pretty good indicator of how much we value repentance itself.
If we know repentance is important, we also must know that we need to pursue relationships with people who will help us repent.
This doesn’t mean we need people who just really enjoy rebuking others. It also doesn’t mean we need people who will just sort of encourage us in a mushy way. We need people who will call us out, but who won’t enjoy having to call us out – just like Paul said he felt in verse eight. We need people who will encourage us, but who are willing to lovingly wound us in the process.
Do you have people like that in your life?
If not, you need some. And many of us avoid these people. Paul has to nudge the Corinthians about that in our text. Look at verse two. Paul writes: “Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one.”
Barnett points out that the implication Paul is making is that the Corinthians are tempted not to make room for Paul in their hearts after he called them to repent. In fact, Paul points out that they are more likely to make room for others in their hearts. Paul has been warning them against the man in Corinth who had wronged them, and the false apostles who sought to corrupt and take advantage of them. Paul is saying that the Corinthians have made room in their hearts for these people, but they are tempted not to make room for him! We are often more willing to make room in our lives for those who will selfishly not confront us for our sin, or who will even take advantage of us, rather than for those who will lovingly call us to repentance.
But despite that temptation, the Corinthians have made room for Paul. They received his severe letter. They repented. They reaffirmed their commitment to Paul. And we need to do the same.
If there is no one in your life whom you have given permission to call you to repentance, you need to find someone wise, loving, and mature in the faith, and give them permission to lovingly call you to repentance when you need it. Who might that be for you? It should probably be several people. Your spouse. A close Christian friend or mentor. Maybe a parent. Who might that be for you? Who knows you well enough to be able to do that?
And if you do have those people in your life, how do you respond to them? Do you make room for them in your heart when they do what you have asked them to do? Do you seek to respond faithfully? We see in verse fourteen that Paul was able to assure Titus that the Corinthians would repent when confronted by him. Can the closest people in your life say the same about you? How do you hear those who call you to repentance?
So we need to appreciate the value of repentance. When we do, we need to seek out and value those who lovingly call us to repentance. Finally, we need to seek to become the type of people who help others to repent.
If we need to learn to imitate the Corinthians in how we value those who call us to repent, we need to learn to imitate Paul in being people who seek to help those we love to repent.
What does that look like?
First, it’s helpful to be specific in your mind. Who might you play this role for? Whom might God be calling you to lovingly cultivate repentance in? It might be in a friend, in your children, in your spouse, in someone you are mentoring. But think of who it might be in your life specifically.
And then, with that person in mind I want to briefly consider seven things that I think Paul shows us that we need to do to cultivate repentance in the lives of others as he does. Let’s look at them quickly.
First, we need to truly value and love those whom we would call to repentance. We see this in verse three. If you know anything about the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians, you know it was a tough one at times. You know that Paul had many reasons to be frustrated with them. You know he at least had good reason to distance himself emotionally from them.
But in verse three he writes to them “you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together.” Paul truly loved the Corinthians. He valued them as the people of God, and he loved them as real people – not as projects he was working on. He held them, these people he knew personally, in his heart.
If we are to be people who can lovingly cultivate repentance in another person, we need, first and foremost, to love that person. To hold them in our heart.
So do you love that person you have in mind? If not, that’s where you need to start.
Second, we need to truly value repentance in the lives of those we love.
We need to see repentance as an essential element in that person’s life. That is what Paul does for the Corinthians. Despite everything else that is going wrong in Corinth, Paul sees the repentance in their lives and he rejoices.
We need to view those we love the same way. Do you care more about your spouse’s ability to repent than their looks or their income or the tasks they do for you? Do you care more about your kids’ repentance than their grades? Do you care more about your friends’ repentance than how cool or fun they are?
Paul is ecstatic about the repentance of a group of Christians who don’t have a lot of other things going for them. If we are to cultivate repentance in others, we need to grow in viewing the importance of repentance in the same way.
Third, we need to seek godly grief, not worldly grief, in those we love. This is what Paul focuses on in verses nine through eleven. I spoke to this distinction more in my sermon in June. I won’t repeat everything I said about that distinction right now. But I will say that it is really easy to make people feel bad about themselves. That doesn’t take too much work. A little child knows how to do that. Cultivating worldly grief – a grief of condemnation, a grief that makes them want to defend themselves or protect themselves or give up, rather than repent, is really easy.
What is harder is cultivating godly grief, rooted in a love for God and a hatred for sin, that yields repentance. We need to be people who think and reflect and work hard at knowing the difference, both in our own hearts, and in how we talk to others. To condemn is easy. To cultivate repentance is to walk in the footprints of Christ.
Which leads to the next thing we see here.
Fourth, we need to be willing not only to speak, but to live out the gospel for those we love.
Commentator Paul Barnett, reflecting on this text, writes this about the Apostle Paul – he says: “Paul’s actions have shown him to be a paradigm of the word of reconciliation proclaimed by him.” [Barnett, 382]
What Barnett means is that to cultivate repentance in others, we need not only to talk about Christ’s ministry of reconciliation, we need to live it. We need to pursue the one sheep that goes astray, like Christ our shepherd. We need to make ourselves vulnerable and put ourselves out there for the sake of the other, like Christ the humble servant. We need to make sacrifices, and take on struggle, that the other person might be restored, like Christ our sacrifice. And we need to embrace that person when they repent, like the Father in the parable of the prodigal son.
Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians cost him a lot. He had to chase them. He had to suffer for them. He had to embrace them after they had hurt him. But he did. And in doing so, he preached the gospel of reconciliation not only with his words, but also with his deeds.
Along with that, we see fifth that we need to truly rejoice in the spiritual growth of those we love.
Do we truly rejoice when those we love grow spiritually? Do we delight in their sanctification? Do we experience comfort and joy over their growing maturity in Christ? And if we do, do we express that to them in a way that they would know it?
Paul does that here. Paul gushes about how proud he is of them. We need to do the same for those we love. We need to encourage them as he encourages the Corinthians.
Sixth, we need to place our confidence in God, not in ourselves or in those we are calling to repent.
We need to remember that in our spiritual lives, and in the lives of those we love, we may plant or we may water, but it is God who gives the growth, as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 3.
You will not grow repentance in your child, or your spouse, or you friend, or your student, or the one you are ministering to. You can plant. You can water. But only God can grow that in their hearts.
Paul’s confidence was not in himself. It was not in the Corinthians either. It was in the God whom he knew was at work. Paul had seen the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of the Corinthians before. When he assured Titus that they would repent, it was because he trusted in the Holy Spirit to continue the work that he had begun in them. [Barnett, 385]
Seventh, and finally, we need to remember the one who has loved us, and cultivated repentance in our hearts.
This point is not found overtly in our text, but I have trouble believing that it did not lie underneath everything Paul did, and especially in his interactions with the Corinthians.
Paul could pursue the wayward Corinthians because he remembered the one who pursued a wayward Paul.
Paul could patiently call the foolish and sinful Corinthians to repent, because he remembered the one who had patiently called a foolish and sinful Paul to repent.
Paul could patiently endure the sin and stubbornness of the Corinthians because he remembered the one who had patiently endured his sin and stubbornness.
Paul could embrace the Corinthians when they repented, because he remembered the one who had embraced him when he repented.
Christ’s pursuit of Paul, Christ’s unmerited call of him, Christ’s loving confrontation of him and calling him to repentance lies at the root of how Paul is able to do what he does. He remembered his sin. He remembered his persecution of Christ and his people. And he remembered how Christ loved, pursued, confronted, and embraced him anyway.
And so it must be with us.
If we as Christians forget that we are sinful rebels whom Christ has pursued again and again, not because we deserved his pursuit, but because of his unmerited love and favor – if we forget that, we will not be able to lovingly pursue others who are in sin.
If we as Christians forget how Christ has lovingly confronted us and patiently waited for our repentance time and time again, then we will not be able to lovingly confront and patiently wait for those who have sinned in our lives.
And if we as Christians forget how Christ has embraced us again and again when we have had to repent and return to him, times without number, then we will fail to truly embrace those who repent to us.
Our ability to lovingly deal with others in their sin rests on our remembering how Christ has lovingly dealt with us.
We see in this text a beautiful thing. We see the beauty of repentance and restoration not just between Paul and the Corinthians, but between the Corinthians and Christ, with Paul’s aid.
Let us appreciate the beauty and centrality of repentance in the Christian life. Let us seek out those who will help us in our ongoing repentance. And remembering what Christ has done for us, let us, like Paul, seek to cultivate repentance in the lives of others.
This sermon draws on material from:
Barnett, Paul. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997.
Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York, NY: Dutton, 2008.
Luther, Martin. “The 95 Theses.” Translation copyrighted by KDG Wittenberg (1997), accessed at: http://www.luther.de/en/95thesen.html
Murray, Charles. Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. New York, NY: Crown Forum, 2013.
Reno, R. R. Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society. Washington, DC: Regnery Faith, 2016.
The Simpsons, Season 15, Episode 5. Scene accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6HvdfJEkoa8