Godly Sorrow Is Good for You!
Lord God, I acknowledge my transgressions and my sin is always before me. And yet despite my failure to live up to Your perfect law, You have sent Your Son, Jesus Christ, to win salvation for me through His perfect life and innocent death. Lord, teach me to always recognize my sinfulness, but also to recognize Your great love and grace toward me. Amen.
Dear Friends in Christ, Fellow Redeemed!
Before we read the sermon text for this morning, I believe it is important for us to understand the circumstances surrounding this Word of God before us this morning.
Both 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians were letters written to the church in Corinth by the apostle Paul. However, he wrote each of them in very different circumstances. The apostle Paul had quite a history with the church in Corinth.
Paul first visited Corinth while he was on his second missionary journey. You can read about the account in Acts 18. Paul was there for 18 months and we read that God spoke to him regarding the city saying, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10). It was in Corinth that Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, the husband and wife tentmaker/missionary team. The church in Corinth grew quite a bit while Paul was there.
But then he left to return to Jerusalem and it was during his third missionary journey that Paul wrote the two letters that we know as first and second Corinthians today. First Corinthians was written while Paul was in Ephesus after he had heard word from the church that things were not going well in Corinth.
That much is very clear when we read first Corinthians. The church members there were fighting each other. One faction was claiming that Paul was their leader, another faction said that Apollos (another missionary) was their leader, another faction said that Peter was their leader, and a final one said that Jesus was their leader. Paul reminded the church that Christ and His church is not to be divided and that it is the message of the cross that has the power to save.
The church at Corinth was also condoning sexual immorality. They knew that one of the members at the church was living in fornication with his step-mother and they were allowing it. They said to themselves, “Look how loving we are, that we can even tolerate this!” And so, Paul wrote to them condemning the man’s actions and explaining to the Corinthians what true love is in chapter 13.
The church of Corinth had no order or direction, so Paul encouraged them to behave decently and to have order in the church. They were buying meat that had been offered to false idols and were giving offense to weak Christians. Their practice of communion was leading to drunkenness in the church. The list goes on and on. And that is why Paul needed to write one of his longest letters to make sure that he was getting through to these people. In fact, he even sent one of his most trusted allies, Timothy, to deliver the letter.
Now by this point, you’re probably wondering, why are we talking so much about First Corinthians? The sermon text, as you can see in your bulletin, is found in Second Corinthians. The reason is that, First Corinthians is mentioned in our text. Either that, or it is another letter written by Paul that we no longer have, that the Holy Spirit decided not to save for us in our Bible.
Paul wrote a letter of admonition to the church of Corinth--a letter that was meant to produce sorrow for their sins and mistakes. And the amazing thing is that the letter worked! The people of Corinth recognized their sin--how they had fallen from God. They sent Titus to meet up with Paul and let him know. Meanwhile, Paul had to flee from Ephesus because of an uproar caused by Demetrius the silversmith.
So, Titus and Paul met up in Macedonia, Titus gave Paul the good news and then Paul writes Second Corinthians and sends it along with Titus ahead of him back to Corinth.
It is with this joy, excitement, and boldness of newly reconciled parties and especially, in the case of the Corinthians, being newly reconciled to God that Paul writes the very exciting words of our text this morning.
Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation. 5 For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. 6 Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you, when he told us of your earnest desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more. 8 For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. 9 Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.
GODLY SORROW IS GOOD FOR YOU!
I. It Produces Repentance from Your Sin
A few weeks ago, our sister congregation, Messiah in Eau Claire, attracted quite a bit of attention on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook because of a letter that they had written to a member. The pastors and deacons of Messiah had heard that this individual was living in a sinful, unrepentant state. After many attempts to contact the person face-to-face they resorted in sending a letter informing them that if this was true, the individual was outside of the kingdom of God and would be excommunicated from the church.
After the person posted the letter, you can imagine how the world we live in reacted. Unloving. Hateful. Thoughtless. Cold. Loveless. The church was flooded with emails and phone calls threatening pastors, teachers, and the children of the school. It even got to the point that local authorities were called in.
I’ve talked to quite a few of you about what happened there in Eau Claire. And looking at this text we can see that that is exactly what Paul did to the church in Corinth. He sent them a letter of admonition, just like the church in Eau Claire.
Paul’s goal like the church’s goal is to produce godly sorrow in those we chastise. And it isn’t easy either! Look at how Paul describes the internal struggles he was having. He says in verse 5, For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. You can see his inner conflict in verse 8, For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it.
Have you ever confronted someone who was caught in sin? It’s pretty easy to tell a 3-year-old who stole a cookie out of the cookie jar that he needs to say: "I'm sorry." But what about standing up to your relative who is thinking about moving in with their significant other before marriage and telling them what God has to say about premarital sex? What about walking away from the people at work or school or even church who spread gossip and rumors about other people?
It is not easy. And yet that is what God has called us to do. He has given to His Church, to His believers the office of the keys--the ability to forgive the sins of those who repent and to retain the sins of those who do not. It is an awesome and a heavy responsibility that God has given to us and it is not something that should be taken lightly.
Indeed, when these two actions, forgiving and retaining, happen, it is as if Christ Himself is speaking through His Church. We read in Luke that, “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke 10:16).
And yet it is also important for us to realize, that we all need to be confronted with our sin. That is why God gave us the Law in the first place--to show us our sin.
We need to realize that we are lost and condemned sinners on our own. That is why godly sorrow is so important. That is why God gave you a conscience that gives you that sinking feeling when you let someone down or fail to live up to the standards God has set.
God’s perfect law confronts us all and judges us all guilty. We have to confess with David saying, “I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight” (Psalm 51:3,4). We have sinned against God and it is that mortal betrayal of His trust that brings us real sorrow.
And yet, the theme of our sermon today is “godly sorrow is good for you”--but not just being sorry for the sake of being sorry. As Paul says in verse 9, Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner. And it is being sorry in a godly matter that led the Corinthians and it leads us to Salvation in Christ Jesus.
II. It Leads to Salvation in Christ Jesus
This was the ultimate goal of Paul when he wrote what is called the “severe” letter to the church at Corinth and this was the ultimate goal of the letter of admonition sent to the former member of Messiah Lutheran in Eau Claire--to lead these blood-bought souls back to Jesus Christ.
Churches are accused of being heartless, of being loveless! Jesus ate with the tax collectors and prostitutes, didn’t He? How can we judge people and turn them away? And yet we do not base these decisions on the thought and intellect of man! We use the Word of God as our foundation and cornerstone. When the church is put in a position where it must remove someone from the church it does so, not to cleanse the church of an unrighteous sinner, for we are all sinners. Yet we are repentant sinners. When the church excommunicates a member, it is purely an act of love. As we said earlier, it would be easier to ignore the situation, wouldn’t it? Paul could have just ignored the sins of fornication, and disorderliness, and drunkenness in Corinth, but instead he had the courage to stand up for what God says in His Word. We pray that our church here at Immanuel may always have the courage as well to stand up for the truths of God’s Word. To have the courage to call sin what it is, sin.
When we do that, we are really acting in love for our fellow sinner who is caught up in a trap of the devil. We are telling them that we love them too much to just ignore their sin. We are telling them that if they continue down this path, it will lead to eternal hell, and we won’t stand idly by while that happens.
We are telling them that Jesus is right there for them--ready and waiting to shower His love and forgiveness down upon them, just as He has already done for us.
We want to lead people to Jesus, just as Paul did, and just as so many Christian men and women have since then. We want to show them the life that Christ lived for them. Christ endured every temptation perfectly and without sin for all. We want to show them the cross, where Christ died, suffering and dying for all mankind, as no one else could. The perfect, spotless Lamb, Christ, went wordlessly to die for all.
We want to show them the empty tomb from which Christ rose triumphantly on Easter morning. Because it is in all of these things that we have received the forgiveness of sins. And so can they by simply believing in Jesus Christ for salvation.
When you look at the joy and the excitement of Paul’s speech in these verses, you can’t help but marvel at the love that the apostle to the Gentiles had for His people. Yet it is that same love, the love that is motivated by the work of Christ Jesus that flows through this church as well.
When we see people joining the membership roster at Immanuel as we saw last week in our mission festival service, we sing in thanks and praise with all the angels in heaven. When we see people removed from membership or excommunicated, we bow our heads in prayer to God and ask that He work in them repentance from sins and lead them to life everlasting.
As Jesus Himself said in Luke, “Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). Lord, give us godly sorrow that produces repentance from our sins and leads to salvation in You. Amen.