Paul was very concerned about the state of the Corinthian church. He had just been thrown out of Ephesus (56AD), and while on the run, wondered if his letter, carried by Titus to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians), would be accepted, or rejected. Titus now reports that the church has reaffirmed Paul as their apostle. This fills his heart with joy and drives him to pen this final letter to them (2 Corinthians). In the passage before us Paul expresses his feelings of joy and pride for a church that again affirms his ministry.
v2. Paul picks up again on his words from 6:11-13 where he reminded his readers of the loving care he and his missionary team has for the Corinthian church and how important it is for them to respond in like manner. So, Paul restates his deep care form them, reminding them that at no point has he, or any of his team, acted to hurt them.
v3. Just in case his words might be taken as a criticism, Paul states categorically the he is not censuring them; they are too dear to him. Paul and his team, along with the Corinthian believers, whether it be in living or in dying, face the vagaries of life together.
v4. Paul states that he has always been totally frank with the Corinthian believers and that he has great pride in them. It is this pride in their Christian standing, as reported by Titus to Paul, that has filled him with boundless encouragement and overflowing happiness.
v5. Prior to the report from Titus, Paul had arrived in Macedonia, probably Philippi, buffeted from troubles without and doubts within.
v6. But then he met his good friend Titus, which was a comforting experience for Paul.
v7. The greater "comfort" was found in the message brought by Titus. The church in Corinth had swung their affection back to Paul, aware of their sin and sorry for it. Paul's letter to them (1 Corinthians) had done its work.
v8-9. "Yes, even if I caused you pain by my letter, I am not sorry for it. Perhaps I was tempted to feel sorry, when I saw how my letter had caused you even momentary pain, but now I am glad; not glad of the pain, but glad of the repentance that the pain brought with it", Knox.
v10. "Godly sorrow", a sorrow that leads individuals to view their conduct as God does, is a sorrow for sin, a sorrow which, through repentance, leads to the joy of forgiveness and life eternal. "Worldly sorrow", a sorrow that fails to reference God, is an immobilizing regret that leads to depression and in the end, eternal loss.
v11. For the Corinthians, "Godly sorrow" prompted them to correct their behavior.
v12. The punishment of offenders and the vindication of the offended, although an immediate purpose of the "painful" letter (1 Corinthians), was superseded by a greater end, namely the church's acceptance of their apostle.
v13. Modern translations, from the RSV onward, tend to make the second half of this verse the beginning of a new paragraph, but such a division is unnecessary. In the remaining verses Paul expresses how his confidence in the Corinthian believers has been vindicated in their acceptance of Titus and his pastoral mission on Paul's behalf. Not only has Paul been encouraged by their acceptance of Titus, but Titus has as well.
v14. Paul has spoken with pride about the Corinthians to Titus, and his words have proved true.
v15. During his visit, Titus developed "a most affectionate memory" of the Corinthians. The church accepted the demands made of them in Godly fear. They sensed, under God, the importance of submission to the words of their apostle.
v16. Paul finally affirms his "complete confidence" in the church.
The psalmist tells us of the "sickness that destroyeth at the noonday." What a wonderful description of the languor, the black dog - a beautiful word that describes the incapacity that seems to attack us immediately after lunch. At theological college we often had a Bible context exam straight after lunch. After a hearty meal the only thing any of us wanted to do was take a siesta, but the problem was we were in a Protestant theological college and not a Spanish seminary.
In the monasteries, during the middle ages, the monks were particularly prone to the practice of siestas. Actually, they might have invented them. So languor was added to the seven deadly sins: pride, covetousness, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and sloth. Thomas Aquinas, writing in the 13th century, called it accidie. In his sermon titled "The Sorrow of the World", Francis Paget described accidie as "a compound of depression, sloth, and irritability that plunges a man into a lazy languor and works in him constant bitterness." Paul nicely sums it up as a "worldly sorrow that brings death."
If we can keep ourselves busy then we don't need to mull over our depressing inadequacies, nor our present difficult circumstances, nor the many lost opportunities of the past. Yet, even with all the busyness that we can muster, if we are not careful, depression inevitably sets in and we are immobilized by "worldly sorrow." It is then sloth becomes our master.
Like the Corinthians we need to practice the art of "Godly sorrow." This is the sorrow that prompts "repentance" and leads to life eternal. How easy it is to remember our many failings; they pile up like refuse in the mind. As we tick through them, often cringing at the thought of them, let us lay them with a sorrowful heat at the throne of God's grace. Not a sorrow that debilitates and dehumanizes, but a Godly sorrow, the sorrow of repentance. Then, refreshed in God's forgiveness, let's get up, dust ourselves off, and press on to glory.
1. What was it that the Corinthians were sorrowful about?
2. Why was Paul so joyful?
3. Illustrate the contrast between "Godly" and "worldly" sorrow.