2 Corinthians 7:8-11 - “ For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.”
Paul describes the turmoil that he experienced in writing sharp reproofs (“I do not repent, though I did repent,” 2 Co. 7:8).
- Surely every preacher has experienced this. We know that reproof and rebuke must be given toward persistent sin (2 Ti. 4:2; Tit. 1:7; 2:15), but it is not an easy thing to do even for the boldest preacher. He fears that perhaps he has been too severe. He knows all too well that he does not do anything with perfection, including giving correction. He fears that the people will be offended and turn against him. But though there are such struggles, the preacher must not back down from reproving and rebuking. He must do it as wisely as possible in the Spirit, but he must do it. He must be like Paul who said, “I do not repent, though I did repent.”
Paul describes their repentance (2 Co. 7:8-11).
- It must be understood that there is a one-time repentance to salvation (“repentance for the remission of sins,” Mr. 1:4; “except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish,” Lu. 13:3, 5; “repent ye therefore, and be converted,” Ac. 3:19; “repentance unto life,” Ac. 11:18; “God ... now commandeth all men every where to repent,” Ac. 17:30; “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,” Ac. 20:21; “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” 2 Pe. 3:9). After salvation, there are manifold repentances to sanctification. The latter is what the Corinthians experienced. Compare Lu. 17:3-4; Re. 2:5, 16, 21, 22; 3:19.
- Biblical repentance is through the Word of God (“the same epistle hath made you sorry,” 2 Co. 7:8). The Scripture is the living, powerful Word of God that is the instrument of the Spirit of God to bring men to conviction and repentance. This is true for salvation. It was through the preaching of God’s Word on Pentecost that the Jews were “pricked in their heart” and repented (Ac. 2:37-38). The same is true for sanctification. The faithful preaching of God’s Word as per 2 Timothy 4:2 keeps the people repenting of sins and staying on the narrow way of God’s will. The daily personal reading of and study of God’s Word has the same effect. The child of God has the propensity to go astray; he has the old man (Eph. 4:22); he has sins (1 Jo. 1:8); he is therefore in need of the ministry of God’s Word continually by every means to keep him confessing and to keep him walking in the light (1 Jo. 1:5-9).
- Biblical repentance is not the sorrow of the world (“the sorrow of the world worketh death,” 2 Co. 7:10). The sorrow of the world is sorrow that is not directed to God. It is sorrow for sin’s consequences, but not sorrow toward God. It is the sorrow of Pharaoh who was sorry that he was experiencing God’s judgments but had no intention of obeying God (Ex. 8:8-15; 9:27-35). It is the sorrow of Balaam who was sorry that he was in danger of God’s judgment but continued in his covetous ways (Nu. 22:31-34). It is the sorrow of Judas who regretted his actions but did not repent toward God and cast himself upon God for mercy (Mt. 27:3-5). It is the sorrow of Simon the sorcerer who “believed” but had not repented of his lust for power (Ac. 8:9-24).
- Biblical repentance is permanent (“for godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of,” 2 Co. 7:10). It is not a temporary, fleeting thing. True repentance lasts. The Prodigal Son did not return to the pigpen (Lu. 15:17-19). The Thessalonians did not return to their idols (1 Th. 1:9-10).
- Biblical repentance has clear fruit (“what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter,” 2 Co. 7:11). Biblical repentance is not mere words. It is evidenced by a change in life. The more real the repentance, the more thorough the change. This is what churches must look for both in receiving members and in receiving backsliders. Repentance is required for salvation, and repentance is required for restoration, and there will be clear, unmistakable evidence if it is real.
Paul describes his joy at hearing of their repentance (2 Co. 7:4-7, 12-16).
- Nothing encourages a preacher more than the obedience of the flock and repentance of sin and error. Church members have a great influence on their preachers by their reaction to the ministry of God’s Word. The thing that so greatly encouraged Paul was “your earnest desire, your mourning, your fervent mind toward me” (2 Co. 7:7).
- Their repentance and obedience gave him “boldness of speech.” “Boldness” is parresia, from pas (all) and rhesis (speaking), freedom or frankness in speaking.” It is translated “speak openly” (Mr. 8:32; Joh. 7:13), “tell us plainly” (Joh. 10:24), “freely speak” (Ac. 2:29). When the people obey the preaching, the preacher is greatly encouraged to be bold, forthright, uninhibited.
- Their repentance and obedience gave him something of which to glory (“great is my glorying of you”). He did not glory in himself or in carnal things such as the number of professions or the size of his churches or in large offerings and impressive properties. He gloried in the obedience of the saints. Instead of asking one another, “How many are you running in Sunday School?” preachers should ask one another, “How many of your people are living in repentance and obedience?”
- Their repentance and obedience gave him comfort and joy in tribulation (“I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation,” 2 Co. 7:4-6). He had great trouble in Ephesus, and again in Macedonia. “We were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears.” This is Paul’s description of his ministry, and this will characterize every sound ministry of God’s Word. There will be fightings, spiritual warfare, enemies. And there will be fears. Paul was not impervious to fears. No one is. Fears do come. They are part of life in this present world. They cannot be avoided, but they can be dealt with by God’s provision. Paul taught Timothy that fear is not of God. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Ti. 1:7). Fear can be renounced and replaced with power, love, and a sound mind from God. He is ready to supply these things. We see that it is “God that comforteth those that are cast down.” He is the “God of all comfort” (2 Co. 1:3), the God that “careth for you” (1 Pe. 5:7), who numbers the very hairs of your head (Lu. 12:7), who “knowest my downsitting and mine uprising ... compasseth my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways” (Ps. 139:2, 3). How amazing it is that the Almighty God would have such great concern for fallen sinners, but He does. He does!
- Their repentance and obedience had a great effect upon the preacher Titus (2 Co. 7:13-16). Again, we see that the people can greatly encourage their preachers or they can greatly discourage them, depending on the response to God’s Word. Their obedience produced comfort, joy, affection, and confidence.
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