2 Corinth. 7: “Difference Between Sorrow and Repentance”

Finally some good news! This must have been what Paul was thinking when Titus came to bring an update from Corinth. Up to this point all we’ve heard about was all the problems plaguing the church in Corinth, but now there’s a different story.

I don’t know about you, but I can always find a reason to celebrate. I love to celebrate! It doesn’t matter what it is, I truly love to get together, laugh, joke, have fun, reminisce, and celebrate! Child looses their first tooth, celebrate! You brought home an “A,” celebrate! Your hamster had babies, cry, mourn, give away the babies then… celebrate! You can almost hear the change in Pauls tone as he recalls the emotions he experienced when he, Titus, and the rest of Paul’s team celebrated the change in the Corinthians.

Paul mentions that he sent a “severe letter” letter to the Corinthians, but we need to know and understand that this isn’t the previous letter we read as 1 Corinthians. This “severe letter” is one of two letters that were lost of Paul’s four letters to the Corinthians. It’s also important to know that the primary content of this lost letter was how deeply hurt he was by the actions of the Corinthian church. Paul eludes in this letter (2 Corinthians) to being upset over his authority being questioned. Paul’s purpose in writing the letter was not to make the church feel guilty about what they’ve done, but instead to experience the conviction that only God, through the Holy Spirit, can bring.

2 Corinthians 7:8-10 (NLT) I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while. Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. 10 For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.

Difference Between Sorrow and Repentance

Paul makes a very important distinction here between sorrow and repentance. One of the key differences is the action that is associated with both. Someone can be “sorry,” or “filled with sorrow,” over something they did, but still not be led to repentance. Repentance is an action, not a feeling. You can “feel” sorry, but if you’re “feeling” repentant it’s because you repented. Repentance, involves a recognition that a wrong has been committed. It’s also the difference between the “Godly sorrow” verses “worldly sorrow.”

The kind of sorrow that God intends results in a change of heart:Your sorrow led you to repentance (v. 9). It’s apparent that the church in Corinth felt sorry for how they treated Paul, but the church didn’t stop there, you see repentance goes further. It not only recognizes the wrong committed but also seeks to make it right. This the Corinthians did by admitting their blame and by punishing the offender (2:6; 7:11). At it’s core, this action of the Corinthians is godly sorrow. Godly sorrow recognizes the wrong committed and then does everything within its power to repair the damage. Simply put, godly sorrow is constructive.

Two People and a Cup of Coffee

As a commentator noted in a story: Two people are chatting over coffee. In reaching for the sugar, one of them accidentally knocks her cup in the other’s lap. A typical reaction would be “Look at the mess I’ve made. I’m so sorry.” This is the voice of regret. A certain kind of person will continue to berate herself for her clumsiness. But constructive sorrow is different from either. It says: “Here are some napkins. I’ll get the table cleaned up. And please let me pay the cleaning bill.” Constructive sorrow is the kind of sorrow that leads to salvation and leaves no regret (v. 10).

The Corinthian people wronged Paul and had to face the reality of their actions. And so it is with God. We have all wronged God at some point in our spiritual journey, and we too need to come to the reality that we will be held accountable for our actions. The question isn’t whether we feel “sorry” or not, the question is, what we going to do about it.