2Co 7:11-12 “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. Wherefore, though I wrote unto you, I did it not for his cause that had done the wrong, nor for his cause that suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear unto you.”
In the verses immediately prior to these, Paul demonstrated to the church at Corinth how his previous instruction had worked in them repentance unto salvation through their godly sorrow. He calls on them to pay attention to all that had transpired as a result of their sorrowing “after a godly sort.” It is important for us to realize that the sorrow felt by the saints at Corinth was not because they had disappointed Paul and his companions. They had sorrow because they realized they had failed to follow the teaching of God’s word.
Godly sorrow that leads to repentance will make itself manifest in a number of ways. The first of these is that it makes us careful. As used here, this word does not mean to make us cautious, but rather that we become eager and earnest (see Strong’s). Our sincerity in desiring to please God rather than man is renewed. We desire to put the things that God has showed us into immediate practice in our lives.
Repentance makes us quick to want to clear ourselves. This phrase does not imply that we make excuses for what we have done. The meaning is that we are quick to own our error and apologize for our offense. While we may find it desirable to apologize to our brothers and sisters, our first apology is made unto God in submission to Him.
We are filled with indignation at the proof and effect of our wrong. In Webster’s Dictionary of 1828, one of the definitions of indignation is “Holy displeasure at one’s self for sin.” By the Spirit of God that lives in us, we are indignant about our own failures and not those of others. While Paul soundly condemned the fornication of the man who had been with his father’s wife, his greater concern was that the church had not mourned over the deed (1Co 5:1-2).
They heard Paul’s counsel from God with reverential fear, as do we if we are brought by God to repentance. This fear kindles a great yearning in us to do God’s will. We are moved to a zealous pursuit of knowing and understanding the truth of Jesus Christ as our Redeemer and example. We seek vindication (revenge) in humbling ourselves before God and walking in the salvation that we see clearly as a result of the godly sorrow that leads us to a great deliverance.
Repentance does not mean that our error never happened. It does not mean that we did not fail. It does mean that, by God’s grace, we no longer walk in those things that brought about our failure. We take responsibility and confess before God that we have sinned, and we trust Him for grace to turn from those things and not walk in them in longer. Then we can feel ourselves to be clear.
It is important to remember why those that minister to us are willing to bring to us the whole counsel of God. Although the one who had done wrong received correction, this was not the main purpose of Paul’s letter. Even though those who had suffered wrong were addressed, this was not the main purpose of Paul’s instruction. It is needful for the church to always know that those who minister faithfully do so because they have an earnest concern before God for the welfare of His children.
May we always be blessed to minister the word in a way that shines a light on “thus saith the Lord” and never with an attitude of “I told you so!”