Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.
For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.
Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. So even though I wrote to you, it was neither on account of the one who did the wrong nor on account of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. By all this we are encouraged.
In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you. I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well. And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling. I am glad I can have complete confidence in you.
Chrysostom, one of the early church fathers, says that heat makes all things expand and the warmth of love will always expand a person’s heart. In our passage for today, Paul speaks with the accent of pure love. And by the warmth of his affection for the Christians at Corinth, Paul seeks to expand their hearts toward him.
Paul makes here a series of great claims: we have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. Paul was not perfect, but he practiced a clean desk policy, spiritually speaking. He kept short accounts with God and with others. If he made a mistake, if he sinned, he was usually quick to confess and repent. He teaches others to do the same by precept and example.
There is only one thing that lays heavier on the heart of a Christian than his own sins, and that is the thought that we might have led others to sin by our wrong actions or words.
The story is told of an old man on his deathbed who was very distressed. When asked what was wrong, he said that when he was a boy, he and his friends turned around a signpost at a crossroads. The old man said, “I cannot stop wondering how many people were sent on the wrong road by the thing we did that day.”
I doubt that Paul had that same anxiety when facing his own death. After his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul labored the rest of his life, by the power of the Holy Spirit within him, to point people in the right direction.
One word we might use to describe Paul’s character is a word I don’t hear much anymore. I used to hear this word used a lot more when I was younger. It is the word “godly”. Paul had a godliness about him that came not from himself but from the Holy Spirit.
The Greek word for godliness is εὐσέβεια. One of our early church historians went by the name: Eusebius. The word refers to a person’s inner heart response to the things of God which shows itself in piety or reverence. The word only appears 15 times in the New Testament, but 10 of those times are in Paul’s Pastoral Letters and once in Acts in reference to Paul. So, even though this word εὐσέβεια does not appear in the passage we are considering today from 2 Corinthians, I think it is a word that well describes Paul’s character. One way to look at this passage in 2 Corinthians, is to recognize that Paul talks about four aspects of godliness: joy, comfort, sorrow, and boasting. Let’s look at each of them in turn…
Paul says he is overjoyed. He superabounds in joy. This passage tells us about three great joys, and they all have to do with relationships.
First, there is the joy of reconciliation. A breach had come in Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians. This breach was probably brought about by the fact that the Corinthians were not living the way they should live as Christians. We saw in 1 Corinthians 5 how the Corinthians tolerated a man in their congregation who was sleeping with his stepmother. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for not dealing with the sin in their midst. Apparently, Paul had written a harsh letter to the Corinthians about this situation, and he dispatched his disciple, Titus, to Corinth with this letter. Paul wasn’t sure how the Corinthians were going to respond. He was deeply concerned about how things were going to go. But when he finally met up with Titus in Macedonia, he received the good news that the Corinthians were repentant. This good news resulted in the joy of reconciliation between Paul and the Corinthian Christians.
Secondly, Paul had the joy of seeing someone in whom he believed justifying that belief. Paul had entrusted Titus with the very difficult mission of taking Paul’s strongly worded letter to the Corinthians. But not only was Titus a letter-carrier, he would also have been responsible for interpreting Paul’s words to the Corinthians and helping them to accept Paul’s perspective and guidance. William Barclay says,
Paul was overjoyed that Titus had justified his confidence in him and proved his words true. Nothing brings so deep a satisfaction as to know that our children in the flesh or in the faith do well. The deepest joy that a son or a daughter or a scholar or a student can bring to parent or teacher is to demonstrate that they are as good as the parent or the teacher believes them to be.
Thirdly, Paul had the joy of seeing someone he loved welcomed and well treated. When he sent Titus to Corinth, Paul was not certain how the Corinthians were going to respond to him. But when their response was a positive one, Paul was overjoyed. Again, Barclay comments insightfully about this…
It is a fact of life that kindness shown to those we love moves us even more deeply than kindness shown to ourselves. What is true of us is true of God. That is why we can best show our love of God by loving our fellow men. The thing that delights the heart of God is to see one of his children kindly treated. Inasmuch as we do it to them we do it to him.
Closely related to Godly Joy is Godly Comfort. Paul says, “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him.”
We have already seen and talked about this great word, “comfort”, more than once in the Corinthian correspondence. The word appears 4 times in verses 6 and 7.
A sort of word-for-word translation of these verses would read like this: “But God, the one comforting the humble, comforted us by the appearance of Titus; and not only by his appearing, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted over you…”
The word “comfort”, παρακαλέω in Greek, as we have seen in our previous studies, means “to call alongside”. Paul makes it clear that God is the source of our comfort. God is ultimately the one who comes alongside of us in our troubles to strengthen and bless us with his love. God the Holy Spirit is the ultimate Paraclete who comes alongside of us. And, in coming alongside of us, God also calls others alongside of us. We all need people “with skin on” to encourage us. God comforted Paul through his meeting with Titus. Titus, in turn, was comforted through his meeting with the Corinthian Christians.
I wonder, who has been a great encourager, a great comforter, for you in your life’s journey? For whom can you be an encourager, a comforter, an advocate? God wants you to incarnate, in-flesh, his love for others.
Well, those are the first two aspects of godliness that we see in this passage: godly joy and godly comfort.
The third aspect of godliness we see in this passage may surprise you. It is godly sorrow.
Some people paint the Christian life as though it is all a bed of roses, as though we always move in the realm of victory, and never experience defeat. But such is not the case. The reason this is not true is because we haven’t arrived in heaven yet. There is a “now” but “not yet” to kingdom living.
Even as Christians we continue to sin, not because we must, but because we choose to do so. We aren’t perfect. None of us are. We continue to make mistakes. The question is: how do we respond when we sin? How do we respond when we make mistakes, missteps in life?
Jill Briscoe tells this story…
A Catholic priest was called to the scene of an accident. The man had been hit on his bicycle; he was dying. The priest said to him, “You know you’re going into eternity in a minute, and you and I know the sort of life you’ve lived. You need to be sorry. Are you sorry?” The man said, “No Father, I’m not sorry.” So the priest talked to him a little bit more and then said, “Are you sorry you’re not sorry?” The man said, “Yes, Father. I’m sorry I’m not sorry.”
God can work with that. He can work with us even if all we can say at first is: “I’m sorry I’m not sorry for my sins.”
Paul talks about two possible responses to sin. He sums up the two responses in one crisp sentence in verse 10… “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
So, there is godly sorrow and there is worldly sorrow. It has been said that we see an example of godly sorrow in Peter and his reaction to his own denial of Jesus. It has also been said that we can see an example of worldly sorrow in Judas and his reaction to his own betrayal of Jesus.
Paul defines and describes godly sorrow. But intriguingly he offers no further description of worldly sorrow. The latter is simply sorrow or grief that conforms to the pattern of this world system that is set against God.
Though Paul does not give a definition of worldly sorrow, nor even a description of it, it occurs to me that a description might run along these lines… Perhaps we have worldly sorrow whenever we are grieved that the world and the happenings of the world do not conform to our wishes. In the end, this self-centered way of living leads to regret, and ultimately, to death.
Do you want to live a life without regret? Then let godly sorrow lead you to repentance. Godly sorrow is the sorrow, the grief, we bear when we realize that our own lives have failed to conform to God’s wishes. When we have godly sorrow, we are sorry, we are grieved, that we have disappointed God. We are like young children who want to please their father or mother.
Godly sorrow can be a very good kind of grief, because it is the kind of sorrow that leads us to do something. It is the kind of sorrow that leads us to change. It leads us to what Paul calls “repentance”. And repentance is a change of mind that leads to a change in direction. I change my mind about self, and sin, and Christ. And that change of mind leads to a change in direction, from going my own way to going Christ’s way.
Fourthly and finally, there is one more aspect of godliness that you may find surprising. I call it Godly Boasting.
“But,” you say, “I thought all boasting was evil.”
Apparently, that is not the case, because Paul speaks in this chapter of a boasting that is good. Paul says in verse 14, “I had boasted to him [that is Titus] about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well.” Paul had boasted to Titus about the Corinthians and now his boasting has proved true and for that Paul is grateful.
You see, boasting, like sorrow, can be either godly or worldly. There is worldly boasting which consists in boasting about the “achievements” of the self; that is a negative type of boasting. But there is also a boasting which is godly because it is positively centered in God’s grace.
In 1 Corinthians 1:31 Paul quotes Jeremiah 9:24, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” That is a good kind of boasting! On the other hand, Paul is against boasting in that which is merely human. He says in 1 Corinthians 3:21, “So then, no more boasting about human leaders.”
So how do we know whether our boasting is good or evil? Ask yourself, “Who do I want to receive the glory? Do I want glory for myself? Or do I want the glory of God above all else?”
It has been said that great things can be accomplished by a team when the members of the team don’t care who gets the credit. I would revise that statement and say that great things can be accomplished by a team of Christians when they all want God to get the credit!
It is all too easy to glory in human achievement. We listen to the music of Bach, and we say, “Isn’t that amazing what he achieved?” And yet Bach himself did not want any of the glory to go to himself. That is why he wrote at the end of every musical composition of his own: “Soli deo gloria!” “To God alone be the glory!”
In living to glorify God we find our greatest realization of our full humanity, full human flourishing. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” When we live for God’s glory, we find the greatest sense of fulfillment. When we live for our own glory, enough is never enough. Living for one’s own glory leads to depression and death.
What does living for the glory of God look like? It looks like the life of Bach. Bach lived to point others to God through his music. Living for the glory of God means taking whatever gifts, whatever talents, God has given us and using those gifts, those talents, to point other people to Christ. When we boast in our own human achievements, we are like the dog who sniffs the pointing finger of his master, rather than following the pointing finger to the object of our greatest desire.
I remember when I was young, the idea of godliness did not appeal to me. I thought of godliness like I thought of missionaries. Missionaries were always the people wearing the outdated clothes! I didn’t ever want to be like that. I wanted to be “with it”, I wanted to be “hip”, though I would not have used that sort of language to describe what I wanted at the time. But now I see that to be godly means to be so filled up with God that there is no room for anything else.
I think the other reason godliness did not appeal to me when I was young was because I felt like I fell so far short of the ideal. That is still true. But godliness itself is not something we achieve. It is something God achieves in us when we surrender our lives to him.
Do you know what the word “enthusiasm” means? It comes from the Latin words: “en theo” which mean “in God”. To be “in God” and to have God in you, filling you up, is to live a life of enthusiasm. Such a life is the life you were created and redeemed to live. Such a life, as I said at the beginning, is a life of joy.