Paul's statement made in today's text is an example of how deeply the Christian Paul loved those he led to Christ [see 1 Thessalonians 2:5-12; 2 Corinthians 11:1-11]. Paul, as a Christian, did not regard teaching others about Jesus Christ as an occupation. He ministered to others by sharing himself and sharing the resurrected Jesus' blessings [see Romans 9:1-5; 10:1,2]. When Paul saw destructive forces deceiving men and women he led to Christ, he genuinely grieved.
On one occasion he recognized this deception in many Christians in the Corinthian congregation. They were on the brink of apostasy. Paul could not let that occur without taking action! Thus, he wrote them a stern letter calling attention to their problems and his concern for them. At the time he wrote and sent this letter, he was filled with regret. He regretted their situation. He regretted their need for his letter. He regretted sending them the letter.
Since a significant period passed [no postal service was available] before he learned their reaction to his letter, Paul was in anxiety through that period. Would they reject and renounce his concerns? Would they despise him? Would they inform him that he was never welcome among them again? Would they completely apostatize from Jesus Christ and the only good news that could save them? How would they react to his censoring their attitudes and behaviors?
With enormous relief he finally learned their response to his letter. In another letter he explained he found no personal joy or fulfillment in sending the earlier letter of censor. The earlier letter was not an attempt to "control" them, and they should not view that situation as "Paul won this time." They must understand Paul found no pleasure in causing them pain--he loved them!
However, his reaction to learning about their response to his earlier letter was one of undisguised joy. He wanted them to know with certainty that his joy was not produced by their pain, but by their response. It was their reaction, not their problems, which gave him joy. His joy was produced by their commitment to God's will! Their repentance was his joy!
Paul rarely used the word repentance in his letters. However, his use of repentance in this situation provides us invaluable insights into the nature of repentance. His insights are relevant to today's religious world. Please notice Paul made this statement to men and women who were Christians.
What insights did Paul provide? (1) Godly sorrow precedes repentance, not is repentance. Repentance is the result of being sorrowful toward God. (2) Repentance is concern about God's will rather than personal desires. (3) The change [redirection of life] produced by repentance is not filled with regret. The attitude is not: "I wish I did not have to leave this behavior [attitude]. If I could do what I really want to do, I would continue my ungodly lifestyle. However, I do not want to go to hell. I have no choice! I simply must do as God demands even though I do not want to!" The attitude is: "I now understand God's will in this matter. I deeply regret causing God grief. I want God to find joy in my love for Him, not grief produced by my heart and behavior. In the crucified/resurrected Jesus, He did and does so much for me! I gladly redirect my life to follow His will! I want to leave my ungodly ways behind! My old ways would destroy me, but His ways will rescue me."
Many people confuse sorrow with repentance. In fact, many think that feeling sorrow is repenting. Not so! Is feeling sorrow necessary? Yes, if it is sorrow for offending [grieving] God. Is feeling sorrow repentance? No, it precedes repentance.
A Christian [as well as the person who is not a Christian] can feel sorrow for many reasons. Those reasons include (1) failing; (2) getting caught; (3) enduring a specific consequence or set of consequences; (4) being exposed for "who I really am"; (5) the end of pretense [hypocrisy]; (6) the end of the ungodly pleasures experienced; etc. One can experience many forms of sorrow and never experience godly sorrow. One can even experience godly sorrow and still not repent. Godly sorrow opens the door to repentance, but it does not cross the threshold into repentance. If one is to repent, there first must be godly sorrow. However, godly sorrow leads to repentance, not is repentance.
The Christians at Corinth were at the edge of the precipice of apostasy. If problems continued unaddressed, they would leave God's will. If that occurred, Paul's relationship with them would radically change. The eventual result of continuing in their ungodly attitudes and behavior would be a return to unconcern about God. If that happened, the consequence would be spiritual death. If that happened, they returned to their spiritual condition prior to entering a covenant with God through the crucified/resurrected Jesus.
The only way for this not to occur was through repentance. They had to care about God! They had to be grieved because their ungodly attitudes and behavior was offensive to God Who loved them! They had to be in such sorrow that they changed those attitudes and behavior!
When I was a child, children commonly were forcefully taught to say, "I am sorry!" The child might not feel sorry, still he or she must say the words. The child must say the words regardless of the kind of sorrow he or she felt. It might be sorrow for being caught, sorrow for the consequences, sorrow for the embarrassing situation, or sorrow for other reasons. However, the important thing was not what he or she felt, but what he or she said.
Fearfully, some grew to adulthood with a conviction that in sorrow it was not what you felt but what you said. If it is not godly sorrow, God is unimpressed. In fact, the words offend Him! If it does not produce repentance, God is unimpressed. In fact, the words offend Him!
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 8
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