Working Things Out

“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.“  (2 Cor 7.10,11   ESV)

This passage of Scripture was recently pointed out to me. Though I have read it many times and though I missed the session in which a friend expounded these verses, it got my attention and prompted further investigation.

Paul is writing to the Corinthians about his first letter to them, which he sent with deep regret because of its inflammatory content and its predictable effect on the readers. He is now rejoicing that they responded to his first epistle with “godly grief”—that is, grief as God views grief. As both Vincent and Robertson point out, he is not talking about mere regret (such as Cain, Esau and Judas experienced) that still leads to death. “Godly grief” is what leads to the same kind of repentance that one experiences at conversion—a change of heart and reversal of direction, even with regard to one’s own attitudes and behavior. Its aim is “salvation without regret”, an expression we might want to ponder for a while.

“Repentance” does not suggest that one is necessarily in the wrong, but that one needs to change one’s mind about the status of a situation or relationship as well as one’s part in reaching resolution. To stand before the Lord and acknowledge that one had knowingly refused to do so would certainly produce profound regret!

Of special interest to me is what this “godly grief” produces in the heart of a truly repentant individual:

  1. Earnestness is a sense of urgency to perform due diligence in resolving a matter;
  2. Eagerness to clear yourselves refers clearly to sin, but will also drive one to clear oneself of others’ perceptions if they are incorrect. Perceptions don’t occur in a vacuum. Something precipitates them, and even when they are incorrect, to dismiss them with the thought, “If that’s the way they want to think, that’s their problem” is both foolhardy and in violation of what Paul is teaching here.
  3. Indignation is a bit difficult to understand in this context. It should be directed at sin; at Satan for his insolence and attempt to derail Christian conduct and relationships; and at the notion that a serious spiritual matter should not receive appropriate attention.
  4. Fear means…well, fear. I believe it refers to our fear of God and the prospect of standing before Him one day to answer for how we handle this life’s affairs. We are far too concerned with trivialities and far too cavalier about those things which He views as eternally weighty.
  5. Longing is what the KJV calls, “vehement desire.” For what? For resolution of whatever the issue may be, regardless of my part in it.
  6. Zeal is another word for the same thing. Paul’s passion is leaking from his pen here.  This word actually speaks in a negative sense of the jealousy of a husband for his wife, and evokes a kind of relentless pursuit of resolution. The prophet Hosea is a good illustration.
  7. Punishment really speaks of seeing justice done. In the New Testament, it can refer on the one hand to retribution and on the other to vindication. It is a no-fault, unbiased word as Paul uses it here.

All this begs the question of me, “To what lengths am I willing to go in order to achieve resolution of an issue in my life and relationships?”  Regardless of the nature of the matter–Paul had a very specific moral situation in mind–this passage gives me a lot to consider.


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