By Jeffery Kingry
Should they whisper false of you,
Never trouble to deny;
Should the words they say be true
Weep and storm and swear they lie!
Paul wrote to the Corinthians “godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (2 Cor. 7:10). Paul’s letter not only gives us an insight into what true repentance is, but also of the Apostle’s attitude towards the rebuke which brings repentance. Paul was a man of God’s own choosing, and he recognized that the stern rebuke and the threat of Apostolic discipline was necessary. Sin is like an infectious disease. If it is not dealt with early and sternly, it never becomes better; it just gets worse. Strong measures were called for in the situation in Corinth and Paul used them.
But even in the face of the necessity to condemn Corinth for what they allowed among them, he was in distress over the outcome of his action. “When we were come into Macedonia we could find no rest for our body, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears” (7:5). Paul had no choice-he agonized over whether he had done the right thing (7:8)-but in the end he did what needed to be done, recognizing the pain and danger of offense it might bring. The sting of his rebuke was brought out by necessity, and the threat of apostolic discipline a last ditch threat against the Corinthian church.
But, transcending both the rebuke and the reticence of the Apostle are the lessons on repentance that we obtain for application today from this passage. The ideal that the teacher was striving for was the perfection of his Corinthian brethren in the Lord. Paul’s sole goal in his rebuke was to bring the brethren to where they needed to be. His goal, and his driving for it brought pain-real pain-for both the teacher and the student alike. But the pain itself was not the object of the rebuke, but what came out of that pain: a return to the mind of God-to the right way-a changed way of life. Paul’s goal was not just to drive out the evil, but to promote healing and growth as well.
This brings us to the significance of Paul’s words on repentance. True repentance is given in contrast to the sorrow of the world. True repentance is according to God (ver. 9). Repentance makes us see sin as against God. When we “turn again” it is to come to the mind of God. Repentance leads to salvation, eternal life. One never regrets true repentance and the change it works in a life, but gives thanks for an opportunity to come back to the mind of God.
The sorrow of the world on the other hand is not repentance. The sorrow is not for the sin, or sorrow for rebelling against God, but sorrow for the consequences of our sin. We are embarrassed, found out, we feel shunned, neglected, uncomfortable. But there is no real sorrow for having’ sinned against God. Worldly sorrow does not find eternal life–but death, for it still holds to sin. Worldly sorrow would reform hell by banishing its pain, not its evil. Barclay says, “it is not really sorrow at all . . . it is only resentment. It is resentment at punishment and resentment at the fact that it did not get away with its sin. There is no real sorrow for the sin itself, but for the fact that it was found out. It would remain in the sin if the rebuke had not been forthcoming, and if in got the chance to do the same thing again and escape the consequences, it certainly would do it.”
This writer, and others I feel sure, have seen persons filled with “worldly sorrow” come forward after an “invitation” many times. These brethren usually preface their confession with “7f I have sinned or offended anyone. . . .” This “backdoor” repentance should be rejected by those who receive it. If one has sinned, he knows that he has sinned, and there is no need to repent of something that is not sin. The true repentant is like Job. 7abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. “
How many times has this preacher seen fake repentance to avoid censure, or to “take off the heat.” Repentance is not for the purpose of wriggling out of a difficult situation, it is a reversal of wrong action to righteousness. Godly sorrow breaks down pride. It does not issue forth in “Well, I am repentant, but there are a lot of other people who need to repent too!”
Alexander Campbell told a story to illustrate the difference between true repentance and worldly sorrow. The story is more than an anecdote, for Brother Campbell declared that it was true in its entirety. A deacon in a local church had a disagreement with an unbelieving neighbor. The week of the falling out the church was engaged in a Gospel meeting, in which the deacon took great interest. One evening towards the end of the meeting, his neighbor was there “looking unusually serious and devout-so much so, that some of the congregation began to suspect that he might be under conviction.” The meeting progressed to the last night, and as the meeting was about to break up, the deacon arose “for the hundreth and first time, to relate his experience, and exhort the sinners present. He protested that he had been born of God, and yet he felt his own unworthiness. ‘I feel my friends’ said he, ‘that I am a miserable, unworthy creature. I have done everything that I ought not to have done, and left undone everything that I ought to have performed. I can say with Paul that I am chief of sinners, and deserve nothing but the wrath and the curse of God.’
“Having resumed his seat, it was with astonishment, and not without hope, that the brethren noticed the deacon’s neighbor rise in his place to speak. All eyes were turned. ‘I feel it my duty’ protested the neighbor, ‘to rise and bear witness to the truth of what the deacon has said. He has acknowledged himself, before you and his God, to be a scoundrel. I know him to be such—I can bear witness to his dishonesty.’ The deacon fell into a rage, exclaiming vehemently, ‘You lie!. You lie!’ and in a spirit none too becoming the congregation broke up and dispersed….”
Brother Campbell concluded his story, and his words summarize the point of this lesson as well. AThe deacon never expected nor wished to be believed in his confession. They were made as the most effectual mode of illustrating his spiritual pride and of obtaining the reputation of being religious par excellence. When taken at his word, he evinced his hypocrisy and insincerity. Too many, we fear, of such confessions are made rather form the spirit of pride than humility, and ought therefore, to secure but a mean credit for the narrator@ (Campbell, Millenial Harbinger, Dec. 3, 1832).
Truth Magazine, XVIII:49, p. 13-14
October 17, 1974