Remember, Paul, in the larger context of this letter here, is speaking to believers.  This is important, because he is discussing salvation in a way that is largely ignored in Christendom, and seems poorly understood by all except the faithful, and that is sanctification, the act of God imparting His holiness to us through His work and our cooperation. 

We should contrast this with justification, the act of God declaring us righteous in the first place.  This is why Christ died in our place according to the Gospel.  He became human, he lived for between 33 and 34 years as a human, in perfect obedience to God under the Law of Moses, and then deliberately and knowingly gave up that life as a perfect substitutionary sacrifice for us vicariously on the cross.  All those big words are chosen and precise in their definition, but the basically mean that Christ died for OUR sins as a substitute (vicariously), atoning for them (propitiation), with God then declaring us righteous in Christ (expiation), which pronounces us as faultless before God (justification).  This is a sole work of our triune God, as opposed to sanctification, which God allows His new creations in Christ to learn to CHOOSE to do His will, and instead of simply imputing His righteousness (giving us the righteousness of another, Christ) monergistically (alone by Himself), He imparts His righteousness to our changed natures by teaching us to choose His will and live according to His Word.  This is defined as sanctification, the process whereby He makes us holy, and it is said to by synergistic, that is we are allowed by God to participate in the act by our choices, that will move out into our works.  However, it is still mostly His work – and none of what we do to become holy is worth two cents if we have not been born again, or saved, or converted, or justified, or redeemed, or regenerated – whatever term you want to choose for justification.

Paul is speaking of sanctification here to believers, and when justification does come up (as it does in 4:15, for example), it is mentioned as happening as a result of Christians that have said yes to sanctification and are choosing to live as God commands.  If you read carefully, Paul is using this kind of sanctification as evidence of justification before God and all of His gifts to men, including His own Apostleship.  Here is where my review of ground we have already covered begins.

Paul, you will recall, was put out to the extreme, I think to the point where it began to distract him in His service to Christ.  After his second visit to Corinth, he was so saddened and deflated that he simply quietly returned to Ephesus.  In Ephesus, he wrote the “angry” letter that he sent and then wished he hadn’t.  He began to be distracted here, I think – you know, that gnawing thing in your mind and gut that just makes you crazy to know what happened?  I wasn’t there, but Paul was one of us – human – and it seems reasonable that he would have human responses.

He was becoming so distracted, he left Ephesus and set out for Troas, where Titus was after his own trip to Corinth.  It is entirely reasonable that Paul was after news of what happened with that letter that might have been like a hand grenade in the wrong setting.  He didn’t find Titus, so he went looking for him in Macedonia, eventually finding him, and receiving a blessed report that at least a majority of the people there were with Paul and not the false teachers that were calling themselves “super apostles” and attacking Paul’s character.

So what is the first thing Paul chose to confront these “super apostles” with?  The idea of suffering, and how that suffering perfects the believer.  We talked about how the false teachers were essentially trying to use the gospel as a means of gain, and that’s never good.  Paul, on the other hand, would not allow the Corinthians to support him while he was there.  We talked about how Paul had gone through real life-threatening trials for the sake of the gospel.  Were any of these false apostles ever stoned for preaching his message?  Not ever.  Paul was.  Were any ever beaten with rods for speaking publicly about Christ?  No, but Paul was, and he was even given 39 lashes on three different occasions.  (One more stoke is a death sentence, if you didn’t know.)  Had any of them ever been shipwrecked and lost at sea?  Paul was, for a day and a night, for the sake of the work of Jesus on earth.  No, beloved, suffering perfects us – if we will cooperate with God and let it.

What we saw was Paul talking about how the Lord had led him in real triumph – but it wasn’t Paul’s triumph, it was Christ’s.  He speaks greatly here of his own motives in writing that angry letter, and what that meant to the work, his own state of mind, and the effect it had on the Corinthians.  It is a sort of apology in our modern sense, but also an explanation of why he wrote it.

In Chapter 3, we studied the actual connection between the Old and New Testaments, or Covenants.  Paul compared them directly.  This is a particularly crucial area of study, because if you get the Covenants confused, or worse ignore the one that has gone before, you end up with some really whacked-out ideas on things like tithing, resisting sin, like that.  We saw that we live in a new and spiritual reality (more of the now/coming, present/future kingdom stuff we’ve been talking about on and off since we studied Ephesians), and that it is a reality that needs to be intentionally chosen to live in by act of will on our parts.  Walking in the Spirit requires that we chooses to set aside all those old acts of the flesh (sins) that will kill us, and instead choose life, being renewed in our minds, and transformed in our characters into the image of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In Chapter 4, we saw a need to let God do the work and for us to submit and either cooperate or get out of His way.  In his contrasting of the righteous versus the unrighteous, we saw that we can fit into both categories, and in fact that those category differences, the contradictions in our character, not only perfectly describer humanity, but actually give glory to God as we allow Him to work in our lives.  We talked about the cost of following God like this, and we saw that it was in fact everything we have and are.  Christ exchanged His life for ours.  We are no longer our own, and we must live like that matters, by focusing on the unseen, spiritual reality we now find ourselves in.  We have not arrived, and we will not arrive until Jesus comes for us personally.

In Chapter 5, we got a look at what our behaviour as servants of God Most High should be, as we looked at the reasoning of Paul and how he was motivated to behave in his own walk and service of Christ the King.  I know that this letter to Corinth was Paul’s justification of his ministry to Christ, but the best way I have found to read it is to make personal application, as if I were called to do what Paul was called to do in terms of the gospel.  I know I’m not Paul, I’m not an apostle (Capital or Lowercase A), I’m not a prophet or the son of a prophet, I’m MAYBE an evangelist, but we are all supposed to be that, and I’m barely a pastor and teacher.  I understand that–but did not Paul say we are to be imitators of him as he was an imitator of Christ?  He did, back in 1 Corinthians 11:1 (Also 4:6). 

With that as the foundation, Chapter 6 shows us (starting in 5:21) the GOSPEL!  Paul does make some contrasts and comparisons as to how the servant of God should conduct his life, but the main thrust I saw in this chapter is the gospel, and our specific response to it.  Paul explains that WE are sons and daughters of the living God! As such, we should be responding to the gospel, whether we are already believers or not.  After all, the answer to all questions and issues is the risen Lord Jesus Christ, and there really is no other.  I’m not saying that to be arrogant so I can feel good about myself.  Truthfully, it would make me miserable if any of you ended up in eternal suffering and it was my fault.  The time, according to Paul, and according to the Holy Spirit in me, is NOW.

In Chapter 7, Paul is going to get what I used to call in high school [unintelligible] years ago, “Under the Hood.”  He in this chapter reveals what is driving the sanctification of God’s people, given that NOW is the time for salvation, be your need justification or sanctification, and everyone needs both if we are to one day see God.  I broke down the chapter like this:

KV10-11:  Repentance:  The Engine Driving Holiness

For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.”

1:  Perfecting Holiness in the Fear of God

2-4:  Responding to Correction with Holiness to Everyone

5-9:  The Fruit of Holiness–Repentance with Life Change

10-13a:  Sorrow According to God’s Will Brings Repentance

13b-16:  The Mark of Repentance Is Obedience to God’s Servants

We see in the verses I identified as key the very point that I think Paul was always driving at, not just in this letter.  We see it best with Corinth because it was the one church from NT days that just had problems with the influence of the world around them leaking into the church.  Remember when we studied 1 Corinthians?  The world around them had turned the name of the city into a verb:  to Corinthianize–to completely debase or debauch a person, place, or occasion.  If you’ve had your eyes open to what’s going on in our society today, there can be no doubt that we are in very similar territory.  And we are very much products of our society; we are the product of our family lives (some of which were not good), our friends (some of whom are not good for us), and our environment (and surprise, some of them are not exactly wholesome).

Scripture is clear that WE need to be Holy, just as our Father in Heaven is holy.  Hebrews 12:14 tells us that this holiness is something to be pursued actively and why:  “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.”  That holiness is the evidence to the world that Christ actually keeps His Word and that His sacrifice was sufficient for the sins of all those who will ever believe in Him.  With that kind of significance being attached to it, it becomes clear that we need to know how this works, and in his defence and explanation to Corinth of his own ministry, Paul reveals just what this looks like for us all to study.  Let’s jump into the chapter here.

KV10-11:  Repentance:  The Engine Driving Holiness

For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.”

We will say more about it as we look into the chapter now, but in brief, it is Godly sorrow for our sins that is the actual engine that will drive our desire for holiness if we are really His.  If we are not, we will simply treat this as an intellectual exercise.  Don’t get me wrong, you may even have strong emotions about what is said.  But if you are not continually striving to become more righteous, more responsible, standing up to trials for yourself, resisting the devil on your own (thus making him flee), or crying out to God for the strength to go just one more step, the you have reason to question your own justification by faith.  Beloved, it is time to “make your calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10).

Before I begin, I should say that it is not always necessary to whip yourself into a state of so-called “godly sorrow” (which isn’t).  Beloved, just walk in a worthy manner, doing those things that you are responsible for doing, and then let the Lord’s will be done in your life.  If God needs some “godly sorrow” from you, He will cause that Himself.  Here’s where I’ll jump in.

1:  Perfecting Holiness in the Fear of God

There is something that we often overlook in our study of Scripture, and most of the time it doesn’t matter because it’s obvious.  This is one of those occasions, but it is a good thing to bring up, because it is important.  The verb “perfecting” is in the active voice, and that means it is WE who are to be doing the perfecting.  The Greek epiteleo actually carries the meaning “accomplishing.”  The note in Vine for this specific verse gives it the connotative nuance of “completing.”  This implies a couple of things.  First, we are to be the ones that are accomplishing the holiness, not just sitting back and doing nothing about it but “trusting the Lord.”  This would actually be what James is talking about when he says in Jas. 2:18-20 of his general letter of having faith without works, and he calls that “useless” under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  No, WE are to do what we CAN.  Second, it means there is a point where this WILL be finished, and we will have played our part if we are working out our faith (as opposed to doing works to produce the merit that saves–we can’t do that, Christ already has, and it is only His merit that has any effect).  That completion is seen at the end of the book, by the way–“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”  (Rev. 19:7-8). Let’s look at the verse.

1:  Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

  • Oh look, our favourite word, “therefore!”  Let’s find out what it’s really there for.  “Therefore” as a word is a conclusion word, and Paul here adds a sort of context in the verse itself to help us.  “…having these promises…” is a reference to what Paul has just shared above in 6:16-18.  For review, that says,
    • “Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,
    • “I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM;
    • AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.
    • “Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord.
    • “AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN;
    • And I will welcome you.
    • “And I will be a father to you,
    • And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,”
    • Says the Lord Almighty.”
  • God is promising from several places in both Old and New Testaments that He will live in us, and walk among us, and be our God.  We will be His people!  But this is a conditional promise, Beloved.  He says “Come out from them [speaking of the world system called Babylon in the New Testament], and not to even touch what is unclean.  If we will do that, if we will “accomplish” or “complete” that (describing a process, incidentally), then He Himself will welcome us, and we will be His mature sons and daughters.  THOSE promises are what Paul is referring to with his “therefore.”
  • With that in mind, Paul says, “let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit.”  Certainly we here at BereanNation.com understand the spiritual aspects of walking in holiness, or having a worthy walk with Christ, but there is more.  We must also clean up our acts here physically.  If you have a problem with lust, then throw away your porno mags, Christian!  We talked last week about setting up a no-fail environment around us.  I can tell you from experience that it certainly increases MY “rest” quotient.  We all have issues, beloved.  Mine is being careless with money.  I don’t have a lot of it, so carelessness in my case is very serious.  I need to learn to live within my own means, and I need to learn that I can often get by with a lot less than I think.  But there are times where we have to spend money.  I remember when our powder room toilet blew up.  Literally.  We had to replace not just the toilet, but the floor, including the subfloor because it was a hidden problem that catastrophically revealed itself.  So we paid money that we didn’t think we had to fix the issue.  That’s an example of cleansing ourselves of defilement of the flesh.  Not because we fixed our bathroom, but because we were faithful to our stewardship of our home, and it even caused a little hardship financially to help us “perfect” holiness.  Don’t be surprised at the trials, Beloved.  And don’t run from them.  And don’t turtle in place and wait for someone else to do it.  Face and fix the problem prayerfully.
  • You see, this is what it means to “perfect holiness in the fear of God.”  Why in the fear of God?  Beloved, remember last week when we talked about how we will have to stand before God and give an account?  That should at least put a little discomfort in your heart at the prospect of telling Him why you live in a tent in your own backyard because your house is unlivable.  But no one here is in that state, so I trust you can all apply this to your own situations as well.

This verse stands on its own in the chapter, but it is really part of the last statement.  This is an occasion where the guys who divided up the chapters in the 1300s maybe didn’t make the best chapter division here, but hey, it is just a convention to help us be more precise in our readings.  The original thing didn’t have chapters, or even verses, or paragraphs.  Moving on.

2-4:  Responding to Correction with Holiness to Everyone

One of the more unpleasant things I’ve ever had to sit through was a meeting with the head of HR at my old job while she berated me for an incident that was completely my own fault.  I should have better judgement, and that’s all there was to it.  I can assure you that it never happened again.  But it was painful, and she was angry, and because we are friends, probably a little disappointed with me.  This is what it is like to sit and be corrected for things about which you truly deserve correction.  However, you have a God-given requirement if you are called upon to respond to correction of some kind:  You are required to respond in holiness to everyone.

This can be a bit of a problem!  Have you ever heard this statement or some variation of it?  “That’s the way I am!”  I have.  So have most, if not all, of you.  It’s usually said in response to attempted correction (and those attempts are not always motivated by the Holy Spirit, sometimes, we’re trying to be mean, we are human after all), and usually offered angrily and in a high decibel count.  THAT response, no matter what motivated it, who said it, or what kind of day you’ve been having is never okay.  It is true that God loves us and calls us just the way we are, but He also loves us far too much to let us stay that way.  We are required to respond with holiness.  Let’s have a peek.

2:  Make room for us in your hearts; we wronged no one, we corrupted no one, we took advantage of no one.

  • One thing we need to get clear from the start is the motivation that needs to be used in addressing moral compromise (sin) in another believer.  We must never be seeking to do wrong to the other, we must never be trying to pervert the cause of what is right for said individual, and we must never be trying to either take or gain advantage over the other.  This is something all pagans do universally.  I’ve read books on this stuff from the pagan point of view, and the object is always how YOU can WIN, and everyone else’s expense.  No, we must genuinely be concerned for that other person.  And Beloved, people know somehow. 
  • Another thing we need to be clear about from the beginning is that if you are on the receiving end of this correction, you need to make room in your hearts for them.  If this is a brother in Christ, you are REQUIRED to assume the best unless you can PROVE otherwise.  You can’t just shout back at people. “Well, screw you, that’s just who I am.”  That is also most decidedly NOT holiness being achieved. 
  • The only way this can work is if both believers willingly submit to each other in the will of God and truly seek to resolve the issue.  Paul is on the addressing side of the equation here.  It is like He is saying, “Look, saints, you have a duty to believe the best about us that we only want to see you stand in that final day.  You have to let us in so that we can help you this way.  Admittedly, this is a scary thing, and it’s proper name is accountability.  I’ve seen it go wrong many times, in many ways.  But I’ve also seen the results of this going right, and all I will say here is that you are better off to make room in your hearts for the other and what they are trying hard to say, hopefully with tact and grace, but even if they are not, or it isn’t possible.  I once had to address a brother on relationship issues, which are infamous for inflaming the flesh.  Thankfully, the brother listened and it is being sorted out.  That was years ago, and it’s still ongoing, but it can be that way.  Make room in your hearts for one another.

3:  I do not speak to condemn you, for I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together.

  • Paul is kind of imploring the Corinthians here.  “I’m not just trying to make you feel bad, I’m not condemning you here.  I’m your brother in Christ, and I am trying to help you.”  Okay, maybe not “kind of.”  He explains here that they Corinthians are in his heart, and they will either rise or fall, but Paul will stand with them, no matter what. 
  • Gut check time:  Can you think of a person that you have had to address about something in their lives where this was true?  How about not true?  What was the difference?  How can you be with a person to the end?  I only know one way–THE Way–Christ.  Think about it when you have a few minutes.  Really think.  Pray.  Repent as necessary.

4:  Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort; I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction.

  • When I first read this verse for this study, I admit I was a little confused.  Remember the verb to “Corinthianize?”  It wasn’t a good word.  This was the most fleshly, immature, worldly church in the New Testament!  And yet look what Paul says about them here.  They filled him with confidence, praise, comfort, and joy!  Was Paul naive?  I don’t think so.  I believe what Paul is demonstrating here is actual Christian agape love for other Christians.  It isn’t naïve, it hopes all things, and believes all things.
  • Many make the mistake of thinking that this is Paul sending the Corinthians positive thoughts and that is what is making the changes as they respond to Paul’s positive affirmations of praise.  What a load of horse hockey.  It is the Holy Spirit living in the believers that is driving the change.  But He is driving that change.  Paul knows it. 
  • He even boasts to others about it.  Something you need to know about this word “boasting.”  Although it CAN have the negative connotation of pride, it is most often used in the New Testament by Paul in the sense of him singing the praises of the people to whom he writes, or about whom he has written.  The concepts are related, but pride is the original sin of the devil, and praise is always becoming.  And who is Paul singing the praises of?  CORINTH!!!  He even “sang their praises” to Titus as we will read in a couple of verses, and to other gatherings in Europe and Asia. 
  • As if that weren’t enough to raise my eyebrows, Paul tells the believers at Corinth that despite all the issues and afflictions that Paul had to go through because of them, they filled him with JOY!  What?  Paul!  What were you smoking?  Did you find a hemp fire of some kind while making tents?  No, Beloved.  I’m not sure I can explain this, but there is something about seeing another believer actually get it and get on with Christ that is absolutely filled with joy, and my how it enables you to sing their praises to whoever you tell, presumably your ministry supervisor, but if not, certainly the Lord.  You know how a pastor has to give a report about you to God someday?  How would you like to be able to give this kind of report?

Paul could give this kind of report about the worst church we know of, the one with the most problems, because the Holy Spirit was at work in them.  He was busy too, sanctifying them from their “Corinthianizing” ways.  This means that the Corinthians actually responded to the Apostle and his corrective letters in the Spirit, and He, the Holy Spirit, was able to produce something in them.  We’re going to look at what right now.

5-9:  The Fruit of Holiness–Repentance with Life Change

What Paul saw and was thankful for was true holiness being produced in a people that were previously given to all kinds of debauchery.  Remember 1 Corinthians 5?  The man sleeping with his own stepmother?  That was so bad that even all the Greek and Roman pagans knew THAT was wrong.  That very individual, we found out in Chapter 2, was actually saved, and reinstated into fellowship after he stopped his actions in humility and repentance.  Holiness in his life bore its inevitable fruit of a changed life.  I submit to you that a Christianity that does not produce changes in your life toward being more holy, more responsible, more real, more humble, or more godly in some measure, is NOT REAL CHRISTIANITY.  What you have there is what many of us here at BereanNation.com would be wont to label as false conversion.  If you’re worried about that in your own life, keep repenting, Beloved.  God always hears genuine prayers of repentance.  This life change, although varied in manifestation, MUST be present for the believer.  If it is not, you are no believer.  So says Paul, Peter, James, John, Jude, Luke, Matthew, and the writer of Hebrews.  Not to mention the OT prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah (who was NOT a bullfrog FYI), Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Micah, and all the other servants of God.  John would name such a one “antichrist.”  Jude called them “clouds without water.”  Old Testament saints called the “sons of destruction” or “sons of Belial,” as we read last week.  Beloved–don’t be one of those.  Instead, display the fruit of holiness–a changed life for Christ.

5:  For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within.

  • Paul begins to explain what we have been detailing at the beginning of each study here.  Having left Ephesus to try to get a report from Titus (with whom he had sent that angry letter), He had no peace of mind, or as he said here, his “flesh had no rest.”  Doubtless this was not the only thing he had in mind with those words, an educated guess says they were looming large in his explanation. 
  • There is something we can glean here, however.  For those of you who have been active in service to Christ at some point, you know this state of being:  “Afflicted on every side.”  It manifests itself as Paul has described, too.  Conflicts on the outside, fear on the inside.  That word for “conflict” is a little stronger in Greek–mache–it means “fight.”  And I’ve been in a few fights like this.  I’ll share one.  When I was in university, I was the president of the Bible Study Club.  (See?  I HAVE been doing this for many years.)  I lived about a block from the president of the Satanist Club at Carleton.  I didn’t know who he was at first, but he was never very friendly with me.  I got the impression he was under someone else’s orders, too–I mean another human, not the obvious reference–but he was a devoted soldier, I can tell you that.  He would stand across the street from the house I was living in on Rochester Street, and I could see his lips moving.  I can only assume he was trying to cast some kind of “spell” on me or some other such lunacy.  One day I was fortunate to get off the bus and see him going home from classes.  I watched where he went, and I confirmed with some other folks in the neighbourhood that I knew it was where he lived.  There was a park just outside of his house and across the street.  It had some tables with fixed chairs, so I sat in the one right across from his door, and I started to pray.  Specifically for him.  Evangelistically.  And you guys all know I can be kind of imprecatory at times.  Things like, “Lord, if you are not going to save Him, and I personally think you should, but not my will, let yours be done, then stop him in his activities.  Confound him and his demonic masters.”  Like that.  Before I uttered those prayers–out loud–I was filled with fear.  And somehow, when I prayed, those fears were gone.  I like to imagine he saw me praying for him.  I did so with my eyes open.  Hey it was like 2 in the morning or something.  I was having trouble sleeping, so I went for a walk.  You know something?  After that prayer, I don’t think I ever saw him again.  I don’t know what that means, but I’d like to imagine that the Lord has or will save him.  I don’t even know what the guy’s name was.  I bet he knew mine, though.  Mine was all over the university on posters.  That’s an example of a fight with a fear.

6:  But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus;

  • Paul here is telling us what I have been saying since the overview of the book.  Paul found Titus (possibly Titus found Paul, but the two got together in any event).  And Paul is saying that God was directly involved in this meeting, because God knew the best way to comfort Paul was by news of the Corinthian visit directly from Titus.
  • Again, there is something to glean here.  It is God that comforts, and He uses providence to do it.  And that word for comfort?  The familiar word parakaleo, meaning He comes alongside to aid, Beloved.  And who does he come alongside?  Yes, us, but in what condition?  Beloved, He aids the “depressed,” according to Paul’s words.  Tapeinos is the Greek word here, and it means “that which does not rise far from the ground.”  Some people (like the NASB translators in the margin) call that “humble,” and Vine, that wonderful Greek and Hebrew linguistics master, agrees.  That in itself will require a change for most of us.  I mean, it was drummed into me that if you don’t self-promote, no one will take you seriously.  But is that really true in terms of God’s work?  No, it’s completely the opposite!  God Himself decides who He will use and for what purposes.  We have no right to argue, that’s for sure.  Beloved, we need a complete change in our outlook.  Our mind must be renewed.  Our entire being must be transformed, as per Romans 12:2. 

7:  and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more.

  • More of that narrative from the overview here.  Paul finally got the news he was looking for from the man who was there at Paul’s request–Titus himself.  And the news, according to Paul here, was all good.  The believers at Corinth were actually standing.  Those previous purveyors of putrescence and porneia had repented of their previous life.  They were now, according to Titus, prayerfully standing with Paul.  Wow, that was a lot of Ps.  Try that for an alliteration!  The news brought joy to Paul’s burdened heart.
  • And again, there is something to glean here.  The Corinthians had displayed the fruit of holiness in their lives by their attitudes.  Titus told Paul of their longing [earnest desire, Vine], their mourning [the Greek word means to lament], and their zeal [a transliteration of Greek into English here, to be jealous for someone or something].  The fruit of holiness was displayed in an attitude of repentance to be sure, but that repentance worked out into specific responses.  Once, my oldest girl hit her brother because he had said or done something stupid, and worse, she called him stupid right in front of me.  I told her to apologize on the spot…so she did.  She looked at her brother seriously and said, “I’m sorry that you’re stupid.”  Now is that a really great example of a change in mind, or that repentance that changes lives?  Of course not.  So let me ask you–and you don’t have to answer out loud, but you really need to think about this–what about you?  Are you truly humbly ashamed of your sin?  Or are you simply sorry you got caught?  If you don’t know, you can tell if your behaviour toward God and man changes for the better.  It isn’t necessarily being saved, this can be done by religious people too with no spiritual result, but this WILL happen if you are truly His.  Who is the fruit of your life being seen by besides God?  Beloved, it should be seen primarily by YOU.  Not for the purposes of making commercials about yourself or virtue-signalling, either.

8:  For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while—

  • Paul knows that letter was scalding.  I think he knew it when he sent it.  I think it was filled with the righteous anger of a servant of God at seeing sin in His holy people.  But Paul, being human, started to second-guess himself.  Once Titus had relieved that burden with his good report, Paul saw it clearly.  I will try to explain, but it can be difficult to put these things into words.
  • Paul saw that the letter he wrote was strong stuff, and would make some folks very unhappy.  When he wrote it, it was after his letter to the Galatians, which is often called “Paul’s angry letter,” and that dates to around AD 49 or 50.  This was likely written a few years after in AD 57 or 58, according to the dating given by Dr John MacArthur.  Paul was clearly not afraid to call out false teachers or use strong language about the kind of men they were, or the kind of consequences following such false teachers would have.  Paul here even says that he does not regret writing the letter.
  • Then he immediately says, “…though I did regret it…”  Paul never regretted using strong medicine.  What he regretted was that it was necessary to effect change in Corinth.  See this verse itself.  That letter caused the Corinthian believers sorrow, and that was Paul’s intent.  But also in this verse, he certainly didn’t intend that sorrow [distress or grief] to be permanent.  Paul WANTED it to cause repentance as an effect.  I’ve had people say stuff like that to me, and they were right to do so.  And it hurt, but only for a time.  After that, I changed also.  Or rather God changed me as I repented of my own ways and sought to do His will in my own life.  That’s where I believe the Corinthians had arrived.

9:  I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.

  • Paul here is saying that he rejoiced at what happened regarding their repentance, not that “he made you cry, snowflake.”  Beloved, if that was your goal, you need to repent yourself.  Paul here actually says in the text, “I’m happy–not that you were brought to sorrow, but that the sorrow you felt brought you to repent.  You changed!  You turned 180 degrees and admitted your sin!  And you called on the Lord about it!  And He saved you!  This is the will of God for you!  And Beloved, it really is.
  • I’m still learning this, but I need to say it.  Life is hard.  Sometimes it really sucks.  And sometimes it’s my own fault, and deep down, I know that.  And I sometimes want to change and just don’t know how.  It is at those times I find myself crying out to God to save me and change my heart so that I will do what He wants, and not just what I want.  I find it helpful to ask Him to help me to want what He wants.  And it isn’t easy.  Sometimes I feel like Lot, as described by Peter in 2 Peter 2:7-10–“and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.”  I know what it feels like to read or hear the news, and I go through a lot of it with some of my editorial stuff.  Today, I read a headline that talked about the abortion of disabled babies.  Beloved, that’s an actual form of genocide.  GREAT reading material.  An hundred headlines dealing with CRT/I, another bunch talking about the obvious political corruption that no one really wants to fix, or it would GET fixed.  My soul feels tormented every time I read a story about another multiple shooting where a child of less than 10 years of age has died.  I believe the KJV says that the soul of righteous Lot was vexed.  That’s how I feel sometimes.  Not all the time, but I find myself praying more and more, Lord, come back soon.  I don’t care if I don’t get all the rewards and stuff, or if I have to lose stuff in judgement.  Just come and put a stop to the insanity.  I include as my last line, the words of Jesus, confronted with the inevitability of Calvary–“Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.”  Even so, Come, Lord Jesus.

The gleanings here are what give us our object lesson in what is to be our fruit of holiness–a changed life.  To borrow a movie analogy, we have taken the red pill, and we see reality for what it is.  And reality without Christ is terrifying.  I suppose that’s why no one wants to hear about it.  But it is our duty, as it was Paul’s, to preach Christ, and what is right, if necessary with our actions, and should it be required, with our own lives, like they took Stephen’s, James’s, Polycarp’s, Jan Hus’s. and many, many others.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus.  But that sorrow that will bring the world to repentance and faith in Christ MUST be provoked.

10-13a:  Sorrow According to God’s Will Brings Repentance

Why?  Because it is that sorrow according to the will of God that will bring that repentance that need not be repented of, as the KJV reads.  There are many kinds of sorrow, so I will narrow the field immediately to focus on one kind only, though the means by which it may arise are many.  For the purposes of this study, we are speaking of that godly sorrow that causes repentance, or in other words, drives people over the ledge of decision into repentance and faith in Christ.  I put it that way because I have heard for years that the purpose of ministry is to bring people to the point of decision.  I don’t believe that entirely.  It is true that I cannot believe FOR you, but I can overwhelm a person with truth, and drive them over the cliff into the sea of repentance.  It isn’t coercion, it is simply the effective preaching of truth.  I am reminded of Johnathan Edwards’s sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God as an example of what I’m talking about.  That sermon definitely drove people over the cliff and into the sea of tranquility and faith in Christ, and because it is in print form, continues to do so!  That’s the kind of sorrow this section is talking about.

10:  For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.

  • The New American Standard puts it as “a repentance without regret,” which is how we would say it in modern English, but the KJV here is absolutely correct.  It is THIS repentance that leads to salvation as it turns out.  It turns out that there is more than one way to be sad.  Paul tells us that the sorrow, the “being sorry” of the world produces death instead of salvation.  And example of this is Judas.  He was genuinely filled with sorrow, or “sorry,” for what he had done in betraying Jesus.  Peter also had that kind of sorrow going on at his own cowardice in denying Jesus, a different kind of betrayal, really.  One repented of his sins and turned to Christ, believing that Christ died for him.  One couldn’t live with himself and ended it rather violently (Judas).  We know from Scripture that Judas went to a different place than believers.  In Scripture, there are only really two places you can go, so…Judas is in hell, because believers go to heaven to be with their Lord.  All this to say, make sure which kind of sorrow you are experiencing.  Respond in faith, not suicidal ideations.

11:  For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.

  • Paul gives us some indicators in his description of this godly sorrow.  We can use these indicators to check the state of our own souls before God.  Look at what the “repentance without regret” looks like and does in a believer, Beloved.  That’s what we should aim at when we find ourselves overwhelmed with godly sorrow.
  • Vindication:  The Greek word here is actually apologia.  It actually means “a verbal defense.”  What are we supposed to defend with our apologia?  The truth, of course.  This is not actually a statement about or a method of evangelism, by the way, but that’s another topic.  Who are they defending?  Themselves!  That’s kind of a key.  It has been generally drummed into modern Christians that we should be winsome and agreeable.  While that is true, there are times where we must put on what law courts would call “a spirited defense.”  Especially when we have truly done nothing wrong, or when our basic human rights have been violated.  This in no way violates Romans 13, by the way, and I can exposit that, so let’s not go there this evening.
  • Indignation:  The Greek word is worth knowing.  Aganaktesis is the word used here, and originally meant a physical irritation or pain.  As it is used here, it indicates annoyance or vexation, probably caused from the pain or irritation.  We use the word indignation in a slightly different but related sense, as a kind of anger.  It isn’t so far off the meaning here.  But this is telling us that it is okay to be annoyed…by our own sin when we are confronted about it by others, or even by our own consciences.
  • Fear:  The Greek word here is phobos, meaning good, old-fashioned terror.  That forehead-slapping moment when you exclaim, “What have I done?!?”  It involves the realization that you are in fact guilty of sin.  And that SHOULD make you fear coming judgement.  Then you can repent, because only sinners can be saved, it turns out.
  • Longing:  The Greek word is epipothesis, and it means “an earnest desire, or a long for.”  The earnest desire here is for the setting straight of the record, or a making right of the situation.  It is not for “justice for the poor,” or other such nonsense.  The poor need mercy, not justice.  Be careful of what so-called brothers say sometimes.  Some of these well-known brothers who are celebrity pastors, and who have written a number of books that have made them a lot of money, really have garbage theology because of these kinds of glaring category errors.
  • Zeal:  I mentioned earlier that this is a transliteration from the Greek, I think, and it means a furious jealousy.  What would a repentant sinner be zealous for, or protect with furious jealousy?  The reputation of the Saviour, the reputation of the church, the reputation of brothers and sisters, like that.
  • Avenging of wrong:  The Greek here is the single word ekdikesis, meaning literally an avenging of wrong.  This carries the connotation of justice, and of vengeance, but against themselves for having participated in the nonsense spouted by the false, so-called, “super-apostles.”
  • Are these earmarks of what is going on with us when we are confronted with our own behaviour?  It should be.  Because then, as Vine notes in his expository dictionary, we are taking part in the “self-avenging” of their participation of the sinful behaviour of following a false teacher.  Yes, beloved, once you know about that, you need to repent of it, it is a sin, whether you knew it at the time or not.  I’ve had to do that for following a guy from SoCal named George for something like 16 years.  It ended up hurting me to follow him, too.  Beloved, it’s okay.  You didn’t know.  The Lord is merciful.  George has now stood in front of Almighty God for judgement, and I will leave it in God’s hands, because I am not Him.  And for a while, I could have no part in any kind of leadership because of that.  Understand, this was not official stricture from any body of elders.  I just wasn’t in any kind of shape to do so.  And it took a while to heal from those self-inflicted wounds.  I am reminded of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress when Christian and Hopeful get caught by the giant Despair.  They took a physical beating, and it is akin to what happened to me.  I unknowingly strayed from the path, and for a while, it was easy going, and by the time I realized the wrongness of the path, it was crazy hard to get back to the right path.  Fortunately, God is merciful.  He has  “restored the years that the…cankerworm had eaten,” like it says in Joel 2:25, I suppose.
  • In their repentant actions, they showed themselves to be innocent of following these false teachers, whether they had done so or not.  God is good, beloved!

12:  So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the offender nor for the sake of the one offended, but that your earnestness on our behalf might be made known to you in the sight of God.

  • This is an interesting point.  Paul was NOT crying for justice or the heads of the “super-apostles” on a platter.  He did not care if the Corinthians had gone after them in error or not, in the sense of they had repented of that action.  It wasn’t about the offender, that would be the guy claiming to be the super-apostle, and it wasn’t about the one that was offended, that is the guys that followed him for a time. 
  • So what was it about?  Paul’s angry letter was about their “haste and diligence” in defense of Paul and the other servants of God that had been through Corinth, like Timothy, Sylvanus, Apollos, Prisca and Aquila, and doubtless many others.  And really it wasn’t so much that they defended the servants of God, but that their “haste and diligence,” also known as earnestness, on the behalf of those servants would be known to the world (especially those in Corinth, “…known to you”) in the sight of God.  That the world would see their love for each other and know that they knew God, Beloved.  As much as I think the song is weak sauce, it has a point–“They will know we are Christians by our love [for each other].”

13a:  For this reason we have been comforted.

  • Paul and Timothy were comforted by all of this.  And I am not surprised, and you shouldn’t be either, because we know these men loved Christ, loved the church, and loved the truth.  The saints in a place all walking with and serving the Lord is a great joy to any pastor, Beloved.  It is a visible sign that their labours there were not for no reason.

When we are truly walking in the Spirit, or walking in truth, or walking with the Lord, whatever phraseology you want to adopt for living out your Christianity publicly, we will encounter times where we too will be challenged to change course in the middle of situations and circumstances.  If we will walk humbly, with an attitude of repentance from our sinful behaviours, speech, or even thoughts, then we should also be reflecting these things seen in verse 11.  Looking at that list, I think I have a ways to go.  But the Lord hasn’t ended me yet, so I still have time to learn that, and so do you.

13b-16:  The Mark of Repentance Is Obedience to God’s Servants

This is the part of the study that nobody likes to talk about or even hear, because it involves accountability and obedience, two words that have, shall we say, fallen out of favour today.  The reality is that since the fall, none of us like to be told what to do.  This is evident in society today, as the entire basis for our modern civil government is built around avoiding responsibility.  The problem with that model is that the buck always has to stop somewhere.  The problem with that rationale in general is that it is not God’s model for what he wants in His kingdom.  I will remind you all that we are to be living according to those laws and principles now, and if we are not, we either need to repent or go find another place where you will be happy.  We are not to adjust this model, because it is what God wants.  The order or belief of the day, the “culture,” to use the word, is irrelevant.  “Culture” comes and goes.  God is eternal.  We’re supposed to be serving God, so this is the model.  You don’t like, it, go argue with God.  You won’t be the first.  As Paul said to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 11:16, “But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.”  Beloved, this is hard for me, because I may lose friends or followers by saying some of this.

Christian!  You MUST obey the spiritual leadership God has provided for you in His house.  This is hard because they too are sinful men, and as such don’t always act in the best interests of the church.  Those of you who are spiritual need to restore such men, in holy fear of the Lord, knowing that you yourself are also capable of falling into the very sin you address with them.  NB:  IF YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO OBEY RIGHTLY QUALIFIED SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP, YOU MUST REPENT OF YOUR ATTITUDE AND DO IT ANYWAY.  Otherwise, go find a place where you will be happy, because it isn’t going to be here.  But don’t worry, saint–this too is for your protection and benefit.  Enough said, let’s get into this paragraph.

13b:  And besides our comfort, we rejoiced even much more for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all.

  • Paul here is again telling us the stuff that we’ve been saying since the overview–he found Titus, or perhaps Titus found him, and Titus had a really great report to give Paul…that the majority, if not all of Corinth, was following the Lord and obeying His servants, and not the false teachers that were trying to gain entrance.  This all gave Titus joy, and the joy of Titus gave Paul joy.  It was the church at Corinth–the one that had all the problems and situations, and bad reputation–that refreshed the spirit of Titus.  They were obeying the Lord and His servants.

14:  For if in anything I have boasted to him about you, I was not put to shame; but as we spoke all things to you in truth, so also our boasting before Titus proved to be the truth.

  • The short version of this is that Paul had sung the praises of the believers in Corinth and their response to the gospel.  He did this in Titus’ hearing.  Titus went and saw for himself, and saw that what Paul said was true.  End of story.  Paul had not talked up the Corinthian believers in vain, they really were believers, their faith was real and their God is STILL real, no matter what false brothers tried to penetrate the fellowship.  That’s the way it should be.  When our enemies speak bad things about us, it should be made up stuff.  Titus gave instruction, that instruction from the Lord was obeyed!

15:  His affection abounds all the more toward you, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling.

  • See?  I find it an interesting point that the Corinthians knew of Titus, and he immediately had that respect and status as the servant of Christ.  This is how people should see us.  It should be Alex the servant of Christ, like that, not there goes that Gerry, and is he ever a brute.  He’s a real loose cannon, he has the temper of an axe murderer, and then he changes his mind and is all spiritual, and that isn’t in a good way.  What a hypocrite.
  • You may laugh, but I’ve heard the accusations of people in the church when they didn’t think I was within earshot.  Beloved, this is the kind of backbiting character assassination (Jesus would just call it murder of reputation I think) that was a real problem in Corinth in the days of the first letter.  I’m of Paul.  I’m of Apollos.  I’m of Peter.  I’m of Jesus, and all you guys that are following a man are wrong…. Like that.  It breaks my heart at the shame it must bring to Christ, I don’t care what they say about me.  I stopped caring about 6 years back, and apparently just in time.  Those Corinthian believers RESPECTED Titus, receiving him with fear of God and trembling at how they could best serve and obey.  Beloved, we should treat each other this way.  Stop the backbiting, and the passive-aggressive resistance to the Word of God!
  • What actually characterized them to Titus?  Their OBEDIENCE.  Is that what characterizes you?  God have mercy on me, I try to be like that, but Lord have mercy, I fit  into this more like the Jerry Reed tune, “We got a long way to go, and a short time to get there…”  Why is it that we have such a problem with this?
  • What I see this coming down to is that nobody likes to be told what to do.  Heck, disobedience was the very first sin that started this whole ball rolling in Genesis 3.  Never mind the reasons for it.  That never serves to justify it, just maybe to explain it.  There is no mitigating sin, beloved.  If I stole money, I’m a thief.  If I stole that money to buy groceries to feed my wife and kids, I’m still a thief.  The mitigating circumstances notwithstanding, I still have to answer for that unless I repent.  And there still might be temporal consequences for my 7th commandment violation.  I know what the Law says, clearly.  But I still disobeyed it, regardless of the reason.  That’s kind of weird example, but something good done for the right reasons isn’t right.  If the rules were not followed, it’s still wrong because you did not obey.  The Corinthians seemed to understand that and obeyed Titus and they obeyed Paul.

16:  I rejoice that in everything I have confidence in you.

  • That obedience of the Corinthians to the gospel of Jesus Christ and His servants on the part of the Corinthians filled Paul with joy, the Greek word charis.  We’ve seen that before that it means “being glad.”  It also gave Paul confidence, something we would say today we would call encouraged Paul.  Doesn’t it encourage you when a brother or sister does something well for the Lord in obedience to Him?  It does me.  Makes me glad too!  And that extended to everything the Corinthians were doing.
  • I used to think that Paul was always mad at Corinth because they just didn’t get it.  All the worldliness and carnality that was there must have really angered Paul.  It would have made me mad at certain points in the past.  But now that we’re studying it, and I’m really seeing that there were a lot of really dear brothers and sisters there that were actually walking with the Lord, following the commands of Christ.  Paul was there and saw it firsthand.  It encouraged him. 

Sometimes I look around and I get a little depressed at the lack of response I see to the truth in our midst.  No one responds in actions.  Oh, the words say nothing but good things, but no one puts it into action, I think.  And then I get brother Dan actually doing his job with the telephone list he was given as a deacon, and then giving report of it to other leaders in our midst.  I see brother Alex actually doing his own chapter summary instead of just appropriating stuff from Matthew Henry’s commentary because HE wants to learn it for himself.  I get brother Jack coming to me on a Sunday after worship and asking to get the information to attend the Bible study.  Brother Al coming to our Monday prayer time.  Sister Sue with her flute really walking with Christ and serving him in ways that would take too much time to talk about.  My kids wanting to be actual Christians.  I see all that, and I’m not depressed anymore.  I am overwhelmed with the joy God gives me, and overcome with emotion that even I don’t know how to put into words–and given my reputation and skill as a bit of a wordsmith that’s saying something–and I am encouraged, or as Paul put it filled with confidence.  And although I know how sinful I really am, when I see the working of God in the lives of others, even though I still have MASSIVE problems, I begin to believe that maybe, just maybe, God is working in me too.  Really, there’s no maybe about it.  He is, and He will continue to, right up to the point that He comes back for me, whenever and however that will be.  And I praise Him for that, because He is truly worthy. 

Beloved, that’s how this is supposed to be!  It is how things are supposed to work.  And it is really something remarkable.

That’s what I saw in the chapter.

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