Correction of the Letter - Part 2 (series: Lessons on 2 Corinthians)
by John Lowe
But that your sorrow led to repentance
“Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance”: the Apostle takes advantage of this opportunity to gain the respect and affections of the members of this famous church, and to do away with any misrepresentations of him to them from those false teachers that had crept in among them, for fear that they would take some advantage of his saying that he did not regret that he had made them sorry. Now he opens up, and tells them, he did not rejoice in their sorrow, but in the blessed effect of it; which was their reformation of those abuses and errors which he had rebuked them for, the effect of this rebuke was that they sorrowed for a little while.
It cannot be insisted upon too strongly that the Greek word translated “repentance” contains neither the idea of sorrow or of chastening discipline. The word means a change of mind or purpose. Sorrow may or may not accompany it. In most cases, as in this, it will do so. But the essence of Gospel repentance is not the sorrow it produces, but the change it makes in people. “Repentance” is different from the regret of verse 8, indicating a moral change, as shown by the next clause. It was not mere grief; it was not sorrow producing melancholy, gloom, or despair; it was not sorrow which led you to be angry at him who had admonished you for your errors—as is sometimes the case with the sorrow that is produced by criticism and rebuke; but it was sorrow that led to a change and reformation—“If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?” (Hebrews 12:7). Sorrow according to the will of God, working toward the glory of God, and produced by the Spirit of God, makes the heart humble, contrite, submissive, and disposed to take down every sin; and the person to walk in newness of life. And this repentance is connected with saving faith in Christ. It was sorrow that was followed by a putting away of the evil for which they were rebuked. Their sorrow erupted in true evangelical repentance, and this was the ground of his rejoicing; for as there is joy in heaven among the angels, at the repentance of a sinner, so there is joy in the church below, among the saints and ministers of the Gospel, when either sinners are brought in, or backsliders returned by repentance.
For you were made sorry in a godly manner
There is a great difference between this sorrow in a godly manner and the sorrow of the world. The happy fruits of true repentance are mentioned in the previous paragraphs. Where the heart is changed, life and actions will be changed. It brought into being, indignation at sin, at themselves, at the tempter and his methods. It spawned a cautious fear of sin. It created a desire to be reconciled with God. It leads to enthusiasm for doing our duty toward God, and against sin. Deep humility before God, hatred of all sin, faith in Christ, a new heart and a new life, bring about repentance unto salvation. (For like phrases see Romans 8:27; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 2:8.)
“In a godly manner” means “according to God;” that is, your sorrow with regard to God, and rendering your mind conformable to God. Compare:
• Romans 14:22: “Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.” Either he does not act contrary to his own conscience, and so condemns himself by what he allows himself to do; or exposes himself to the censure, judgment, and condemnation of others, by doing that which he approves of as lawful, and so it is, but unlawful when his doing it offends others.
• 1 Pe 4:6: “For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” One interpretation of this verse has been explained as meaning those spiritually dead. But the dead must be the same as in verse 5, and there they are opposed to the living. The idea is that Christ, in the Spirit, preached to the antediluvians. Here, Peter affirms that all the dead who lived before Christ came had the opportunity to hear the Gospel in some form; hence when the living and dead are judged, none can plead that they had no chance of life.
• Romans 8:27: “Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” These speechless groanings are understood by God because it is according to his will that the Spirit intercedes.
That you might suffer loss from us in nothing
That you might suffer loss from us in nothing; the wise God was so in control of things by his providence that nothing which the Apostle said or wrote could prove detrimental, but rather advantageous to this church which he loved.
See Matthew 16:26, where “suffer loss” is translated lose; Luke 9:25, where it is translated cast away. See also 1 Corinthians 3:15, where it says, “If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” The sense here seems to be, "So that on the whole no real injury was done you in any respect by me. You were indeed put to pain and grief by my reproof. You sorrowed. But it has done you no injury on the whole. It has been a benefit to you. If you had not reformed, if you had been pained without putting away the sins for which the reproof was administered, if it had been mere grief without any proper fruit, you might have said that you would have suffered a loss of happiness, or you might have given me occasion to inflict severer discipline. But now you are gainers in happiness by all the sorrow which I have caused." Sinners are gainers of happiness in the end by all the pain of repentance produced by the preaching of the Gospel. No man suffers loss by being told of his faults if he repents, and people are under the highest obligations to those faithful ministers and other friends who tell them of their errors, and who are the means of bringing them to true repentance.
What brought the Apostle great pleasure was that his Epistle to them, and the effect it produced, had not been in the least bit detrimental to them. Things had gone so well, and this sorrow had been crafted in such a manner that they were not hurt in their souls, but had profited from the experience; in their church, they had not lost one member because of it; even the offender himself, who had caused all this trouble, was recovered and restored by these means.
10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.
For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation
“For godly sorrow,” or “Sorrow according to God” is the kind of sorrow that has high regard for God, or is according to His will, or that leads the soul to Him. This is a very important expression in regard to true repentance and shows the exact nature of that sorrow which is connected with a return to God. The phrase may be regarded as implying the following things:
(1) It is the type of sorrow that God approves of or is suitable to or conformable to His will and desires. It cannot mean that it is the kind of sorrow or grief that God has, for he has none; but rather, it is the kind of sorrow which God demands from those who return to him. It is a sorrow which His truth is able to produce in the heart; a sorrow that arises from seeing one’s sin as God sees it; the sorrow that exists in the mind when our views on sin coincide with His in regard to the existence, the extent, the nature, and the destructive effects of sin. Such views will lead to sorrow that it was ever committed, and such views will be "according to God."
(2) Such sorrow shall be expressed toward God in view of sin committed; which shall arise from the knowledge that all sin is committed against a holy God. It is not chiefly that it will lead to pain; that it will overwhelm the soul in disgrace; that it will forfeit the favor of God or lead to the contempt of man; or that it will lead to an eternal hell; but it is a belief which arises from the idea that the evil of sin committed against a holy and just God, derives its main evil from the fact that it is an offense against his infinite Majesty. David expressed such sorrow in Psalm 2:4, when he said, “against thee, thee only have I sinned;” when the offense regarded as committed against man, enormous as it was, was lost and absorbed in its greater evil when regarded as committed against God. So all true and genuine repentance is that which regards sin as deriving its main evil from the fact that it is committed against God.