Correction of the Letter - Part 4 (series: Lessons on 2 Corinthians)
by John Lowe
11 For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.
For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner
The Apostle having shown the harmful effects of worldly sorrow, all which he associated with death, now shows the blessed effects of that sorrow which is conferred by God. He proceeds to describe godly sorrow by its effects, which are so many evidences of the sincerity and genuineness of it; some of the things mentioned are peculiar to the case of the Corinthians, and others common to evangelical repentance in general. “That you sorrowed in a godly manner” may be better if changed to read, “that you sorrowed after the will of God.” The effects produced by their repentance showed that it was "according to the will of God;" for it produced in them "the fruits of good living to the honour and glory of God." The series of emotional words that follow represent the Apostle’s recounting of what he had heard from his friend, Titus.
What diligence it produced in you
The first product of Godly sorrow he mentions is “diligence,” both to make our peace with God for our former violations of His law, (using all means He has prescribed for that purpose), and also to preserve our peace, by avoiding similar breaches in the future. “What diligence (carefulness; earnestness) it produced in you” to remove the incestuous person from your church, which they were very neglectful to do before; to no longer sin in this manner; to keep up, in the future, a more strict and regular discipline in the church; to perform good works in general, and not to offend God. Here it is evidently used to denote the diligence and the great anxiety which they manifested to remove the evils which existed among them. They went to work to remove them. They did not sit down to merely mourn over them, nor did they wait for God to remove them, nor did they plead that they could do nothing, but they set about the work as though they believed it might be done. When people are thoroughly convinced of sin, they will set about removing it with the utmost diligence. They will feel that this can be done, and must be done, or that the soul will be lost.
The object of Paul is to illustrate the effects of godly sorrow, to which he had referred in 2 Corinthians 7:10. He appeals, therefore, to their own case which revolved around incest, and says that it was beautifully illustrated among themselves. There was, in the case of the incest which had existed there: Diligence where there had once been indifference to evil, or even approval of it—“And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that has done this deed might be taken away from among you” (1Corinthians 5:2), and this was shown:
(1) In the vindication of their conduct which they had sent through Titus.
(2) In their stern “indignation” against the offender.
(3) In their “fear,” partly of the supernatural chastisement which Paul had threatened, and partly of the judgment of God, which was against such things.
(4) In the longing to have him once more among them which mingled with their fear.
(5) In their new “zeal” for the law of purity.
(6) In their actual vengeance, that is, their sentence of condemnation passed upon the offender.
What clearing of yourselves
The Corinthians’ sorrow might work in some of them as a means of clearing or purging themselves of that guilt which had been incurred by certain members of that church. But there is another clearing of ourselves, which true repentance accomplishes, not by denying the reality of a thing done, or lessening, or defending it, but by confessing it, and taking to ourselves the shame of a thing done; which, though it may not be a clearing of a person from the facts of it, yet, through Divine grace, joined with a reformation, it clears him from the guilt of it.
The indignation which is not against the offender, but against his sin; and not his only but their own too, for not disciplining the offender, and moving sooner to correct the situation; and particularly that they acted in a manner that deserved the just rebuke of the Apostle. Their indignation was a sort of feeling between anger and disgust at themselves for having been ‘puffed up,’ instead of lamenting that he that had done this deed had not been taken away from among them. (See 1 Corinthians 5:2.)
Fear, not of hell and damnation, such as wicked men and devils have, who do not repent; but fear of God, and of grieving his ministers; and fear that the corruption could spread in the church, as the Apostle had suggested, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump;” and fear of Paul (1 Co 4:2, 19-21), of the measures which he might take, if he came to them “with a rod” (1 Corinthians 4:21); and fear of the wrath of God—“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1); and fear of sinning any more, in case you should fall again into like temptations, and be overcome by them.
What vehement desire
The “vehement desire” is “longing” for Paul’s presence (See Philippians 1:8, 2:26; 1 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Corinthians 5:2, 9:14). Longing that he would return to them (he had given them the hope of it (1Co 4:19; 16:5), and longing for restoration to Paul's approval, and longing to behave in quite another manner in the future, and to be kept from evil, and to honor God by their conversation. “Fear” is in spite of one’s self. “Longing desire” is spontaneous, and implies strong love and a desire for correction.
“Zeal” is defined as fervor (enthusiasm, passion) for a person, cause, or object; eager desire or endeavor; enthusiastic diligence; ardor—for God and his glory, for restoring the discipline of the church, for right and for God's honor against what is wrong, for the good of the soul of the offender; to make up for past negligence of the doctrines of the Gospel, the ordinances of Christ's house, and for not supporting the character of the Apostle, and other ministers of the word, against the false Apostles: here it includes love of God, hatred of sin, fear of offending God, desire to please him! “And not by his coming only, but by the consolation with which he was comforted in you when he told us your earnest desire, your mourning, your fervent mind toward me; so that I rejoiced the more” (2 Corinthians 7:7).
The word “vindication” is used here in the sense of “revenge,” and in the case of the man involved in incest, it refers to punishment inflicted by the judicial process—“And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience . . .” (2 Corinthians 10:6). Such a process had taken place in this case. Compare:
• 1 Corinthians 5:4-5: “For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
• 2 Corinthians 2:6: “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
The six results mentioned by the Apostle fall into three pairs. The first two, “clearing of themselves,” and “indignation,” relate to their feelings towards themselves, the next two, “fear” and “vehement desire” to their feelings towards the Apostle, and the last two, “zeal” and “vindication” to their feelings towards the offender and his offense.
In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter
In all things, or rather, “In every respect you have “proved yourselves” to be innocent in the matter.” Whatever may have been your previous carelessness and involvement, the steps you took on receiving my letter vindicated your character. It is quite in accordance with Paul's usual method that “he speaks unclearly of what was objectionable”—“and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. (1 Thessalonians 4:6).
“To be clear in this matter”—Literally, in the matter, is possibly an exclusive reference to the sin condemned in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5—“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord:” but, it is possible that it also refers to 1 Thessalonians 4:6, as an inoffensive expression for the sin of impurity—“and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you.”