Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Current Study: Reconciliation
Today’s Topic: Repentance Brings Reconciliation
Today’s Scripture: 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
As far as the Biblical record indicates, the Apostle Paul wrote more letters to the church in the city of Corinth than to any other church. A careful reading of the two letters we have in the Bible reveals that there were at least two other letters he had written. One of those letters which we do not have but is referred to in Second Corinthians was, by Paul’s own admission, pretty harsh. He was having a hard time getting people of that church to stop their sinning, and to stop bringing that sin into the church. There came a time when he had to get really firm and forceful with them. Paul was acting righteously. He was fulfilling God’s call upon his life. The people had made their own choices that brought out the wrath of God against their sin from their spiritual mentor. What Paul did was justified. How he felt about it teaches us a lot about reconciliation.
As you read the seventh chapter of 2 Corinthians – and I encourage you to do so slowly and carefully – you will discover the love and compassion Paul had in his heart for the people he had to correct. After writing the letter of rebuke to them, he immediately felt sorrow over how it was going to affect the people he loved so much. Even though he had the right to write, he also had the heart to hurt. The New Living Translation puts Paul’s words in verse 8 this way – I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while. That’s the kind of heart attitude we all need if we are going to see God reconcile relationships.
Far too many Christians bring a spirit of pride into their relationships. I know I’m right and when they finally realize it they will come to me and repent. That certainly wasn’t Paul’s attitude. Paul knew he was right, but his pride never overwhelmed the pain he was causing by being right. We get so wrapped up in the story of our won life that we stop caring about the stories being lived out by others. We especially seem to not care how our story is having a negative effect on their story. That uncaring spirit is especially magnified when we convince ourselves that we are not to blame for how they feel. But Paul shows us that true reconciliation is only possible if the one in the right cares about the one in the wrong, just as God the Father did for us when we were in our sin.
We can only imagine how much Paul must have prayed for the people to whom he wrote the letter of rebuke. His heart was breaking that he had to discipline those that he loved. As a parent I know what it’s like to walk away from a moment of discipline with one of the children and go to a quiet place and pray for them because I knew how much they must be hurting to have had to be corrected. In fact, I had that happen yesterday with one of the grandchildren. The correction of sin in any of our lives is painful because all sin is the prideful expression of self. It hurts to have self accused of being wrong. We take it as an attack against our value. We usually lash back at the one doing the correcting, trying to restore some self respect by minimizing theirs. That is what concerned Paul when he said he understood the pain he had caused them. He was afraid they would lash back at him rather than be led to repentance and reconciliation.
We must learn two things from this. First, we must not react in a prideful way when someone tries to correct a wrong in our lives. We must respond as Paul said the people of Corinth did. Look at what he says about them. I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while. Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. That’s incredible. That’s how reaching out to bring repentance results in reconciliation. That’s the kind of sorrow God wants all His people to have when they are confronted with sin in their lives.
Second, we must not react in a prideful way when we have to correct the wrong in someone else’s life. Paul wanted the hurt to last only long enough to bring them back to Christ. Pride seeks prolonged pain. Love seeks repentance and reconciliation. It would be easy for us in our sinful flesh to hope the hurt endures long enough to teach them a good lesson. Paul knew that would be our natural tendency when he contrasted that attitude with the heart of love in First Corinthians 13. He said, Love does not delight in seeing evil done to another. The true heart of love, while needing to correct wrong, feels the pain caused by the correction, and hopes change happens quickly.
Reconciliation only happens when repentance is present. Paul repented – not for writing the letter, but for the pain the letter caused. It was that spirit that proved to the people at Corinth that he truly loved them and desired what was best for them. As a result they were led to repentance and a reconciled relationship with God and each other. Each one of us is somewhere in this process in our own lives. We are either being corrected or we are having to correct another person. From either perspective, crucify pride, and let Godly sorrow bring you to repentance so reconciliation can happen.