Sorrow That Leads to Repentance
I was struck by Paul's words to the Corinthians when Titus told him the good news. "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. (2 Cor. 7:8-9 NLT).
Paul first visited Corinth after leaving Athens in AD51. He spent some time there preaching the gospel to the Jews with little success, so he told them, "Fine, I will preach to the Gentiles." The Lord encouraged him in a dream to keep speaking out and said to Paul that many people in the city belonged to Him. And that's how the church in Corinth began (Acts 18:1-11).
Paul stayed in Corinth a year and a half before moving on. Sometime after he left, he wrote the Corinthians a letter. Although we do not have this letter, it is referenced in 1 Corinthians 5:9. It appears that he was addressing some issues they were having. When Paul wrote a second letter known as 1 Corinthians, he was responding to what they had written asking him some questions. Paul writes, "Now regarding the questions you asked in your letter...(2 Cor. 7:1)."
Paul then makes a second trip to Corinth that we know as the "painful visit". This visit isn't recorded, but again is referred to, "So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you (2 Cor. 2:1). We don't know much about this visit, but it was something he did not want to do again. Sometimes it is good to put distance between you and the source of your pain. But, out of his pain, Paul wrote a third letter. We do not have this letter either, but are told about it in 2 Corinthians 2:3, "I wrote as I did..." and again in 2 Corinthians 7:8, "Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it."
A lot happened between the time Paul planted the church in Corinth and the day he heard his "severe letter" had accomplished what he hoped it would. He had been put through the wringer! But now he was prompted to write a fourth letter which we know as 2 Corinthians. It was AD56, five years after his first visit. Finally, Paul was at peace and able to go and see them again.
Have you ever done something you knew was right, but also knew it would cause pain? If you have, then you know what Paul is saying. We don't like to see someone else hurting when we know we are the cause of the pain, even when we're confident we did the right thing. We might second guess ourselves, or we might just hurt knowing we caused someone else pain. Paul was motivated by love and concern. He had been instrumental in this church plant, and he most likely felt a sense of responsibility for their spiritual growth.
It's the same for us as parents. We raise our children to follow the Lord, and we feel a responsibility for them to grow spiritually. When we see them veering off, it is only natural for us to want to correct it. Maybe you have even had a "harsh" conversation with your child, and it didn't go well. You, too, were motivated by love and concern but were met with scorn or rejection. Or maybe it was just indifference. You understand what Paul is saying. You might even regret the things you said to them because you are still waiting to see if it will result in a positive change.
Don't give up hope! What seems like a severe conversation at the time may be used in the future for good. It is certain that God can bring it to their mind if He intends to use it for good. Let's be honest. Repentance is necessary. It was essential for the Corinthians, and it is essential for our wayward ones.
The kind of sorrow the Corinthians had was what led to their repentance and changing their ways. This is the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have. "For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation (2 Cor. 7:10). Remember, the Corinthians were believers. They may not be classified as prodigals, but they were in danger of straying if they continued to not deal with the sin in their midst. Keep praying, for it is the one thing that we can do and know we will always be heard by the One who is able to do more than we can think or imagine.
I believe Paul prayed much for the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 1:4-9, he is thanking God for the spiritual gifts he sees in them and expressing his confidence that God will keep them strong and blameless to the end. Later, in 2 Corinthians 13:7-9, Paul prays, "We pray to God that you will not do what is wrong by refusing our correction...we pray that you will become mature." Notice the "we". Joining with others in prayer for your wayward one is a good thing. Thanking God for the gifts you see in them is a good thing. Praying they will not refuse correction and will become mature are excellent ways to pray as is praying that they will have the sorrow that leads to repentance.