By no stretch of the imagination am I a perfect man. Though I seek to follow Christ with all my heart, and long to be like Jesus, I fall very far short of the mark. I will never attain perfection this side of eternity – but the very fact that God has adopted me – that He is my Father and that I am his child – means that I will keep working to put to death the deeds of the flesh. Or, as Paul puts it here, I will keep cleansing myself from everything that can defile body or spirit, working towards complete holiness because of my fear (yes, respect, but also healthy fear) of God.
And that’s not always a comfortable journey to travel. I know that God keeps making me aware of sin in my own life, as the Spirit continues his work of sanctification. But sometimes, that awareness comes through others. FOr the Corinthians it came through Paul – in the form of the “severe letter” which is now lost to us. As Paul writes to them now, he wants to reassure them of his great love for and confidence in them – and to beg them to not withhold their affections from him and his cohorts. Isn’t that often what we do when someone points out sin in our lives? Even if we recognise the truth of what they say – we don’t like our faults being pointed out – and give them the cold shoulder.
But, writes Paul, whilst sitting discouraged in Macedonia (battles on the outside, fear on the inside), God “who encourages the discouraged” encouraged them by the arrival of Titus. Encouragement itself. But more: Titus had visited Corinth, and had reported how the Corinthians longed to see Paul, had repented, were still loyal to Paul. Paul was happy!
Thing is – not all sorrow is bad. Godly sorrow – though painful – results in repentance and a change of ways. It is the kind of sorrow GOd wants us to have. It leads us away from sin, resutls in salvation. It has no regrets – because it results in our assurance that we have not lost God despite our sin! (What a wonderfully patient, faithful, forgiving God we have! Every one of my sins has already been accounted for and paid in full by Jesus on the cross. Sometimes, I feel like my sin is too great – that God could never forgive me. But the Bible assures me that he has. There needs be sorrow and repentance and change – but no longer regret). Worldly sorrow – sans repentance – results only in spiritual death. Godly sorrow does not wallow; it stumbles – crying and repentant – to the cross: and there it finds forgiveness – always.
Father God – thank you that you are my Father. Thank you that I am your child. Sometimes – I admit – that my sorrow is more like worldly sorrow than godly sorrow. Please – when you make me aware of my sins, or when others do – please lead me by your Spirit along the path of godly sorrow. Help me to be repentant. By your Spirit, keep renewing my mind so that my words and actions are changed. Please – let me see the fruit of your presence within me. Thank you that there is always forgiveness for me at the cross. Thank you so very much. Thank you.