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How to Be Sorry

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What do young children and professional politicians have in common? Among other things, both have mastered the art of the “non-pology.”

Parent: “Jimmy, say you’re sorry.”

Small Child: “Sorry,” (said with absolutely zero emotion).

Reporter: “Mr. Congressman, what do you have to say to the victims of your horrible policies?”

Politician: “My thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by this tragedy. Mistakes were made!”

The truth is that we’re all pretty good at being “sorry you feel that way” instead of genuinely remorseful for our wrongdoing. And early Christians were no different, which is why Paul took the time to address this very topic in 2 Corinthians 7:8-11.

The Corinthian believers had harmed Paul severely, and in so doing placed their fledgling church in a spiritually dangerous position. He was concerned for them, and so he wrote a “severe letter” rebuking them for their pride and stubbornness, sending the letter to them via his friend Titus. When Titus returned, Paul rejoiced to learn that the Corinthians had taken the rebuke gracefully and had responded with “godly sorrow” rather than “worldly sorrow” (v. 10 NIV).

Clearly, in Paul’s mind, there is a kind of sorrow that is harmful, and a kind of sorrow that is godly and redemptive. So how do we know which is which? To our benefit, Paul takes the time to spell out the characteristics of godly sorrow exhibited by the Corinthian believers:

  1. Godly sorrow involves a change of affection. These aren’t just crocodile tears. Titus told Paul about their “earnestness” (i.e., seriousness about their sin), their “indignation” (hatred of sin), their “alarm” (godly fear of falling into the same patterns again). The kind of sorrow that the Holy Spirit had produced in them led them to be repulsed by their sin and emotionally drawn toward reconciliation. There was a noticable change in affection.
  2. Godly sorrow involves a change of action. Paul commends these believers because of their “eagerness to clear themselves,” their “readiness to see justice done.” The Corinthians went out of their way to correct their wrongdoing. They put their money where their mouth was.
  3. Godly sorrow involves a change of orientation toward the person wronged. Later in the chapter, Paul talks about how they had received Titus: graciously and respectfully. They went from questioning Paul’s motives at every turn to giving him the benefit of the doubt and truly desiring his best.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to be sorry. Be honest…you know that! Who do you need to reconcile with today? Ask God for new affections, a change in action, and a new orientation to the person you wronged, and you’ll experience the comfort and encouragement Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 7.