2 Corinthians 7:2-16 – When correction is needed (Discipline)

 

Let us pray

 

When you last had to speak to someone at work about how they were doing in their job – how did you do it?

 

Or – when someone had to come to you and ‘give you a rocket’ over something you’d done wrong – how did you react?

 

How do you respond to correction?  To discipline? 

 

Do you give it?  Can you take it?

 

Discipline can be a difficult thing – correction can be hard to give, and hard to take.

 

It’s an area of life we don’t like to talk about.  If you read books about raising children, they mostly don’t talk much about discipline – more about preventing any problems, on the assumption that if you’re nice, everything will be fine.  And in work situations – I imagine many of you have done work on managing employees to avoid problems.  Which is great.

 

But what happens when things go wrong?  What do we do then?

 

Paul in 2 Corinthians gives us an example of correction in action – in a church where things have gone wrong.  Turn with me if you would to 2 Corinthians 7, on page 1162 of the bibles in the chairs.

 

Before we get into the passage, let’s remember where we are in this letter.

 

Look at the start of verse 2 – Make room for us in your hearts.

 

Sound familiar perhaps?  It was Paul’s plea last week, in chapter 6 verse 13 - open wide your hearts.

 

And last week, if you remember, Paul had some strong things to say to the Corinthians, about following his example of love for God, and loving others – by helping them to see what they were doing wrong, and overcoming it.

 

And Paul has got some more things to say to the Corinthians, first about money in chapters 8 and 9, then about their attitude to him and others in 10, 11, 12 and 13.  He’s not finished with them yet – but here he talks of his joy – at their response to what he had to say to them.

 

We’ll look at this passage in two sections.

 

1. The Context of Discipline – Relationship (v2-7)

 

a. An open heart v2-3

 

Paul plea in verse 2 is that the Corinthians would have an open heart towards him. 

 

He goes on:

 

We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one.

 

Paul has a clear conscience when it comes to his behaviour towards the Corinthians – he knows that he hasn’t wronged them, corrupted them or exploited them.  He’s happy with the way he has acted towards them.

 

As we saw last week, he’s prepared for them to look at his behaviour, and respond accordingly – he knows how he has acted.

3 I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you.

 

And even now, he has no desire to condemn them.  He loves them dearly – he would die with them, and live with them – he is happy to stand with them.

 

He cares deeply for the Corinthians.  They have a special place in his heart.  He has opened his heart to them, and he wants them to do the same.

 

The context of discipline is relationship, and at the heart of that relationship is Paul’s love for the Corinthians.

 

So as we learn from Paul’s example, we need to recognise the importance of love in making discipline work.

 

Think about this for a moment.  Think of the relationship between a parent and a child.  Children listen to their parents when they know their parents love them.  Children who love their parents listen to their parents.

 

At the heart of good discipline is love.  Paul loved the Corinthians – they didn’t always love him back it would seem, but he love them – he never stopped worrying about them – and his discipline came from a deep care for them, not from a desire to rule over them.

 

b. The confidence to speak Boldly (v4)

 

 4 I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.

 

Now Paul begins to talk about his joy and confidence in the Corinthians.

 

They have acted in a way which has encouraged him – he is therefore joyful, although he continues to face troubles.

 

He is proud of them – as a father takes pride in his children as they grow to maturity and independence, as they respond well in difficult situations.

 

He has great confidence in them.  The word used here can also mean openness – and the openness and confidence one feels in being able to confidently address those he trusts.

 

Paul feels able to address the Corinthians boldly – he has confidence in how they will respond.

 

This is a vital confidence to have.

 

Do you have the confidence to speak boldly?  It’s not about our gifts of persuasion – it’s about trusting that the person who hears you will respond in the right way – that the relationship will survive.

 

Think about this for a moment.  Recall the closest relationship you have or have had, and the honesty that you can enjoy in those relationships – the confidence to speak with boldness.  To say what needs to be said – knowing that the relationship will survive.

 

Brothers and sisters we need to build open and honest relationships with one another.  Why?  Because there are times when we all need correction, and that correction is much more easily heard from someone we respect and care about.

 

Discipline needs honesty – honest communication – and honest communication needs the kind of relationships that can support it.

 

c. Reliable witnesses (v5-7)

 

Paul continues:

 

 5 For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn-- conflicts on the outside, fears within.

 

This verse takes us all the way back to chapter 2 – verses 12 and 13:

 

2 Corinthians 2:12 Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me,

 13 I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-by to them and went on to Macedonia.

 

We’re back to Paul’s travel plans – he went to Troas, and had opportunities for the gospel, but he didn’t see Titus – and he wanted news from Titus about the Corinthians – so he wasn’t satisfied.

 

Concerned for the Corinthians, he went on into Macedonia, perhaps hopeful of catching up with Titus by land, to see how he had been received by the Corinthians – how had they taken Paul’s strongly worded letter?

 

Paul faces problems in Macedonia – from outside and within.  He faces conflicts  -perhaps persecution from those opposed to the gospel, and inwardly he is fearful – fearful of what he is going to hear back from Titus.

 

6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus,  7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.

 

But Titus brings good news.  He comforts Paul – first by arriving safely – Paul would have been worried about his long journey – and then by what he says about the Corinthians.

 

What does he report?  That the Corinthians were longing for Paul – longing to see he – Paul had had to postpone his visit.  They were sorrowful – they had reacted with sorrow to what Paul had written, and given what was in the letter, that was the right response!

 

The Corinthians were concerned for Paul – concerned perhaps that they had hurt him, and that he wouldn’t come back to them.

 

And because of the reaction Titus reports, paul is joyful.

 

Titus gives Paul an accurate report of what happened in Corinth.  He acted as a reliable witness.

 

This is a simple thing – but it is an important one.

 

In our relationships, we need to be acting according to the truth.  This is especially important when were talking about correction – we need to get our facts straight.

 

Some of you might be in quite senior management positions at work, and that probably means you have to get involved in discipline, hopefully very occasionally, for those who you manage.

 

But you might well be dealing with situations where you weren’t present – and your reliant on others for the facts – you know what a precarious situation this can put you in!

 

Look at this from a different angle – how reliable are we as witnesses?

 

Do we report accurately what has happened – or do we tend to add our own spin, depending of what we think about the people involved, whether that means we skew things in a positive or negative direction.

 

Think about this for a moment.  There are some people we will instinctively go to to find out what actually happened at a given event, on any given day.  Others we might talk to – but we’ll be cautious about what they say.  Do people have to treat what we say with caution?  Does it owe more to party affiliation or loyalties than to truth?

 

(Truth)

 

The context of discipline is relationship.  Discipline works best in a relationship of love, where we have the confidence to speak boldly, and where we can rely on the honesty of the reports we receive.

 

But what of the purpose of discipline?

 

2. The Purpose of Discipline is repentance (v8-16)

 

a. Sorrow should lead to repentance

 

 8 Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it-- I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while--  9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.

 

There’s no mistaking in these verses that Paul had a hard time writing this ‘tearful letter’.  He had some hard things to say about the Corinthians.

 

But he loved them – and these things needed to be said.

 

But still – it hurt him to send it.  He was desperate to see Titus and find out what had happened.

 

He regretted sending it in a way – he didn’t want to just hurt them  - but now he has seen the result of the letter, he has no regrets.

 

He does not regret making the Corinthians sorry – because that sorrow has led to repentance. 

 

It has been a helpful experience.  They haven’t been harmed by Paul – instead they have been led to repentance.

 

Paul’s letter worked.  The letter he send from his heart has had the desired effect – the Corinthians have repented of whatever they were doing wrong, and have changed their behaviour.

 

Discipline is not about punishment, or venting anger, or proving that we’re right.  Discipline is about effecting change, about repentance.

 

Paul has spoken honesty to the Corinthians, about a real problem, and has disciplined them out of love.  And they have responded accordingly.

 

So whether we’re giving discipline – or on the receiving end – we need to bear in mind that we discipline out of love – and should respond with repentance.

 

b. Two types of sorrow (v10-11)

 

But Paul recognises that the sorrow that discipline brings is not always fruitful.

 

10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

 

There are two types of sorrow – godly sorrow and worldly sorrow.

 

Godly sorrow brings repentance, leading to salvation – and leaves no regret.

 

When someone points out to us that we are wrong – and we are wrong – we should be sorrowful – sorrowful for doing wrong.

 

And then, according to Paul we should repent – because repentance leads to salvation.

 

Repentance shows that we live and want to continue to live in a right relationship with God.  It’s about being godly.

 

Godly sorrow is sorrow approved by God – the kind of sorrow that leads to repentance, because we recognise that we have done things wrong – that it was our fault – that we could and should have done things differently.

 

This takes humility – the kind of humility we have as forgiven sinners.  We don’t have a relationship with God because of what we’ve achieved – but because of what Christ did for us on the cross, and we need to always maintain a godly humility that recognises that we’re forgiven sinners.

 

When we start thinking that we’re in control, that’s when we’re prone to become proud or arrogant of defensive of what we’ve achieved – and won’t take kindly to correction.  But if we always recall what Christ has done for us, than we remain humble, and we have no regret.

 

But worldly sorrow is different.  Worldly sorrow leads to death.

Worldly sorrow is self-centred – it’s based on the failure of our ambitions – being thwarted by others.  Worldly sorrow leads to bitterness, to despair and paralysis – as we see the faults in others and not in ourselves – as we blame others for our ills – for the way they are to us, for how they’ve kept us down. 

 

Paul doesn’t want us to react to sorrow like the world – he wants us to have godly sorrow – because godly sorrow produces fruit:

 

 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.

 

The Corinthians have repented of their wrongs – and have really wanted to show their reformed character.

 

They have been earnest, and eager to clear themselves – and so they have been indignant, probably with the person or people causing the problems in Corinth – they have dealt with the situation.

 

They have been alarmed – they have seen the seriousness of the rebuke from Paul – and they have responded.  They have been longing for Paul to return to them – longing to see the situation sorted out.

 

And so they have proved themselves to be innocent – they have shown that they no longer need to be corrected in this matter – they have repented, and sorted this one out.

 

The Corinthians are far from perfect – Paul still has a few more things to say to them in the rest of 2 Corinthians.  But in this matter, they have responded in the right way.  Their sorrow has been godly.  It has led them to repentance, and to showing their humility which comes from a right relationship with God in Christ.

 

Discipline is a two way street.  We have seen that the one doing the disciplining needs to act out of love, needs to speak honesty, and needs to be backed up by good witnesses.

 

But the one being disciplined needs to take correction – even if it is offered imperfectly.

 

I imagine we are all in disciplinary relationships – we all have superiors, or people who have a right to call us to account – because they’re employing us, or paying us, or their related to us.  And when we receive correction, we need to be properly sorrowful – to take on board the correction others offer us. 

 

Things should be no different in the church – in fact, we should be more eager to take correction from our brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

But for that to work, we need to be accountable.  Let me ask you a personal question – are you accountable to anyone for how you live as a follower of Christ?  Is there anyone who could correct you.

 

If there isn’t – find someone – they don’t need to wear a collar – and be accountable – one to another.  Otherwise you’ll lose out on the benefits discipline brings.

 

c. Discipline leads to edification and encouragement (v12-15)

 

Because the Corinthians are better people for having been corrected.

 

12 So even though I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong or of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are.

 

We’ve seen the godly sorrow in the Corinthians and how it brought out of them a response – and now we see that Paul’s reason for writing wasn’t to punish the one who was in the wrong – or to gain revenge or recompense for the one who had been wronged, but that the Corinthians could see the reality of their own devotion to Paul as God’s apostle.

 

They found out something important about themselves.  They discovered that they did value Paul and his words from God – that they could do the right thing with a little gentle encouragement.

 

They were refined by the experience of testing.  Now when you refine or test metal, you do it so that the metal becomes stronger  - you get rid of all the impurities, to make the finished product stronger, more valuable – more suited to the job you have in mind for it.  So it was with the Corinthians.

 

But it wasn’t the Corinthians alone who were edified – who were build up – by this experience.

 

 13 By all this we are encouraged. In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you.  14 I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well.  15 And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling.

 

Paul is encouraged, and Titus is encouraged.  They’ve seen and heard of the change in the Corinthians – and it encourages them.  They’ve seen the effect of godly sorrow – the sorrow that God brings – and they’re encouraged by how the Corinthians have reacted.

 

Paul is especially relieved – he’d obviously told Titus about the Corinthians – and he’s glad they’ve backed him up with their conduct – that the confidence he had in how they’d respond has been well placed.  His confidence has been rewarded – and he’s encouraged.

 

And Titus – perhaps nervous about going to Corinth given how others were received – Titus now has greater affection for them, because of how they received him.

 

They were obedient.  They received him with fear and trembling – they received correction.

 

Why is this so encouraging?  Because repentance is one of the greatest everyday miracles we see in one another.

 

None of us want to admit that we’re wrong.  None of us want to say that we’ve made a mistake.  We always want to show that it was somebody else’s fault – at least that we are more sinned against than sinning.

 

To actually hold our hands up and say – it was me – I was wrong – I shouldn’t have done that – is hard enough as individuals – but what about a whole group of people.

 

We can sometimes take on reality all on our own – but we’re even better at it as a group.

 

We can bolster each other – we can encourage each other in our prejudices.  It’s no accident that violence often involves gangs – the gang mentality, where everybody hides behind everybody else comes to the fore.

 

And in Corinth, this seems to have happened in the church.  Paul stood seemingly alone against a large section of the congregation, who were backing each other up in their wrongdoing or wrong thinking.  And, Paul speaks God’s word into the situation, and miraculously they change – they repent – they are in fact built up by the experience.  Now wonder Paul and Titus were encouraged.

 

Conclusion:  Going on from here (v16)

Paul closes this section of 2 Corinthians with a simple sentence:

 

16 I am glad I can have complete confidence in you.

 

I am glad that, seeing how you’ve responded, I can speak with you in the future again, with confidence in how you’ll respond.

 

Because Paul has more to say to the Corinthians, more important and challenging things to say – and he wants them to be receptive to his loving, challenging words.

 

He has more to say – but in their reaction to his last letter, he has the base on which to say it.

 

(Pause)

 

And how do we go on from here?  How are we placed to respond to correction – as a body? – have we surrounded ourselves with people we are accountable to, or with fellow conspirators? – do we only talk to people who agree with us on certain issues where we disagree with others?

 

And do we love one another enough not only to correct one another, but also to correct out of love?

 

Let us resolve to be the kind of people Paul calls us to be.  Humble sinners who know their need for correction, and correct others with humility – as we seek to edify and encourage one another as God’s family, in our walking together in Christ.

 

Let us Pray

 

James Hughes

29th February 2004