What Is Godly Sorrow, and What Is Its Purpose?February 3, 2018
For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not be to repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.
— 2 Corinthians 7:10
When Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, he addressed many problems that existed in the congregation at Corinth, including strife, ambition, and drunkenness. However, the most notorious problem was an act of immorality by a brother in the church who was committing fornication with his father’s wife (see 1 Corinthians 5:1).
Paul was so stunned by this blatant act of immorality that he told the Corinthians that this kind of immorality didn’t even exist among unbelievers — an amazing statement considering he was writing to the church located in Corinth, a city that was known worldwide as a citadel of some of the most vile sexual perversions in human history. In this city, the goddess Aphrodite was worshiped, and moral decadence was widespread. Yet inside the Corinthian congregation was a type of fornication so revolting that it couldn’t even be found on the sex-laden streets of Corinth!
When Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, he rebuked them for various acts of carnality that were raging in their midst. In fact, out of all Paul’s epistles, his first letter to the Corinthians was the harshest, sternest, and most severe. The Corinthian church also had many wonderful attributes, including a great number of spiritual gifts that were in manifestation. Paul himself had started this church, and from its inception, God’s grace had been poured out on these believers in a powerful way. Paul loved this congregation, and he didn’t want to see his work in Corinth jeopardized. Therefore, he adamantly urged these believers to take immediate action against these spiritually poisonous activities before the whole church was contaminated.
It is clear in reading Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians that this congregation took Paul’s orders very seriously. They must have been embarrassed and saddened by the fact that Paul had to rebuke them, because the apostle told them, “…I made you sorry with a letter…” (2 Corinthians 7:8).
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The word “sorry” is from the Greek word lupeo, which describes pain or grief. Apparently Paul’s first letter caused the Corinthian congregation to feel deeply pained and grieved. Paul knew this had been their response so he went on to tell them, “…I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry.…” Twice in Second Corinthians 7:8, Paul acknowledged that they had been embarrassed and pained by the previous letter he sent them.
However, Paul continued in Second Corinthians 7:9 by saying, “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner….” When Paul said, “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry…,” the word “sorry” is again from lupeo. Therefore, an interpretative translation of the first part of this verse could read, “I don’t rejoice because I caused you to feel pain and grief….”
Paul went on to say that he was glad they “…sorrowed to repentance….” The word “sorrowed” is once again from the same Greek word lupeo, denoting pain or grief. The word “repentance,” however, is metanoeo, the word for “repentance” that refers to a complete, radical, total change. It is a decision to completely change or to entirely turn around in the way that one is thinking, believing, or living. By using this word metanoeo, Paul revealed that the Corinthians didn’t just listen to his earlier message — they heeded it completely and made the decision to change. In fact, they had obeyed him so entirely that they had experienced a total transformation, making them unrecognizable from the sinful condition for which Paul rebuked them in a previous epistle. Thus, the entire phrase in Second Corinthians 7:9 could be interpreted, “I don’t rejoice that I caused you to feel pain and grief, but I do rejoice that my letter made you want to change….”
Paul went on to elaborate: “…For ye were made sorry after a godly manner….” This phrase “godly manner” in Greek is kata theon. In the context of this verse, it could be translated “your pain was in response to God’s dealing with you.” The Holy Spirit had used Paul’s eariler epistle to prick their hearts, and Paul was quick to acknowledge this. Although the sorrow the Corinthian believers felt may have been initiated by his letter, the truth was that their hearts felt pained because God’s Spirit was dealing with them about the sinful activities going on in their midst. Thus, the verse could be rendered, “I don’t rejoice that I caused you to feel pain and grief, but I rejoice that my letter made you want to change. Your pain was your response to God’s dealing with you….”
Paul continued in Second Corinthians 7:10 by saying, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” When Paul wrote about “godly sorrow” in this verse, the Greek actually reads he gar kata theon lupe, which could be translated: “…the pain you feel in response to God dealing with you….” The word “worketh” is from the Greek word ergadzomai, meaning to work or to produce, and as we saw earlier, the word “repentance” comes from the word metanoeo. Finally, the word “salvation” is a translation of the Greek word soterion, which can mean salvation in the eternal sense, but in this context refers to deliverance from their past carnality.
When all these words are taken together as one complete phrase, the first part of Second Corinthians 7:10 could be interpreted:
“The pain you feel in response to God dealing with you has produced a real change and deliverance….”
The Corinthian believers were prompt to respond to God’s dealings with them. In fact, they acted so swiftly and seriously to obey Paul’s instruction that in his next letter to them, the apostle declared, “For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter” (v. 11).
Not wanting to grieve the Holy Spirit any longer, the believers in Corinth had moved with indignation and fear to purge themselves of sin and carnality. This was proof that genuine repentance had occurred in their lives, for as we have seen, true repentance produces an indisputable transformation of one’s behavior. The change in the Corinthian church was evidence enough for Paul to say they were now completely “clear” in the matters where they had previously been wrong! They had been completely exonerated!
Have you ever felt sorrow because of a sin you committed that grieved the heart of God? Did you allow that sorrow to do its full work in you and produce a desire to change within your heart? Or did you merely brush it off and thereby resist God’s dealings with you?
If we will be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and listen to His voice, we will hear Him speak to us when we do something that grieves the heart of God. In that moment, we have a choice: We can harden our hearts and turn a deaf ear to God’s Spirit, or we can allow the Holy Spirit to deal deeply with us and produce a desire in us to never transgress in that particular way again. God is willing to work in us and with us, but we must have hearts that want to positively respond to His dealings, as the Corinthians exhibited so well.
If God’s Spirit has been trying to deal with you, can you honestly say that you’ve allowed a godly sorrow to have its full effect in you, thereby producing a strong desire to change and to never fail in the same way again? Regardless of what you have done, God offers you forgiveness, and He will give you the strength needed to enact powerful, permanent change in your life if your heart is truly repentant. It’s up to you!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, I ask You to please forgive me for the things I’ve done or tolerated that are offensive to You. I know that when I willfully sin or tolerate attitudes that are wrong, it grieves the Holy Spirit. I ask You to help me feel the pain of my sin so deeply that I will never want to cross that line again. I never want to be hardhearted or stubborn toward You when Your Spirit speaks to me, so please help me keep my heart soft and pliable and remain tenderhearted to the dealings of the Spirit.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that my heart is soft and pliable in the hands of God. I want to please the Lord, and I never want to grieve the Holy Spirit. I receive the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to strengthen me with His might and to guide me in life, because He is the last Person I would ever want to offend! The Lord creates in me the desire and the ability to do His will and good pleasure, as He conforms my thoughts to be in agreement with His will. When the Father’s heart is grieved, my heart is grieved too. From this day forward, I will be quick to hear and to obey the Lord’s voice, and as a result, I expect it to go well with me in all the affairs of life.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Can you think of an exact moment in your life when you knew inwardly that you had grieved the Holy Spirit? Did that realization bring great pain to your own heart? When was that moment? When that happened to you, how did you respond?
- Can you recall a time when the Holy Spirit tried to deal with you about something that was grievous to Him, but you didn’t listen? What was the result of not listening and paying heed to His voice?
- What area is the Holy Spirit trying to deal with you about right now? Are you responding to His counsel and direction, or are you ignoring His tender work in your heart? Based on your past experience, is your present response leading you on a path that will end well?