There are few things I find more annoying than automated apology messages. "We apologise for the late running of this train" jibbers the computer. Ensuring that no actual, real person actually, really has to be sorry or apologise. Automated apologies are no apologies at all.
One of the few even more annoying things is the oft-heard blanket phrase from public figures who have either been caught doing something they shouldn't, (or something they should but that was - horror! - unpopular): "I apologise if people think I have done anything wrong." Which, similarly, admits to nothing and is certainly not an apology. In fact its an insult disguised as an apology.
That is what 2 Cor 7:10 describes as worldly sorrow that leads to death.
How do you receive stern - but loving - correction? It seems that someone was leading the Corinthians away from Paul and his message. He had written a stern letter, delivered by Titus, and as soon as he had sent it was consumed with worry about how it would be received. There are three possible ways to respond:
- No repentance. They just get indignant that anyone dares tell them they are wrong and challenge them to change
- They respond with worldly sorrow. They back down but the sorrow is more about having been caught out and forced to change than about genuine repentance. World sorrow is sorrow that our egos have been bruised or that we have been made to feel stupid for something we have done or that we feel we have gone down in the estimation of others. Worldly sorrow flows from having forfeited the praise of the world and has no spiritual value
- They respond with godly sorrow. The sorrow has to do with realising that we have grieved God. This sorrow wants to repent and put things right. Godly sorrow flows from desiring the honour of - and approval from - God. It has immense spiritual value
Which route do you normally go down yourself? Bristling indignation? Or shallow sorrow that involves no repentance but just provides wiggle-room for your ego by saying you are sorry when you aren't? Or being open to the possibility that the correction may be right, loving, for your good and from God?
Why does Paul say that worldly sorrow brings death? It's because worldly sorrow pretends to have faith while really having none. We pretend to change while really not repenting at all. We play-act humility but not for the sake of knowing God but instead to avoid getting our egos further bruised.
Helping someone recognise and repent of sin is difficult. It should be difficult. We shouldn't ever go there without prayer, tears and deep love. After all we know how hard we find it to be on the receiving end ourselves. Paul found it difficult, he was filled with anxiety at possible rejection. However he knew it was important enough that he had to do it. In this case the issue was whether they stuck to the gospel - salvation itself was at stake. Woe betide the Christian leader who bottles out of that for fear of rejection.
And let's be willing to be on the receiving end with soft hearts. Christian leaders in particular can be the focus of all grumbling or criticism in a church and end up with tough barriers erected as a result. It can be hard to distinguish between miserable (sinful) grumbling and loving, godly, kind correction when the barriers are up, but distiguish we must. For if we are unable to receive it then we will have no credibility when we have to correct others from the Word of God.