“The Joys of Sorrow”
Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered: Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter
rises, was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your
being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your [drink] the very
cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit,
the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart
and you shall find it is only that which has given
you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart,
and you shall see that in truth you are weeping
for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,”
and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with
you at your [table], remember that the other is
asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales
between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at
standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh
his gold and his silver, needs must your joy
or your sorrow rise or fall.
Perhaps it seems unusual to introduce biblical teaching with a poem. But it really shouldn’t. Whole sections of Scripture use the genre of poetry and the Holy Spirit inspired those writers just as much as He did those who wrote prose. I used this poem because it introduces so well the concept of mingled joy and sorrow that we see in our Scripture text for today.
Paul’s relationship with the Believers in Corinth was a mixture of joy and sorrow. In our text, Second Corinthians 7:2 to 12, he shares deeply from his own heart regarding his relationships with them. Based on Paul’s words and our mutual experiences in life, I’ve titled this teaching, “The Joys of Sorrow.”
I invite you to listen carefully as I read our text, II Corinthians 7:2-12.
In this portion of his letter, Paul reveals the mingling of joy and sorrow in several AREAS of life.
The First AREA of mingled joy and sorrow is,
Reassurance in Relationships
Paul’s letters reveal him to be a man of deep emotions. He wrote about the whole range of human feelings, from ecstatic joy to deep anxiety. His writings include situations where those extremes are mingled together. This text describes one of those situations.
Like Paul, our relationships with other people are the source of much joy and sorrow. We know from the previous study there were factions in the church in Corinth. Some people were solidly behind Paul, others made false accusations against him. Paul’s experience with these Believers was an ongoing mixture of joy and sorrow. But his goal was always to bring people together through Jesus. As Christ-followers that should be our goal too.
Notice how gracious Paul was with those who rejected him. He appealed to them to make space in their hearts for him. In spite of their accusations that he and his leadership team had wronged them and taken advantage of them; he reassured them of his love. He restated his innocence, but he didn’t harp on it. That wasn’t his main concern.
Too often, that’s where we get hung up. We feel we must convince others of our innocence. We push back against accusations to the point where the accusers, to salvage their own reputation, have to resist that pushback! None of us likes to admit we’re wrong. Both responses are motivated by our pride. Pride leads to contention and broken relationships.
Paul said, “I have no desire to condemn you. As followers of Jesus, our hearts are bound together in His love for life and death.” His concern was for the restoration of the relationship.
In verse 4, Paul switches his writing, for the first time in this letter, to the first-person. He writes, “great is MY boldness of speech toward you, great is MY boasting of you to others. MY comfort and encouragement are full, and MY joy is overflowing in all my affliction.” Paul wanted the Corinthian Believers to know clearly how important their relationship was to him.
In spite of their relational struggles, in spite of his confrontation of their sin, he reassured them that he was one with them in Christ. The Corinthian Believers were an encouragement and a joy to him, and he was not shy about bragging about them to whoever would listen.
How different would our churches be if we followed Paul’s example of reassuring our brothers and sisters of our love for them? Is it possible to disagree with someone, even vehemently, and still love them as Jesus did? Paul’s example gives us a clear answer.
Too many times, we allow our pride in our “rightness” to get in our way. Yes, the truth is important, but the way we present it is almost as important. Paul took his own advice from his letter to the Ephesians, the command to speak the truth in love. When people are convinced that our love for them is genuine, when they trust us, it enables us to engage constructively, even in areas of significant disagreement.
Are you able to reassure others of their value to you? Are you willing to do everything in your power to reassure them of your love for them? If you are, then, what originally caused you sorrow will often be transformed into joy.
The Next AREA of mingled joy and sorrow is,
Repentance in Regret
Verse six opens with strong contrast. In verse five, Paul refers to his original experience in Macedonia (chapter 2, verse 13) and the trials, fears, and anxieties he experienced there. Then, he says, “BUT GOD!” These words are emphatic in the original text.
What did God do? God comforted us. (Note the switch back to ‘us’ from ‘my’). Comfort is a major theme in this letter. If you go back to chapter one, Paul uses some form of the word, parakaleo, the word for comfort, 10 times in 5 verses! How did God bring him comfort at this stage of the relationship? In part, through the coming of Titus.
What was so comforting about Titus’ coming? Aside from the fact that he was a close associate of Paul, it was his report from Corinth that brought comfort. Titus told of the Corinthians’ strong affection and yearning for Paul; they missed him! And he also reported their deep sorrow, including their verbal expressions of grief.
The reason for that great comfort was their changed attitude toward Paul. It was so different from the accusations, the insinuations, and the conflict they’d previously experienced. What changed their attitude? Repentance. Paul addresses regret and repentance; they’re related, but they’re not the same.
Verse 8 says, “even though my letter made you sad, I don’t regret sending it, though I did regret sending it after I heard about your initial response.” Paul had sent them a “severe letter” that has been lost to us. He was sorry the Corinthians were made sad by his letter. Paul didn’t enjoy making people sad, but neither was he afraid to confront sin.
Most faithful pastors/teachers struggle with this. We know that, in the church, sin needs to be confronted and sometimes discipline must be exercised. We try to do it in the spirit of Christ, with humility, and an awareness of our own weaknesses, but then in our humanity, we worry about how it will be received. Like Paul, we may even regret saying or doing anything about the situation. We’re just not sure how people will respond!
But Paul’s regret was short-lived. What brought joy out of his initial sorrow over the situation was that the sorrow or regret produced by his letter motivated repentance. The initial feelings of sadness were only for a short time, and they were followed by a genuine change of heart. He says, “you were made sorry as God intended, and that sorrow brought you gain.”
What was the gain? It was the joy of being restored to a right relationship with God and with Paul. The Scriptures, particularly the New Testament, make it clear that if we are estranged from our brothers and sisters in the Lord, that produces alienation from God too.
And just so his readers wouldn’t miss the point about the different outcomes of regret, he contrasts the sorrow of the world and the sorrow of those who genuinely know Christ. Think of the regret of men like Esau in the Old Testament, and Judas in the New Testament.
Esau was sorry he “sold” his birthright; he despised it by treating it lightly. Even though he regretted doing that, he never came to the place of genuine repentance. Judas, too, was sorry for betraying Jesus. He could have been like Peter and experienced the Lord’s forgiveness. But his sorrow led, not to repentance, but to despair and death. The kind of sorrow that doesn’t produce repentance is depressing and deadly, and our world is filled with it.
I’ve experienced that kind of sorrow; sorrow that I got caught, sorrow because I was embarrassed, sorry for the consequences of my sin. I condemned myself for my stupidity. That’s the sorrow of the world and there is no redemption in it. Genuine, godly sorrow always leads to repentance, to a change in belief and behavior. It’s turning away from the past and turning to God for the future. It is a sorrow we don’t need to be sorry for. I can tell you from personal experience, that kind of sorrow results in great joy!
The Final AREA of mingled joy and sorrow is,
Restoration in Fellowship
As the Corinthians “sorrowed in a godly manner,” verse 11, what was the result? It made them eager to experience the restoration of fellowship with Paul, and it gave them diligence in making it happen. There’s an untranslatable energy here in the original language. Wanting something and having it are different things and, apparently, the Corinthian Believers were willing to pay the price to obtain the restoration of fellowship.
And how did they go about that? Paul lists six results of their godly sorrow that fall somewhat naturally into pairs. First is “clearing of yourselves and indignation.” These two items relate to the Believers in Corinth.
If you recall, some in Corinth had wanted to shield the offender. Whether this was the immoral man referenced in his first letter or the person who was leading the faction opposed to Paul, we don’t know. But either way, the majority of the church made it clear that they wanted to be out from under this cloud of suspicion and divisiveness. They were apologizing for their failure to stand with Paul on the side of the truth.
Next, Paul mentions “fear and vehement desire.” These two items relate to their relationship with Paul. As you may recall, he threatened to come to them with a rod in his first letter (4:21). That fear may have led them to delay Paul’s coming and resist his apostolic authority. But now, they have renounced that fear and they’re eager for a visit from Paul. This eagerness was one of the things in Titus’ report that brought so much joy to Paul (verse 7).
The last couplet is “zeal and vindication.” These two items relate to the offender(s). The Corinthians had a strong desire to correct the mistakes of the past. That is a sure sign of genuine repentance. They had failed, either by taking the side of the offenders or refusing to speak up and confront their sin. Now, that would change. The offenders would be disciplined according to God’s standards.
In light of their godly response, Paul pronounced them clear in the whole matter. Whatever their former carelessness or conniving, their actions on receiving his disciplinary letter vindicated their character. Paul’s response here is so instructive. He doesn’t go back and rehash all their faults and failures. He doesn’t hold them at arm’s length until they prove themselves. No, he just accepts their repentance and pronounces the matter closed.
Paul reminded them that his primary reason for sending that previously severe letter was not so much about them individually or about the offender. It was mainly to reassure them of his care. Maybe you’re thinking, “humph, a severe letter reassuring me of someone’s care? Yeah, right!” Yes, it was, and it can be.
Our culture has influenced us with the idea that confronting sin isn’t loving or caring. But that isn’t the view of Scripture. Paul understood the connections between joy and sorrow. He would gladly cause temporary sorrow to promote and secure eternal joy. We should do likewise.
Have you experienced the joys of sorrow? Are you dealing gently and graciously with those who have offended you? Are people able to sense that you genuinely care for them despite your differences? Is your greatest concern their spiritual well-being rather than removing a source of irritation?
Have you experienced repentance in regret; genuine heartfelt sorrow for the way your sin has impacted your relationship with God and others? If you have, then you know the deep joy that wells up within your spirit, even to the point of being moved to tears.
And finally, the joy of renewed fellowship brings freedom and restoration. No more wondering what’s going on behind your back. No more second-guessing people’s motives. Instead, there’s a mutual understanding that we are brothers and sisters in Christ on the same team, on the same side of the struggle.
With a renewed understanding of the Scripture, let’s recognize that joy and sorrow will be interwoven until we reach our final destination – Heaven. There, ALL will be joy and sorrow will be no more. Praise God!