Even If I Caused You Sorrow: On Being Instruments of Godly Sorrow, Part 1

June 1, 2011

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Steve Cornell

Even If I Caused You Sorrow Part1

If you care about others, there may be occasions when you’ll need to be an instrument of sorrow in their lives. These are times when you have to say things they don’t want to, but need to hear.

When the people we care about choose selfish and destructive life-patterns, love compels us to confront them. But how many of us are willing to be instruments of sorrow in this way? Do we care enough to confront?

Why Confrontation Is Difficult

Why are so many people willing to tolerate dysfunctional relationships instead of confronting in love? Is it easier to accept superficial or even destructive relationships than to confront others? Is it just less complicated to assume that people aren’t open to correction or to retreat behind the thought that we should mind our own business?

Concern over whether people are open to correction is legitimate. What do we do when, for good reasons, we believe those in need of confrontation are not open to correction? How do we balance the demands of Proverbs 24:4-6?

“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes” (Proverbs 24:4-6)

Jesus taught about this in Matthew 7:1-6. After emphasizing that self-judgment must precede all involvement in the lives of others, he warned against “casting pearls before swine.” This implies that there are people who are not worthy of confrontation—no doubt because they’re not receptive to it.

When Confrontation Is Necessary

When people we love are destroying their own lives and hurting those around them, we must be willing to confront them. If we let them continue without saying a word, we show a profound lack of love for them and for the lives affected by them. Although difficult, confrontation is often non-negotiable for those who care about the wellbeing of others.

Loving confrontation is often necessary for maintaining genuine rather than superficial relationships. When we allow people to believe we’re on good terms with them despite deep violations of the relationship, we participate in deception not truth. Confrontation is also often non-negotiable for those who will not accept insincerity and hypocrisy.

“If we can restore to full and intimate fellowship with ourselves a sinning and unrepentant brother, we reveal not the depth of our love, but its shallowness, for we are doing what is not for his highest good. Forgiveness which bypasses the need for repentance issues not from love but from sentimentality (John R. W. Stott, Confess Your Sins, p.35).

Confrontation and Church Unity

Local church members and leaders must be willing on occasions to speak truth into the lives of those who don’t appear to desire it. When an assembly of believers exchanges unity based in love and truth for superficiality and hypocrisy, it ceases to be a light-bearing community for Christ.

But when we choose to confront, how do we know if the person is responding in a way that sincerely honors God? If the matter clearly involves objective wrongs, measurable changes will be part of a godly response. To help evaluate this kind of response, one must be able to distinguish between godly and worldly sorrow.

Godly vs. Worldly Sorrow

The biblical text that reveals this difference is 2 Corinthians 7:8-11. It offers a vivid description of true repentance (godly sorrow) and exposes the deception of false repentance (worldly sorrow). Some people display a show of sorrow or repentance to manipulate and deceive. We must not fall for this.

“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. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 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” (2 Cor. 7:8-11).

The Rest of the Story

In part two, we will consider four principles from this text as well as seven marks of godly sorrow.

Join the Conversation

How do you overcome your reluctance to confront—to speak the truth in love?


6 thoughts on “Even If I Caused You Sorrow: On Being Instruments of Godly Sorrow, Part 1

  1. This was a really helpful post. One question I have from past experience is this: In those cases where confrontation is accompanied by an ultimatum for the good of the individual, how can one prevent the misconception that the actions taken are restorative rather than punitive?

  2. This was a really helpful post. One question I have from past experience is this: In those cases where confrontation is accompanied by an ultimatum for the good of the individual, how can one prevent the misconception that the actions taken are restorative rather than punitive?

  3. Great question. The risk of being misunderstood is part of the painful work of confrontation. I love the way the apostle seems to vacillate back and forth when he wrote: 

    “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— 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” (8-9). This is a true picture of the kind hesitancy that should characterize the one who must take the role of confrontation. The entire book of II Corinthians relates in some measure to the misunderstanding of the Apostle. It’s a good book to study with this in mind.Often when we get to the point of ultimatum, the person is not likely to see clearly enough (at least not immediately) the way we are working for his ultimate good. I wrote another piece on being misunderstood in leadership that might be worth looking at: http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2007/12/26/help-i-am-being-misrepresented-how-should-i-respond/

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