MDB 46: 2 Cor 7
2 Corinthians 7:8-9 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it--though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting.
In reflecting on his previous letter to the Corinthian church, the apostle is rightly mindful to draw attention to the grief that his letter caused among his recipients, not to mention the grief he himself experienced. What the apostle is expressing here is precisely what we often want to express to others when our sometimes-necessary words of admonition have perhaps left them upset. The hard question Paul was addressing, and the question we so often wrestle with, concerns the necessity and ultimate purpose of such words that result in such grief, whether they are words to our children, friends, Christian brothers and sisters, or congregations--or even the necessary words we sometimes must preach to ourselves on account of the conviction of the Holy Spirit within our hearts.
The apostle desired to make it absolutely clear that although he is grieved because they grieved, he is also rejoicing because their temporary grief was in fact a godly grief that led to life-giving repentance. The apostle's hard words were the tough-loving words of a formerly tough man who was being faithful to God's calling to preach His truth in season and out of season to proud saints who had put their obstinate hands over their oft-tickled ears. And in demonstrating the same tough love that God had graciously showed him in knocking him to the ground, blinding him, and rebuking him for persecuting His church, Paul could rest assured that his hard words were good words for their much needed hardship and their own good. Paul had no choice but to stand firm in his calling to preach to the Corinthians the Gospel in its fullness, and his rejoicing was only on account of the fact that his words, in the course of secondary causes, were used by the Holy Spirit, in the course of God's primary cause, to convict them, humble them, and turn their appropriately teary eyes to Christ and to His "salvation without regret."
With great anxiety, pastors and teachers often struggle with the hard words we are sometimes called to communicate to others. For we neither sit in easy chairs nor speak easy words, for such words lead to death--first our own death and then the death of our hearers--death to self and sin.
Pastor: Even when it's most tempting to do otherwise, preach the whole counsel of God--even when that counsel is meddling, convicting, and hard-hitting, knowing always that such counsel, by God's design, is spirit-awakening, fruit-bearing, and convert-making counsel. Parishioner: If you are about the regular devilish business of covering your ears every Lord's Day, pray that the Lord would grant you the strength to lower your hands and grant you the ears that not only don't want to be tickled but hate it when someone tries to tickle them. And, if your pastor's words don't ever make you feel a little beat up or grieved, he's likely not preaching the Gospel.
Burk Parsons serves as minister of congregational life at Saint Andrew's Chapel, and he is the editor of Tabletalk, the monthly Bible-study magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He holds a degree in biblical studies from Trinity College and the master of divinity degree from Reformed Theological Seminary. He is the also the editor of Assured By God: Living in the Fullness of God's Grace published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishers. He and his wife Amber live in Longwood, Florida, with their children.