Leaders and members of a local Church must be willing to occasionally speak truth into the lives of those who don’t appear to desire it.
This is part of being a truthful body of the one who said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6). The Church is always called to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
When an assembly of believers does not fellowship based in love and truth, it easily becomes a gathering based in superficiality and hypocrisy. It also ceases to be a light-bearing community for Christ.
Sometimes truth speaking involves loving confrontation if we desire genuine rather than superficial relationships. This is the difficult side to Christian fellowship. But we only perpetuate deception if we allow people to believe we’re on good terms with them despite deep violations of authentic relationship.
Confrontation is sometimes a matter of integrity and love and a non-negotiable step for those who care about others.
Yet confrontation is a difficult task. How many of us are willing to confront when we know that it’s needed but not welcomed? Are we willing to be instruments of godly sorrow? Do we care enough to confront?
Are you willing to tolerate a bad relationship instead of confronting others? Some people feel it’s less complicated to assume that a person in need of confrontation is not open to correction. Or, we chose to retreat behind the notion that we should simply mind our own business. But we’re misguided if we think that it’s right to accept superficial and dysfunctional relationships. This is not the loving option.
I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t be concerned about whether people are open to correction. But what should we do when we have good reasons for doubting that those in need of confrontation are open to it? It’s wise to be cautious and to balance the advice of Proverbs 26:4-6 “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 26:4-6)
In Matthew 7:1-6, Jesus taught the need for caution when getting involved in the lives of others. After emphasizing the priority of self-judgment before making any judgments about others, he warned against “casting pearls before swine.” In principle, this implies that there are people who are not worthy of confrontation – no doubt partly because they’re not receptive to it. But if those people are hurting others, we must confront them to protect others.
Godly vs. worldly sorrow
If we choose to confront, we must be able to distinguish between godly and worldly sorrow. The biblical text that reveals this difference is II Corinthians 7:8-11. Understanding this text will help to protect us from being manipulated or deceived by those who display sorrow without true repentance. In these verses, the apostle provides a vivid description of true repentance (i.e. godly sorrow) and exposes the deception of false repentance (i.e. worldly sorrow).
“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. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 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” (II Cor. 7:8-11).
“The sorrow of the world, indeed is not something distinct from sin; on the contrary, it partakes of the very essence of sin. It is not sorrow because of the heinousness of sin as rebellion against God, but sorrow because of the painful and unwelcome consequences of sin. Self is its central point; and self is also the central point of sin. Thus the sorrow of the world manifests itself in self-pity rather than in contrition and turning to God for mercy” (Philip Hughes, 2 Corinthians, N.I.C.N.T., pp 272-273).
Four essential considerations
1. God’s instruments of sorrow
The apostle paints a real-to-life picture of how one ought to feel about being an instrument of godly sorrow:
“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.” (II Cor. 7:8-9)
Did you notice the vacillating back and forth communicated in these verses? This is the kind of tension one feels in being an instrument of sorrow. No pleasure is taken in bringing pain into the lives of others. But sometimes love requires us to take this role. You need courage and faith to embrace a ministry of intervention and grace to accept the possibility of being misunderstood.
Confronting others about deception and sin is a risky ministry of love. We must be willing to suffer changes or even loss of relationships. Sometimes when we choose to be instruments of godly sorrow, those we confront turn on us and malign us. This is what happened to the apostle Paul in Corinth. The apostle took the painful path of temporary misunderstanding to gain deeper and lasting relationship based in truth and love with those who responded with godly sorrow.
2. Godly sorrow comes from true believers
“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret,” (II Cor. 7:10). This could be translated, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that points to the reality of salvation or indicates salvation.
When confronted about error, sin or false doctrine, genuine believers will ultimately come to their senses and acknowledge the truth. They might respond with resistance or anger at first. If so, those who confront must not over-react or lower themselves to the level of anger. Church leaders must view it as pastoral rather than personal. They must trust God’s Spirit to cultivate conviction. Genuinely saved people will ultimately respond to their sin with godly sorrow (cf. Matthew 5:3; Luke 18:9-14;I Peter 5:6).
3. Worldly sorrow must be detected: “….but worldly sorrow brings death.”
Worldly sorrow is perhaps best understood when contrasted with the description ofgodly sorrow in II Corinthians 7:11. Worldly sorrow brings death because it is sinful and sin leads to death (Romans 6:23a; James 1:14-15). Worldly sorrow is self-centered and is typified in Cain’s self-pity over the consequences brought on by his sin (see: Genesis 4).
4. Godly sorrow described and detected
“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.” (II Cor. 7:11)
Seven characteristics of godly sorrow:
After Paul had confronted the congregation about their refusal to properly deal with a sinful member, they responded with godly sorrow. Consider the elements of godly sorrow.
See what this godly sorrow has produced in you:
- earnestness – intense and earnest care (not a passive acquiescing).
- eagerness to clear yourselves – a desire to be exonerated.
- indignation – probably toward themselves for allowing sin to go unchecked in their assembly ( or, toward the sinful member cf. 2:6-7).
- alarm/fear– toward God for their failure to respond properly to his apostle (cf. 4:21).
- longing – a desire to be restored to their proper place and to fellowship with Paul.
- concern – a burning desire to do what is right.
- readiness – to see justice done – (i.e. to see things corrected and made right). Because of their repentance, the apostle could say to them, “At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.”
Godly sorrow involves a willingness to take seriously the offense committed. True repentance flows out of humility (Luke 18:9-17), and a readiness to accept responsibility. A visible and wholehearted change of behavior follows true repentance (godly sorrow). It produces “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8a). The apostle Paul said, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20b).
When called by God to be instruments of godly sorrow prayerfully take inventory of your own heart before confronting others. Then go in a spirit required in Galatians 6:1-3
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.”