Make room for us in your hearts; we wronged no one, we corrupted no one, we took advantage of no one. I do not speak to condemn you; for I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together. Great is my confidence in you, great is my boasting on your behalf; I am filled with comfort. I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction." ... you are in our hearts to die together and to live together." A gratuitous picture of the order of things in Christianity: first we die, and only then do we live. How true that is, and on more than one level.
For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side; conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more. For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it -- for I see that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while -- I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, in order that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you; what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you it was not for the sake of the offender, nor for the sake of the one offended, but that your earnestness on our behalf might be made known to you in the sight of God. For this reason we have been comforted.
And besides our comfort, we rejoiced even much more for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. For if in anything I have boasted to him about you, I was not put to shame; but as we spoke all things to you in truth, so also our boasting before Titus proved to be the truth. And his affection abounds all the more toward you, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. I rejoice that in everything I have confidence in you.
As Paul rejoices in his reconciliation with the Corinthians (in 1 Corinthians he was scolding pretty heavily), he -- or the Holy Spirit, through him -- also teaches generally about the consequences of wrongs, and about repentance. The teaching is summed up fairly completely in just one sentence: "For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death." When a person who intends well does wrong, and becomes aware of it, that person is made sorrowful. The sorrow of the guilty believer drives him to God in genuine repentance, and God uses that in His way to build up that believer; looking back at the entire process, the believer does not regret it, because God has brought a net good out of it. The unbeliever, though -- the "virtuous pagan," if you will -- is on his own. He is devastated, but not repentant, because repentance is a process not available to him; he lacks the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. At best, he may be moved to a grit-your-teeth, do-it-yourself Stoic self-improvement project; and when that project ends in failure, as it always does, what's left is depression. "The sorrow of the world produces death."
The Lord doesn't "help those who help themselves;" He helps those who ask Him, which in practice means those who can't help themselves, and know it. And that's a lesson I continue to learn, over and over again.
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