Godly Confrontation (2 Corinthians 7:5-16)
Big Idea: The right kind of godly confrontation can lead to health and joy.
One of the main differences in how we relate to each other is the level of confrontation with which we’re comfortable.
Some of us are pretty direct. We saw this last week on the cruise we took. At the end of the first dinner, the server said, “I hope you’ll come back and allow me to serve you tomorrow night.” We didn’t, so we ended up a couple of tables away with a different waiter. The server from the first night came up to us and said, “Good to see you again. I told you to reserve with me again tonight. I see you didn’t follow my advice.” And then she walked away. She had a pretty high tolerance for confrontation.
But others of us are much more indirect. We avoid conflict. The problem is that this isn’t always a healthy option, because the root issues never get addressed.
The challenge is how to confront in a healthy way that actually resolves the issue and that brings healing and encouragement. This is important personally, and it’s important if we are going to maintain the gospel culture of safety we want here. We want to know how healthy, godly confrontation works, no matter if we love confrontation or if we’re terrified of it.
So today we want to look at what Scripture says. We’ve been looking at Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.
From this passage we learn two important lessons.
First: We need godly confrontation.
I used to drive Charlene to work. I remember driving up the highway at 110 km per hour and, for some reason, loosely releasing my grip on the steering wheel. Sure enough, the car never continued going straight. It always veered to one side. It’s why cars need wheel alignments — and it’s a pretty good picture of us as well.
Here’s the truth about us: we are constantly out of alignment. At least I am, and I suspect you are too. I could have the best day in which I feel close to God, where I’m praying all throughout the day, and in which I feel the reality of God’s love. But here’s the reality: the next day I wake up a sinner. Every day I ask myself, “What happened?” Overnight lethargy sets in, and so every day I have to start all over again and seek God for one more day. I just naturally go out of alignment.
But there’s another level to this. Cars get out of alignment by driving on bad roads. The more potholes you hit, the quicker your car will be out of alignment. We live on bumpy roads. We looked at this a couple of weeks ago. Here’s the reality: if you want to follow and love Jesus with all of your heart, we live in one of the hardest cultures in which to do so. We are fighting a riptide. All you have to do to be drawn away from your devotion to Christ is nothing. We all get off course. We need to just expect it.
And that’s where godly confrontation comes in. We have to begin with this knowledge: we all need it.
In the letter we have before us, we have an example of godly confrontation. We read in 2:4: “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you” (2 Corinthians 2:4). The church in Corinth had a number of issues. One of them is that a group within the church had stirred up conflict against Paul, who had started the church. They were making all kinds of false accusations against him. Paul weighed how to respond, but he did so gently and yet strongly.
And in the passage we just read, Paul says that he’s glad that he did:
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. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. (2 Corinthians 7:8-9)
Here’s what I want us to see. Confrontation was very difficult for both the confronted and for the church. And yet it was absolutely necessary. If the confrontation had never happened, the church would have become sick. The right kind of confrontation was hard, but it brought healing and health to the church.
Justin Buzzard, a pastor in California, writes of the culture he’s trying to build in his church:
Run to the tension.
I’ve been teaching our leaders and our whole church to “run to the tension” as they lead and navigate relationships in our church and in our city.
When conflict, tension, and difficulty shows up, run to it. Face it. Deal with it. Lead through it now, not later.
Our instinct is to ignore tension, but ignoring conflict now will only make for a bigger and messier conflict three months from now.
We’re used to running away from tension because we think the first signs of conflict mean the beginning of the end of a relationship. Not true. Conflict is normal in every relationship and navigating conflict with humility and direct communication makes relationships stronger and healthier.
Run to the tension.
The first part of this sermon is for those of us who know we need to confront others, but we’re scared out of our minds. Here’s what I’m not saying. Let’s not become a church that’s always rebuking others. If you enjoy confrontation, you probably need to stop confronting others. It’s a problem. This needs to be a church in which we’re encouraging each other on a regular basis, affirming our live for each other, encouraging others, outdoing ourselves in showing honor to each other. At least 80% of what we say to each other should be positive and encouraging.
Within that kind of culture, we need to love each other enough to not just encourage but confront when necessary. It should be hard. But when we someone who is endangering themselves spiritually, we need to love them enough to do the hard thing and go to them and say, “I’m concerned for you.” When there is a real issue that needs to be sorted out, we need to run to it instead of away from it.
How do you do this? It’s a matter of both heart and skill. “It takes both toughness and tenderness to rescue people from sin,” says one person (S. Bowen Matthews). Pray for a heart of toughness and tenderness. And then learn the skills of healthy confrontation. Mostly it involves spending most of your time encouraging, and then approaching someone in a non-accusatory way and saying something like, “I could be wrong, but I’m seeing this issue and wanted to ask you about it because I care for you. Help me understand.” Get help and counsel from others when you need it. Learn how to separate minor issues from major issues. As Jude says: “And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 1:22-23).
Friends: we need godly confrontation. We need it individually and as a church. So run to the tension instead of away from it. Can we commit to run to gentle, godly, healthy confrontation when it’s necessary, even if it’s hard? It should be hard! But let’s commit to doing it, as gently and tenderly as possible. But let’s still do it!
That’s the first lesson we learn. Here’s the second.
Second: The right kind of godly confrontation can lead to health and joy.
Look at the results of Paul’s confrontation in verse 9: “you were grieved into repenting.” Their relationship with Paul, which had been troubled, began to heal, so that Paul could say in verses 6-7:
But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. (2 Corinthians 7:6-7)
If you read this whole passage, you read words like comforted, rejoiced, and refreshed. Because the confrontation was healthy, and because the Corinthians responded in a godly way, it brought health and comfort and joy and refreshment to both Paul and to the church. That’s what healthy confrontation can bring to us individually and to the church.
But what did it take? It took someone who was willing to do the hard work of healthy confrontation, and then it took a church that was willing to repent in a godly way. Verses 10 and 11 say:
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. (2 Corinthians 7:10-11)
We need godly grief, godly repentance. What’s the difference between godly grief and worldly grief?
There’s a kind of grief that is self-centered. It’s sorrow that we got caught, sorrow for the consequences we have to face. It’s regret. World grief is basically about us and how we feel. It doesn’t really change us. It’s not enough. Paul writes that this kind of grief produces death.
But there’s another kind of grief. It’s the grief that comes from knowing that we’ve offended a good and holy God. It realizes that we’ve “violated his law, rejected his Lordship, and made ourselves gods in his place. Godly grief recognizes the utter sinfulness of sin and hates it more and more” (Kevin DeYoung).
The Heidelberg Catechism (Answer 89) gives a good definition of godly grief. Godly grief “is to be genuinely sorry for sin, to hate it more and more, and to run away from it.”
That’s why every week we confess our sins during the service and then run to the cross. The good news we proclaim every week is this from the New City Catechism:
Can anyone keep the law of God perfectly?
Since the fall, no mere human has been able to keep the law of God perfectly, but consistently breaks it in thought, word, and deed.
Is there any way to escape punishment and be brought back into God’s favor?
Yes, to satisfy his justice, God himself, out of mere mercy, reconciles us to himself and delivers us from sin and from the punishment for sin, by a Redeemer.
Does Christ’s death mean all our sins can be forgiven?
Yes, because Christ’s death on the cross fully paid the penalty for our sin, God graciously imputes Christ’s righteousness to us as if it were our own and will remember our sins no more.
Because of these truths, we can confess our sins with joy and accept rebuke because we have a Savior who cleanses and forgives us. We can repent with joy.
Frederica Mathewes-Green writes:
Repentance is the doorway to the spiritual life, the only way to begin. It is also the path itself, the only way to continue. Anything else is foolishness and self-delusion. Only repentance is both brute-honest enough, and joyous enough, to bring us all the way home. But how repentance could be either joyous or vibrantly true is a foreign idea to most of us.
So let me ask you: are you willing to run to to the tension? Are you willing to love others enough to confront when it’s needed, gently, tenderly, but strongly? We can do this because of Jesus. And when we do, it will lead to health and joy both individually and as a church.