“Sorrow that Leads to Joy”
In our text for today, Paul emphasizes that there is a great difference between sorrow of the godly sort and sorrow of the world. In that great film, "Gone With the Wind," there’s a scene that wonderfully illustrates this point. In a particular scene of the movie, Rhett Butler (played by the late Clark Gable) and Scarlett (played by the late Vivian Lee) are arguing back and forth about something Scarlett says she regrets. Rhett says to her, “You are not at all sorry, you’re like the thief that stole - he’s not sorry he took something that didn’t belong to him, he’s just sorry that he got caught!”
Worldly sorrow is a sorrow that is borne out of the regret of “getting caught.” Worldly sorrow causes one to conform. Godly sorrow causes one to transform. In our text for today, Paul’s words brought about Godly sorrow and a transforming of the hearts of his readers. If Paul were to write us a letter today, I wonder what words he would use. I wonder if we would need to be made “sorry after a godly sort,” in order that we would grow in spiritual matters.
In Jesus’ parables of the two sons (Matthew 21: 28-32) He shares how a father with two sons asked both of them to go out into the vineyard and work. When he asked one son to go - he flatly turned his father down, but then he ended up going. When he asked the other son would he go, he said “yes!” but ended up doing nothing. Jesus likened the two sons unto the religious people and those who were thought to be heathens. The heathens (in Jesus’ day - tax collectors, prostitutes, drunks etc.) started out the wrong way - they started out by saying, “no,” but after being touched by God’s Word they repented and ended up doing the things that are pleasing in God’s sight. But the religious folks said all along that they would obey the Lord - they would keep his word, they would spread the good news about the coming of the Lord and they ended up doing nothing.
If Paul were to write us a letter today, I wonder what words he would have for us. We need to ask ourselves, are we like the religious leaders who said we would go for Jesus, live for Jesus, witness for Jesus, have hearts and minds and attitudes like Jesus, but ended up being worse than the so-called heathens?
Every now and then, all of us need to take a spiritual inventory to see how we’ve grown, how we’ve changed, how we’ve matured in our walk with Jesus Christ. One commentator had this to say about the new life we should have in Christ:
“Where the heart is changed, the life and actions will be changed. The changed heart has indignation towards sin. The changed heart is watchful and has a cautious fear of sin. The changed heart has a desire to be reconciled with God.” End quoteIt is so easy to fall into complacency and religiosity. Every now and then we must ask ourselves the hard questions. We must ask ourselves, “What have I done to make a difference today? What have I done to help someone today? What have I done to draw some lost soul to Jesus Christ today? What have I done to right a wrong I’ve done today?
There are some sad pages in history that tell of Christians becoming complacent and frozen by religiosity and missing the true call of God to live authentic Christian lives. A fellow from Nazi Germany shared that his church was built near the railroad tracks where trains carrying thousands of Jews to their death in the concentration camps would pass. And he said that it seemed that the trains would come down the track right at the time when they were singing their hymns. But rather than be grieved and disturbed by the haunting sound of the trains, taking thousands to their death - they just closed their windows and sang louder.
Back in the 50’s and 60’s when African Americans were being lynched and tarred and feathered, it’s said that so-called Christians would go to church, let church out early, pack a picnic and then go and watch a lynching. And while those examples may seem extreme, we must ask ourselves, what injustices, what mean actions, what corrupt or dysfunctional activity are we placidly sitting by and watching as we sing songs and read our bibles?
In our own lives, what are we doing to grow closer to the Lord? What are we doing to seek more of God’s will and purpose for our lives? In our prayer life, how dedicated are we to listening to the Lord’s voice instead of always coming to the altar with our own agendas? When’s the last time you sat in the Lord’s presence and asked Him to show you His will, His Word, His way for your life? We need to ask ourselves the questions, “Am I a new creation in Christ today?” We need to ask ourselves, “How have I changed? Is my relationship with the Lord deeper?” When’s the last time you asked the Lord to search you and know you - to try you and see if there be any wicked way in you? We all need to take a spiritual inventory from time to time. If we do, we’ll find that there are areas in our lives that need pruning, that need cutting away, that need cultivating, that need reshaping and remolding.
If we’ll take the time to open our hearts and pray and seek the Lord’s face, He will show us the things in our lives that grieve Him. And soon the things that grieve the Lord will grieve us. We’ll develop a great disdain for sin and we will seek to distance ourselves as far as possible from those things, those attitudes, those behaviors, those activities, those relationships that we know are displeasing to God. We’ll sorrow after a godly sort when we know that our lives are not what God would have them to be. But our grief, our sorrow can be turned into joy. Once we acknowledge our sinful ways, once we recognize that our lives are not in line with what God’s word says - if we ask God’s forgiveness and seek His direction, He will lead us into the path of righteousness.
If you wrestle with impatience or a short temper, the Lord can strengthen you and help you to have self control and patience. If you wrestle with anger and bitterness, the Lord can help you to find healthy ways to express and release that anger and sweeten that bitterness in your heart and mind. Sometimes that means finding an accountability partner - someone who will pray with and for you, someone who will “check you,” in other words gently remind you of your commitment to release your hostility when you are drowning in self-pity and anger. Sometimes it means you’ll have to confront someone who’s hurt you - telling them the truth in love, rather than complaining and telling everyone else what they’ve done that you don’t like. If you’ll do these things, your sorrow will be turned to joy. Why, because you’ll have the peace of God.
May we “sorrow after a Godly sort,” then our sorrow will be turned into joy and our mourning into dancing.
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Until Next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,