complete confidence

One of the hardest things about my job is when I have to confront someone about sin. I hate it. In fact, I’ve lost a few parishioners, and even a couple of good friends because their sin stood in blatant contrast to their professed faith. It kills me. But it can’t be escaped. It’s part of the job. It’s part of the faith. And whenever I confront someone about sin and they respond favorably – i.e., by confessing their sin, repenting, and seeking restoration and righteousness – I know that it’s worth it. In fact, as hard as it is to confront someone about sin, it’s also probably the single most rewarding part of my job to see someone restored from sin. In fact, looking back on those moments when things went well, I can honestly say that those moments, when someone confesses and is subsequently restored to the Body, bring me a tremendous amount of joy. It’s as though I actually accomplished something meaningful! And as I consider St. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 7, I think he understood what I mean.

There, starting in verse 2, Paul described the joy he took in the church at Corinth. And that joy is significant. You see, in the first surviving letter from Paul to the Corinthian church, the tone was blatantly negative. The congregation had tolerated a a number of people to persist in a variety of grievous sins. Sexual immorality, factions and dissensions, and more were commonplace. In fact, one man had even married his own stepmother. As an apostle and church planter, Paul had to boldly confront the sin, and he did exactly that in the book of 1 Corinthians. But by the time he wrote this second letter to the church at Corinth, everything had changed. Rather than the broken, dysfunctional, corrupted church that they had been, the congregation had heard Paul’s bold words and responded in spectacular fashion.

And that’s why Paul took joy in them. But his joy was not just a simple smile and nod. Indeed, five times in 2 Corinthians 7:2-16, the apostle told them about his joy. In verse 4, for instance, he proclaimed that, because of them, he and his companions were “overcome with joy in all [their] afflictions.” In verse 7, he continued, “[Titus] told us about your deep longing, your sorrow, and your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more.” Verse 9: “Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance.” Verse 13: “For this reason we have been comforted. In addition to our comfort, we rejoiced even more over the joy Titus had, because his spirit was refreshed by all of you.” And verse 16: “I rejoice that I have complete confidence in you.”

Clearly, the church had changed! And Paul rejoiced as a result. But I notice today that it wasn’t just about the repentance. Indeed, Paul wasn’t stoked just because they had shifted their course. Rather, as I look through these five references, it strikes me that his joy was really founded upon one of the effects that their repentance had: namely, their relationship with him was restored.

Verse 5 tells how their joy in verse 4 started when they Titus arrived and told them about the reception he received from them. Verse seven speaks of joy resulting from the their renewed pursuit of God, which was essential to them being in proper relationship with the rest of the body of believers. Verse 9 reiterates the same. Verse thirteen gushes again about how they refreshed – a part of relationship – Titus and them. And then verse sixteen. As a result of their wholehearted repentance and the restoration of their relationship with Paul and the rest of the Church, he rejoiced because he could once again place complete confidence in them.

I don’t know that I can come up with a better reason to rejoice than a relationship restored. And restored after one had been guilty of violating trust and confidence, and the other had been compelled to blast them for it.

In my study of joy, I’ve already seen on numerous occasions how repentance and relationship can both lead to joy, but up until now, the two have been isolated from one another. 2 Corinthians 7, though, brings me to a very significant conclusion: repentance, relationship, and joy all enjoy a symbiotic relationship with one another. When I use a relationship to confront my friend’s sin, and they repent, thus restoring both horizontal and vertical relationships, there is joy to be found. And when someone uses their relationship with me to confront my sin, and I repent, thus restoring both horizontal and vertical relationships, there is joy to be found.

So what should I do with this? Well, I guess it reinforces something that I’m already doing and discovering. Recently, I started an accountability relationship with a dear friend, and we’ve been meeting regularly to ask each other tough questions. I can honestly say it has become a high point of my week. Already, we have challenged each other on a couple of fronts. And already we have encouraged each other on a number of issues. And I believe that our relationship is really bringing joy to both of us as a result.

So I guess I need to keep plugging away at that. Don’t be afraid to confront sin. And to hesitate to repent when necessary. And expect that a relationship like that will bring joy.

I don’t suppose I should be surprised. I mean, James 5:14-17, 19-20 does say, “Is anyone among you sick?” (The word sick carried the implication of “sin.”) “He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will restore him to health; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. My brother, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.”

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