A Catalyst for Christian Zeal

2 Corinthians 7:6-13 ESV -  But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 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. 8 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. 9 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.10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 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. 12 So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. 13 Therefore we are comforted.  And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all.
 
The Corinthian church had become apathetic about basic elements of Christianity, to the point they were proudly tolerating gross sexual immorality in the church (1 Corinthians 5).  God used the Apostle Paul to expose the sin, to condemn the sin, and to give a serious command to the church leadership for how to deal with the sin.  In 2 Corinthians, Paul celebrates the obedience of the church for making the hard call in dealing with this church-wide sin.  Though one man was chiefly in immorality, the church was in sin for tolerating it openly.  Paul celebrates their response in the text above.  Notice what occurred…
 
A radical change of heart. 
 
Why?  Because, the Corinthian church could still be persuaded by a minister (whom many of them did not particularly like) of their wrongdoing and feel godly sorrow for their actions (or inaction/apathy).  Sorrow, grief, guilt, and shame are loaded words.  Unfortunately English does not capture the multiple meanings that the Scripture presents.  All four of these words have positive and negative contexts and applications according to the Bible.  Consider the prophetic picture of the Gospel in Isaiah 53.  Messiah bears our sorrows, griefs, guilt, and shame.  Yet, it is often those very emotions and realities that awaken us from apathy to pursue God.  They can be good and accurate in a given context or bad and inaccurate in another.  Is sorrow good or bad?  It depends on whether it is godly sorrow or worldly sorrow.  And we know which type it is by the behavior it produces.  Worldly sorrow leads to self-condemnation and feelings of unfixable failure.  Worldly sorrow is dark, life-draining, and produces spiritual and emotional death.  In extreme cases, it can lead to suicidal tendencies as it is the opposite of life-giving and definitely NOT the work of the Holy Spirit.  Godly sorrow provokes a change of heart (repentance) that spurs new behaviors that are life-giving and life-restoring, motivational and desirous of hope.  While Christians do not keep getting water baptized over and over, the need for the heart-change (repentance) is consistent due to our fallen nature and capacity for spiritual apathy and carelessness.  This isn’t to guilt-trip anyone, but it describes the typical human condition - even in the church.  We never drift toward holiness or becoming more like Jesus, it takes grace-empowered intentionality and consistent actions that are not our natural bent.
 
But look what godly grief produced in Corinth… It was the catalyst that spurred apathetic Christians to radically shift their mindset (repentance) that led to God’s rescue.  The fruit of this mind shift included their desire to erase their embarrassment, a righteous disgust toward sin, a renewed fear of Almighty God, a hunger to do right and punish unrepentant evil.  Yet one other aspect of this mind shift emerged - zeal.  
 
The Corinthian church had a renewed zeal for Paul’s ministry, even though he rebuked them harshly and commanded them to do some hard things.  The grace of God is evident when Christians actually increase in zeal for the ministries that challenge and correct us in the Lord.  True zeal that comes about from true repentance does not resent, reject, or otherwise shoot the messenger.  Rather there is renewed passion for such valuable ministries, even when they minister in ways that we don’t always enjoy.  Paul sent Titus and they intentionally refreshed him!  The Corinthians experienced a renewed zeal for God and His church, seeking to grow in holiness and life-giving service to others.  The catalyst for their personal “revival” was an openness to see where they had failed and a willingness to be corrected and obedient.  The result was renewed and revived passion in living for God.  These challenges are ones all Christians face.
 
How would you personally receive the harsh words of a proven minister like Paul in his writing to Corinth? (see 1 Corinthians)  What would have happened to the Corinthians if they had resented or rejected Paul’s exposure of their wrongdoing?  Or his command to change their behavior?  Or his harsh exercise of church discipline upon a sinning church member?  Do you believe most American Christians would embrace the catalyst for renewed zeal found in Paul’s God-inspired writings to the Corinthians?  Would you?  If you ever lost your zeal for God and the success of His kingdom, would you want God to awaken you no matter the discomfort?