Years ago, when I was quite young, my Mom and Dad sent me and my four younger siblings to a Bible Camp at Shorncliffe Lake near Czar, Alberta. And, as often happens at Bible Camps, they had a Vacation Bible School for the children that were there. I remember that our class met outside and it was led by a young woman who was probably in her late teens. During one of the classes early in the week, there was some joking around happening in the class and I said something that deeply insulted the teacher and she slapped me across the face. Immediately I had regret. I didn’t show it at the time, or at least I tried not to, but I wanted out of there as quickly as I could. When my Mom came to visit on Wednesday of that week, I begged her to take me home with me. But she wouldn’t do it. She made me stick it out. (Full disclosure: I did not share with my Mom what had happened in the class, which was my reason for wanting to go home.)
This blog post is based on 2 Corinthians 7:5-13. This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on November 4, 2018. To go to the podcast, click here.
Maybe you haven’t insulted a Vacation Bible School teacher, and maybe you haven’t had a teacher slap you across the face, but I think that I can safely assume that I share having feelings of regret about something with you. You see, we human beings live a finite existence in this world. None of us are going to get out of life in this world alive. Our lives here are a certain length and no more. And all of us have this inherent pattern of saying, thinking and doing things which we later regret. But is it possible that we could get to the end of this life and have no regrets, and if it is, how do we do that? Because it seems to me that being able to have no regrets at the end of life would be a very good thing.
Other people have also thought this and there are a couple of common approaches to dealing with this issue of living a finite life with no regrets. One of these is to live life to the fullest so that when we come to the end of our life in this world, there is nothing left, and then we will have no regrets. The second approach is to tell ourselves that, no matter what happens, no matter what other people might say to us, we never really do anything wrong. So then we don’t have to feel any regret.
Now there are some flaws with both these approaches. If we live life to the fullest, what we are doing is using up all the opportunities and resources that come to us for ourselves. Then, when our life is over, there is nothing left of value. But this leaves nothing left to make a lasting difference in the lives of others. This is essentially a self-centered approach because we are spending all of our lives on our selves.
When we pretend that we never do anything wrong, there are also problems with this approach because we are essentially talking ourselves into a life of denial. The truth is that there really are times when we really do things that really are wrong. We hurt ourselves. We hurt others. We disobey the God who created us, who loves us, and who knows us intimately and only wants what is best for us. Also, pretending that we never do anything wrong is never going to really help us, because whenever we get on the wrong track (and we always get on the wrong track), we will never get on the right track because we think that the wrong track is the right track.
The approach that I am going to set before you during this “No Regrets” series of posts is different from these two approaches. What I am suggesting to you is that the way to live life now so that a person has no regrets when they come to the end of their earthly lives is to put our life in the hands of Jesus and let Him be the director of our lives. Because in Jesus, we have something that we can find nowhere else. Jesus has all the forgiveness we need to wash away our guilt. Jesus has a new identity for us that will overcome all our shame. All that He is asking us to do is to turn around, to stop rushing headlong in the same direction we have always been going doing the same things that we have always been doing, and to pause for a moment and consider what Jesus might be saying to us as He speaks to us through the Bible. Then to turn around, have a change of heart and mind about what we have been doing, what we should be doing in the future and re-orientate ourselves to follow Jesus in the direction that He leads us. We let Him be the producer and director of our lives and we become the actor who steps into the role that He has cast us in.
Jesus will work in our lives to accomplish things that are far beyond anything that we could ask or imagine. When we come to the end of our lives, we will be able to look back and see all the amazing things that Jesus has done in our lives and recognize that those good things were not because of us. They were all because of Jesus because they are beyond anything that we could ever do. And then we can close our eyes and drift into the short sleep of death with no regrets because our life in this world was lived in the hands of Jesus and our life in the new heaven and earth to come will also be lived in the hands of Jesus. So there will be nothing to regret anymore.
This process of turning around is called repentance. Repentance is important because through repentance, we live in the forgiveness Jesus gives, enabling us to have no regrets with our selves.
To learn more about repentance and its role in our lives, I invite you to reflect with me on a passage from the Bible, 2 Corinthians 7:5-13 which is part of a letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christian Church in Corinth. To help you understand what is going on, here is some background to the passage. Paul along with others, helped start the Christian Church in Corinth during a year and a half stay while on his second missionary journey, which took place between 49 and 52 AD. Corinth was a very well-educated and prosperous city and was, in many ways, the greatest city of ancient Greece. But it had a reputation of being immoral and corrupt. And, as one might expect, the immoral influence in the culture was causing issues in this brand-new Christian church. We have the same thing happen today in our church and in our personal lives. The immoral influences around us connect with the sinful desires we have inside of us and lead us into saying, doing and thinking things that later cause us much regret.
Paul concluded his second missionary journey shortly after leaving Corinth. Soon thereafter, he began his third missionary journey during which he spent three years in Ephesus. While in Ephesus, Paul continued to care for and be concerned about the Christians in Corinth. He wrote a letter to the Corinthians (see 1 Cor. 5:9) which has been lost. Then Paul received a letter from Corinth, from the household of Chloe, with some questions. So Paul wrote a second letter to answer the questions and to explain what he wrote earlier. This letter is what we call 1 Corinthians. However, that letter did not clear up the issues.
So Paul left Ephesus to make a short, painful visit to Corinth during which he confronted the Corinthian Christians in person about tolerating sexual immorality in their midst. That painful visit did not seem to help either so Paul wrote a severe letter of rebuke and sent it to Corinth with Titus. That letter of rebuke has also been lost. Then Paul left Ephesus and went to Troas hoping to find Titus there, but he didn’t. Paul then went on to Macedonia and there Titus and Paul reconnected. Titus brought to Paul the great news that things in Corinth had gotten much better because the Corinthian Christians had begun dealing with the challenging issues in their church in a biblical way. Then Paul wrote another letter, which we call 2 Corinthians. Later, he left Macedonia and went to visit Corinth for a third time. While in Corinth on this visit, Paul wrote a letter to the Christian Church in Rome which is the book of Romans in the Bible. The main thing to remember about the background to 2 Corinthians 7:5-13 is that it helps us to see that there are in this passage four key components:
As we delve into the passage the first encounter the Relationship piece: 5 When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us. We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside. 6 But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. 7 His presence was a joy, but so was the news he brought of the encouragement he received from you. When he told us how much you long to see me, and how sorry you are for what happened, and how loyal you are to me, I was filled with joy! (2 Cor. 7:5-7)
Then we have the Rebuke portion: 8 I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while. (v. 8)
That is followed by Repentance: 9 Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. 10 For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. (vv. 9-10)
Finally, we have Restoration (which is getting back on the right track with God): 11 Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right.12 My purpose, then, was not to write about who did the wrong or who was wronged. I wrote to you so that in the sight of God you could see for yourselves how loyal you are to us. 13 We have been greatly encouraged by this. (vv. 11-13a)
Now let’s apply the key components of this passage to our lives. The first key component is relationship. We not only have relationships with people in our families, at work, in school or in our neighborhood. If we are part of a church, we also have relationships with others in our church. We live in relationship with each other as God’s people. We are inter-connected with each other, we are inter-dependent on each other and we have a responsibility to care for each other.
The second key component of the passage is Rebuke. In our day and age, we have a hard time with rebuke. While it is likely that no one at any time of history ever liked being rebuked, we are especially allergic to rebuke in our time and culture. We live in an age of relativism where we think that no one has the right to tell us we are doing something wrong. We make ourselves to ultimate judges of what is right and wrong in our own lives. And when we do that we cut ourselves off from the medicine and the method that could rescue us from our sickness of self-delusion and bring us into the rich, full, abundant life that God the Father through His Son, Jesus, wants to give us.
The purpose of the Christian faith is to bring human beings into alignment with reality. The Christian faith is not some personal, private belief in pink fluffy unicorns dancing on rainbows. Christianity is about discovering what is really real, and then living our lives now in that reality, That is challenging because that reality is presently hidden, but one day all those hidden figures will be revealed for everyone to see and then everyone will know that aligning your life with Jesus was aligning your life with everything that is good, beautiful and true.
By default, we human beings are out of alignment with reality and we can never get back into alignment with reality if we do not learn how to handle criticism or rebuke. So one challenge that I am giving you today is, when someone gives you a criticism or rebuke, to hold it for a while and try to find the kernel of truth that may be there. That other person could be giving you a great and wonderful gift that you would not otherwise receive.
The third key component of the passage is Repentance. Repentance is having a change of heart or mind. It is turning around and heading in a new direction. This makes having a regular quiet time where we read the Bible and sit with God in silence very important because it is during such times that we can hear what God is saying to us through the Bible. My encouragement to you is to let the Holy Spirit teach you about the changes that you need to make in life so you can make course corrections. Some of those course corrections might be 180 degree turns and some might be adjustments of only a couple of degrees. But all of these course corrections involve repentance, that is, abandoning the way that we use to do things and living, thinking and doing things in a new way.
The fourth key component is Restoration. Restoration has a vertical component which is, as I mentioned earlier, getting back on the right track with God. But it also has a horizontal component and speaking the truth in love to others and finding the kernel of truth when others rebuke us will help us to get back on the right track with each other.
The good news for today, dear friend, is that God comforts the downcast. There are many reasons why you or I may be downcast. Perhaps we are frustrated that life is not working out the way that we thought it would. Maybe we are getting older and the golden years are not so golden as declining health begins to steal our freedom and abilities. Maybe we are facing financial challenges and we keep running out of money before the end of the month. Maybe we are downcast because of relational pain. Someone we love has disappointed or rejected us. Or maybe we are downcast over the grandest of all downers and that is death. Perhaps we are grieving over the loss of a loved one or maybe our own death is coming soon and we are weeping over all the people that we are going to leave behind.
Whatever reason you may have for being downcast, God comforts the downcast through the coming of Jesus. In Jesus, we have a God who knows what it is like to be downcast, to have your good intentions frustrated by the failures of others, to grieve, to be disappointed, be betrayed, to suffer and to die.
In Jesus, we have a God loves us. Jesus is not a distant, cold God who is far away. Jesus longs for you and He feels deep sorrow over the impact you are experiencing of being a broken, dying person who lives in a broken, dying world.
Jesus has ardent concern for you. We know that Jesus has ardent concern for you because he went to the cross for you. It was as He suffered and died on the cross that Jesus stopped the world in its tracks and sent it off in a new direction where there is hope in the midst of hopelessness, where there is no condemnation anymore for anyone who is in Christ Jesus, where there is forgiveness for any and all sin and where there is a new identity for you as a beloved, forgiven child of God.
I am leaving you with a second challenge to think about: In what corner of your life is God calling you to repent? In your quiet time, I encourage you to listen for God’s new direction for you, and then do it. If you are not sure if you are hearing from God and you wonder if what you are hearing is from your own fervent imagination, share what you are hearing with a mature follower of Jesus and ask them what they think.
This shortly before a day on the Church Calendar called All Saints Sunday (the first Sunday in November). This is a special day on which we remember that Jesus has made us all saints and given us a new life with a new hope and a new purpose. On this day, we also remember those who have gone before us in faith. Their struggle with sin and all its effects is now over and they are resting in Jesus until the Day of Resurrection. On that Day, Jesus will make them and us fully alive again with bodies that will never again grow old, get sick or die. It’s a day when we thank God for the gift that our faith-filled loved ones have been to us. We even thank God for the times when our loved ones rebuked us because it helped us to turn in a new and better direction. It’s also a day that reminds us to look forward to the time when we can join them in seeing Jesus face-to-face and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. And in the meantime, we can know with certainty that, because of Jesus, we will have no regrets. Amen.