2 Corinthians 7:8–9 “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.”
In reflecting on his previous letter to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul is rightly mindful to draw attention to the grief that his letter caused among his recipients, not to mention the grief he himself experienced. What the apostle is expressing here is precisely what we should seek to express to others when our sometimes-necessary words of admonition have perhaps left them feeling disheartened, upset, or even angry. The difficult situation Paul was addressing, and the situations we so often wrestle with, concern the necessity and ultimate purpose of such words that result in such grief, whether they are words to our children, friends, Christian brothers and sisters, or congregations—or even the necessary words we sometimes must preach to ourselves on account of the conviction of the Holy Spirit within our hearts.
The apostle desires to make it absolutely clear that although he is grieved because they grieved, he is also rejoicing precisely because their temporary grief was in fact a godly grief that led to life-giving repentance. The apostle’s hard words are the tough-loving words of a formerly tough man who is being faithful to God’s calling to preach His truth in season and out of season to proud saints who had put their obstinate hands over their oft-tickled ears. And in demonstrating the same tough love that God had graciously shown him in knocking him to the ground, blinding him, and rebuking him for persecuting His church, Paul can rest assured that his hard words are good words for their much needed hardship and their own ultimate good. Paul has no choice but to stand firm in his calling to preach to the Corinthians the gospel in its fullness, and his rejoicing is only on account of the fact that his words, in the course of secondary causes, are used by the Holy Spirit, in the course of God’s primary cause, to convict them, humble them, and turn their appropriately teary eyes to Christ and to His “salvation without regret.”
With great anxiety, pastors and teachers often struggle with the hard words we are sometimes called to communicate to others. For we neither sit in easy chairs nor speak easy words, for such words lead to death—first our own death and then the death of our hearers—death to self and sin that we might live abundantly in repentance and faith in Christ, our righteousness.
As pastors, even when it’s most tempting to do otherwise, we are commanded to preach the whole counsel of God in season and out of season—even when that counsel is meddling, convicting, and hard-hitting, knowing always that such counsel, by God’s design, is spirit-awakening, fruit-bearing, and convert-making counsel.
And a word to laypeople in the pew, if you are about the regular devilish business of covering your ears every Lord’s Day, pray that the Lord would grant you the strength to lower your hands and grant you the ears that not only don’t want to be tickled but hate it when someone tries to tickle them. And, if your pastor’s words don’t ever make you feel a little beat up or somewhat grieved by your sin, he’s likely neither preaching the law nor the gospel, and if that’s the case, run for your life.