What constitutes a real Christian Life?
Without sorrow there can be no real joy. Over the years as I have grown in my Christian faith, I have heard all kinds of descriptions about the Christian life. One of the most dominant descriptions or assumptions about the Christian life is the notion that once one is in Christ and is faithfully following him, such a person ought to be happy and always joyful in spite of what life throws his/her way.
This approach to Christian life at least in my experience is somehow misleading. I say so because after reading this passage together with my own faith journey and life experiences, I am more convinced that faithfully following Jesus Christ does not automatically translate to a life of bliss. Although the peace that comes from following Jesus is based on us entrusting him with all our cares and concerns, but that does not mean absence of trials and difficulties on the journey. We see in this passage a journey that both Paul and the Corinthian community traveled as they sought to be faithful in following Jesus.
This journey was marked by difficulties and anxieties as the apostle who had experienced a dramatic conversion and a community that sought to follow the Lord under his leadership journeyed together. We see rebukes, sharp words as well as great love and affection between the parties expressed. Here we see a plea that emerged from a heart that loved the community deeply.
Out of that deep love emerged correction for the community when they strayed from following Jesus faithfully. This rebuke enlightens us on two types of sorrows; worldly sorrow leads to despair and death (Ex. Judas (Matt. 27:5) while Godly sorrow leads to repentance (Ex. Peter-(Lk.23:34; Jn.21:15-19)
Paul was filled with anxiety that the Corinthians would rebel against his authority following his sharp rebuke of the community (probably the incident in 1 Cor. 5). His fears were allayed by the report he received from Titus who had visited the community. Paul therefore wrote to assure the community that their report from Titus put him at ease and that what had transpired between them was not all that bad because it caused a sorrow within them that led to repentance. I believe that this passage has wonderful instructions on Christian living for us.
Instead of seeing the Christian life as a life marked by smooth sailing, this passage opens up Paul’s life. In this life we see a person who was normal and one with whom we can identify. He life was marked by anxiety, fear, sadness, mood swings, and suffering of travel as well as difficulty in relationships that was marked by rebuke, sadness, repentance and finally joy and reconciliation.
In this example, we see Christian life on display and it might not look like our vision or idea of “a normal” Christian life. This text ought to encourage us to journey with Paul and the Corinthians and not to be afraid to receive correction when we are on the wrong for through this passage we learn that Godly sorrow does not lead to guilt and condemnation but rather to repentance and recondition instead of despair and abandonment in relationships.