“This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him” (2 Corinthians 2:6–8).
PAUL URGED THE CORINTHIANS TO FORGIVE AND COMFORT THE MAN WHO HAD BEEN DISCIPLINED, LEST HE BE OVERWHELMED BY SORROW AND GIVE IN TO DESPAIR. Apparently, he had repented of the sin for which Paul had commanded them to withdraw from him (1 Corinthians 5:1–13), and so the need was not for more discipline but for support and encouragement in his new path.
This event at Corinth illustrates an important point. When we have disappointed God, we should be disappointed in ourselves, and if others know about it, they also should be disappointed in us. But disappointment need not defeat us. If our sorrow is of a godly sort, it will lead us to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:8–10), and having repented, we can hold a steady course in a new direction.
Past failures can play a positive role in our lives. This is one of the hardest lessons in life to learn, but it is true. To see that it is, we need only look at the life of a man like Paul. In his past were horrible things, painful to remember. But having turned to God and received the forgiveness of those sins, the regret Paul would have continued to feel was not a negative force in his life but a positive one. Remembering what he had done made him a humbler man. It also made him more compassionate toward others who were caught in the net of sin, and it made him work very hard in the Lord’s service to show his gratitude for God’s grace.
But past failures can be destructive if we let them be so. If we give in to self-pity, concerned only with what we have lost by our mistakes, then disappointment can eat us up. “The sorrow of the world,” Paul wrote, “produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
So we must make a choice. We must choose that our sorrow for past sins will be godly sorrow rather than the sorrow of the world. And more than that, a little defiance of the devil will help us. Our adversary wants us to be consumed and destroyed by our painful memories. We must make sure he does not get his way.
“Out of every disappointment there is a treasure. Satan whispers, ‘All is lost.’ God says, ‘Much can be gained’ ” (Frances J. Roberts).