2 Corinthians 2:5-11
Greetings, everybody! Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of EDiBS, and a special welcome to all of you who have just begun with us here at EDiBS over the past couple of weeks! Our study family is always growing, and as we open God’s Word together each day, our goal above all else is that we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we’re continuing in the second chapter of 2 Corinthians, so let’s pray and get right to the task at hand.
Father, thank you for the opportunity you’ve given us as your people to spend some intentional and focused time in your Word today. Please help us to learn and grow from our Bible Study, and help us especially to be established and strengthened in our faith. We ask this in the precious name of Christ, amen.
As we get started today, we have more recounting on the part of Paul about past incidents in Corinth. Now, however, the time has come to turn the corner on it all. Our focus: forgiving and moving on.
2 Corinthians 2:5-11
5If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent--not to put it too severely. 6The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. 7Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. 9The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. 10If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven--if there was anything to forgive--I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
Many of you know that my family and I used to live among the Amish in southwest Missouri. Our little farm sat between two old-order Amish neighborhoods, and we always enjoyed the coming and going and the interaction we had with our unique neighbors. The Webster County Amish are known as the most conservative in the United States, which is exemplified in many of their daily practices, but one thing in particular that marked the Amish in my neck of the woods was their diligent use of church discipline, which is called “shunning.” If a man or a woman sins and is unrepentant, he or she is swiftly put out of the community until such time that repentance does come. I say put out of the community instead of put out of the church, because among the Amish the church and the community are indistinguishable from one another. If you’re out of one, you’re out of both, and that means that you’re removed from the spiritual and social protection of the order and also removed from the fellowship that defines life together in the community.
Shunning is never done in a punitive way; instead, it always has in mind the desire to bring the lost sinner home, and when that happens, there is joyful reconciliation and a public time of forgiveness and restoration. Occasionally, sin among the Amish comes in the form of breaking the law, and though the county prosecutor usually pursues the more serious cases, the general understanding for misdemeanor crimes is that the punishment exacted by the Amish elders and the rigorous process of restoration that is required is far more severe – and effective – than anything the state might prescribe.
In today’s reading, Paul brings up an issue that he has addressed in an earlier letter: the issue of a particular man in the Corinthian church who had been living in sin. If you go back to 1 Corinthians 5, you’ll see that there Paul is calling for a certain man to be put out of the church because of an immoral, incestuous relationship he is having with his step-mother. What is the command? To remove him from the fellowship and for the church to have nothing to do with him until such time that he repents. Fast-forward to today’s passage in 2 Corinthians and what you see is that the church had followed Paul’s instructions, and the great news is that their action has brought the desired result: the man has indeed repented. The not-so-great news, which is the reason Paul is bringing this up? Though the shunning has been effective and though the man in question has repented, the church is now refusing to take him back – so now Paul needs to tell the Corinthians to lighten up!
Again, if you go back to 1 Corinthians 5 to the initial treatment of this problem, one thing you’ll notice is that in addition to telling the church to expel the immoral brother from among them, Paul takes the congregation to task for its up-to-that-point casual attitude about the whole thing. Paul couldn’t believe that they hadn’t dealt with the matter, and it was to their shame that they had let it go on for so long. Now, however, they are just as wrong in withholding forgiveness and restoration to the man as they originally were when they welcomed him while he was still in sin. This should not be; instead of rejecting him, they are to reaffirm their love for him and welcome him back into fellowship. Notice one more thing about today’s text: Paul tells the church to do more than forgive, doesn’t he. He also tells them to comfort. That’s such an important principle for us to remember, not only in the administration of corporate church discipline, but in dealing with sin and reconciliation in our family lives and in our other personal relationships as well. G. Campbell Morgan wrote on the matter this way: “If discipline is largely lacking in the Church of today (and it is!), so also is the grace of forgiving and comforting those who, having done wrong, are truly repentant. How often, alas, souls have been indeed swallowed up with overmuch sorrow because of the harshness and suspicion of Christian people toward them in view of some wrong which they have done.”
That, of course, is precisely what Paul is wanting to avoid in the case of this individual. Why? Because to withhold forgiveness from the repentant is to open the door to the wiles of the devil and to fall victim to his schemes. John Calvin said that “There is nothing more dangerous than to give Satan a chance of reducing a sinner to despair. Whenever we fail to comfort those that are moved to a sincere confession of their sin, we play into Satan’s hands.”
Wrapping up, how many of you know that to be true from experiences in your own life or in the lives of the ones you love? Sometimes forgiveness, when it is offered, feels empty for the recipient, because there is no love in its delivery. And when there is no love, there can be no real healing. In the New International Version, verse 11 talks about Satan not ‘outwitting’ us. The Greek word here has the idea of cheating someone out of something that belongs to them. Paul is saying that through forgiveness, restoration, and the reaffirmation of our love toward those who have repented of sin, we thwart the tactics of the enemy.
When we are ignorant of Satan’s strategies, however, and when we fail to act in love, he is then better able to come in and take things from us — at least temporarily — which are ours in Jesus...things like peace and the wellness of the soul, things like fellowship...and yes, things like the joy of knowing forgiveness in all of its fullness. My great desire and my prayer as your brother in Christ is that as you meditate on this passage and its very real and relevant points today, you will ask our Lord Jesus to help you be faithful to forgive and restore, to be sure...but especially that you, when you do so, do it accompanied by the reaffirmation of love. It’s so very important, and it’s what everyone needs in every case, forgivers and forgiven alike.
Take care, God’s peace, and I’ll see look forward to seeing you again tomorrow. Until then, have a great day!