2 Corinthians 2:5-11. Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. 6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.
The details of the drama that Paul is talking about here are fuzzy at best. It appears that someone in the Corinthian church has slandered Paul and his credibility and apostleship. We know that this was a common problem that Paul faced. After he would preach the gospel in a place, someone would come in and say that Paul’s gospel was false. Most likely this was a Jewish missionary who wanted the Gentiles to keep the Old Testament law in order to maintain their relationship with God. Some in the Corinthian church may have taken up this cause and continued to attack Paul.
We also know that Paul had made a hard visit to the Corinthian church earlier and then he wrote a pretty harsh letter to them telling them that they needed to discipline this divisive person for the sake of the gospel message.
Which they did. Which is great!
But what wasn’t so great was that even after this person repented, the church was still not forgiving him, comforting him, and welcoming him back into fellowship (v.7-8).
You see, all discipline is meant to be restorative. Life isn’t supposed to be about status. It’s about love and relationships. We must always fight for the relationship. No matter what. We don’t fight for our honor, or our reputation, or our standing. We fight for the heart of the other person. The offending person. That is what Paul is calling on the church to do here- so I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.
Yes, sometimes we have to respond to each other in such a way that it brings sorrow. Sometimes when confronting sin, we must load that person down with guilt. But we must never ever leave them there, especially if they have seen their own sin and turned away from it. We must not drown them in excessive sorrow. Excessive sorrow, devoid of grace, will only drive a person deeper into isolation and bitterness. There will not be restoration, and there will be no relationship left to save.
Confrontation must always go hand in hand with humble forgiveness. If you are not ready to comfort, you are not ready to confront.
Notice the personal freedom Paul exhibits which allows him to forgive. The offense was against Paul, but Paul did not make it personal. He made it about the church. In what might be a little bit of tongue in cheek, Paul says if I have forgiven anything, that is, “I can’t remember what I’ve forgiven because I’ve let it go.” It is his freedom in Christ that allows Paul to confront, forgive, and comfort those who oppose the gospel and attack his reputation, without making it about himself.
Notice also the communal nature of this whole passage. The church as a community is under attack – We would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. Our Enemy will do whatever it takes to water down, pollute, or hinder the gospel. It takes discipline within a church to prevent this from happening. The church must protect the gospel, and confront those who violate it. A church must maintain great grace, humility and balance when practicing this kind of discipline. But it can be done in love. This letter is an example for us all.
“To live is Christ” is the freedom to confront, forgive, and comfort. It is the freedom to not take up a personal offense, but rather to take up the cause of the gospel. Union with Christ means that the unified church must stand in protection of the gospel, even if it means disciplining a member of a specific church. This is one of many reasons why attaching yourself to a local church is so important.
Are you easily offended? Do you take personal offense to things, or do you take up the cause of the gospel? Do you confront with a readiness to forgive and comfort? How can your union with Christ free you to forgive today? To comfort? Are you part of a local church that proclaims and protects the gospel?