Friday, September 14, 2018

Paul's Second Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 3, Stop Shunning The One Who Has Repented

In Paul's first letter he spoke of a man in the congregation who needed to be shown discipline by being put out of the fellowship. This man was conducting an affair with his step-mother. In today's passage Paul brings up this man again, for he has evidently repented but the church at Corinth is still shunning him.

First Paul continues on with the theme of yesterday's passage, which is that the believers should be glad he did not have an opportunity to visit them while so many wrong things (mentioned in his first letter) were happening in the church at Corinth. "So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you." (2 Corinthians 2:1) We don't know exactly when Paul made a previous "painful" visit to them. It must have been so distressing that he dreads the very thought of doing it again.

"For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved?" (2 Corinthians 2:2) Paul wants to visit them when conditions are such that they can all rejoice together, not at a time when he would have to chastise them. He has already been grieved by having to chastise them in a letter. The thought of visiting them only to discuss painful topics is terribly depressing to him.

"For I wrote as I did, so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you." (2 Corinthians 2:3-4) Paul says, "I dealt with the problems in a letter rather than in person because it was less painful for all of us that way. I knew you had it in you to correct these problems before my return, so that when I do return we can spend our time rejoicing in the Lord together."

The Apostle Paul had a right to expect good news out of the church he planted at Corinth, but instead bad news kept coming to his ears as he stated in the first letter. He loves these people with all his heart and he wants the best for them, so he wrote to them outlining all the problems and how to correct them. He wrote the letter in tears because it hurt him to have to scold the believers for their childish conduct. It made him sad that they weren't treating each other with the love of Christ. You have probably noticed that it's far more difficult to point out wrong behavior to a person you love than to point out wrong behavior to someone you don't have a close bond with. It's easier to tell a co-worker or acquaintance that they've offended us or hurt our feelings than to tell a close friend or family member that they are hurting us or themselves or others by their behavior. It broke Paul's heart to write that letter but he had no choice; he owed it to those he loved to tell them the truth.

Now he moves on to the incident of the man who had been living in sin with his step-mother. "If 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." (2 Corinthians 2:5) He says something like, "I didn't write to you about this man simply because I was personally offended that a Christian would behave this way (although such behavior is offensive), but I wrote about him because his behavior brought shame into the church at Corinth. Tolerating such a thing in the church was giving you a bad name. It was mostly for your own sake that I scolded you for not dealing with the situation properly."

By these next comments we know that the church took Paul's advice to heart and put the man out of the assembly. We also know that the man repented of his sin, which is what his exclusion was intended to bring about. "The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him." (2 Corinthians 2:6-8) It could be that the church members are confused about how to deal with this man's repentance. They may be genuinely puzzled about how to treat him now, saying, "If we allow him back into the congregation, will the public think we are condoning his sin?" Or they may be bitter toward him, saying, "This man deserves to be left on the outside from now on. He brought shame on us. He caused unbelievers to make fun of us. So what if he's lonely and depressed? He brought this all on himself!"

Have you ever had trouble letting go of someone's past even though they have repented of it? There is something in our carnal nature that clings to bitterness and enjoys seeing the offender living in sorrow and depression. But Paul points out that it isn't Christlike for us to feel this way. If the person has genuinely repented and turned from their sin, Christ has forgiven them. Are we greater than Christ? If Christ has already granted forgiveness, who are we to remain unforgiving?

"Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything." (2 Corinthians 2:9) The church has passed the test in this matter. Paul wrote to them telling them how to handle the situation and they obeyed. Now they must obey what he is saying about forgiveness. They are to take the repentant man back into the congregation and show him love and friendship.

"Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven---if there was anything to forgive---I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes." (2 Corinthians 2:10-11) This man had sinned primarily against Christ, but he had also sinned against his own father, against his church, and against Paul who planted the church. Paul has heard of this man's repentance and Paul has forgiven him and put the matter behind him. The people of Corinth need to follow his example.

It is a sin to cling to unforgiveness, and Satan takes advantage of us in this way. We might think we are being "holy" by refusing fellowship to someone who previously lived a sinful life, but what we are really doing is allowing sin to get a foothold in our own hearts. Remember how the Lord Jesus scolded the self-righteous Pharisees for being hypocrites? That is what we are when we withhold forgiveness to someone Christ has already forgiven: hypocrites. Are we perfect ourselves? Haven't we all committed many sins? Hasn't Christ forgiven us for our sins? Doesn't it hurt us when someone holds our past against us even though we are sorry for our sins? Why then should we treat our brother or sister in Christ with a spirit of unforgiveness? The man who was put out of the Corinthian congregation has seen his errors and has asked the Lord for forgiveness and has stopped engaging in the adulterous and incestuous relationship he once was caught up in. He wants to be accepted back into the church. He wants to go forward with his life and to work for the kingdom of God. The church has no right to withhold forgiveness. Christ has already granted it. Paul has already granted it. The church must do the same.

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