“Forgiveness and Restoration”
Lesson Text: 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11
Background Scripture: 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:17
Devotional Reading: Luke 17:1-6
2 Corinthians 1:23-24 (KJV)
23 Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth.
24 Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.
2 Corinthians 2:1-11
1 But I determined this with myself, that I would not come again to you in heaviness.
2 For if I make you sorry, who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me?
3 And I wrote this same unto you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice; having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all.
4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you.
5 But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all.
6 Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many.
7 So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.
8 Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.
9 For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things.
10 To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ;
11 Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.
To understand that forgiveness brings repentant sinners back into meaningful fellowship with God.
To know that God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, also gave us the ministry of reconciliation (see 2 Corinthians 5:18).
Show forgiveness to someone who has offended you.
“Don’t Judge Me!”
Today in places where Christianity once dominated the culture, few people know the Bible well. But it seems that everyone in those cultures still knows one biblical commandment: “Judge not” (Matthew 7:1). Judging others is bad form in our world because it is “intolerant.”
But the Bible’s stance on judgment is not as simple as a flippant “judge not” sound bite would suggest, especially when one reads the rest of Matthew 7. The point of departure for proper understanding here is the fact that God is the ultimate judge. He sets the final standard of judgment. All humans are subject to His judgment and His standard. There is a judgment to face, and for many it will be a terrible one. Yet God’s desire is not to judge but to forgive. For this reason, He sent His Son to die to pay sin’s penalty so we can be forgiven. God sends His people around the world with this message of forgiveness.
If we do not accept that we are subject to God’s judgment, then we will never be able to accept His forgiveness or even sense a need for it. That reality keeps God’s judgment in the forefront of the Christian message. For that reason, Christianity will always strike many people as judgmental and negative. But in truth, forgiveness has no meaning unless it is cast against the alternative of judgment. That is why the emphasis of the Christian message is on forgiveness.
Sadly, though, some forget the reality of judgment after they receive forgiveness. Instead of living as grateful people who want to serve the one who forgave them, they fall back into the old habits of rebellion and evil, what the Bible calls sin. They treat their forgiveness not as precious and life-changing but as cheap and inconsequential.
God’s response to such contempt for His great gift is persistence in drawing the contemptuous back to repentance. That process can be painful, for it means bringing the backslider to a renewed awareness of the consequences of God’s righteous judgment. When God shows us the reality of judgment, it’s because He wants us to turn to Him while there is still time.
Time: probably A.D. 55
Paul’s Change of Plans
In Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:12-14), he stated that he and his colleagues had ministered among his readers with God-given candor, sincerity, and virtue. Furthermore, the missionaries intentionally operated in the power of God’s grace, not worldly wisdom. Because of Paul’s confidence that the Corinthians were beginning to appreciate his work, he had intended to make two trips to Corinth to visit the church (v. 15). He had planned to visit them once on his way to churches in Macedonia and then again after he left Macedonia, as a last stopover before heading on to Jerusalem (v. 16). But apparently events in Corinth had shaken his confidence and caused him to alter his plans.
Instead of sailing from Ephesus to Corinth and then going on to Macedonia, Paul traveled by land to Troas, where he spent some time preaching before moving on to Macedonia (see 2 Cor. 2:12-13). The apostle was still in Macedonia as he wrote 2 Corinthians, and he had not yet made another visit to Corinth. Evidently, this change in Paul’s itinerary fueled the charges of insensitivity and fickleness against the apostle. The false teachers who had arrived in Corinth claimed that Paul was the type of person who said he would do one thing but ended up doing another. They told the believers in Corinth that he was unreliable and could not be pinned down to a definite “yea” or “nay” (yes or no).
To answer this baseless charge, Paul solemnly asserted that his dealings with the church were not that of a disingenuous person who said yes and no in the same breath (2 Cor. 1:17). He had not made his plans impulsively according to mere human standards, nor had he announced them with no intention of keeping them. Paul was concerned to refute the charge that he contradicted himself when he spoke. Paul decided to use a theological argument to defend his integrity. He began by linking his own dependability to God, who is trustworthy and reliable (1:18). Next, the apostle elaborated on the Father’s faithfulness by saying that the Son, “Jesus Christ” whom Paul and his coworkers Silas and Timothy had proclaimed in Corinth, is Himself always affirmative when it comes to salvation, not simultaneously affirmative and negative (v. 19). Paul was now ready to explain why he had changed his travel plans (in vs. 23-24, our beginning passage text for today).
A Change of Travel Plans: 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:4
1. Why did Paul change his travel plans? (2 Corinthians 1:23-24)
Paul was now ready to explain why he had changed his travel plans. The apostle ventured to call upon God Himself as a witness that his explanation was entirely truthful. Paul’s reason for not going to Corinth directly from Macedonia was to spare his readers from being severely censured (2 Cor. 1:23). The apostle implied that he had decided against visiting the Corinthians because his discipline of them might have caused more pain than they could reasonably bear. So it was due to his love and pastoral concern for the church at Corinth—and not because of any alleged fickleness—that be had altered his itinerary. Evidently, the apostle’s detractors accused him of acting like a tyrannical dictator over the Corinthians’ exercise of their faith. In response, Paul stated that it was not his practice to micromanage his converts. Instead, he and his team collaborated with new believers so that they would be filled with spiritual “joy” (v. 24). Ultimately, it was the faith of individual believers in the Savior that enabled them to remain steadfast in their Christian commitment.
2. What other reasons did Paul give for not wanting to make another painful visit? (2 Corinthians 2:1-4)
Paul’s priorities guide his decision. He has already made one visit to Corinth that has provoked sorrow or “heaviness.” His overarching aim is joy through reconciliation that comes from repentance. If another visit will not bring that about, then he will not make another visit (1 Corinthians 4:21; 2 Corinthians 12:21). In particular, he wanted to wait until the matter referred to in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 was resolved (which we will discuss in question #3).
Paul had been confident that when the Corinthians read his letter, they would understand that his coming to them at that time would cause only severe pain-both for them and for the apostle. He did not favor this option, especially since he realized he was most joyful when his readers were filled with joy (2:3).
In this letter, Paul expressed his own triumph and joy as well as some of his disappointment and despair. As we read the epistle, we are prompted to ask what is the best way to face those who have hurt us.
We can learn a lot from the apostle’s response. As he pastorally dealt with others, he knew how to mix biblical truth with divine grace and love. In this regard, probably no other New Testament letter gives us a clearer glimpse of Paul as a person. By allowing his readers to identify with his struggles, the apostle revealed that the same comfort and strength he had received from the Lord is available to all believers. Indeed, Paul hoped his epistle would repair his relationship with the church in Corinth—a relationship that had been damaged by false teachers trying to discredit him. By examining Paul’s letter, we may be also motivated to repair those of our relationships that have been harmed by neglect, misunderstanding, or malice.
Forgiveness for the Offender: 2 Corinthians 2:5-11
3. What was the cause of grief to the church that Paul mentioned in 2 Corinthians 2:5?
2 Corinthians 2:5-11 refers to a man at Corinth who had been the cause of some serious offense in the church. It has been a popular view that this refers to the incestuous man mentioned in 1 Cor. 5:1-5. A number of Bible interpreters, however, have concluded that the apostle was not referring to this transgressor and have offered alternative suggestions as to his identity. One of the proposals is that this individual was someone who had caused a problem in the congregation sometime either during or after Paul’s painful visit (2 Cor. 2:1), and who was the subject of the sorrowful letter (2:3-4; 7:8). According to this view, because this ringleader of the anti-Paul faction probably publicly offended the apostle or one of his representatives (for example, Timothy), the apostle wrote urging the church to discipline the wayward believer. Whatever this person did, it was bad enough not only to cause Paul grief but also to have a negative effect on the Corinthian congregation (2 Cor. 2:5). When one member of the church defies the will of God, the entire church suffers.
Eventually, the church acted properly: the many who carried the burden of grief for the man’s sin took the necessary, painful action (v. 6). Their action was sufficient, and the next verse reveals what should happen next.
4. What did the church need to do now, based on the man’s response? (2 Corinthians 2:7-8)
Titus, who had just arrived in Macedonia, brought the apostle word concerning how the church had responded to his letter and how its formal disciplinary action had affected the offender. Because of the positive report he received from Titus (see 7:5-8), Paul was willing to set aside the trouble caused by the incident.
After experiencing church discipline, the unnamed transgressor repented of his offense. Paul stated that it was now time for the church in Corinth to extend forgiveness and consolation to the remorseful believer (see Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13). The apostle expressed his pastoral concern that the individual not be inundated by excessive grief and spiritually drown in a sea of despair (2 Cor. 2:7). For this reason, Paul enjoined his readers to demonstrate their “love” toward the repentant member of their congregation (v. 8). This reaffirming love was not a contradiction of the apostle’s previous instructions in the sorrowful letter. Indeed, it was fully in line with his purpose of making the wayward individual recognize the seriousness of his sin, repent of the transgression, and rejoin the Christian fellowship (see Matt. 18:15-35).
5. What was Paul’s other reason for writing to the church? (2 Corinthians 2:7-9)
Paul had written his instructions about disciplining the straying believer to determine whether the Corinthians would obey the apostle (2 Cor. 2:9). Clearly, he was pleased to see they had passed his test. Such cooperation from the church in Corinth must have given Paul confidence that his readers would also heed his instruction to forgive the repentant member and bring him back into their midst. In many congregations, discipline such as this is rarely if ever practiced today. Why is that?
What Do You Think?
In what area does the church seem to have the most difficulty in implementing the process of church discipline? Why is that?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Area of doctrinal defection (1 Timothy 6:3, 4)
Area of moral defection (1 Corinthians 5)
Area of divisiveness (Romans 16:17)
Paul clearly saw that the purpose church discipline was not to knock people down, but to help them back up. Discipline, while painful, was intended to bring about positive results, namely, leading people to repent of their sin and restoring their relationship with the Lord and His spiritual body.
6. Why was it so important that the church forgive and move on? (2 Corinthians 2:10-11)
Paul now removes any doubt that he holds any lingering grudge against the repentant man. What the church has forgiven, he also forgives. Those who think Paul to be power-hungry and vindictive are mistaken. Paul has taken great care to avoid even the appearance of impropriety in that regard (see 1 Corinthians 9:12; 2 Corinthians 1:24; 6:3; 8:21; etc.). He stands with the church in its faithfulness: first to encourage the man’s repentance, then to welcome him home as a member of God’s family.
In the end, Paul and the Corinthian Christians all forgive for the same reason: Christ. Christ forgives us despite the trouble and pain that we cause Him. Christ forgives freely and fully. He does not hold a grudge against those repenting, but insists that they be welcomed by God’s people with celebration. Those who follow Christ are compelled to forgive as they have been forgiven (Matthew 6:12). To do less is to deny the Christ whom we claim to follow (18:21-35).
What Do You Think?
What should forgiveness extended to a repentant backslider “say” to various people?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
To the one being forgiven | To the ones doing the forgiving
To outside observers who are Christians | To outside observers who are not Christians
In any case, for the long-term spiritual benefit of the church, Paul knew that if the matter was unduly prolonged, Satan might try to take advantage of the situation. His evil plans included attempts at outsmarting the believers in Corinth (2 Cor. 2:11). For example, if the sinner was left wallowing in sorrow, the devil might tempt him to leave the church. Also, if the disciplining process was dragged out, a split might be created in the fellowship. At any rate, Paul was aware that Satan was always scheming to undermine Jesus’ followers, and the apostle didn’t want to leave the devil any opening.
Judgment Replaced with Joy
For Christians to announce God’s pending judgment is a warning that comes from love. To stress the reality of judgment is a difficult, tear-inducing necessity when people remain ensnared in sin. The aim is not condemnation but salvation. God is the judge, but His people must lovingly and clearly announce what God does as judge—and how that judgment can be replaced with joy.
O God, we stand as Your people only by Your mercy. Make us agents of that mercy, conscious of Your holy judgment. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Repentance compels forgiveness.