Second Corinthians 2:5–11 . . .

Forgiven, We Forgive

We'll now deal with the third of three very practical problems that arose in the church in Corinth, to which Paul is writing. The first problem was how to handle stress in your personal life (2 Cor. 1:1–11). We saw that Paul's answer was the strengthening that the Spirit of God gives by which these pressures around and within us may be met. The second problem, which we looked at last week, was how to clear up a misunderstanding with someone (2 Cor. 1:12–2:4). Today we'll focus on the third problem: "When discipline in a congregation should end."

In vv. 5–8 NIV, Paul writes: "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. 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."

Although Paul gives no identifying descriptions, clearly this deals with some kind of judicial discipline going on within the congregation in Corinth. The point is that some form of discipline had been exercised; now Paul is urging that, since the man had repented, it's time for a change of attitude toward him.

This is a very helpful study on what a church ought to do when someone responds to discipline. We've previously seen and studied another passage (Matthew 18:15a) in which the Lord Jesus was the one who instituted a form of discipline within the church. Following Jesus' form of discipline is always the first step, which ought to keep a congregation at peace. Although seldom made known, this happens more often than you'd imagine: Step 1 — Someone goes to a person who he or she feels is out of line with what Scripture says, and describes the fault. Then usually, as Jesus went on to say, what should happen, happens: "If they listen to you, you have won them over" (Matthew 18:15b). Note: We're not to go to one another in those areas where we merely feel irritated that someone is doing something in a different way than we'd do it. Instead, we're to go only in those areas where the Word of God has already clearly documented wrongdoing. If, however, there's resistance and unwillingness to face what is clearly wrongdoing, then — Step 2 — as Jesus said, we're to take one or two others so that there may be witnesses to the discussion, with the hope that that will help the one concerned, because the objective of discipline is not punishment, but recovery and restoration.

If that approach is refused, then — Step 3 — requires us to tell it to the church, hoping that congregants who know the individual will encourage him or her to reconsider, to face the trouble, and admit it, so that peace can be restored. Now evidently, that's the level to which this church had come. With this Corinthian problem, whatever its nature, the man had resisted correction until it had to be told to all the church. Paul refers to that when he says, "The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient" (v. 6). It seems clear that the church has acted in this regard, and it had been successful in carrying out this discipline.

In this case in Corinth, the majority of the congregation had been involved in trying to reach the individual referred to here. But the point is that it had already happened; it had already worked; this man had repented; he'd admitted that what he did was wrong, which is what repentance is. It's coming to a conclusion about yourself that what you've done is hurtful and wrong; the man had reached that place (v. 7). Paul urges them to comfort him that he may not be "overwhelmed by excessive sorrow."

The sign that you genuinely see that what you did was wrong is your seeing the hurt that you've caused by it; it creates a sense of sorrow and remorse that you've become the instrument by which many have been damaged in their faith or in their feelings. Therefore, the mark of true repentance is sorrow.

Genuine repentance occurs when you don't really believe that anybody ought to forgive you, that what you've done is hurtful, and that you don't think you deserve forgiveness. In essence, forgiveness is something that is always freely extended to someone who doesn't feel that he or she deserves it. So the mark of repentance is grief and sorrow over what's been done. This man had come to that point; therefore, it was time to end the discipline. Of course, the purpose of the whole process of discipline at any stage is to bring somebody to recovery. The minute he or she achieves that, it's time to end all the imposed sanctions and degrees of pressure, and to begin to extend forgiveness and restoring love. That's what Paul pleads for in v. 8: "I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him." Any form of correction is never to proceed from anger alone, but from love, with reaffirmed love.

Forgiven, We Forgive then We Restore — vv. 9–11

Because the repentant man had reached this place, Paul goes on to give us a statement of what restoration involves. There are two things of significance in these three verses to help you understand how you bring people to restoration: One, as Paul clearly indicates, begins with a faithful confrontation. He says, "Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would . . . be obedient in everything." It wasn't to obey Paul but the Lord. It wasn't the apostle giving orders, but his calling attention to what the Lord had said. Their obedience, therefore, wasn't to Paul but to the Lord. No man has the right to give orders in the church; he can, however, call attention, as a brother, to the orders the Lord has already given. The Corinthians had obeyed; they'd done what Matthew 18 required by telling it to the church, which is always painful and difficult to do. Two, brought out in v. 11, is the need to keep Satan from gaining an advantage over us, for Paul says, "For we are not unaware of his schemes." It's Satan who keeps bringing back to your mind the hurts of the past.

Remember: We're to act through God's strength, his life in us, which makes it possible for a Christian to forgive while a non-Christian is unable to do so. Why? Because first, the Christian recognizes that he's in the same boat himself; second, he has the strength of the Lord by which to extend forgiveness. Next we remind ourselves by this important act that, in us, we have his strength and his life. Therefore, we can and should forgive. So why not forgive someone right now . . . .

It Makes You Wonder . . .
  • Q. 1  What's happened since this second letter was received (vv. 6–8)?
  • Q. 2  How might the Corinthian church's continuation of punishment be a scheme of Satan (vv. 9–11)?
  • Q. 3  Is there someone you need to forgive and comfort (no names)? Why not forgive him or her now?

This Week’s Passage
2 Corinthians 2:5–11

New International Version (NIV)
[You can view it in a different version by clicking here; you can also listen to this chapter.]

Forgiveness for the Offender

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. 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. 9Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. 10Anyone 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, 11in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.