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. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. 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, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. – 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 ESV
In these verses Paul refers to an unnamed individual who had been a source of trouble in the church. Evidently, he had played an adversarial role, attempting in some way to undermine or question Paul’s ministry or the validity of his apostleship. And he had caused Paul and the church pain – (lypeō – sadness or grief). This man’s disruptive presence had been a source of consternation and sorrow, and it Paul concedes that is had been harder on the Corinthians than it had been on him.
Unlike their earlier response to the man who had been having an incestuous relationship with his stepmother (1 Corinthians 5:1-2), here they had chosen to deal with it. Even this had resulted in grief. Practicing tough love on a fellow believers is never easy. In the case of the young man committing adultery with his stepmother, Paul had told them, “Let him who has done this be removed from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:2 ESV). He went on to defend his recommendation, telling them, “you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5 ESV). Church discipline is neither fun or easy. But the alternative can be devastating, as Paul told the Corinthians.
Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. – 1 Corinthians 5:6-7 ESV
In regards to the individual Paul refers to in this second letter, the Corinthians had practiced church discipline, but now it was time to restore their brother in Christ. He gently, but firmly reminds them, “Most of you opposed him, and that was punishment enough. Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement” (2 Corinthians 2:6-7 NLT). The goal of church discipline should be the offending party’s repentance, restoration and reconciliation. This man had been publicly ostracized by the body of Christ, and it had made an impact on his life. Paul wanted them to forgive and restore him so that he would not lose heart and perhaps fall into greater sin. So Paul tells them, “ I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him” (2 Corinthians 2:8 NLT).
According to Paul, the body of Christ has been given the ministry of reconciliation. It was the same ministry to which he had been called by Christ.
And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 NLT
Helping restore lost individuals to a right relationship with God is our mission. But it also includes restoring believers who have walked away from God and the body of Christ through persistent sin. Paul told the believers in Galatia: “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself” (Galatians 6:1 NLT). Practicing church discipline on a fellow believer without the ultimate goal being their restoration is ungodly. Removing an offending believer from your fellowship without intending to one day restore them is not what God had in mind.
One of the things we must always keep in mind is that Satan, our enemy, is always out to divide and conquer. Jesus said of him, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10a ESV). His intention is to steal those from the flock of God who are weak and vulnerable. He can’t take away their salvation, but he can steal their effectiveness and joy. He can kill their sense of contentment and destroy their unity with the body of Christ. Satan would much rather destroy the church from within, rather than attacking it from the outside. That is why we must be so concerned about sin within the camp. Sin, like yeast, permeates and spreads. It can be like a cancer, growing undetected, under the surface, silently infecting the entire body. So we must always be on the alert and willing to confront sin within the body of Christ. But along with confrontation must come compassion and restoration. Forgiveness is essential. This was a recurring theme for Paul:
…be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:32 NLT
Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:13 NLT
May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory. – Romans 15:5-7 NLT
Paul knew that God longed for unity among His people. Sin was and is an ever-present reality, but forgiveness should be as well. Otherwise, we open ourselves up to the evil scheme of Satan, who seeks to outwit us and destroy the unity Christ died to provide. That is why we need to practice the three R’s: Repentance, reconciliation and restoration. We are in this together. We are the body of Christ, the family of God. Our unity should be as important to us as it is to our heavenly Father.