A. Where we are
1. Having heard about trouble brewing in the church at Corinth, Paul visited them. But he came into conflict there with a certain man in the church who defied the apostle. Paul departed and wrote a severe letter to the church instructing them to discipline this man.
2. Now he has received a report from Titus that his severe letter was well-received and that, as a church, that they had indeed disciplined the man, and that the man had indeed been struck with sorrow.
3. And so, in response to this report, Paul pens another letter, this one we call 2Corinthians.
B. Read 2Cor.2:5–11
C. Everybody agrees with love. Everybody believes in love. Everybody advocates love. But sometimes people have very different ideas about what love means.
1. One person says, “Love requires us to do this.” And another says, “Love forbids us to do it.”
2. But God doesn’t just command us to love. He gives us many specifics. And He gives us good examples.
3. And this letter called 2Corinthians is one major gold mine of love guidance, as we see the apostle Paul’s valiant attempt to win this renegade congregation back to himself and back to Christ.
4. But it’s not an easy epistle. It’s takes a little digging.
5. How many of you have ever gone clamming?
a. They don’t just lie there waiting to be picked up. They’re 4-12 inches below the surface.
b. You can’t see them. All you can see is a little hole in the sand.
c. But they’re not going to come to you. You’ve got to go after them. You’ve got to dig.
d. It doesn’t take superhuman strength or ingenuity. I was successfully clamming when I was 6 yrs.
e. But it does take a little effort.
6. That’s the way it is with this epistle. There’s lots of treasure just below the surface. So let’s dig...
II. Church discipline and forgiveness
A. We talked two weeks ago about the question of church discipline. Now, in speaking about the man who has been rightfully "punished" by the Corinthian congregation, Paul says that now that the man has been struck with the sorrow of repentance, it is time to forgive him.
B. 2:6-7 “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.”
C. Doesn’t this imply that before he repented it was NOT appropriate to forgive and comfort the man? Doesn’t this imply that there is a time to NOT forgive? I think so. Before this fellow’s display of godly sorrow, it seems to me that it would have been wrong for the Corinthians to forgive him (in this sense).
D. Now I know this raises all kinds of questions:
1. Isn’t this in violation of Christ’s commands to forgive?
a. Doesn’t Jesus tell us to forgive "seventy times seven"? (Matt.18:22)
b. Doesn’t He say, "Pardon, and you will be pardoned"? (Luke 6:37)
2. Isn’t this giving permission for us to have a vindictive, judgmental spirit
3. Aren’t we claiming to be better than those who fall into sin if we refuse to forgive them?
4. Doesn’t Paul elsewhere say, "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you."? (Eph.4:32)
E. The subject of forgiveness is not a simple one.
1. We are certainly told to be always ready to forgive, and there are some sins that are of a nature that we should just forgive/overlook them ("Let love cover a multitude of sins." 1Pet.4:8).
2. But there is a time when a person’s sin warrants a rebuke and when our forgiveness should be based on the person’s repentant response. Listen to Luke 17:3-4: "If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
3. Note that Jesus says, “IF HE REPENTS, forgive him.” (Presumably if he doesn’t repent, you follow the subsequent steps of Matt.18:15-17, withholding forgiveness until there’s repentance.)
F. This refusal to forgive until there is repentance, though, must never be something that springs from resentment or vengeance. It must ALWAYS spring from love.
1. WHAT!? Refusal to forgive because of love? Exactly. Listen carefully.
2. There are times when it is not good for a person to receive forgiveness until he repents – in order to signal to him the danger of refusing to repent of his sin and to motivate him to make it right with God by dealing with his sin.
G. This refusal to forgive, I would suggest, isn’t something which happens in our hearts, but in our actions.
1. Lack of forgiveness in our hearts will destroy us. In our hearts we must always be loving the person and hoping for their best and praying for their welfare, wanting to forgive and never holding a grudge.
2. Rather, the refusal to forgive Paul refers to here is an official position we take toward another – FOR HIS WELFARE. This is what the Corinthians had appropriately done toward this man. And now it has had its intended effect, and it is time to extend to the man an official forgiveness.
H. But it’s important to say that this withholding of forgiveness is not a personal decision.
1. Church discipline is CHURCH discipline. We don’t excommunicate someone on our own.
2. We don’t shun people because we think they’ve sinned.
3. We don’t withhold our love from people because we don’t think they’ve repented.
4. Sadly, this kind of things happens often in the Christian community – with devastating effect.
5. But what do you do if a church is unwilling to discipline an unrepentant sinner?
a. Then work toward trying to help the church get back on track.
b. But you can’t take matters into your own hands.
c. It’s like the civil government. If the government isn’t doing its job in punishing criminals, you can’t just take matters into your own hands and start doing it yourself.
III. Learning to love
A. Now that this fellow who had opposed Paul had repented it is time for the congregation to reassure him of their love so that he would not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.
1. 2:8 "So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him."
2. Notice that Paul does not say that the Corinthians should start loving the man or even restart loving him. Their love for the fellow all along is presumed.
3. But there was a time (during the "punishment" – v.6) when they took a tough posture toward him, which perhaps didn’t look or feel so loving.
4. NOW it is time to reaffirm your love, now is the time to embrace him like the father embraced the prodigal son: put on a new robe, a ring on his finger, sandals on his feet; and slay the fatted calf Now is the time to party, for our brother was dead and now has come to life; he was lost (James 5:19-20) and now he’s found! (Luke 15) For "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Luke 15:10ff.)
B. You know, the church is supposed to be a place where people say “I love you” to one another, where people express love to one another. It should be one of the familiar sounds heard when we’re together.
1. When’s the last time you said “I love you” to a brother or sister in Christ (not your kids/spouse)?
2. One obvious time that a person needs reassurance of love is when he’s overcome with godly sorrow over his sin. But there are many other times when we need to reaffirm our love for people.
3. If expressions of love aren’t a part of the atmosphere people breathe in the context of Christian fellowship, then we remove the teeth from church discipline.
4. The person who makes a habit of expressing love is the one who wields a powerful weapon when it comes time to withhold forgiveness for the sake of the other. The one who has a lifestyle of not associating with others will have little effect if someone is actually excommunicated and we all have to refuse to associate. (2Thess. 3:6, 14; 2Tim. 3:5; 1Cor. 5:9-11)
C. One of the primary lessons to be learned in all of this is that we are not supposed to just follow our hearts when it comes to loving others.
1. We must love not according to how we feel or merely according to what the other person wants. We must love according to the word of God. We must love according to what He tells us is best and most beneficial for the other person.
2. There are many tools to love others. There is a time for:
a. Writing a severe letter
b. Church discipline (withholding forgiveness, to give someone over to Satan)
c. Reaffirming love / forgiving
d. Letting love cover a multitude of sins
e. Throwing a party (e.g. to celebrate someone's repentance)
h. There’s even a time for refusing to feed someone – “If a man will not work, neither let him eat.” 2Thes.3:10
3. Some of these tools are soft love tools, and some of those tools are tough love tools.
a. Some are comforting, reassuring tools; some are challenging, rebuking tools.
4. All of them need to be used with Biblical wisdom and Biblical discernment. all of them need to be used with great caution and humility. Church discipline can easily be abused — and has been many times.
5. We need to trust the Lord’s instructions and wisdom instead of our own feelings or preferences.
a. Paul had to command the Corinthians to discipline this man — because it was not what they felt like doing.
b. And many times we don’t feel like doing what is the right thing or best thing to do.
c. And just as Paul tested the obedience of the Corinthians by ordering them to discipline the man, so God tests our obedience by telling us to do what He says instead of what we feel like doing.
A. This passage drips with the love of Christ.
1. We see how Paul is driven not by anger but by his zeal for what is best for others.
2. The punishment he commanded was not for his own sake but for the Corinthians’ sake – the congregation and, though it is not mentioned here, the offender himself.
3. Punishment was the best thing to do for these believers at the time.
4. But Paul’s not just a hammer guy. There was a time for using the hammer. But now it’s time to stop and use the tool of forgiveness and reaffirmation of love.
5. And what tool you use can’t be dependant on your personality, or your mood. It has be to determined by the occasion, and what’s best for the person involved. It has to be based on what love demands.
6. In this passage, we see Christ’s love for the Corinthians shining through Paul.
a. We see Christ’s zeal for their welfare.
b. We see the care He takes to deal with them in just the right way to promote their welfare.
c. We see His willingness to be firm.
B. This is the same love Christ has for US. Do you know that? What you see in Paul is a reflection of the love God has for you! But the way He deals with us doesn’t always feel like love.
1. Sometimes we need a kick in the pants. Sometimes we need to fail. Sometimes we need to have our hearts broken.
2. God knows just what we need, for He has perfect wisdom and knowledge. And because He loves us, He gives it to us.
3. But sometimes it doesn’t look loving. Sometimes it doesn’t feel loving.
a. Take the story in John 11:1–7 Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”
b. Lazarus was dying! The only way Jesus could get to him in time was if he left immediately.
c. And yet, “when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer” before he left.
d. Why? Because “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”
4. Now you know what happens. Lazarus dies before Jesus arrives.
a. The sisters are upset that Jesus had delayed coming and didn’t arrive in time.
b. But then Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and says, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
5. After that do you think that Mary, Martha or Lazarus thought Jesus was unloving to arrive late?
a. Never! You see, Jesus knows what we need. He knows what is best.
6. In this passage we’re given not only an example of the way people need to be loved. We’re also given a glimpse of the way God loves us according to our needs – even though it sometimes doesn’t feel like the way He loves us is the way we need to be loved. Frankly, sometimes God’s acts of love feel like He’s killing us.
7. The disciples didn’t feel like Jesus was doing the best thing for them by submitting to the cross and leaving them. Peter even rebuked Jesus when He told him what was going to happen. But later they came to see that it was the best possible thing Jesus could have done for them.