Imagine reading a piece of mail correspondence from one person whom you know to another group of people with whom you are also acquainted. The letter references a variety of events that are common knowledge to both, but which are largely unknown to you. Therefore, you would be somewhat confused as to how to put all the pieces together as to what had happened and relative to who had done what.
This is essentially the situation we have as we continue reading here in the early portion of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. As we’ve referenced earlier in these devotionals, there were more than two letters from Paul to the saints in this early New Testament church. This is merely the second inspired letter that was intended to be included in the canon of Scripture. There were other letters and a number of visits being referenced at varying points.
What is clear is that there were issues of sin, conflict, confrontation and discipline that had gone on within the church community, much of it involving Paul as an Apostle and authority. These conflicts caused much grief and painful relationship between Paul and the Corinthian congregation. Hard things were said (in person and in writing), and there were tears of distress, anguish and grief.
What was the situation that stimulated this season of difficulty? Historically, it has been thought that it related to the individual in the first letter who had committed incestuous sin … the thought being that the congregation had treated him very severely – to the extent that though he was now repentant, they were unwilling to forgive him. However, it is now more often believed that this relates to another situation not addressed in the first letter. We might speculate that it was something targeted specifically at the Apostle Paul, perhaps wrongly questioning his apostolic authority and good intents. This offender was severely censured and in time had become repentant. Paul is saying that enough had been done to discipline this person, the apostle was forgiving him, and they should likewise do the same.
The principle underlying this forgiveness and restoration of mutual love is a wonderfully timeless takeaway point to always remember. If the conflict was allowed to go on, this would play into the hand of the great enemy, Satan. It was already bad enough that this situation had erupted and caused the severity of grief all had experienced. To not forgive the person was to continue the damage and to accomplish the advance of the Evil One’s agenda … or as Paul calls this dastardly plan, “the schemes” of Satan to attempt to outwit the church family.
I can tell you rather certainly that there is nothing worse in the world of doing church ministry than to have to get involved with disciplinary matters of people in sinful behaviors and attitudes. There are occasions where the behavior has blinded the person from seeing the wrongful nature of it, and they are therefore rather unapproachable – seeing the confrontation as arrogance and power-posturing of people in leadership. Often they have some measure of a following who don’t see the full picture and who are sympathetic to the offender and his viewpoints. Before long, there are factions and an overall feeling of conflict and dissention in the church family. The ministry of outreach particularly suffers, as all energies and thoughts are focused within the walls and upon the strife.
By God’s grace, we as a church at TSF have been largely spared the scope of painful conflict as Paul is addressing in this passage today. But we have not (nor will we ever on this side of eternity) escaped all conflictual situations. Sometimes it is necessary, in godly love, to confront sin and error. As always, the goal to not to lord it over anyone or to “win” and bring punishment and pain upon anyone. The goal is restoration, not punitive action, as much as that may at times please the flesh in the heat of conflict.
The desired outcome for all is to be like Christ in our interpersonal relationships both within the church and in front of an unbelieving world. And Paul will have some beautifully colorful pictures of this as we read on later in this chapter.
2 Corinthians 2:1 – So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. 2 For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? 3 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. 4 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.
5 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. 6 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. 9 Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. 10 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, 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.