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Father, help us now as we draw to the close of this Lord’s Day that You would once again give us ears to hear. This is no less Your Word because it comes on Sunday evening instead of Sunday morning, because there may be fewer in the evening than in the morning, and we no less need to hear from You, so speak to us and give us just the word we need. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to 2 Corinthians, chapter 2, verses 5 through 11. A paragraph tucked out of the way in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. We’ll come later in chapter 3 and 4 and 5 to some of the more well-known passages, and even next week, Lord willing, to triumph in Christ and the triumphal procession and what that means, but here again we have sort of a part two from last week, trying to understand what this conflict was and what the issue was between Paul and this sinner and through him the Corinthians.
And not surprisingly, though sometimes it can surprise us, even in these out of the way places there are very important lessons for us, fundamental ones, in fact.
“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.”
Underneath all of the drama, which we’ll try to understand as best we can in just a moment, this passage contains two simple, fundamental commands for the church of Jesus Christ: We must discipline and we must forgive.
The command to discipline is implicit in this passage, and so we’ll deal with it more briefly. The explicit command, the major theme of the score, is forgiveness. And if we are to have a healthy, biblical, God-honoring church, we must always do these two things – have standards by which we disciple and if necessary discipline, and then also when there is repentance for breaking those standards and undergoing that discipline that we are eager to forgive and to reaffirm our love.
It is one thing to excel in one command; it takes the work of the Spirit, and it is actually quite an unusual church that can be fully committed to both. Now we might speak of balance or tension, but that makes it sound like you’re on sort of a seesaw, a teeter-totter, and we sort of need just a little bit of discipline and standards and we need, we’ll balance that out with a little bit of love and forgiveness, when really what we need is to be fully committed, all the time, to both.
In an excellent article, now many years old, J. Robertson McQuilkin explains the tension between discipline and forgiveness, or between faithfulness and love. Here’s what he says: “There is a great polarization between the professional unifiers on the one hand and the professional purifiers on the other. It seems that a person must work at uniting all churches, no matter how delinquent in doctrine or life, or that he must give himself wholly to separating all the wheat from the tares now. It is impossible to have too much love, and it is impossible to have too much faithfulness. However, it is quite possible to have unfaithfulness masquerading as love. When God’s people compromise through sentimentality or self-love or for some other reason are unwilling to exercise church discipline, they are unfaithful however much they speak much of love. Again, it is quite possible to have un-love masquerading as faithfulness. When God’s people create schism by disciplining the wrong person, or with the wrong motive, or in the wrong way, they are unloving however much they speak much of faithfulness. I do not ask the ecumenist to be less loving. I urge him to be more faithful. I do not ask the separatist to be less faithful. I urge him to be more loving.”
That’s absolutely right. There are two things that given enough time will always tear a church apart, and maybe it happens quickly or maybe slowly, imperceptibly, and perhaps you don’t even realize that the very soul of a church has been gutted by these two things, either having no standards, so there’s no doctrine that we can’t all just agree to, there’s no ethical standards, there’s no discipline, no standards or impossible standards. If you can get one of those two things going on in a church, you are well along your way to ruining that church. No doctrinal, no moral, no ethical standards, or we have such high, impossible standards and if you dare break them, you can never be forgiven.
But if you can find a church, and I dare say and I hope by God’s grace that this is such a church, if you can find a church that is willing to uphold moral and doctrinal boundaries and to do so with a spirit of graciousness, humility, and forgiveness, then that is on its way to being a mighty church against which the gates of hell will not prevail.
Let’s try to understand what is happening in this paragraph and what Paul is writing about, and we have to use some conjecture, we have to do some mirror reading. Okay, we’re seeing the reflection of it, and what is Paul talking about? What happened in the background? As best as we can figure, and you can read this in the commentaries or the study Bibles as well as I can, in between 1 and 2 Corinthians Paul wrote another letter to the church at Corinth, a lost letter. All we know about the letter is what we can piece together from 2 Corinthians, which mentions, it’s sometimes called, the Severe Letter.
This letter which came in lieu of a personal visit to Corinth, which made some of the Corinthians very upset because Paul, you said you were gone to come visit us, but he didn’t, was Paul’s response to the painful visit he had experienced among the Corinthians earlier. So in response to that painful visit, he writes this painful letter.
We have several times were Paul gives some hints why he wrote this letter. So look up chapter 2, I hope you have your Bibles open, turned on. Look at verse 3: “And I wrote,” so this is not a reference to 1 Corinthians, this is a reference to the letter that comes between 1 and 2 Corinthians, which we don’t have, this so-called Severe Letter, he says, “I wrote as I did so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice.”
So that’s one reason he wrote this severe letter, to smooth the way for a better visit, to get things in order in preparation for his coming.
Look at verse 4: “I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know of the abundant love I have for you.”
So Paul wrote the letter though he understood that it would be hard for them to read. He did so because of his great love for them.
Look down at verse 9, which we just read: “For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything.”
So he wrote also to see if they could follow instructions and prove their worth.
There’s one other passage. Turn the page over to chapter 7, verse 12. He uses this language a fourth time: “So although,” chapter 7, verse 12, “I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong,” this unnamed person, “nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong,” which seems to be Paul, “but in order that your earnestness for us,” Paul and his associates, “might be revealed to you in the sight of God.”
So he wrote that they might prove their affection and their loyalty to the Apostle Paul, their true father in the faith.
So he wanted to know their character. Would they do the right thing? Even without the Apostle Paul there in person. He didn’t want to lord it over them like one of these so-called super apostles. He wanted to know, will you do the right thing without me? Just like the old saying goes, “Character is who you are when no one is looking.” Well, Paul was not there in person. Would they still, look at the end of verse 9, would they still be obedient in everything? That last phrase there is the key: In everything.
Because Paul was asking them to be obedient in two ways that many of us struggle. We can do one or the other, churches can do this direction or that direction, but he says I want you to be obedient in everything, both directions. Discipline, discipline this way, remember, discipline this man who has gotten out of line, exercise authority, discipline, that’s part of your obedience to Christ.
And now that he has repented, to turn, reaffirm your love, and forgive. Could the Corinthians do both? Would they be obedient? Not just in their natural inclination.
Probably everyone in this room, your personality, your upbringing, your experiences, for many of us, you’ve maybe been like this ever since you were a little kid, just leaning one way or another, and you gravitate toward the yeah, there’s got to be standards and toughen up, buttercup. Tough luck. All right. You better pull your act together. All right, you broke the law and you need to suffer the consequences. That’s just the way it is. And you can get it, yes, discipline.
And others of you are drawn with a tender heart, well, but we all make mistakes, and look how broken-hearted they are, and they probably didn’t mean it and we all run afoul of the rules sometimes. And you’re drawn to the tender-hearted forgiveness.
Can you, however, be obedient not in one or the other, but in both? Would they take sin seriously enough to punish? Would they understand grace enough to open their hearts after he repented? Paul calls for both.
And it gives you some hints why they might have thought that Paul was fickle. Not only as we saw did he change his travel plans, “I’m going to come,” but then he says, oh, oh, oh, if I come right now, this is going to be a big blowup, I’m going to delay this coming.”
Not only for that reason, but because they wondered if Paul himself was rather hot and cold on these issues. “Paul, I thought you were the Apostle Paul, capital A, capital P, and you don’t mess around and you come in here and you are going to be the tough guy that we can count on, and then but sometimes you seem to be a real softy. Come on, Paul. Are you the grace guy or the truth guy?”
The fact of the matter was, Paul wasn’t fickle. But different situations and different people call for different approaches. Any good parent will tell you, with multiple children you have to understand how different children respond to different sorts of correction or exhortation.
1 Corinthians 4:21, Paul says, “What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?”
Now, he’s inviting them to get your act together so that I can come with a spirit of gentleness, but Paul is prepared, he can come with a rod, he can come in a spirit of gentleness.
We must be wise in how we handle different people and different situations. We cannot be one-dimensional, sort of cartoonish characters, who are always the good guys, always the bad guys; always just have exaggerated strengths and weaknesses. This is the mark of personal maturity and the mark of church-wide maturity.
See, it’s the immature person who says, “Now wait a second, every single case we always got to come down as hard as possible.”
No, that’s not maturity.
Or, it’s the immature person who says, “Well, God is a God of love. That means in every single case the right response is just a great big, I love you kind of bear hug.”
It takes maturity to understand when one is called for and when the other is called for. Jesus was not one-dimensional. He could be very much in your face. He could even be sarcastic to the proud, to the big shots, to the unteachable, but to the broken-hearted and the weak He was patient, gentle, compassionate.
So what exactly happened here in the background that required the discipline of the church?
So look at this first command, implicit command, discipline. What happened? Well, some man did something wrong that appeared to have caused grief to Paul and to the church. So look at the language in verses 5 through 8. You notice the singular pronouns, “if anyone he has caused it to me for such a one,” verse 6, “so,” verse 7, “you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him,” verse 8, “I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.”
So we’re talking about some man here in the church did something wrong that required the church’s discipline, the punishment of the majority, you see that in verse 6.
So what did this man do? Well, there’s two options. One option is to think that this is the same man that’s mentioned in 1 Corinthians chapter 5. Keep your finger there in 2 Corinthians, turn to 1 Corinthians 5: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you… A man has his father’s wife.” So this man has committed severe sexual immorality, sleeping with his father’s wife. Not the man’s mother, but his father’s wife of a remarriage of some kind, but this was clearly forbidden.
So it could be that this is the man, because in chapter 5 Paul says, “You’re going to put that man outside the camp, you’re going to treat one and you’re going to hand him over to Satan. You are going to excommunicate him.”
And so could it be that this is the very man who committed this sin, the church disciplines him, and now he turns.
This is how Calvin understood the passage, and most of the older commentators understood it the same way.
There’s a second option, which is what most of the newer commentators argue, and I think is a little more persuasive, and that is that this is not the same man from 1 Corinthians 5 but this is a different man who opposed Paul and questioned his apostolic authority. Now why do I say that? Because the offense seems to have been first of all directed towards Paul. You can see there in chapter 2, verse 5, “He has caused it not to me.”
Now that may say, well, no, this wasn’t an issue with Paul directly, but I think Paul is speaking, he’s trying to set the record straight: “You may think that this is all about me, but listen. The issue is not mainly to me, but in some measure is really to all of you.”
But then there’s a clue later where Paul says that he has forgiven, “If I have forgiven anything,” he says in verse 10, and I think that means, well, I’ve already moved on. If there really was anything to forgive, then surely I have forgiven this man of whatever he did against Paul.
One other indication that makes me think this is an issue first with Paul is from chapter 7, verse 12. Go back there, we already read it once. You see in chapter 7, 2 Corinthians 7, look up at verse 10: “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, worldly grief produces death. See what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation… At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.”
So I think this is Paul saying, “You had this man, he opposed my apostolic authority, but you have come through with flying colors and you have cleared yourself of any wrongdoing in the matter.”
And then verse 12: “So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness,” now notice, “for us,” so Paul, thinking of him and his close associates, “for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. Therefore we are comforted.”
So that suggests to me that there was some offense against the Apostle Paul, and he says you have rallied to our defense, you have proved yourselves to be valiant in this matter, and so we are comforted as you have proven your earnestness toward us.
So in some way, we don’t know exactly how, this man has done something against Paul, and this man was therefore punished. You see that up again in verse 11, what we just read in chapter 7: “What zeal, what punishment.” So they have done the right thing to discipline this man who is deserving of punishment.
Now go back to chapter 2. Again, we don’t know exactly what it was. Was it a rebuke? Was he barred from the Lord’s Supper? Perhaps both of those things. He mentions, in chapter 2, verse 6, the punishment by the majority. Is this a majority vote of the congregation? If you believe in congregational policy, you would think that. Is it a majority vote of the leaders, of the elders of the church? You might think that if you’re Presbyterian. Or is he simply pointing out that most of the congregation has been faithful in dis-fellowshipping, because excommunication is not simply a formal declaration, but it is meant to be lived out, not in a kind of shunning that when someone is excommunicated from the church, well, we can never talk to you, but rather you demonstrate that this person, whatever they may claim regarding Christ, that you can no longer treat them as one who truly belongs to Christ. You cannot act as if everything is normal.
Now it’s very difficult to do in cases of excommunication, and usually what happens today, we live in a big world and there’s lots of churches, that very often then people can scoot on and they go to other churches. And if churches are acting as they should, they communicate with other churches and that’s why we ask for transfer letters of membership. I know you don’t always have those and churches don’t always do those, but it’s to say, “Is this person coming to us in good standing? Are there any unresolved issues?” Because we want to treat seriously the discipline of members in the church.
Paul says, “You have done your work and the punishment by the majority is enough.”
It is always hard work. If you get into whatever kind of ministry and you think, “You know why I’m getting into church ministry? I love disciplining people.” That’s probably not, Andrew, if you say that’s why you’re at seminary, don’t do it. No, it’s difficult.
Here’s the reason why churches, why movements, why institutions always drift to be more liberal. Why? Because it is much easier to say “yes” than to be the person or the institution who says “no.”
Now, I could ask my wife and my kids and they would tell you I’m not nearly as nice and kind as my wife, now my wife is kind, so she won’t tell you that, but my kids would, and even me, doesn’t lose a whole lot of sleep if people are upset about something, especially if they’re out there, not people close to me. I don’t like, I don’t enjoy disappointing people. How many of us do? You enjoy being the person who has to say no? You enjoy having to have hard conversations? You enjoy having to tell people, no, we’re not going to go there doctrinally, we’re not going to go there ethically? You can’t keep treating your wife like that. You can’t keep responding to your husband that way.
Very few of us enjoy those hard conversations. And so it’s always easier to say, “Yes.” The slide is always towards more permissiveness because it takes great effort to maintain moral, doctrinal standards, in the church or in any organization. Of course, some people can run hard in the other direction and do it in a loveless way; we’ll come to forgiveness in just a moment.
They disciplined this man for his sin, and in so doing they did the right thing. Our Book of Church Order defines discipline like this: “The exercise of discipline is highly important and necessary. In its proper usage, discipline maintains,” listen to these three things, “The glory of God, the purity of His Church, and the keeping and reclaiming of disobedient sinners.” All three of those things.
The purpose is not to cause pain, the purpose is not retribution, “You’ve made our lives difficult, now you suffer.” It is always the glory of God, the purity of the Church, and in an effort to reclaim lost and disobedient sinners. So churches must discipline.
That’s the implicit command, and we read it in the rest of 2 Corinthians that that’s what the church was faithful to do.
Here, more specifically, Paul is calling them to forgive. Notice how gentle Paul is in his response, and if I’m right and the newer commentators are right in thinking that this was an offense against Paul in large part, how admirable. He doesn’t even mention the man’s name. In other times, in other contexts, he does mention names. Paul’s not above naming names, Hymenaeus and Philetus, Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm, people have left me.
But here he’s not looking to settle scores, they know, they’ve disciplined him. Paul doesn’t need to bring up every detail. He doesn’t need to put his name in print again. You’ve punished enough. He’s sorry. Now turn, comfort him. He’s learned his lesson. There is no sense that Paul says, “You know what? The rest of your life, man who’s been disciplined, whatever you do in the church, you’re always going to have a mark, you’re always going to have sort of an asterisk, oh, that, oh that guy, and we’ll say the nice things and we’ll give him, but there’s always sort of a mark on his permanent record. Well, yeah, we kind of know what he was really about.”
Paul doesn’t do any of that. He tells them, just as you did the right thing to discipline, now I want to see you be obedient in everything. Not just the discipline, but also the forgiveness. Comfort him, verse 7, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Listen to the pleading in Paul’s voice: I beg you, reaffirm your life for him.
See, this is not about going soft on sin. This person has seen his sin. He’s wept over his sin. He’s showed walking in a path of repentance. This wasn’t just a one-time, I got caught and I feel bad. Paul talks about that in 2 Corinthians 7: Worldly grief, godly grief. No, this is a godly grief, and he says I don’t what this man to have excessive sorrow for the rest of his life. Reaffirm your love for him.
Our world knows nothing of this. You’ve heard me say this before. It was not too long ago we thought that our culture was heading towards a moral relativism, and it turns out we were heading toward an extreme secular legalism. If you look at the world around you and you follow stuff, of course there’s some relativism in some quarters, but by and large it’s not that. No, the issue is if you said the wrong thing, you tweeted the wrong thing when you were 14 years old, well, we have that on your permanent record, and that’s going to stay with you forever.
You know what the internet can do? Law. The internet can do judgment. The internet can do mob justice, so-called.
The internet has not found a way to do forgiveness, not how to do grace.
And in some ways, we’re living in the residue of a Christian conception of guilt without any longer the Christian conception of repentance, or redemption.
So we understand sinners, you have moral taint, if you do something wrong, you have this impurity and it sticks with you. In some weird way, at least with a select group of offenses, our culture understands sin, and it sticks with you forever and you can never get rid of it. But our culture has no mechanism to forgive.
Calvin says, “Nothing is more dangerous than to give Satan a handle to tempt and offend or to despair. We furnish Satan with arms in every instance in which we leave without consolation those who are in good earnest, affected with a view of their sin.”
Brothers and sisters, we must not be slower to show mercy than God is.
Calvin says later, “For it frequently happens that under the color of zeal for discipline, a Pharisaical rigour creeps in, which hurries on the miserable offender to ruin, instead of curing him.”
In other words, the goal is not punishment per se, it’s certainly not misery, it’s repentance and restoration. To rejoice and embrace the offender, and put this behind you.
We of all people, if we are gospel people, we must believe that people can change. We must believe that people can change.
And we all know that sometimes repentance takes a while to see. You’ve probably all been in cases where somebody gets caught and there’s the flood of tears and then they just go back doing the same sinful, foolish things they were doing. No, there needs to be fruit of repentance. But let us be careful. Sometimes that fruit of repentance is, “Well, I need, how many years do you need to see? How many more fruit trees do you need to pluck down from?”
Is there ever a time you can say, “You know what? You’re sorry for your sin, and I affirm my love for you.”
In my almost 20 years of pastoral ministry, I would think that I’ve been personally involved in seven, eight, ten different cases of suspension or excommunication in the three different churches I’ve been a part of. And I would say if that’s eight or ten, I would say there’s been four, not quite half, three or four occasions where those have, years later, some of them were months later, some were years and years later, had the opportunity to hear that person who had been suspended, who had been excommunicated, come back before the session and say, “I didn’t see it at the time and I was so angry at you. I hated what you were doing. I thought you were all a bunch of mean-spirited Pharisees and I can see now that what you did, you did in love, and I’m sorry.” And we had the wonderful opportunity to reinstate them into fellowship in the church.
I’ll never forget one Sunday, and we had stations where people would go to get communion, and there were elders there but there were tables and so people would come to the tables around the room, and there was a woman who had been suspended, I don’t remember how long, if it was many months or longer than that, suspended from the table, and she had recently met with the elders and had confessed and we were assured that she had moved in a spirit of real repentance, and we lifted that suspension and welcomed her to the table, and I will never forget as I was standing there in front, to see her go to her knees, trembling with tears, that it meant that much to her that she was now welcome back at the table to feast upon the bread and the cup. That’s how it should be. When we sin, we repent, and we’re restored to fellowship.
The command is simple: Forgive.
C.S. Lewis says, “We all agree that forgiveness is a beautiful idea until we have to practice it.”
Isn’t that true?
Now let me say just quickly what forgiveness is not. I’ve taught on this before, but just to underscore, forgiveness is not the absence of consequences, so it doesn’t mean the thief on the cross was forgiven in that moment, and he went to be with the Lord in paradise, but he still suffered the consequences for his sin. David was forgiven and yet because of his sin with Bathsheba, there were all sorts of messy consequences in his family for the rest of his life. So forgiveness does not always mean the elimination of consequences.
Forgiveness is not the absence of pain. Forgiveness is not saying what you did was no big deal and it doesn’t hurt anymore. Forgiveness does not always mean the full restoration of the relationship. There may be such pain that to have trust renewed, to have friendship renewed, may take a long time, or may not happen at all, even though forgiveness is present.
So what is forgiveness?
Thomas Watson says we forgive others “when we strive against all thoughts of revenge, when we will not do our enemies mischief but wish well to them, when we grieve at their calamities, pray for them, and seek reconciliation with them and show ourselves ready on all occasions to relieve them.”
John Piper takes that definition and shows how every part of that definition from Thomas Watson is rooted in scripture, whether you call it forgiveness or some people argue that forgiveness really is when the other side repents, and if they don’t repent, you can’t forgive, so whether this is forgiveness or you say the spirit of forgiveness, it’s eminently biblical.
Watson says we forgive when we strive against all thoughts of revenge. Romans 12:19: Do not seek revenge but leave room for God’s wrath.
We forgive when we do them no mischief. 1 Thessalonians 5:15: See then no one repays another evil for evil.
We forgive when we wish well to them who hurt us. Luke 6:28: Bless those who curse you.
We forgive when we grieve at their calamities, even for our enemies. Proverbs 24:17: Do not rejoice when your enemy falls. Do not let your heard be glad when he stumbles.
We forgive when we are willing to pray for those who have offended us. Matthew 5:44: Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.
We forgive when we have a posture that seeks and is willing to engage in reconciliation. Romans 12:18: If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
And we forgive, just taking the last phrase in Watson’s definition, when we are ready to come to the relief of those who have offended us. Exodus 23:4: If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him.
I want you to think, if you’re not already, of that person, this may be very recent, this may be decades and decades ago, think of that person who hurt you, a jerky boss who never gave you your due, an impossibly difficult husband, don’t nudge him right now, a wife who cheated on you, an overbearing parent, an ungrateful child, a rude church member, a controlling leader, a defiant complainer, a cheat who stole from you, a gossip who betrayed you, a slanderer who ruined your reputation, a friend who you counted on stabbed you in the back.
You think of that person, and if we have enough time, we all have one or more persons like that, maybe dozens. Some of the people in your mind may, in fact, be in this church. Some of the people in your mind may be in your own family. Maybe you work with them. But you think of that person and you don’t have to pretend that what they did to you was not a big deal, or that it didn’t hurt, or that they still don’t have wrongs to be righted. You only can do what depends upon you. But you think of that person and how difficult, the pain that they have caused, and are you willing to say, and embrace all that Thomas Watson gave his definition, all that we just read from Scripture, that person in your mind right now, do you desire blessing for them? Or do you hope that they get curses? Do you grieve when you find that they have troubles? Or do you feel some sense of satisfaction that at least they’re finally getting what they deserve? Do you ever pray for them? Do you wish well to them? Are you prepared to help them?
You see, there’s a reason why Paul ends the paragraph the way that he does: We would not be outwitted by Satan. We are not ignorant of his designs, of his schemes. Because do you see what the devil’s design is? Well, one, he could get this man who has repented to despair, to be filled with excessive sorrow, to feel as if his life is in the trash heap. There’s nothing. He missed God’s plan for his life, he sinned in this way, he embarrassed himself, filled with shame to the Apostle Paul of all people, and now you just sort of cower in a corner until you get to heaven. That would be the devil winning.
Or if he could sow seeds of discord between Paul and the Corinthians so that they come to blows. Isn’t this the case when one man’s sin or one woman’s sin explodes and makes a mess over so many people and so many places, and all of a sudden it’s them against them, and there is a sea of division. That would be the devil’s design.
Even bigger. Think of what a spirit of unforgiveness can do to a church. It poisons our witness, it poisons the air, and it will poison your own soul. When you join a church, most of you I imagine are members here of this church, if you stick around long enough in that church, you will have opportunity to forgive, because someone will hurt you, someone will ignore you, they will disregard you, they will say something unintentionally foolish or they may say something they meant to be mean. It may even happen that the person who hurt you is an elder, a deacon, a pastor, your preacher, for they’re all sinners, too. Including this preacher.
People will disappoint you. People can be proud. They can be petty. When you join a church, you must be prepared to forgive. Because Satan would love nothing more than a great pall of unforgiveness to be over the church, and in your hearts, festering, with thoughts like, “I won’t forgive him, I do not care how sorry he is. If I forgive him, then, mmm, he’s just going to get away with it again, and why should I be the one to forgive? It’s 5% my fault, 95% their fault. Why should I forgive? No, no, no. That will be with them forever.”
That, my friends, that spirit is from the pit of hell. That’s not an exaggeration. Verse 11 tells us that is Satan’s design.
And so we must fight for peace. The way of discipline and the way of forgiveness is the way of the cross. Do you see how both justice and mercy meet in the cross? Because the cross tells us there are standards and that sin is a big deal and sin must be punished, and the cross also tells us that Jesus is more than enough to pay for our sins.
To be the sort of person and to be the sort of church that can both discipline and forgive means dying to ourselves. It means having the courage to discipline in such a way that you die to the desire we all feel, to have everyone think well of us. I don’t want to discipline, I want people to like me. That’s the way of the cross. And it also means having the grace to forgive, when you die to your desire that says, “No, no, no, I will take matters into my own hands, I will get vindication at all costs, I must be satisfied, the offender who hurt me must hurt as much as I have been hurt.”
Brothers and sisters, Jesus shows us a better way. Let us not be outwitted by Satan’s designs.
For this is why I wrote you, Paul says, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient, not in one or the other, but obedient in everything. To discipline, and when they repent, with arms wide open, to say, “Sinner, come home. I love you. I forgive you. You’re welcome.”
Let’s pray. Father, surely we see this in You, and we are like those prodigal sons and daughters, ran away, squandered our inheritance on sensual living, and while we were still a long way off, Father, You came, You cinched up the hem of Your robe, and You ran to us, to embrace us, to forgive us. So may we have the same spirit evident among us. Not a cheap grace, not a mere sentimentality, for sin is serious, but the cross can conquer all. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.