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Coming Back From Sin

2 Corinthians 2:5-11
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. Another reason I wrote to you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. 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, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes. (NIVUK)

Sin is a big problem and causes all kinds of grief. We do not know the nature of the wrongdoing Paul refers to; it might be the same issue as in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 – a man sleeping with his step-mother. Whatever it was, Paul became reassured that the church had repented of tolerating the sins, discipline had been applied (Titus 3:10-11) and the sinner had repented. However, it seems that the church had then swung from indulging the sinner, to continuing to punish him by refusing to welcome him back into fellowship.

The repentant offender was so isolated by the church that there seemed to be no way back. He had stopped his wrong behaviour, confessed his sin and allowed the church to discipline him; but some in the church had become bitter against him. The church leaders did not know how to restore him. Now, it was the church's behaviour which was wrong. In failing to forgive and comfort the contrite wrong-doer, they were creating a set of new and dangerous problems.

Firstly, the penitent man might believe his punishment to be endless and his future hopeless. The objective of discipline is always to restore people to fellowship with God and other believers (Galatians 6:1). Secondly, the church was failing to grow in love. By retaining an unforgiving spirit, they were not acting as agents of heaven, because God delights in forgiving sinners (Hebrews 8:12). Thirdly, the church was projecting the false idea that the apostle was still angry with the man, when Paul had forgiven him (2 Corinthians 7:3). Fourthly, they were opening themselves to be agents in Satan's strategy of removing hope of ever being embraced by God's love by refusing to restore the man (Ephesians 4:26-27).

It is often easier for us to be legalistic about the sins of others, than full of gracious compassion for those who are truly repentant. Satan is happy with that. If he cannot make us tolerate sin, he encourages us to ignore God's covenant of mercy and forgiveness through Christ. He is pleased when we revert to Old Covenant condemnation, removing any hope of restoration. We become more like the older son in the parable of the prodigal son, than demonstrating the heart of the father (Luke 15:11-32). When that happens, the gospel is robbed of grace so that there is no good news for sinners. The fact is that the church is composed entirely of sinners who have found God's mercy and grace through Jesus. So, refusing to forgive those who have repented is an ungodly malignant attitude, aiding Satan's propaganda war on salvation by grace, removing hope from the wounded and stunting the growth of love in the church. It is time to forgive; start today.

Compassionate God. Thank You for forgiving and restoring sinful people who repent and trust in Jesus. Forgive me for either minimising the seriousness of sin or for being coldly legalistic in refusing to forgive, giving Satan the opportunity to be more destructive. Help me to stand against that temptation and learn to forgive from my heart, so that Your love will comfort and strengthen the whole church to witness to the grace of Jesus Christ. In His Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams