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OUR TRIUMPH IN UNION WITH CHRIST
2 CORINTHIANS 1-7

The Stress of a Church Strife - Forgiven and Restored (4)

2 Corinthians 1:23 - 2:11 (NKJV)

Dr. G.E. Johnson

Introduction

No Christian has served long in any church situation without finding that misunderstandings and division may be a sad fact of church life. This should not surprise us since all have inherited that tendency of self-justification. Added to that fact, the church has an inveterate enemy in Satan who exacerbates and foments divisions. In the previous passage 2 Cor. 1: 12-22, Paul found himself being wrongly judge for a change of plans, made necessary because of the church's own division. He loved his Corinthians brethren too much to come a second time with apostolic authority possibly to make matters worse. In having to defend himself he skillfully emphasized the simplicity and integrity of his message (1:18-20). Rather than only defending himself, he highlighted the certainty of their standing in Christ, their being established in Christ, anointed and sealed with the Holy Spirit their deposit (1: 22).

Paul's Heart of Love for his Brethren 2 Corinthians 1: 23- 2:1-4

In church situations one soon learns that God's people are God's work in progress. Differences of opinions, human shortcoming and carnal attitudes may add up to a messy situation--pardon the frankness. Paul finds himself squarely involved in such a situation but instead of showing impatience with his beloved Corinthians, his message is restrained, considerate and tactful. He shows no irritation or self defense but rather the spirit of Christ who loves his church.

Paul reminds the Corinthian brethren that his change of plans was to spare them for we have "no dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith we stand" (1: 24). He reasons tenderly with them to remind them that his sorrow is their sorrow; they should find in each other his or her mutual joy (2:1, 2). Paul lives out his later counsel to Timothy: "And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth" (2 Tim. 2:24, 25).

Before he turns to another pressing problem, he openly shares his heart:"For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly" (2:4). Only a Christ- like person can so speak in the face of the bitter attack Paul was suffering, an attack led in great part by the false brethren he will face squarely in 2 Corinthians 10-12. Such is the response of one who knows in personal depth the message of the Cross, a message of forgiveness and humility.

Another Church Problem Looms Large 2 Corinthians 2:5-10

It may seem that one problem creates another. You escape one to find yourself enmeshed in another. In fact in the first epistle to the Corinthians Paul wrote answering the specific problems they had posed to him: "For there must be also factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you" (1 Cor. 11:19; Matt. 18:7). Paul now refers to a given member who had sinned grievously, was rightly judged and disciplined by the church but now has apparently truly repented. What should be their course of action? No doubt there would be as many opinions as persons involved!

Biblical students have theorized that this person may be the member who fell into the incestuous sin of 1 Corinthians 5: 1-5 where Paul counsels strict discipline and severe punishment--even to "deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus". Others have conjectured that on a previous difficult visit Paul was confronted by a brother who attacked him viciously.

Scripture frequently leaves specific occasions unclear to establish rather the principle of dealing with broader issues and/or sin in the church (see 2 Cor. 1: 8: 12: 7-9). No two circumstances are ever identical. The principle is: specific sin, as described in the Word, requires genuine repentance with evidence in time of true brokenness, a return to the Christian life style with restoration and acceptance by the church on the basis of the efficacy blood of Christ. It is easier to say and write this but extremely difficult to know the exact boundaries in practice; only the Spirit of Christ as seen in Paul's example can guide us.

Paul now suggests strongly that the time has come in this specific instance to not be too severe (2: 5). Self righteousness can turn God's people into judge, jury and executioner. On the other hand a recent notable evangelical leader who fell into gross sin is quoted as saying: "I repented too much!" an oxymoron.

Paul urged that they forgive and receive the brother into fellowship. "I therefore urge you to reaffirm your love to him (2:8). Paul adds their response will be a final test of their true obedience to God (2:9). As forgiven by Christ they must forgive another. Paul states it succinctly: "And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32).

Paul adds his forgiveness of the brother in principle because he had already forgiven them in the misunderstanding of his change of plans and still rejoices in his love for them in spite of the lack of the same toward him. This Christ like spirit is ultimately seen in Paul's later response: "Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And will not be burdensome to you; for I seek not yours but you . . . And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved" (2 Cor. 12: 14, 15). In the familiar words of Amy Carmichael, the founder of Dohnavur Fellowship that Irish missionary to India who challenged thousands with her soldier-like writings: "This is Calvary love."

Forgiveness or Else - Satan Gains an Advantage. 2 Corinthians 2:11

We may easily lose sight of another consequence of not forgiving and restoring a brother. Paul states directly:"I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices" (2: 10, 11). Paul has a keen sense of the conflict in which the believer is engaged. His spirit recognizes the tension at the horizontal level in the church, but another battle is being waged on the vertical plane. This truth of forgiveness or else raises t he stakes for no delay in realizing the power of the blood of Jesus to cover our sins. It calls into question the fundamental truth that Jesus' death defeated Satan; we then by our refusal to forgive become an ally of our enemy.

An unforgiving spirit gives ground to the enemy who now has the moral right to claim his territory in us which Christ bought at the price of his death. This siding with Satan, while maybe not so apparent to us, nevertheless undercuts the victory of the Cross. We become agents of the accuser of the brethren when we should rather be the defenders of our fellow brother in Christ. Paul concludes that forgiveness to ours to give or else.

Yours in the Message of the Cross,
Gordon Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute
Edinburg, TX 78539