There are several types of suffering and many sources for that suffering. We know families who have recently experienced the sudden and unexpected loss of loved ones. These families are grieving their loss. Paul tells us that losing fellowship with a Christian brother or sister should cause us to grieve. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul instructed the church to disfellowship a man who was acting immorally and bragging about it. This letter indicates that the church carried out Paul’s instruction, but missed the point. The man was punished, but no effort was being made to reconcile him back into fellowship. This caused Paul pain and motivated him to write a letter that he knew would make the Corinthians hurt.
The topic of church discipline has always been difficult, and it is made more challenging by the existence of many congregations in a community. It is too easy to avoid the pain that is supposed to be in this process by just going to the church down the street. One of our struggles with this is that we have missed some of the steps. The start of this process is when sin occurs in the church body. Regardless of whether it is directly against the church body or against God, something has gone wrong and it must be corrected. Sin within the church body should cause pain or grief within the church body. This pain is the result of the love we have for God and others and should motivate us to do something to correct the source of the pain.
Sin has consequences. If you are a parent you know that punishing a child causes you to experience some pain. If it doesn’t, then you should check your own motives to determine if your desire is correction or vengeance. Paul does not describe this process with a nice word like discipline. He uses the word punishment. The pain experienced will never pay for the sin, but the pain is necessary to get the sinners attention. The sinner must experience pain and those providing the punishment should also experience pain flowing out of their love for the sinner.
The goal of the pain the sinner experiences is a sorrow that leads to repentance. (2 Corinthians 7:8,9) The hard part of this process remains. I probably don’t have this in the right place, because it seems to me that love and forgiveness must be present throughout this process or the goal of reconciliation will not be achieved. There are two goals to the process of church discipline. The first is the removal of sin from the body. The second is complete restoration of the sinner to the body. Truth and grace must operate together. That is Jesus’ way and it is hard.
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. (2 Corinthians 2:10-11 NIV)
One final thought on forgiveness. Unforgiveness is one of the most powerful tools of Satan. We’re studying the Lord’s Prayer today. Jesus closes the prayer with these comments:
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. ‘ For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:12-15 NIV)
If we expect to become like Jesus, then we must forgive.
To my grandchildren:
I am grateful for the people who have loved me enough to punish me when I have sinned.