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. (2 Corinthians 2:1-11 NIV)
What would motivate you to change your mind and leave behind a sinful situation or behavior? What does it say about our relationships with others when their disapproval intensifies our determination to continue in sin? Why is proper church discipline so rare in the church today?
I find this portion of Paul’s letter difficult to understand because nothing in my experience comes close to what I think he is trying to express. Paul’s emotional state is linked to the emotional state of the believers in Corinth. Even though he is physically far away, he shares in their experience. I believe that Satan’s goal is the destruction of individuals through the destruction of relationships and the dissolving of communities. For those of us living in California it seems that Satan has an arsenal of new weapons. The virus and shelter in place orders have made it easy to withdraw and isolate. I am grateful for technology and use it often, but no technology is as effective as face to face contact and physical touch for building and maintaining relationships.
I think the answer to my first question above is simple. For me to repent and leave behind a pattern of sin requires that I desire something else more than whatever the sin provides me. Paul believed that inclusion in the church body in Corinth was so desirable that a man would leave an incestuous relationship to be restored to the church community. The only human relationship in my life that comes close to having that kind of power is my relationship with my wife. Unfortunately, we have raised the priority of self to the point that many have no relationship in their life that would motivate personal change of something that was damaging to their relationships.
It would be easy to illustrate this idea with the example of others, but I do not need to look that far. Every day I am challenged multiple times to make choices that place a desire to preserve a relationship above my personal desires. Just yesterday I was working on an object lesson for our life group. Notice the I in that sentence. This was supposed to be a “we” project, but something in me had made it an “I” project. When I began to put all the items together, my wife made a suggestion, a good one, but I did not want to hear any suggestions. My desire to put this lesson together by myself was so much greater than my desire to include her that I pushed her away, knowing that I was hurting her and our relationship in the process.
I think this same dynamic is at work whenever we are caught in sin and corrected. We do not even think about the relational damage that will be done if we continue in sin. All we can think about in the moment is how much we want to do what we want to do. Our selfish desire totally overwhelms the power that loving relationships should have in our lives.
The sinner in Corinth valued his relationship with the church enough that he desired to be restored to the fellowship. Paul’s instruction in this letter is for the church to forgive and invite him back into fellowship. Consider yourself blessed by every relationship in your life that motivates you to seek forgiveness. Consider yourself more blessed by every relationship in your life that motivates you to do the selfless thing avoiding the need for asking forgiveness.