I have been struck by a passage in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 that has made me stop and ask a question that I had never given a great deal of thought to before today. It has to do with forgiveness and how Paul directed us to treat the sinners among us. Not the person you meet on the street who does not know Jesus but the individual who for whatever reason has fallen away from the faith and has chosen to live in sin. I once had a man tell me that as a New Pastor in a church in Alabama that the church roles had more people who had been put out of the church for failure to live a moral life style than there currently were members. To him he believed that almost 70% of the community had at one time or another been members of the church. However, in the pattern of the holiness they had been shunned or as the Catholic Church calls it excommunicated. However if we look at what Paul tells the church at Corinth we have failed to head His teachings when we do this. If you are not familiar with this situation it is laid out in 1 Corinthians 5 and has to do with sexual immorality within the church at Corinth.
1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
1 Corinthians 5:1-2 (ESV)
It would seem that from the second letter Paul has mellowed some. However, I believe his reaction is a model of what we are to do. Too often when people fall into a sinful situation we fail to recognize that except for God's grace we are not far from falling also. Yes there is a time when we are told to separate ourselves from the brother or sister in Christ that has fallen into sin as to prevent ourselves from being dragged down with them. However, Paul is telling us here that there is a time to try to lift up and restore that same person.
5 Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measurenot to put it too severelyto all of you. 6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. 2 Corinthians 2:5-8 (ESV)
You see when we are unable to turn and forgive we are allowing the devil an opportunity to run rampant within the church. Paul explains this need;
9 For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 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, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. 2 Corinthians 2:9-11 (ESV)
The devil would love for a church to become known as that church were if you are not perfect in every way you are not welcome there. In 20th century terminology it's being referred to as the country club church. Where everyone is there to be served and everyone has to look or act a certain way in order to fit in. This pattern of church is in a slow march towards death and it is because we begin to lose the ability to forgive others and accept the fact that we all can fall sometimes. Today is there someone that you need to forgive. As Paul stated when a brother or sister in Christ causes pain to the body it impacts the whole body. Just as if you hurt your arm your whole body suffers for it. Is it not in the best interest of the body to give forgiveness and restore those who have fallen if they so desire to return. I pray that today you recognize the forgiveness you have received from Christ not just once but every day that you are given breath and begin to think about others the same way Jesus thinks about you. We are all in need of forgiveness. I pray that this healing of your Church will begin with you. Be blessed as you walk in the light of God's word.
Rev. Brian H. Mathis CSC
Ordained Minister Church of God, Cleveland TN
Currently serving as the Associate Pastor of Discipleship at Westminster Baptist Church
Graduate of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary MDiv in Chaplain Studies