5 Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to 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. 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 2:5-11 ESV).
2 Corinthians 2:5-11
In my previous three posts on church discipline, we’ve seen that Jesus Christ himself has given the local church the authority to remove unrepentantly sinning members out of the church (Matt 18:15-20); that spiritual believers are to restore transgressing believers because burden-bearing is commanded by Christ (Gal 6:1-5); and that believers who sin publicly and seriously must be excommunicated so that they might be saved, because sin corrupts and believers are God’s people, and because it is the church’s job to judge its members (1 Cor 5).
This passage describes the church’s responsibility to forgive those who have sinned and been excommunicated, and to restore them.
The fact is that all of us need forgiveness; sometimes we need to give it to others, and other times we need to be forgiven. And in both giving and receiving forgiveness, you are involved in a life-or-death matter. Forgiveness is serious; it is not a game; it is not a take-it-or-leave-it part of the Christian life.
Here’s what Paul tells the Corinthian church in this passage: “Because this man hurt you more than me and you punished him enough, and because I’m testing your obedience and have already forgiven this man for your sake, reaffirm your love for him so that he won’t be overwhelmed by regret and pain.”
I created a new label, GX2, for the relationship between the three pieces of this passage (verses 5, 6-8, and 9-11). Paul gives two grounds for his command, his Inference, in verses 6-8. The first is in 5, and the second is in two pieces in 9 and 10-11.
(Please let me know what you think of this label, and if you’ve seen something similar in studying Scripture.)
Both grounds are different. The first has to do with the facts of the sin that led to the church discipline and the sinner’s repentance (5-6), and the second with Paul’s reaction to the sin and repentance (9-11).
At the heart of the passage is the Inference (7-8) drawn from both bookended grounds.
So let’s briefly summarize each section, starting with the bookends, and concluding with the Inference, and then apply this text to our lives—which is the reason we’re studying it, right?
Verses 5-6: SUMMARY: Church discipline is meant to bring the sinner to repentance, and should end when this is done.
This sinning believer had repented of his sin and ceased from it (with godly sorrow, which Paul describes in 7:9-11), and so his punishment should cease as well.
Verses 9-11: SUMMARY: Believers must forgive those who sin against them so they won’t be fooled by Satan.
Also, Paul himself, the one sinned against (it seems), had forgiven this man for the sake of the church, serving as a godly example to them. He did this so that they would not be duped by Satan into an unforgiving spirit.
Verses 7-8: SUMMARY: Therefore, believers should forgive, comfort, and reaffirm their love for those who have repented of their sin against them, lest the sinner be destroyed.
Finally, the Inference from 5-6 and 9-11 is that the Corinthians should also forgive this man, which would result in his position in Christ being affirmed, and his being welcomed back into the church with open arms. They should not only obey him in disciplining him from the church, but also in welcoming him back when the discipline had produced the desired effect!
We learn from this that church discipline is not punitive, but corrective; it is not an end, but a means to an end: moving a professing believer to repent of public, serious sin, and thus demonstrating the reality of his profession of faith.
There are two ditches we can fall into with church discipline, then: one of lazy permissiveness, allowing serious sin to go unpunished and unjudged in the church, and the other of harsh perfectionism, refusing to allow a repentant believer back into the fold of the church.
We must not be more lenient than God is with sin, or think that we can be more holy than God. After all, Jesus didn’t come to save righteous people but sinners (Luke 5:31-32).