“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a permanent attitude.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

In my years of ministry experience, I have discovered that most personal problems of Christians are related to forgiveness. Some don’t understand God’s forgiveness and struggle with guilt. Others refuse to extend forgiveness to others and choose blame. The Apostle Paul helps us with both in 2 Corinthians 2:1-11.

One of the members of the Corinthian church caused Paul a great deal of pain. We are not sure what he did. He may have been the same man he wrote about in 1 Corinthians 5, a man living in open immorality. Or maybe another man who publicly challenged Paul’s authority. Regardless, Paul handled the conflict with love. We can learn some lessons about wrongs, love and forgiveness. 

1 – Love Puts Others First (2 Corinthians 2:1-4)

Paul previously wrote the Corinthians about a situation that needed correction. Although he was sorry the letter would hurt the Corinthians, he sent it anyway. Sometimes the most loving action a person can do for another is confront him with the truth. When we don’t do anything we show we are more concerned with being liked than what will happen to them. We need to put the life of an erring friend ahead of our personal comfort level.

2 – Love Helps Others Grow (2 Corinthians 2:5-6)

It appears that the church took Paul’s advice and confronted him. The whole church had suffered because of this man and it needed to be handled lovingly. The church’s ministry was stalled because of sin. Much like Achan’s sin caused defeat for the Israeli army (Joshua 7), one unrepentant church member can keep a church from growing. Love removes barriers that prevent spiritual growth of individuals and congregations.

3 – Love Forgives and Receives (2 Corinthians 2:7-11)

Though the man evidently repented, the church refused to forgive him. Like many today, the church was hesitant to confront him with sin, then they were hesitant to fully forgive him when he repented. Paul urged the church to forgive him:

  • For the man’s own sake (v. 7,8).This man was ‘swallowed up” in sorrow. The Greek word is used for engulfing waves. He was drowning in sadness. Paul wanted the church to “confirm” their love. This is a legal term – they should make a judicial decision. Probably since they publicly removed him from the church membership, they should publicly receive him back. Their public forgiveness would ease his pain.
  • For the Lord’s sake (v. 9-10). Discipline is as much a matter of obedience to the Lord as it is an obligation to a brother. Confronting sin is not easy – but it is a test of obedience. We are more like Christ when we forgive than anything we do.
  • For for church’s sake (v. 11). Unforgiven sin gives Satan an advantage. Satan’s first scheme was tempting the sinning man to do wrong. His second scheme was the church’s refusing to deal with the sin. His third scheme was holding a grudge against the man. Holding a grudge will harm a church’s testimony and quench the Holy Spirit.

In Paul’s day, the Corinthians struggled with knowing when to stop the punishment; in our time we struggle with whether we should ever start. The very mention of ‘church discipline’ makes us uneasy. But it all depends on how we see the church – are we a club that you join or a family in which you have been born again. If we are a club, it doesn’t matter what others do. But if we are a family, we are in this together. Obedience to God’s Word demands doing the hard work of church discipline, and then the hard work of forgiving.

True repentance calls for immediate and full forgiveness. Forgiveness is not just theory. It is not something we think or feel, but something we do. C.S. Lewis once said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.” When someone repents, we should forgive, comfort, and restore. To hold back forgiveness invites trouble from Satan.

When Billy Graham was driving through a small southern town and was stopped by a policeman. “You were doing forty in a thirty-mile zone,” charged the officer.  ‘Sorry,” replied Graham, “I am guilty. How much is the fine?” ‘It will be ten dollars,” said the policeman, “but you’ll have to appear in court.” Court turned out to be a barber shop, where the judge, a justice of the peace, was plying his trade of haircutting. Graham had to wait till the barber finished cutting a customer’s hair. Then laying down his clippers, the barber assumed the dignity of his office, calling the court to order and asking, “Guilty, or not guilty?”  When Graham pleaded guilty, the judge replied, “That’ll be ten dollars, a dollar for every mile you went over the limit.”  Suddenly the judge recognized Graham. It turned out he had been a regular listener to Graham’s broadcasts for years. Though warm at first, suddenly the judge’s attitude cooled. “You have violated the law, and the penalty must be paid.”  Graham was about to peel off a ten-dollar bill from his wallet, when the judge motioned for him to put his money back. “The fine must be paid,” he said, “but I am going to pay for you.” And he took a ten from his own pocket and attached it to the ticket. Then he took Billy out and bought him a steak dinner.  ‘That,” said Graham, “is how our heavenly Father treats repentant sinners!”