“But if any one has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure – not to put it too severely – to you all. For such a one this punishment by the majority is enough; so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Any one whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, to keep Satan from gaining the advantage over us; for we are not ignorant of his designs.” 2 Corinthians 2:5-11
It’s not easy to forgive someone who has caused us pain. But, if anyone in the New Testament knew about pain, with the exception of Jesus, it was Paul. Throughout his ministry he would enter a city, proclaim the gospel, face opposition and in many cases be bodily expelled from the city. It is surprising, however, that in many of the cities where he faced the fiercest opposition he was through the power of the Holy Spirit able to establish churches.
But, it seems that he would no more than get these churches up and running than the legalists would come swarming into the midst of the new believers to divert their love from Jesus to Moses. They would teach that circumcision, law keeping, feast days, rituals, dietary laws and a host of other regulations were still binding upon a Christian. They intertwined Old Covenant theology with the grace of the New Covenant to such a degree that the Gospel was muddled and lost to the new believers.
How Paul’s heart must have burst, as time after time he would receive a letter from someone in a church he had founded to hear that there was dissension and confusion within the church. I know my first inclination would be to write a blistering letter and then make it known far and wide what terrible things these people were doing to the church.
Paul’s advice, however, is quite different than how many of us would respond if we were to see all our hard work being destroyed by false teachers. He instead says to reject the teachings and that the rejection of their views by the majority is enough. (v. 5) His admonition is not to pile on more guilt after the majority of believers reject the persons views but instead “to forgive and comfort him.” Is this the same Paul who wrote Galatians?
Paul may be strong and decisive in his attacks upon false teachers but he doesn’t want to see them lost. His goal is always to rehabilitate and gently lead the wayward teacher back to the gospel that they might find salvation in Christ. He makes it clear he worries that a disgraced teacher might, “be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” His antidote for keeping this reprimanded false teacher from being overly discouraged is “to reaffirm your love for Him.” (v. 8)
How different our home life and our church life would be if we could follow this simple admonition of Paul’s. From time to time churches break up and the two sides in the dispute just can’t find common ground so each group goes its own way. This is a tragedy that shouldn’t happen but the reality of life is it does happen. What needs to be remembered, however, is that the people shouldn’t stop loving each other and praying for each other. Just because you can’t work things out doesn’t mean that you have to hate each other.
In everything that we do as a Christian we should tread lightly and not stomp through life leaving misery and bodies wherever we go. Some Christians think it’s their duty to speak their mind on every subject regardless of what pain it might bring. The result is never reconciliation or deeper understanding of the situation but rather pain and division. Instead, if we could only put our egos aside and love each other with a fraction of the love that God has for us our world would be a better place.
In many cultures the central aspect of life is to get even. Payback seems to be what makes so much of the trouble and terrors of the world revolve around. What would happen if we could only forgive and bring comfort?
It pains our hearts to see cousins (Israel and Palestine) killing each other over ideology. What would their world be like if they comforted and supported each other instead of living in a world of revenge and payback? What would our relationships be with estranged family members if we forgave and comforted so they wouldn’t be overcome by sorrow? As Christians we often forget that we are not the center of the universe but God is. And Gods call to us is “that he who loves God should love his brother also.” 1 John 4:2
God loves us unconditionally, why then do we put so many conditions on our love? I know I don’t want to see anyone be overwhelmed with excessive sorrow, but instead see them filled with the joy of knowing that they are sons and daughters of the King and Heaven is their home.