Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Corinthians 2:5-11

Forgive the Sinner

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. 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. 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.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s further reasons for not returning to Corinth yet; he wanted a joyful reunion, one where he did not have to censure them again.

Today’s verses are about a man whom the Corinthians excluded from their congregation for serious sin.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this person was the subject of 1 Corinthians 5, about which I wrote in 2010:

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 – incest, porneia, church discipline, indifference, sin

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 – church purity

However, John MacArthur disagrees (emphases mine below):

Look at 1 Corinthians chapter 5. Some would say this is the same man. I think not. I think this is a completely different issue here. But there was a man who was engaged in sexual sin. He was engaged in a sexual relationship with his father’s wife which perhaps is the way to indicate it’s his stepmother. It was an incestuous relationship. The church was not dealing with it. The church was arrogant, was not mourning over this. And so he tells them they’ve got to deal with it, they’ve got to bring it to the church.

MacArthur thinks that this man made false accusations about Paul:

The apostle Paul, you remember, had been falsely assaulted. His character, his virtue, his spiritual office and calling, his teaching, all of it had been assaulted by some false apostles who came to Corinth. They found willing ears among the Corinthians and they were able to raise a mutiny and a rebellion against Paul. In fact, when Paul made a visit to Corinth, most likely one member of the Corinthian church who is the object of this particular text, confronted him to the face and publicly and openly and shamelessly assaulted him, publicly discrediting this beloved apostle, this authority, this one who spoke for Christ.

Well, the man had to be dealt with because the – the authority of Paul was so crucial in the early church. You can understand why, because there was not yet the canon of the New Testament. And if people lost confidence in the apostles who spoke the Word of God by revelation, there would be no source for truth. The integrity, the credibility of Paul was crucial. It would be tantamount to the integrity and credibility of Scripture today. Undermining Paul’s life and ministry, undermining what he taught, in effect, would be to totally distort divine truth. And so when someone in the congregation stood up and attacked the integrity of Paul, it was no small issue. Not like today when someone could attack the integrity of an individual, like myself or some other minister, but still have to deal with Scripture.

In any event, Paul wants the congregation to forgive a man they excluded and accept him back into the fold.

Paul says that the man caused him no pain, although he did afflict the congregation (verse 5).

Paul says that the man’s exclusion has gone on long enough (verse 6).

Henry says that the man no doubt repented:

The desired effect was obtained, for the man was humbled, and they had shown the proof of their obedience to his [Paul’s] directions.

As such, Paul urges the Corinthians to forgive and comfort him, lest he be overwhelmed by deep sorrow (verse 7). In fact, he begs them to reaffirm their love for the man (verse 8).

If he were to be left alone to grieve endlessly over his sin without any succour or fellowship, he might lose his faith.

Henry explains:

He beseeches them to forgive him, that is, to release him from church-censures, for they could not remit the guilt or offence against God; and also to comfort him, for in many cases the comfort of penitents depends upon their reconciliation not only with God, but with men also, whom they have scandalized or injured. They must also confirm their love to him; that is, they should show that their reproofs and censures proceeded from love to his person, as well as hatred to his sin, and that their design was to reform, not to ruin him. Or thus: If his fall had weakened their love to him, that they could not take such satisfaction in him as formerly; yet, now that he was recovered by repentance, they must renew and confirm their love to him.

MacArthur says:

The law of Christ is the law of love, the law of love says you go to the brother who’s in the trespass and when he comes to repentance, you restore him in a spirit of gentleness, realizing you too could be in the same situation. You’re not harsh, you’re not unloving, you don’t browbeat him, you don’t put him under seven years of penance, or a lifetime of penance, you don’t make him do something to himself to flagellate himself to somehow expiate his sin, you accept his repentance. That’s enough, it’s the end of the issue.

He looks at the word ‘reaffirm’ in verse 8, indicating that the church in Corinth should publicly announce that the man be restored to the congregation:

“Reaffirm” is a very interesting word. The language that Paul chooses is very important. It is the word kyrōsai. It’s basically a technical term. It is a term to legally ratify something. It means to make formal conclusion, a matter of certainty. And it would probably involve, in this case, a public announcement. In other words, we – we saw from verse 6 that there was a public punishment inflicted by the majority. That is it reached the many, it reached the church. And the church did formal discipline. Now he is asking for the same kind of formality in concluding the matter by a formal reaffirmation of love. Frankly, unforgiveness is simply a lack of love, isn’t it?

Paul tells the Corinthians that he wants to test their obedience in everything (verse 9), meaning that they obeyed him in censuring the man, now they must forgive him.

MacArthur tells us what Paul meant:

I wanted to test you to find out whether you’re obedient in the difficult things. It’s difficult work to do it and it’s difficult unless your heart is right before God to forgive someone who has seriously offended you, isn’t it? That’s a spiritual ability. That’s not natural. That’s not endemic to the fallen human race to forgive.

Paul goes on to say that if the Corinthians forgive the man, then he will, too, and he does so for their sake, in the presence of Christ (verse 10).

Henry explains:

this he would do for their sakes, for love to them and for their advantage; and for Christ’s sake, or in his name, as his apostle, and in conformity to his doctrine and example, which are so full of kindness and tender mercy towards all those who truly repent.

Paul ends by saying that a lack of forgiveness is the Devil’s work; Paul and the Corinthians know about Satan’s designs (verse 11).

In other words, driving a repentant person to despair harms not only that person but the people doing it, allowing weakened faith for the man and a bad look for the Church, one of severity that could frighten potential converts.

Henry expands on that verse:

Not only was there danger lest Satan should get an advantage against the penitent, by driving him to despair; but against the churches also, and the apostles or ministers of Christ, by representing them as too rigid and severe, and so frightening people from coming among them. In this, as in other things, wisdom is profitable to direct, so to manage according as the case may be that the ministry may not be blamed, for indulging sin on the one hand, or for too great severity towards sinners on the other hand. Note, Satan is a subtle enemy, and uses many stratagems to deceive us; and we should not be ignorant of his devices: he is also a watchful adversary, ready to take all advantages against us, and we should be very cautious lest we give him any occasion so to do.

MacArthur says that forgiveness is at the heart of mercy:

you can work with the sinner, you can discipline the sin, but if you don’t ever come to the point of forgiveness, that too will tear the church to shreds. Forgiveness is what brings back the joy, the love, the mercy, the humility. What a treasure. That’s how a church should be known, should be known for its forgiveness. “By this shall all men know that you’re My disciples if you have love one for another.”

MacArthur says that he waited for decades to preach about 2 Corinthians because of its complexity:

when I first started I was asked why have you waited so long to teach 2 Corinthians. And I don’t know what the answer is. At that particular point, in my mind I wasn’t sure.

But the longer I teach this the more I think the answer might be that God never wanted me to teach it until now because you almost need twenty-five or thirty years of experience in the ministry to feel this book. There’s so much depth here that is revealed from the heart of the apostle Paul as he unfolds his attitude toward life and ministry.

It’s not a book for the shallow minded. It’s not a book for the novice. It’s a book, really, to be fully grasped only by someone who has spent a number of years in ministry so that he can identify more closely with what it is that’s really going on in the heart of this great apostle. This book runs very deep and I find it probing extremely deeply into my own heart. And I thank God for every moment I’ve been able to spend, and there’s so much more yet to go as we move through all thirteen chapters.

Next week’s verses are positively poetic. I am really looking forward to writing about them.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 2:12-17