FORGIVING THE PENITENT SINNER
2 Corinthians 2:5-8 But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all. Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.
Paul opens this chapter of his letter to the church at Corinth by saying that he desired to come to see them but not in heaviness. Paul would much rather rejoice with them in gladness rather than rebuke them in sorrow. However, he is made glad when his rebuke brings repentance, and amends doctrines of error that had been brought into their congregation by false teachers. In his first letter to this church, he had severely rebuked their immorality, and various contentions that had resulted in divisions among their members. His intention was not to bring undue grief to them, but, because of his ardent love for them, he rebuked their sinful ways - he loved them enough that he wanted them to be bonded together in unity; pure and righteous in the sight of God. This introduction gets us into the lesson text.
Most bible scholars agree that this text refers to the incestuous person named in 1 Corinthians 5:1. Not only had this person committed fornication, but also it appears that he did so openly, and continued to worship with the congregation, without censure, of any kind, from its membership or its elders. The necessary discipline, Paul told them, was to for them not to keep company with this sinner, in order to demonstrate intolerance toward his sinful ways. The true object of such discipline is, not to punish, but to bring repentance. The incestuous actions of this person had, not only brought grief to Paul, but to the entire congregation at Corinth. However, it is evident, from the content of verse 6, of the lesson text, that this disciplinary act was carried out, and was effective in restoring this person to the body of Christ.
Regardless of the sin and its offence, how does Paul say that Christians should respond to one that repents, turns away from his or her sinful ways, and is restored to the church of Christ? So that contrariwise, that is to say, just as you had inflicted the punishment of reprimand and disassociation from this individual because of his sin, you should, now that he has repented of such sin, do just the opposite - ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him. Not only is this required of them, but also, in doing so it serves a very good purpose by soothing his pain of guilt, and prevents him from being swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Even though God forgives sins, the pain of guilt and disgrace often remains, and if allowed to, grief and sorrow can become overwhelming emotions. The ability to work in their profession may be hindered. Their service to God may become ineffective, and they may cause them to lose their spiritual influence on the lives of family, friends, and fellow Christians.
In times like these, one needs friends - fellow Christians, that will, not only forgive sins to the extent that God forgives them, but also, give comfort and consolation. This cannot take place unless the hand of fellowship is extended to the penitent sinner. Just as the prodigal son was welcomed back home with an affectionate embrace of gladness from his father, so God, and so must all Christians, welcome back a sinner that has repented and turned away from their sinful ways. Paul says, Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him. It is not enough to forgive from the heart. The repentant sinner cannot see in the hearts of fellow Christians. Forgiveness must be assured. To be effective and comforting, it must be demonstrated with outward expressions of Christian love and compassion.
Forgiveness of fellow Christians is not only good, but, if we desire forgiveness for our own sins, it is required of God (See Matt. 6:14-15; Eph. 4:31-32). Luke gives us this message from the gospel of Christ, Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him (Luke 17:3-4). Jesus placed even stronger emphasis on this teaching in answer to this question from Peter:Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times, but until seventy times seven. Forgiveness has no limits with God, neither can Christians limit, or withhold it. Satan tells us that we do not have to forgive the penitent sinner (See 2 Cor. 2:11) ; God tells us that we must! Whom do you believe?