The way of life of Jesus for his followers is opposite to the world. Or at least it ought to be. We are to live in a counter-cultural way, since we are citizens of heaven. We are to live as Christ’s ambassadors. Yet too often we have conformed to the world, instead of being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rm 12:1-2). For example, people who claim to be followers of Jesus lightly dismiss greed, anger and sexual immorality under the guise of “personal need”. You undoubtedly feel the pressure of the world to conform you to its way of life. It can make you assume “I need this thing”, or “I need to express my hurt in anger,” or “I need to be loved” (a.k.a. feel sexual pleasure). At the core of this worldly pressure to conform is the love of oneself, or to speak more precisely, self-idolatry.
True Christianity looks at life differently. We learn in our hearts that God is great and majestic, and worthy of all honor, glory, praise, and worship. Though we were ruined by sin against God, his word, and his ways, God has rescued us through Christ and the salvation that is in him. We are bought by Christ to live for God. And this way of life that he wants us to live is to love God and to love others, especially his people.
The situation presented in this section is rarely encountered in our time. Yes, churches do occasionally dismiss people from their local fellowship. But I have serious reservations about how this is usually done. There are a few contributing factors to this state of affairs.
- Others in the church are so deep in sin that they can’t or shouldn’t in good conscience discipline someone else
- Ignorance of the biblical necessity of church discipline and/or the proper way to do it
- A legalistic spirit that is more interested in keeping the church’s rules than in obeying the Lord
- Fear of lawsuits
- A glaring lack of commitment to one another
- How can you discipline people if they just run off to the next church?
- How can you rightly discipline people apart from a genuine body life?
One of the benefits of teaching through an entire book of the Bible is that it forces us to consider things that we might like to ignore. So then, let us listen to God’s Word to us, since we surely have a lot to learn about sharing life together in the body of Christ.
I. Restoring a gospel partner
A. The sequence of events leading up to restoration
1. The disruptive or obstinate sin of someone – Paul is probably not referring to the person mentioned in 1 Cor 5, but to someone who had opposed his apostolic authority after the “painful visit” and before the “severe letter”, since he does say that the person had “pained him”, though he now downplays that event.
2. The punishment inflicted by the assembly – This was some kind of formal action by the whole body of believers, and in light of Mt 18:15-18, it would involve treating him as an unbeliever. If you say, “So what?” it reveals that you need to appreciate more highly your participation in the body of Christ. This is one reason it is nearly impossible to carry out church discipline outside a context of deep, brotherly love for one another that the early church had.
3. The pain or sorrow suffered by the wrongdoer – Clearly, the action of the local assembly affected the wrongdoer deeply, though Paul does not provide a description of its effects in him. Sometimes we cannot see our sinfulness until others help us see it and its serious consequences.
4. The repentance of the wrongdoer – The wrongdoer came to a biblical change of mind through discipline. He realized his need of being accepted by the fellowship of believers, confessed his sin, and asked for forgiveness. Now what should the assembly at Corinth do about this person?
B. The way of restoration
1. Examine the situation – Paul did and he tells them that the punishment inflicted on the wrongdoer was sufficient. The person had repented; there was no need to carry the matter on. Discipline is intended to be remedial, not punitive or vengeful or ruthless. The point is not to make someone suffer or to feel the same pain that others have felt, but to bring them to repentance.
2. Forgive and encourage (comfort) – They were to forgive graciously. We always forgive each other on the basis of the gospel and with gospel attitudes. Welcome back! We’re very glad that you’re ready to be an active part of our gospel partnership again! It’s time to celebrate! In addition, we must also encourage the repentant one. We must help them feel a part of the body again. We must restore them as a functioning part of the body. We must work with them for their joy (cf. 1:24).
3. Public reaffirmation of love by the assembly – Since they were punished by a public act, they must also be restored publicly. This is to act justly and to love mercy at the same time (cf. Mi 6:8). Everyone must know about the person’s restoration. Everyone must have a visible part in the restoration.
Apply: Clearly, we need to develop our joint participation in sharing life together.
II. Rebuilding healthy attitudes
A. Put the interests of others first
1. Let go of your past pain (2:5) – Now that Paul knows of the person’s repentance, he diminishes the pain he felt, instead of rehearing how much he was hurt. Paul knew that their gospel partnership was more important than his feelings. The restoration of someone else was better than to continue to lick his own wounds. By the way, there are few things sweeter than restoring an old friendship, but licking your wounds can just keep the sore raw in your own heart.
2. Recognize the pain of hurting people (2:7b) – This is where we have to have the interests of others on our hearts (cf. Ph 2:20-21). The fellowship of believers is supposed to be a gathering of love, joy, and peace. We cannot, we dare not allow a brother or a sister to go on in pain. We must reach out to them, so that they do not fall into excessive sorrow. Our gatherings should be times of healing, times of renewal, and times of rekindled hope for the depressed. We share in the glory of the Lord, and we should strive that everyone feels the glory in the Spirit. (My oh my! I’m in chapter three already!)
B. Emphasize a godly way of life
1. Leaders are not lords, but they are leaders. An apostle could command direct obedience, because of his function in the church. We must obey the teaching of Christ and his apostles, whether or not we “like it”. Sometimes people tell me they do not like something they have read in the NTS. As Spurgeon once said, “I did not expect you to like it. Who ever thought you would?” People do not like to hear about self-denial, but that doesn’t change the call of Christ (Mk 8:34). It is not legalistic to obey the Lord Jesus. Obedience to him is the proper life response by those he has redeemed. We do not obey the Lord to earn grace but because we have received grace and are heirs of grace. So then, Paul wanted to see the Christian character of the Corinthian believers.
2. Maintain an atmosphere of forgiveness in unity (2:10a). Do you know the delight, the surpassing joy of having your sins forgiven? Doesn’t it make your soul leap for joy? It’s enough to make a Baptist dance! Paul tells the Corinthians get into the forgiveness business.
III. Renewing a larger outlook about interactions between believers. It is too easily to zero in on the people and the situation and forget the whole picture.
A. Remember we are in spiritual warfare.
1. We have an enemy—Satan, the adversary of God and his people. He constantly schemes about how to destroy us. And if he can get us to hack each other up with our tongues or freeze each other’s souls with cruel indifference, his job is that much easier.
2. The danger is being outwitted by the evil one. The Corinthians had punished the wrongdoer. That was good. But their zeal for righteousness was overheating, as they neglected or refused to forgive him when he repented, as Jesus commanded (Lk 17:3-4). We are strange creatures. It takes us so long to do what is right, but when we finally do it, we go overboard to prove how zealous we are! Some churches refuse to discipline, while others think they are God’s secret police in some kind of spiritual pogrom (puh–gruhm).
B. Keep focused on the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. Our entire lives are lived in his presence. He is always “with us”. We usually want to think that Jesus is with us when we need comfort. But as Matthew writes that truth in his gospel of Jesus being Immanuel, it is given in the context of his mission (Mt 1) and our mission (Mt 28).
2. Paul was so Christ-structured in his thought and lifeview that he sees the forgiveness of the wrongdoer occurring in the presence of Christ. Too often we do not think of Christ present with us, as we live as his people by the gospel. We think of Jesus as “somewhere out there”, while we sing praises, as we listen to the word, or as we speak for him. But everything by the follower of Christ is done in him and through him and for him. We are the body of Christ. The Lord is touching people through us. So when we forgive one another, it is all in his presence and for his glory in the church.
Apply: It is time to renew our gospel partnership. May God fill us with all joy and peace as we trust in him!