In a previous visit to Corinth, known as the “painful visit”, Paul’s authority had been openly challenged by a member of the Corinthian church. Disheartened by the lack of defense for him by fellow church members, Paul returned to Ephesus. There he wrote what is called the “severe letter” insisting the church turn away from their sinful actions and the offending brother be disciplined.
To Paul’s joy, a majority of the Corinthian Christians responded by repenting of their rebellion against him and punishing the committer of the offense. Deciding that the time was still not right for another visit, Paul instead writes a second letter explaining his reasons for his change in travel plans, his desire to spare the church more distress, and the important role of forgiveness in discipline.
Paul begins by saying, “But I determined this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again. For if I cause you sorrow, who then makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful?” (vs. 1:2) Paul was still feeling the sting of disappointment and rejection. His last visit was plagued with conflict and he didn’t want to take the chance of damaging further his relationship with the Corinthian church. He thought it best to just send a letter to pour out his heart and test the waters for a future trip. Paul knew sometimes in strained relationships, it’s better to take a step back. For often times putting our thoughts and feelings in a letter instead of directly confronting the situation, can help soften the rough patches and prevent the deterioration of a relationship.
Now Paul moves on to the discipline of the one who had publicly rebelled against him. The church had done what Paul had asked and punished the offender, perhaps even too harshly. And so Paul tells them that although the punishment was correct, now was the time for forgiveness. “Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary, you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.” (vs. 6:8) As Christians it’s important to remember that discipline is meant for restoration and renewal, not retribution and rejection. Never is the goal of discipline to beat someone down so emotionally and spiritually that their spirits become broken leaving them full of despair and hopelessness. Always discipline must be tempered with love and followed by forgiveness.
Paul understood the stronghold forgiveness provides against the schemes of Satan. “But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.” (vs. 10:11) The devil has many tricks in his bag of deception and unforgiveness is one of them. He reminds us of the many ways a person has wronged us. How they should be made to feel guilt and shame. But by casting aside the lies of the enemy and choosing to forgive, we prevent bitterness from taking hold and festering in our spirits. Bitterness only builds a wall between our hearts and God, and gives Satan a foothold in our lives. And worst of all, it can cause us to exhibit behavior that might lead others away from God.
In Hebrews 12:15 we are told, “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it may be defiled.” As followers of Jesus we are to show the grace of God to all we meet. We are His ambassadors in the world. And as Paul tells us in verse 15 we are, “…a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” Our lives should be such a testimony of the love and grace of Jesus that it is a light to those who would receive it, and condemnation to those who would reject it. Ephesians 5:2 says that Christ loved us so much that He became a substitute for us and gave Himself up, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Because of His sacrifice we are the aroma of Christ to God. An aroma we should wear proudly, lovingly, and obediently. So today ask yourself this….are you wearing the fragrance of frogiveness?