Summary: Forgiveness and love are hallmarks in the Christian community.
2 Corinthians 2:1-10 “A Practical Forgiveness”
In the second chapter of his second letter to the Corinthians Paul continues to address the issue of community and to answer the questions, “What is authentic community?” and “How do we as individuals live in community?”
Last week we read that Paul understood community to be more than a network group, social media, or a gathering of people who think and look like us. Community, to Paul, was people who console each other—who were there for each other, who supported, encouraged and comforted each other in touch situations.
In chapter two Paul lists another essential characteristic of community. It is the element of forgiveness. Disciples of Jesus are called to be consoling and forgiving people. Consolation and forgiveness are two expressions of love and Jesus instructed his disciples saying, “This is my commandment that you love one another” (John 13:34).
PUTTING OTHERS FIRST
Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians had been badly bruised. We are not certain what the cause of this was. If we read between the lines and reference some other verses in Paul’s two letters, the problem might have been the sexual offender who Paul mentioned in the beginning of his first letter. Another possibility is that an individual or a group within the Corinthian church questioned Paul’s authority and his theology.
When someone hurts us, there is a temptation to respond by hurting them. One of the possible presidential candidates has stated that when he is attacked he attacks with even more force. This is a sad commentary on American politics and certainly not an example we should follow. Paul offers us another example.
Rather than strike back, he forgave and put others first. Paul wanted to visit the Corinthians, but he did not want to cause them pain. Paul writes, “So I made up my mind not to make you another painful visit” (vs. 1:1).
One of the stand-out tenets of the Christian faith is that it is not “I centered,” but rather it is “other focused.” We see this demonstrated in the life of Jesus as he reached out to others in order to cast out demons, to heal eyes, ears and bodies, and to feed to hungry. The people who inspire us in our lives as disciples of Jesus are saints who have served others such as Martin Luther, Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King to name a few. I believe we could even include in that list of “other orientated” people the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for this country.
HELPING OTHER GROW
Paul was always a teacher. He used every opportunity he could to help others grow in their lives as disciples/followers of Jesus.
In verse five, Paul writes about how injury affects the entire community. “But if anyone has caused pain,” Paul pens, “He has caused it not to me, but to some extent—not to exaggerate it—to all of you.” Forgiveness is usually not just an individual action, but an action of the entire community. Paul has forgiven the person or persons who injured him. Now he instructs the Corinthian church to forgive the individual as well.
Paul then tells the Corinthians that the punishment inflicted on the person was enough. Punishment was never meant to be an act of revenge. The goal of punishment was always to restore and renew the relationship. We see this in the Old Testament. When God punished Israel the punishment was meant to draw them back into a relationship with God. We see that in the life of Jesus. His harsh words were meant to correct and restore a relationship.
We frequently forget this. When hurt we want the person to pay. Our judicial system and prisons are based on this desire. Prisons are terrible places that take away a person’s dignity and privacy. Pink underwear and daily meals of only 1,200 calories are justified as, “getting what they deserve.” There are few programs to rehabilitate the prisoners and enable them to make positive changes. The recidivism rate for American prisons is 80%. Contrast this the Scandinavian prisons. The penal system is seen as an opportunity to help a person and rehabilitate the person so that he or she can reenter society. Prison conditions are similar to a hotel and the recidivism rate is low single digits. Love that forgives and helps others grow is a mark of disciples of Jesus.
Paul sought to rebuild the Corinthian Christian community by encouraging them to “reaffirm their love for him (vs. 8).
Forgiveness is complete. For a while the person or group were separated from the others. This was an early type of excommunication. Now, the person is reinstated into the group. He or she once again has all the rights and responsibilities of being a member of the Corinthian fellowship.