Sunday, May 17, 2015

2 Corinthians 2: 5-11 (NRSV): Forgiveness of the Offender

2 Corinthians 2: 5-11 (NRSV): Forgiveness of the Offender
5 But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent—not to exaggerate it—to all of you. 6 This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; 7 so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 I wrote for this reason: to test you and to know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ. 11 And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

Paul points out that the offender in the community who “has caused pain” (5) should be forgiven and encouraged by the community “reaffirming [their] love for him” (8).  Throughout this section of the letter, Paul emphasizes the need to forgive, for he says,”Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive” (10). Paul, furthermore, encourages and extends forgiveness “in the presence of Christ” (10) “ that [the faithful] may not be outwitted by Satan; for [they] are not ignorant of his designs” (11). Paul’s point, here, is that the adversary’s design is to consume and collapse the Christian heart by stealthily encouraging an unwillingness to forgive others.
Paul’s emphasis on forgiveness is important instruction on keeping the early Corinthian church at peace and in Christ. Forgiveness is what Jesus gives us whenever we confess and repent of our sins. Forgiveness, then, is a necessary element of Christian faith.  It builds us up in Christ and acts as a conduit of God’s grace to others.  When we fail to forgive, we enter the “designs” of the enemy and our hearts shrink.  Forgiving with the heart of Christ, no matter how difficult, allows us to grow in love.
Recently, an adult student in one of my night classes, approached me in tears.  She was distraught due to the day being the anniversary of when her teenage son was murdered. She could not come to terms with his death and the evil perpetrated in this senseless act. Believe me, I never want to know that kind of pain.  But it wasn't her expression of pain that made the deepest mark; it was her inability to forgive. I could sense, through the veneer of tears and anguish, her desire for retribution and revenge; this was coming from a woman of Christian faith. Our unwillingness to forgive certainly does not come from God, but we are given the free choice to ask God to work through us -- to cleanse our hearts, to emancipate us from hate -- so that we can grow in the grace of forgiveness and, by our example, extend God’s love to others.