The Greatest Thing Happening Today2 Corinthians 2:5 – 3:18Theme: The glory of the Gospel.This week’s lessons teach us about what God is doing in the world today.
LessonThe importance of God’s work is what Paul talks about in this section, and he brings in three aspects of it. One aspect is the forgiveness of sins. For Paul, the case that embodies this great reality is the case of this man at Corinth who had been guilty of some great sin.
This man is the one mentioned in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in the fifth chapter. There Paul issued instructions for church discipline. The man mentioned there is a man who was guilty of incest. Paul said that he should not be allowed to continue in the church. There has to be discipline, not only to restore the erring man, but also to show that such conduct is incompatible with Christian profession. Apparently the Corinthian church had been lax in doing that. So Paul wrote, insisting that they do it, saying that if that kind of spiritual discipline is not carried out in the church, he was going to have to come in the authority of his apostleship and see that it was done.
What we see here in 1 Corinthians 2 is that the effect of the discipline was achieved so that the sinning man had repented of his sin. So now Paul is writing to tell the Corinthians to bring him back into the fellowship, to welcome him by showing love.
It is precisely people who are guilty of sins like that, and other such sins, who need to hear the Gospel. Those guilty ones need to be restored, to repent of sin, to be brought into the fellowship of the church, and to be assured of forgiveness. That certainly is what Paul is talking about.
Here we have an example of what discipline is really meant to accomplish in the church. As a matter of fact, that’s the way Paul talked about it in the first letter. Paul had told them that the Corinthians must discipline this man. They were instructed to give him over to Satan for the working out of destruction in his flesh, in order that he might be saved in the day of God’s judgment. That was Paul’s desire. Sin destroys. Knowing that, Paul said that they must not carry on in the fellowship of the church as if incest is all right, or that somehow it does not matter. Rather, they must point out that it does matter, and that it is incompatible with Christian profession.
Discipline must be exercised for that reason. When discipline is exercised, if the man really is a brother and believer in Christ, he will be rescued from his sin. That is what happened in the case at Corinth. The church exercised the discipline. Subsequently, the man did repent, and he was restored to fellowship. Now, here in the second letter, Paul was instructing the church to reach out to him and restore him, because that man was part of the brotherhood.
It’s funny how weak we are at that point. On the one hand, the modern church treats all moral issues with laxity, refusing to discipline, pretending that righteousness doesn’t matter, that it doesn’t make any difference whether you obey the commands of Jesus Christ or not. On the other hand, we treat moral lapses so harshly that when individuals are disciplined, we rule them out of the kingdom entirely. We cease to pray for them. And even if they repent years later, we can hardly bring ourselves to receive people like that back into Christian fellowship.
This is precisely the opposite of what should be done at both of those points. We ought to pray for repentance and seek forgiveness in order that the one who has sinned might be restored both to fellowship with God and to the fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters. That is one of the greatest things that can possibly happen – sinners’ being rescued, confessing and forsaking the sin, and being restored to Christian fellowship.
This is what Paul is talking about when he talks about this man who had sinned in Corinth. I read this and I think, “There is the heart of a pastor.” You see elders and pastors as they practice discipline. Sometimes people say, “Oh, they’re so hard. They must enjoy doing that.” No elder enjoys discipline. It’s one the hardest things they ever do. They wrestle with it. They don’t want to be too harsh and they don’t want to be too easy. They pray for guidance.
But that was not the case there in Corinth. In that case the discipline is now past, the restoration is achieved, and Paul is just overflowing with joy. He is so happy that the discipline was effective. He was overjoyed that, although Satan tried to outwit them, he had not succeeded. The greatest thing that could possibly happen had occurred: this man had turned back from sin.
What are the steps of church discipline?
What is the goal of church discipline?