Ministry Integrity Requires Forgiveness.

The only way to minister with integrity is to have relationships continually maintained by God's Word. This must include forgiving those who have offended us.

In 2 Corinthians 2:1-11, Paul addresses a situation where forgiveness was needed. The person in question had offended the whole church. After he repented, some people in the church did not want him back. Paul wrote that they needed to receive him back into fellowship. Paul's ultimate burden was that the Gospel have its way in the flock and in the community. This was another opportunity for Corinthian church to collectively experience God's grace.

The phrase in verse 10, "in the presence of Christ," is the key to this passage.

2 Corinthians 5:21 explains the nature of our ability to forgive and be forgiven, both personally and corporately. We have experienced a divine legal exchange of our sin for Christ's righteousness. No one is able to receive someone back in forgiveness unless they first remember that they have been overwhelmingly forgiven. We must forgive as He forgave.

Paul wrote of forgiveness needed in a different situation in the book of Philemon. Onesimus did not know Christ when he offended the church.

Forgiveness is an acquired skill that the Holy Spirit develops in us as a whole body to accept someone back who has offended the flock after they repent. The man in this situation had responded, but the work wasn't done yet in their hearts. God's sanctifying work is never finished in any of our hearts.

The Process of Forgiveness

"When I fail to forgive you, it's because I've exaggerated the offense against me, and I've minimized my offense against God."

Paul commends the Corinthians' obedience in many other matters, but in this passage gives them another thing to work on. He addresses "the majority" and "all of you."

Bible scholars are not entirely sure the identity of the man in question. He could be either one of 2 people: a man voted out of the church for immorality (referenced in 1 Corinthians 5) or a man who had caused division on Paul's second visit to Corinth. Authors disagree on the identity of the man, but all agree that at the time of this writing, he was truly repentant, and the church was struggling to receive him back into fellowship. Paul knew this man was hurting because of their actions.

When good hearts in the church go bad, God's Word gives us a process to address it. 1 Timothy 5:19-22 addresses the process for elders. God is impartial, and He asks us to be also. A very similar process is to be followed when dealing with those who are not pastors or elders in Matthew 18:1-17 and Galatians 6:1-2. The purpose is restoration to fellowship with God and the church.

If someone responds to the first individual address, the relationship is restored, and further witnesses are not needed! A disciple-making culture greatly helps keep offenses from escalating. Having a hard conversation is easier when you're always conversing.

Unfortunately, the Corinthian church was not following the end of the process.

The Purpose of Forgiveness

John Bunyan said, "To be saved by grace supposeth that God hath taken the salvation of our souls into his own hand; and to be sure it is safer in God’s hand than ours." This passage gives us four reasons to forgive and restore a repentant believer:

  • so the sorrow the church had experienced could be put fully in their past. God doesn't desire His church family to continue in sorrow over sin, but wants them to progress! The Corinthians were beginning to enjoy the lifestyle of sorrow.
  • so the church would trust the process had fulfilled its purpose they had done together. The end of restoration is joy!
  • so the person disciplined would be encouraged by flock's forgiveness and restoration. (See verse 7.)
  • so the church's obedience to Word of God could be trusted. (See verses 8-9.) Paul was testing their willingness to surrender to inspired Word of God. Any church that dodges its responsibility to church discipline fails this test. Sin that divides the church body must be addressed by any obedient church. Can they be entrusted with other parts of God's Word if they're not willing to follow this part? It can become a domino effect.

"Paul's love for the Corinthians and this repentant soul is deeply expressed in these 11 verses. Love indeed puts others first (verses 1-4); love always seek to help others grow (verses 5-6); and love is always forgiving and encouraging (verses 7-11)."

2 John 6 defines love for God as your willingness to follow His Word. Jesus said the same in John 14:15. The whole process of discipline, forgiveness, and restoration is a test of our love for God, His Word, and the offending soul.

The Person of Forgiveness

Jesus Christ is the foundation of the process and purpose (2 Corinthians 2:10). Paul's heart was the same for Onesimus and for the man who offended the Corinthian church. Thinking of all we have been forgiven of prompts us to forgive (2 Corinthians 5:21). The person of our forgiveness is immutable, omnipotent, omniscient, and impartial. God forgives us, so we forgive others. Jesus would never let this man go, so the church needed to accept him back too. If Christ has already died for our sin and theirs, He wants His church to take full advantage of that sacrifice!

Why do we need to complete the process? Verse 11 gives another purpose: "so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes." A church who refuses to accept back a repentant believer keeps themselves open to the attacks of a scheming devil (1 Peter 4:8). A church who refuses to start the process does the same. This is not honoring to God! Relationships need to be restored so fellowship can be enjoyed.

Application Points

  • Does your church body practice church discipline when needed? This is a test of your corporate love for God and others.
  • Do you accept back repentant believers? When this is a struggle, remember how much God has forgiven you in Christ.

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore
  • 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 – the virtues of true repentance.

A Hymn to Encourage: "O Love That Will Not Let Me Go"

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.

O Light that follow'st all my way,
I yield my flick'ring torch to thee;
my heart restores its borrowed ray,
that in thy sunshine's blaze its day
may brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow thro' the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain
that morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life's glory dead,
and from the ground there blossoms red,
life that shall endless be.