Deuteronomy 24, Jeremiah 16, 2 Corinthians 2

Read Deuteronomy 24, Jeremiah 16, and 2 Corinthians 2. This devotional is about 2 Corinthians 2.

One of the issues we have in interpreting 1 and 2 Corinthians is that there were letters exchanged between the Corinthians and Paul that we do not have. Paul also referenced visiting them (v. 1: “another painful visit”) but that visit is not discussed in Acts–though scholars have made a good explanation of where it could have happened. 

Some have compared reading 1st and especially 2nd Corinthians to listening to one half of a phone conversation. If you’ve ever done that, for instance when your spouse is talking on the phone in your presence, you know how confusing it can get. You listen to what your spouse says and then try to imagine what might have been said on the other end of the conversation, the one you can’t hear. At least, that’s what I do when someone is talking on the phone near me….

Anyway, we have these two letters, but there were other communications between Paul and this church that we don’t have. That means we have to speculate somewhat. We can still understand what the Holy Spirit was teaching through Paul, we just don’t know–for certain, at least–all the details.

It is true that Paul commanded the church to discipline a man from the church in 1 Corinthians 5:13. It is also true that, here in 2 Corinthians 2, Paul commanded the church to restore a man to fellowship who had been under discipline. Some scholars think, though, that this is actually a different case of church discipline than the one Paul ordered in 1 Corinthians 5. Whether the man referenced in the passage today is the same guy as 2 Corinthians 2 or not, it seems clear that the church had removed him from its fellowship (v. 6) and that he repented and sought to be restored to fellowship (v. 7a). But the Corinthian church was having a hard time with the forgiveness part. In verse 7 Paul commanded them to “forgive and comfort him” and in verse 8 he encouraged them “to reaffirm your love for him” (v. 8b).

Forgiveness is sometimes easy. When someone has sinned against us in ways that we also have done toward others, we might find it easier to forgive. When we don’t really feel like we’ve been harmed, it may be easy to forgive. When we empathize with why someone sinned, it is not nearly as hard to receive that person’s repentance. But those situations–the easy to forgive ones–are rare. Much of the time we wallow in the pain caused by the sin of others and we are tempted to return equal pain and then some more to the one who sinned against us. Imagine an entire church filled with people who felt that way. Imagine what it must be like for the repentant sinner not to be received. Forgiveness is rarely easy, but it is always right when there is repentance. If you are struggling to forgive someone, even though you know they have changed their minds about their sin, ask God to give you the grace that he showed to us when he forgave us in Christ.

1 Corinthians 5

Today the reading schedule invites us to read 1 Corinthians 5

This short chapter discusses the difficult subject of church discipline. The occasion for the Corinthians was a man in their church who was committing adultery with his father’s wife (v. 1). The fact that she is not called his mother probably means that she is a step-mother to the man. Regardless, Paul was appalled (no pun intended though enjoyed) both that someone who claimed to be a believer would do this (v. 1) and that the Corinthian church tolerated this sin in their church family (v. 2). In fact, “tolerated” may be too mild a term; the phrase, “and you are proud” indicates that the Corinthians celebrated this sin. It would be nice to know more about what Paul was suggesting. Maybe the Corinthians saw their tolerance of this sin as some advanced display of grace? Regardless, Paul called on the church to remove this man from the church through church discipline as we saw in the phrase, “put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this” (v. 2b). What, then, does this passage teach us about church discipline?

First, that church discipline is public. Verse 4 told the Corinthians to handle this matter, “when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present” (v. 4). That phrase is speaking of a public gathering of the church, not a private meeting or a letter. When someone is removed from church membership through discipline, all the other members of the church should know of his removal and why he was removed.

Second, that church discipline is for the spiritual good of the person placed under discipline. Verse 5b describes the purpose of this act with this phrase, “so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” Remember that no one should be disciplined from the church until they have been confronted with their sin and given the opportunity to repent. A repentant believer is not removed from the church because he is responding to sin the way that a Christian should. But a person who will not repent when their sin is addressed is acting like an unbeliever. Paul is very concerned that the man described in 1 Corinthians 5 will go to hell because his open practice of sin is not consistent with the life of a believer. A main goal of removing him publicly is to shake him out of the false confidence of salvation he has so that he will repent of his sin like a believer should or turn to Christ genuinely for salvation.

Third, that church discipline is for the good of the church, too. Verses 6-8 compares sin to yeast (leaven). A little bit of yeast expands throughout baking dough to make the resulting bread soft and cause it to rise. The image is that the yeast grows to affect the whole loaf; likewise, sin unaddressed in the church also grows and expands until it pervades the entire body. Church discipline, then, removes the sin by disassociating the church from the person under discipline. While the people in the church might still see this man around, they are no longer to regard him as a brother in Christ who is growing in his faith. This has a sobering affect on the rest of the congregation, showing them that sin will not be tolerated in the body of Christ.

Church discipline is always a difficult thing, stressful for everyone involved. It is like surgery for the body of Christ. A surgeon wounds your physical body in order to remove or repair something that is affecting your health in the long term. Church discipline, likewise, is painful to the body, but God uses it to bring long-term health and healing to the body of Christ.