Read 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.