“You ought to forgive and comfort him so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him… in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” ~2 Corinthians 2:7-11
The situation in the Corinthian church was critical: a sorrowful, repentant brother and a congregation reluctant to forgive and restore. The apostle Paul knows that Satan will attempt to use this circumstance against the Kingdom of God. The devil is hell-bent on destroying the mutual forgiveness and acceptance that is supposed to characterize the people of God. We, the Church, are the evidence — we’re the banner, the big flashing billboard, the huge neon sign — we’re the proof, the testimony of God’s redeeming work in Christ and the unity created by the Holy Spirit. Forgiving and restoring this brother, reaffirming their love for this brother, would prove to the whole world that Jesus really is who he says he is and he really is changing people.
Well, Satan can’t let that happen. So the devil does what he does best. He tempts the congregation to bear a grudge. To judge. He tempts us to pride. And arrogance.
“That guy can’t just say ‘I’m sorry’ and expect you to roll over and act like nothing happened. You’ve got to stand up here. You need to teach this guy a lesson. This guy needs to prove himself first. He’s not equal to you. Yeah, you’ve got some sin in your life; but you’ve never done what this guy did!”
Do you hear Satan?
“I suppose maybe you can forgive him; but that doesn’t mean you have to talk to him. OK, go ahead and forgive him; but that doesn’t mean he might not need to find another church.”
You ever heard that in your ear before? Or in your heart? That’s the devil talking, it’s not God’s Holy Spirit.
More than anything, in this situation, Satan wants the sorrowful brother or sister to be overwhelmed. The devil wants the outcast to feel empty and useless and all alone. So the devil does what he does best. He accuses. And he lies.
“These people will never understand you. They can’t relate to you. Nobody in that church has ever done what you’ve done. Everybody’s got friends here except for you. You’ll never be accepted. You’ll never get connected. You’re always going to be alone.”
Do you hear Satan?
“They say they forgive you, they say they love you. But you’re the only one who knows the truth: You can’t even forgive yourself. You can’t even really love yourself. These things you’ve done, those things that have happened to you, that deal you’re going through right now, nobody in the Church can help you with that.”
You ever heard that in your ear before? In your heart? That’s not God’s Spirit talking, it’s the devil.
God’s Spirit says forgive. Comfort. Reaffirm your love.
Satan cannot outwit us, the devil has no power over us as long as we’re ministering in these ways with one another and in the world. Forgive. Comfort. Reaffirm your love.
Naming and exposing sin is not at the core of what it means to live for the glory of God. Finger-pointing is not the Gospel. Witch-hunting is not the Gospel. Shaming the outcast or ostracizing the wrongdoer is not ministry. Those are all Satan’s tools and methods.
Forgiving sin! That’s Gospel! Forgiving sin! That’s Christian ministry done in the name and the manner of Jesus! Forgiving!
Scripture doesn’t tell us to grab a mop and a bucket and work harder to scrub the sin away from our lives and the lives of our neighbors and friends. And God doesn’t automatically remove all sin from our lives at baptism like exterminating roaches or amputating a diseased limb. Sin is not dealt with by more laws and rules. It’s not handled by isolation and shame. The Holy Creator deals with our sin by forgiving us!
And that’s how we deal with it, too.
Forgiveness isn’t going soft. It’s not wimpy or sissy to forgive. It’s not an apathetic or ineffective shrug of the shoulders. Forgiveness is hard-edged, hard-core, bad-to-the-bone Gospel! Forgiveness is the white-hot flame of resurrection love forged in the fiery furnace of the cross! Forgiveness doesn’t ignore the sin. And forgiveness doesn’t avoid the pain. Forgiveness deals with the problem head on. And it opens the door to healing. It clears the path for Holy Spirit transformation. Forgiveness is powerful. It’s a mighty and miraculous wonder that comes straight from heaven. And it’s a nuclear arsenal of unstoppable might against the devil and his schemes.