Paul’s Charge Concerning the Offender: Part 1 of 3 (series: Lessons on 2 Corinthians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

April 4, 2014

Tom Lowe
The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians

Lesson II.A.2: Paul’s Charge Concerning the Offender. (2:5–11)

2nd Corinthians 2:5-11 (NKJV)
5 But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe.
6 This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man,
7 so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.
8 Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.
9 For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things.
10 Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ,
11 lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.


Introduction
After explaining in general terms why he had delayed his trip to Corinth (see 1:12-2:2), Paul addressed the specific confrontation that most likely had led to his decision to cancel his visit. Paul doesn’t name the offender who had caused the trouble the last time he was in Corinth, but he does instruct the church on how to handle this man. As this letter will explain later, the Corinthians had obeyed Paul’s previous instructions in the letter Paul had written with tears (see 2:1-4{3]; 7:8-10{4]). They had accepted responsibility for the offense. Truly sorry for their initial mismanagement of the unfortunate event, they had punished the offender.

Paul was concerned for the offender’s spiritual welfare. He interrupted his explanation of his recent travel plans (compare 2:1-4{3] with 2:12-13{5]) to instruct the church how to treat this man. This reveals Paul’s pastoral concern. Although the primary purpose of Second Corinthians is to reassert Paul’s apostolic authority in the face of mounting criticism, Paul didn’t want the spiritual condition of anyone in the church to be jeopardized—even if it was the man who had offended him personally (see 2:5). He explained it was time to forgive the man. Paul had probably heard from Titus that the punishment by the entire church had driven the man to sorrow (see 7:6-7){6]. If given the chance, his sorrow could be transformed into godly sorrow that would lead to repentance. The offender needed forgiveness, acceptance, and comfort. Paul was concerned that undue severity would give Satan a foothold in the church by permanently separating the man from the congregation of believers. It was essential, therefore, that the church act quickly to forgive and restore this man, while he was still repentant. Church discipline should always seek the restoration of the offender. Two mistakes in church discipline should be avoided—being too lenient by not correcting mistakes and being too harsh by not forgiving the sinner. There is a time to confront and a time to comfort.

This passage is one of the best texts in all of Scripture on the godly motivation and rationale for forgiveness.

Commentary

5 But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe.

These verses emphasize that the reason Paul was concerned about this man’s offense was not to correct an injury Paul had suffered. If that had been the case, then Paul might take his own instructions to heart: to simply ignore the injustice (see 1 Corinthians 6:7){7]. Instead, Paul’s point is that the whole church (all of you) had suffered because of this man. His conduct had not only hurt Paul, but had hurt the good name of the whole Corinthian church. The fact that one man has opposed Paul is far less important than that he has carried the church with him into rebellion against Paul’s God-given authority. At first the Corinthians had regarded this man’s actions as a personal problem requiring no action on their part, a view which Paul had dispelled in his letter and which they now realized. Discipline had been exercised, but there were some who felt that it had not been sufficiently severe, and who wanted to impose a still greater punishment. Paul was against this, because he felt that to exercise further punishment would do more harm than good.

Most likely, the man’s actions had amounted to a direct attack on Paul’s apostolic authority. The teaching of the “false apostles,” who had infiltrated the Corinthian church, and had started discrediting Paul’s authority, might have inspired this man to challenge Paul’s authority in public (see Paul’s censure of these “false apostles” in 11:1-15). Paul would perceive this not only as an attack on his authority but also an insult to the entire church, which had been founded on the Gospel message that Paul had delivered to them. If Paul were

fundamentally untrustworthy, then his message couldn’t be trusted either (see Paul’s message in 1:19-20){8]. This would be an offense with broad implications. If the problem the apostle alludes to is not an attempt to discredit him as an apostle, then it was probably the incest he brought to light in his first letter. Regardless of who the offender may be, Paul never once mentions his name nor does he provide the specifics of the offense, but that may be because the Corinthians knew all about the dilemma he is referring to.

Paul’s concern in all of this was to assure the Corinthians that he wasn’t trying to defend himself. This wasn’t a personal vendetta; instead, it touched on the foundations of Christian faith. The distinction expressed in this verse should be made in churches today. Personal agendas or preferences should not block the clear proclamation of the Gospel. But when an issue touches on the authority of Jesus or the truth of the Gospel, that issue must be taken seriously, for it affects the life of the entire church. We, too, need to muster the courage to pass judgment on quarrelsome, selfish ambition in our churches, just as Paul did in the first century (see Philippines 2:3{9]; James 3:4{10]).

Let me remind you that in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, he rebuked them because they were committing gross immorality in the congregation. In fact, they had a case of incest in their congregation, and they were shutting their eyes to it. (Yet they were acting as if they were very spiritual!) This kind of gross immorality was even shocking to the heathen; yet the congregation was ignoring it. Paul had written them to get this matter straightened out. He read the riot act to them. He told them “. . . put away from yourselves that wicked person” (1 Cor. 5:13).

The congregation did listen to Paul. They excommunicated the man, which was the right thing to do. Then the man came under great conviction. Now, what should they do? They should forgive him.

The Greek construction of this clause, “if anyone has caused grief” assumes the condition to be true. Paul is acknowledging the reality of the offense and its ongoing effect, not on him, but on the church. With this deflection of any personal vengeance, he sought to soften the charge against the offender and allow the church to deal with the man and those who were with him objectively, apart from Paul’s personal anguish or offense.

6 This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man,

Paul’s stern letter had produced the desired effect. The majority of the Corinthians had realized that tolerating this man and the sin he encouraged would ruin the congregation. They couldn’t function as the holy people of God with such a rebel among them. If the person referred to is the fornicator mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5, then these verses indicate that the church did hold a meeting and discipline the man, and that he repented of his sins and was restored.

It is not entirely clear what action the Corinthian church took against this offender. They may have excluded him from partaking of the Lord’s Supper, a punishment Paul himself had suggested in 1 Corinthians: “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27). But most likely the man was excommunicated, which is what I believe the following verses suggest. The main point is that most of the believers in the church were united in judgment against this man. This united front showed the seriousness of his sin and, no doubt, helped lead him to repentance.

The clause “punishment . . . inflicted by the majority” indicates that the church in Corinth had followed the biblical process in disciplining the sinning man (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:4-13; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14{11]). The Greek word for punishment, used frequently in secular writings, but only here in the New Testament, denoted an official legal penalty or commercial sanction that was enacted against an individual or group (city, nation). The word “majority” does not necessarily mean that there was a minority other than the man himself. If there was any disagreement, it was probably because some in the church thought the punishment was not severe enough.

Church discipline is not a popular subject or a widespread practice. Too many churches sweep such things “under the rug” instead of obeying the Scriptures and confronting the situation boldly by “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). “Peace at any price” is not a biblical principle, for there cannot be true spiritual peace without purity (James 3:13-18). Problems that are “swept under the rug” have a way of multiplying and creating even worse problems later on.

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