If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, 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. Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)
Paul speaks in these verses of a cause of grief in Corinth. We are not sure what cause of grief Paul is speaking about. Paul may be referring to the man in the Church at Corinth who was sleeping with his stepmother. Paul told the Corinthians that they should put this man out of the church. Now, apparently, the punishment has worked, and the man has repented. Therefore, Paul has some new words of instruction for the church. In fact, he has four great words for them.
The first great word of instruction that Paul has for the church is forgive! The word in Greek is χαρίζομαι. It means “to extend grace”. The word occurs 23 times in the New Testament. This is the word most often used by Paul to refer to the act of forgiveness. The other word translated as “forgiveness” in the New Testament is ἀφίημι. It means “to release”. This word is used 146 times in the New Testament. Forgiveness is a big deal in the New Testament. One could make the argument that it is one of the main subjects of Christian Scripture.
This is such an important word and action that Paul repeats it four times in Greek in these few verses. It appears six times in the English translation. If Paul knew the song from Frozen, I think he would sing it with Elsa until we could not forget his message… “Let it go!”
Perhaps Paul urges the Corinthians to forgive because he was aware of the command of Jesus who said in Luke 17:3, “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.”
Also, in Luke 7:47, Jesus said, “Whoever has been forgiven little, loves little.” If you want your life to take off, learn the meaning of this verse. Get it? Luke 747. Learn it and your life will take off like a 747!
The story attached to Luke 7:47 is too good not to read the whole thing. Luke tells us…
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
If you want to be a good forgiver, first you must receive the forgiveness of Jesus. His forgiveness of your sin was made possible through the cross. As Jesus hung on the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
It is the message of forgiveness that made me a Christian when I was twelve years old. I understood that message for the first time while listening to Robert Schuller on television. He said I could be forgiven because Jesus died on the cross for me. I say the same to you today: “You can be forgiven because Jesus died on the cross for you!” Receive that forgiveness and then you will have the gift of forgiveness to give away.
Other than God in Christ, I have never known anyone more forgiving, more gracious, than my father. Like the woman who anointed Jesus, he had been forgiven much, so he loved much. When two of my brothers went through divorce, my father was not condemning, but rather forgiving and welcoming. When my other brother totaled a car that my father had recently bought him, my father was there to pick him up at the scene of the accident. Not a harsh word was spoken. He who has been forgiven much, loves much.
Many years ago, when I was going through a difficult time, a friend shared some wise words with me. There were some people in my life who were having a hard time forgiving me. I had done everything I could think of to earn their forgiveness, but it wasn’t forthcoming. I confessed my frustration to my friend, and he said to me: “Will, there are some in the Church for whom sin is greater than grace. But there are others for whom grace is greater than every sin. Go where you can find grace!”
I say the same to you today: “Go where you can find grace! And give grace wherever you go!” If you have not realized it yet, I hope you will come to know that God’s grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ are truly greater than every sin.
The second great word of instruction Paul gives here is the command to comfort. Paul says, “Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.”
The Greek word for comfort is παρακαλέω; it means to call alongside. We looked at this word two weeks ago when we studied the opening of this letter. If 1 Corinthians is a letter of conflict and confrontation, then 2 Corinthians is a letter of comfort.
It is important to remember that Jesus calls the Holy Spirit our Paraclete. The Holy Spirit comes alongside of us and puts his arm of comfort around us.
Paul himself had experienced this kind of ministry and so he was able to extend this kind of ministry to others. Remember, Paul had been a persecutor of the early Christians. Then on the road to Damascus he met Jesus and was changed. But some of the first Christians had a hard time believing that Paul, the Hit Man, had really changed.
My father experienced the same thing when he left organized crime and committed his life to follow Jesus Christ. Some people had a hard time believing it was true.
The same thing happened to Paul. But then Barnabas came along, put his arm around Paul, and introduced him to the apostles. (Acts 9:27) Barnabas was known as the son of encouragement. (Acts 4:36) It was his arm of encouragement, extended to Paul, that paved the way for Paul’s gigantic ministry to take off.
Who is there in your life to whom you could extend the arm of comfort, the arm of encouragement this week?
The third great word of instruction that Paul offers in this passage is: reaffirm. The word in Greek is kυρόω; it means “to ratify, confirm, make valid, reaffirm, assure.” This word comes from the same root word from which we get κύριος, the Greek word for “Lord”. It is the Lord who ratifies, confirms, makes valid, reaffirms, assures us of his love.
When I was in college, I took a class on the topic of Self Esteem offered by Dr. Mary Geckeler who was one of the therapists in the counseling center attached to La Jolla Presbyterian Church. I remember Mary talking about the 5 A’s of Relationship. Do you know them? Some people identify these 5 A’s as:
I think this is one of those rubrics that has gone through many changes over the years. I remember “Affirmation” being one of the 5 A’s. Our class with Mary Geckeler used a workbook entitled Self-Esteem: A Family Affair by Jean Illsley Clarke. The book suggests statements of affirmation for parents and teachers to offer children during every stage of growth from birth to nineteen years of age. There are various affirmations for being, doing, thinking, identity, structure, and sexuality. I have found these affirmations helpful as an adult as well because we all need a bit of re-parenting in life since there is no perfect human parent in the whole world.
While I was writing this sermon, I decided to look up Bible verses of affirmation. I found a web site with fifty biblical affirmations. I don’t have the time or space to repeat all these affirmations here. But here are some of them…
- GOD COMFORTS ME IN ALL TRIBULATIONS. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
- My sufficiency is from God. (2 Corinthians 3:5)
- I WILL FEAR NO EVIL. (Psalm 23: 4)
- GOD IS MY HELPER. (Psalm 121:1-2)
- The joy of the Lord is my strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)
- I AM LOVED. (John 3:16)
Affirmation is not just something we need when we are young, say, between birth and nineteen years of age. Nor is affirmation something we need only once in our life. Affirmation is not one and done. Affirmation is something that must constantly be repeated. That’s why I love the fact that Paul says, “I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.”
The Lord reaffirms his love for us constantly and we have the privilege of doing the same for others in God’s name.
This leads us right up to the fourth and final great word that Paul gives us in this passage. The word is love. We have talked about this so many times during my first two years in this church that I am sure you can guess what the Greek word is that Paul uses. It is that beautiful word ἀγάπη. It is a word used 116 times in the New Testament. Various words for love and forms of the word “love” appear a whopping 686 times in the Bible! That’s 425 times in the Old Testament and 261 times in the New Testament. I think that makes love to be one of the most important words in the Bible. By contrast the word “hate” only appears 127 times. The Bible is a collection of books all about love.
But love is a word that has so many definitions in our day that we need to make sure we know what Paul means when he uses this word. There is the trite saying voiced in the 1970 movie Love Story. “Love means never having to say you are sorry.” Baloney! Paul would not agree with that Hollywood drivel. If we really love others then, sometime, we must say, “I’m sorry!” Why? Because we are imperfect people, and we want to become better people. Not only will we say, “I’m sorry,” but we will also say the much harder words, “Please forgive me.”
The kind of love Paul talks about is a type of love that can deal with imperfection and sin. Agape is God’s kind of love for us. God loves us in-spite-of our sin. His love is not merely unconditional. God’s love goes against the conditions. God loves people like us who are, precisely, unlovable. God loves not because of certain qualities in us. God loves because it is God’s character to love.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
God loved the world, the cosmos, the world system that was dead set against him.
Do you reckon you are part of that world, that cosmos? If so, then God loves you.
God’s love for the world led him to give his only begotten Son. And how did he give his Son? He gave him to die on a cruel cross for your sin and mine.
That kind of love demands a response. God gave his only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Whosoever—that is a word big enough to include everyone who has ever lived, everyone who is alive right now on planet earth, and everyone who will ever live.
Whosoever believes in him. Believing in Jesus means entrusting your life to him. John 1:12 says, “…to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
Have you entrusted your life to Jesus Christ? Have you received him into your heart and soul by the Holy Spirit? If so, then Jesus promises that you will not perish but have everlasting life.
Once you have experienced his love, then you will have a love to share with others.
I can’t help but wonder, as I conclude this sermon today, whether Paul issues these four great words: Forgive, Comfort, Reaffirm, Love, because he realized that perhaps he had been too harsh with the sinner in question in Corinth. After all, Paul was human. He was not perfect. Paul knew that sometimes Satan could outwit even him. And it could be that in Paul’s shock over this man’s sin, that he over-reacted. I do not know if that was the case. But I think it is at least possible.
One thing I can tell you for certain is that God is never caught off guard by your sin or mine. Jesus is never shocked by our thoughts, our desires, or our behavior. He knows everything about us, and he loves us anyway. God loves us right where we are, and he loves us too much to leave us where we are. God doesn’t want to exclude us. He doesn’t want us to remain separated from him by our sin. God wants to forgive our sin in Christ, and through the cross. He wants to include us—and to draw us to himself through the comforting arm of the Holy Spirit.
Will you let God do that work in your life today? If you will, then you will have forgiveness, comfort, affirmation, and love to share with others.