Scripture: 2 Corinthians 2:1-10
I’ve been on the internet for a very long time. It started for me back when I was a teenager around 1990 and my high school got an internet connection. As a young man interested in computers and intending to study and make a career in the industry, this new thing really caught my attention. Although, as I look back, it really wasn’t all that exciting… at all. At least compared to what the internet has become today. There weren’t even pictures back then!
One thing I learned early on though, was that you need to be careful what you say. You need to be careful because plain text can be read in many different ways. If someone chooses to read what you wrote in a totally different tone than what you intended, then things can get heated quickly.
We still have this problem today as I see people get trashed over social media for things they have said on Twitter or Facebook. What seems to be a simple statement gets completely misconstrued by someone else and the next thing you know, someone loses their job and their life is in shambles.
Believe me, it has gone that far.
Part of the problem is people don’t realize tone and body language are a huge part of how we communicate. So if all we are doing is transmitting words without tone and body movement to help get our point across, people can easily miss the point.
Also people are really taking advantage of the anonymity the internet gives to them. Just read online comments on internet news sites and you’ll quickly see what I mean.
Communication is far more than just words on a page or screen.
Which makes me wonder how Paul got himself into such a state with what we read from 2 Corinthians 2 this morning.
It sounds to me like when Paul wrote a letter to the church of Corinth, something happened. And it wasn’t pretty.
I’m guessing Paul wrote in his usual form we see in other letters he wrote in the Bible. Primarily that he was direct and to the point. Not one to usually mince words, I’m sure Paul heard there was a problem and wrote a letter in order to address it immediately and possibly with strong language to rebuke the problem.
It sounds like the letter wasn’t well received because Paul writes in this letter, “For I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” (2 Corinthians 2:4)
Paul often likes to use what we call today “tough love.”
If you receive a letter which calls to your attention that you need to correct some of your behaviours, when you think there’s nothing wrong, then you would probably be pretty perturbed. You would not be pleased.
This is what it sounds like happened in Paul’s previous letter. Unfortunately we don’t have that letter. It sounds like there was one individual who took great offense to what Paul said in his letter, and then took it out on the entire community.
It’s either that, or this individual was causing a problem and the community took what Paul wrote as an opportunity to rebuke the person seen as the source of the problem.
Either way, the community is facing a great divide over what happened, and Paul is trying to make it right.
Paul is saddened because it’s not what he intended his previous letter to do. Paul wanted something fixed in the church, he didn’t want to cause more problems.
Now, with this division over what to do with this particular individual who is now shunned by the church, Paul is writing this letter to try and bring the church back together.
We all know one person rarely acts alone in the church, or even in the community, without the support of others to encourage them along. This happens in all sorts of situations, for good or bad. So to shun one person can easily create a divide which impacts the church, or organization, much greater than just removing one individual. By removing one individual, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve just upset a number of other people who were standing behind the one.
So now we can see why Paul is understandably worried about the future of the church in Corinth.
Paul is trying to unite the church at a critical time. The church is so young. People are just getting to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, and now there’s this possible split occurring. Paul has every right to be worried and needed to send this letter.
Now, seeing as how it was a letter that caused the original problem in the first place, one might wonder why Paul decided not to come in person, but to send another letter. Sometimes face-to-face conversations produce greater fruit than from a distance, but Paul knows the people far better than we do. Paul knows the dynamics of the people involved in the situation better than we do. So he sent another letter.
Paul also knows what it means to be under attack by a group of people. He’s experienced a lot of it in his travels; people making threats on his life because of his passion of teaching about Jesus Christ and planting churches all over the place.
Paul doesn’t want people to turn their back on Jesus, which is easy to do when those who call themselves his followers decide to dump all over one of their own.
Church splits never impact just the individual or just the church. Church splits cause a controversy in the community. People look at the church and say, “If these followers of Jesus can’t love each other, then what kind of church is it?”
Rumours spread. Stories get told of the horrors of what went on behind closed doors as people fight amongst themselves. No one wants to be part of a community with that kind of publicity, with that kind of reputation.
And of course we know there’s always three sides to every story. My story, your story, and the true story.
Paul takes this opportunity to try and make things right. He tries to tell them what the true Christian response needs to be. Whether or not he knows the truth, or even the whole story. Paul let’s them know how Jesus himself would respond.
So what is his advice to the Corinthian church towards this individual? He says,
“This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.” (2 Corinthians 2:6-8)
Paul says they need to forgive him and console him. Remember what we said about that word “console” last week. It could also be translated as encourage. So they are to forgive, console and encourage the one they have put out of their company.
But more than that, as if that’s not enough, Paul tells them they need to love him.
Now this is not an easy task now is it?
Love your enemies? Who could possibly expect someone to love their enemies.
Oh wait a minute, I think Jesus has something to say about this topic. In Matthew 5, when Jesus is preaching to the crowd in what we call his sermon on the mount, he says this,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
Jesus says we need to love our enemies. Loving the people we spend time with is easy. Everyone can do that. But to love your enemies? This is a greater sign of your desire to follow Jesus. This is what God is asking us to do.
And further along, in Matthew 18 Jesus says this,
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)
Some translations take the seventy-seven and translate it to seventy times seven! Imagine trying to keep track of all the people you need to keep forgiving 490 times, over and over again!
Forgiveness is something Jesus saw as important in a person’s life. If someone does something wrong to you, which is better? Carry the hatred and bitterness with you, or forgive them and move on with your life?
Seems fairly straight forward.
But it’s not exactly easy to forgive!
But without forgiveness, we can’t be united, we can’t move forward together. Without forgiveness, we are divided, apart.
Paul knows this, he has seen so much in his travels, and when he sees the church in Corinth split, he knows the future of that church is in jeopardy. He needs to see the church healed. He needs to see it bringing people together, not splitting them apart. And there’s really only one way to do it.
Love one another.
The way Jesus loved the people he met along his way.
But loving each other, even our enemies, is not just about being the better person. What does Jesus say about loving one another? We just need to go back to the sermon on the mount, even the same reading I referred to earlier.
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…” (Matthew 5:44-45a)
The second half of this challenging command is what should catch your attention. You want to be a child of God, you need to love your enemies and pray for them.
Holding a grudge, or even actively pushing someone out of your life impacts your relationship with God. This should cause us to pause and think.
If there is someone in our life you are not reaching out towards in love, you are not in a right relationship with God.
We should want to be in a right relationship with God. This should be our greatest desire because it’s what can fill the hole we feel in our lives. But hatred and un-forgiveness can get in the way.
In our prayer life, one thing which can keep us from hearing and knowing God’s plan for us is our sinfulness, of which hatred is part. Sin is anything which keeps us from fully experiencing God in our lives. There may even be things which are sinful for us which is not sinful for someone else.
However, harbouring ill-will and hatred for someone else is universal. It’s sin. We need to forgive our enemies, we need to love them, and we need to get right with God.
Paul knows this, which is why he is encouraging the church in Corinth to make it right with the member they have been shutting out of their community.
Paul knows if they don’t have this same love for all people in their church, then the church cannot be right with God. They won’t be children of God if there if division among themselves.
Love and forgiveness are important things for the church to have. They aren’t easy things, but they are very important things.
If people are looking to see how they live a good Christian life, where are they going to look? They are going to look at Christians. And if they are looking at Christians, where are they going to look? They are going to look at the church.
If they look at the church and see infighting and division, what is their impression of Christianity going to be?
You sometimes hear the saying, “I don’t go to church, it’s full of hypocrites!”
Some people like to respond by saying, “There’s always room for one more!”
Which is true! Everyone who comes through the door of the church is broken and sinful in some way. But is that the face we want to put forward?
We want to put our best face forward. We want to be the visible sign of Jesus Christ in the world. It doesn’t mean we are to hide our sin, but we are not to let our sin define who we are.
We are defined by our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This is the face we want to put forward. We want to show Jesus to the world.
This is what Paul wants the church in Corinth to put forward. He wants the church to be the face of Christ in the world, and if they are fighting amongst themselves, then they can’t be that face.
How is your relationship with God?
Is there something you need to examine as to whether or not you are right with God?
It may not even be something you are fully aware of. In your prayer time, take a moment each day and ask God if there is someone in your life you need to forgive and love. Ask God if there is something else in your life which is impeding your relationship with Him.
God will let you know, and He will help you restore whatever it is, because God wants us all to be His children.
Paul knew this, he wanted the church in Corinth to know this. God wants us to know this.
The impact of division and sin in our life has a greater impact than on just us. It impacts our relationship with each other. It impacts our relationship with the church. It impacts our community. And it impacts our relationship with God.
God wants us to be in right relationship with Him and with each other. Jesus made this very clear. Paul understood.
For the church to be an effective ministry, for it to be a faithful witness of Jesus Christ to the world, we need to be right with God ourselves. And we need to love one another.
The world Paul uses for forgiveness in his letter can also be translated as “give freely.”
Paul asks the church to give freely of themselves to others. Just as Jesus gave freely when he gave his life for us.
Just as God gave freely when He sent his Son to come and teach us and show us how to love knowing how this act would mean His Son would die a horrible death.
Just as God gives freely by forgiving us of our sin when we honestly come before Him seeking forgiveness and healing in our broken lives.
My friends, God wishes to give freely to you so that you will know Him more than you’ve ever known Him before.
He wants to heal you of your sin. He wants to help you to love others as He loves you.
The first step is admitting we are broken and in need of His love and forgiveness.
Let God come into your life and help you heal. Let him bring you back into relationship with others and with Him so that you will be His precious child.
And in being His precious child, the church is stronger, our communities are stronger, our homes are stronger.
By being in relationship with God as His precious child, the impact is far greater than just our own moral compass. Being God’s child impacts the world as we are transformed into people who love and give freely to others, even the ones who are hard to love.
What does God have to say to you today?
How much closer can you be to our Father in heaven?
We can all be closer. And we can do it when we seek His direction in our life.
Let God speak. Let Him heal you of your sin. And may you be His precious child.
The only way we can do this with His help.
And he is ready and willing to step into our lives to make it happen.
He will help you heal yourself and your relationships. He will bring you peace and joy as no other can bring.
He wants us to be united and strong as a people who follow His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
He wants us to be His precious children.
Thanks be to God for this gift of life and love.
Amen and amen!