February 23, 2014

Severity, Sorrow, and Satan

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: 2 Corinthians Scripture: 2 Corinthians 2:5–11


Severity, Sorrow, and Satan

2 Corinthians 2:5-11
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Pastor Randy Smith


In the Old Testament we read, "The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; and with all your acquiring, get understanding. Prize her, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a garland of grace; she will present you with a crown of beauty" (Pr. 4:7-9). In the New Testament we read, "Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise" (Eph. 5:15).

Many people can cram their heads with all kinds of information. They can invent elaborate formulas, win every game of Trivial Pursuit or even quote the Bible like a scholar, but in the eyes of God they are still considered a fool. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is having knowledge, but knowing the right way to apply it. Wisdom is not learned behind a desk. Wisdom is learned in the school of life as the Holy Spirit matures us, taking the Scriptures we know, the situations we experience, the trials we undergo and the wise company we associate with to teach us the deepest and richest application of God's Word to life.

Take parenting for example. I am still learning that it takes a tremendous amount of wisdom to raise a child. Knowing what to say, when to say it, how to say it. How much freedom should a child be given? Where the lines should be drawn on music, movies, school events, friend choices, clothing issues and social media? How do you balance a child's fun with his or her responsibilities around the house? Should a child date, and if so, who and when? How much do you make a child read the Bible if they don't want to? How do you do family devotions without boring your children? How do you communicate without lecturing? How do you establish a deep and personal relationship without being a pier with your kids? What do you forsake in your own personal life to be the best example for your child? How do you discipline different ages, know what requires discipline, know when to overlook an offense, and know that your discipline is always done in love? Every child is unique and every situation is different. One size doesn't always fit all. You need knowledge, but to answer these questions you also need a tremendous amount of wisdom.

So Paul is dealing with the troubled and unwise church in Corinth. He writes them 1 Corinthians which addresses many of the moral and doctrinal errors in the church. He promises to come and visit them. He then rearranges his travel plans to schedule two visits. However, he immediately learns of more problems in the church from Timothy, this time dealing with false teachers and disunity. He makes an emergency visit. The visit is awful as the church totally turned on Paul, believing lies about his character and motives. Paul leaves depressed and cancels the two promised visits to "spare" them and give the Holy Spirit time to bring about repentance. Paul writes them another letter commonly referred to as the "severe letter." He is concerned how the church will receive it. He hears from Titus that the church responded well to the "severe letter." They repented and even disciplined the ring-leader of the divisive, anti-Paul sect. Paul even finds out that the discipline resulted in this man himself repenting as well. Everything's great? Well, not really!

As we will learn today, this church was darkened by extreme, one-directional thinking. It was either all or nothing. One minute they gullibly fall for this leader's lies and turn on Paul. Then when they realize how that was wrong, they church discipline him, but then they commit another wrong by failing to forgive. They now turn on this individual when he repents. This was another mess that Paul needed to address in 2 Corinthians.

This morning we'll learn about the wisdom needed to exercise both severity and forgiveness. Both are commanded in Scripture. Both are an exercise of love. And both when ignored leave the door wide open to the attacks of Satan. Let's begin with our passage.

So the church needs wisdom to know how to respond to the situations that come into her midst. And the foundation of wisdom is a solid theology grounded in the Word of God. There is no doubt that Paul was hurt in the way he was treated, but let's not think for a moment that he wanted the church to respond simply to mend his broken heart or stand by his side or seek revenge in the matter. Paul already told the church that it is often best to be personally wronged (1 Cor. 6:7) than to respond in any way that might damage the church.

You see, it was Paul's theology that led to a tremendous love for the church (the bride of Christ purchased with His own precious blood). And in his love for the church, Paul knew that they needed to embrace him because he was an apostle of Jesus Christ. Reject him and you are in effect rejecting the Word of God. Reject the Word of God and you reject Jesus Christ. So to be obedient it was imperative they shut down this guy that was killing the church. And when he repented, we'll see that it is Paul not bearing a grudge, but on the front lines leading the charge for the church to forgive this man. Wisdom is able to get self out of the way and respond in a way that is always best for the church. It's seeing things through God's eyes, according to good theology, built upon the Scriptures, not our own biased perspective.

So Paul says in verse 5, "But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree - in order not to say too much - to all of you."

Paul doesn't deny the pain this unnamed individual caused him. But what we see here is that he doesn't make it about himself. Sadly people do get hurt in the church and sadly some process it in a self-centered way, ranging from severe self-pity to severe retaliation. It grieves my heart to hear of the people who will destroy a church if it means their own vindication. Paul thought just the opposite. "I was made sorrowful to some degree, but the one who experienced the greater sorrow was you." Paul's greater grief was not the personal attacks on himself, but rather the church that was sitting on the precipice of extinction. That grieved Paul's heart, and it should have grieved their heart. In Paul's humble estimation, their hurt in this matter should have been the greater sorrow!

You see, as I said this church dealt in extremes. First they do nothing to preserve the church's unity and allow mutiny to happen in their midst. Then they act, but do it with a lack of love and fail to extend forgiveness to the man once he repented. The guy comes around and they simply want to keep punishing him! Look what Paul says in verse 6, "Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority." Translation: Enough already!

Wait, slow down, church…what? Church discipline? Let's catch our breath and make some conclusions based upon what we see right here from God's Word.

First, the Lord expects us to practice church discipline when necessary. And it is necessary when a person of the church is living in a significant unrepentant sin that is affecting both his or her life and the integrity of the church. Church discipline, though frowned upon by the world, was clearly taught by our Lord in Matthew 18. "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" (Mt. 18:15-17). We also see it here and elsewhere in Scripture (1 Cor. 5:4-5, 11; 1 Thes. 3:6, 14-15).

In thirteen years at this church we have had three church discipline situations, two of them involving unbiblical divorces. It is the right thing to do, but one of the most painful things a leader needs to do. Therefore, Grace Tabernacle, don't sin!

Second, we see here that Paul refers to the "punishment that was inflicted by the majority." Church discipline is not just a "leadership thing." It is a "congregation thing" in seeking to call a straying brother or sister in Christ back to the Lord. It's the church lovingly calling a person in danger, based upon truth in the Bible back to a position of safety.

That leads to number three. Church discipline is not punitive. In other words, it's not to execute revenge or pay someone back for the hurt they've committed. The goal as I mentioned is restoration - restoring people back to the Lord and in many cases back to their families and others in the church.

And fourth, when church discipline is effective and the individual repents, it is the responsibility of the church to forgive, restore the individual to fellowship, completely drop the matter and move on from the situation. This is what the Corinthians did not do! The discipline is executed, the person repents and the church is still pouring on this dear soul a world of hurt. That is why Paul says in verse 7, "So that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow."

I love this! We know how much of his heart Paul gave to this church. And the very people he loved believed lies told about his character and motives. Many scholars trying to reconstruct the details believe that painful visit resulted in this leader of the divisive sect accusing Paul to his face and then having to watch the church sit by idly and not respond. It's funny because in 1 Corinthians Paul rebuked the church for their factions. Remember the group, "I am of Paul" (1 Cor. 3:4)? Where were they? Well, Paul leaves and perhaps they come to life. After the disciplined member repents, they now since it's in vogue, come out of their shells and lead the charge of kicking this guy when he's down. "We're with you, Paul!"

Yet it's Paul himself, the one that was personally most hurt himself saying, "Stop it already. Don't hold out forgiveness on account of me. The discipline accomplished its purpose. If I can forgive him, you can as well (verse 10). 'Forgive [him] (verse 7), 'comfort him' (verse 7), 'reaffirm your love for him' (verse 8) and don't let him 'be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow' (verse 7)."

The problem with today's churches is that we do not start discipline when there is unrepentance. The problem with the church back then was they didn't stop discipline when there was repentance.

You know in two of our three church discipline situations both of the men eventually repented. I am still holding out hope for the third! But they did what so many people in these situations do. They leave the church the moment they were disciplined. We have never asked them to leave the church. They leave on their own and they go to another church that welcomes them in with loving arms and totally short-circuits the process.

One of the men that repented was at a church not too far from here. When the pastor called me and told me the good news I rejoiced, but I also encouraged the pastor to send the man back citing this very passage as an example. He never did, but how wonderful would it have been to forgive this person, wrap our arms around him, praise God for the work in his life, and restore him to the place he one enjoyed.

You see, wisdom dictates that we as a church don't just sweep issues under the proverbial carpet. Like the man who told a local pastor, "We are members of your church and my wife is leaving me. Our family is in shambles. What are you going to do?" And the pastor's response was, "Nothing." We need the courage to lovingly and gently and kindly confront sin. But we also need the courage to forgive those who sin as well. And striking the balance between these takes incredible wisdom.

I was talking with a pastor friend a couple years ago and he told me they needed to church discipline a man at their church who was refusing to work and thus was leaving his family unfed and vulnerable. Once disciplined, as it often is, the man left the church and began telling other churches how unloving his former church was. How did my pastor friend know that? Because they gained a new family as a result of it. When a man was gossiped to about the church discipline at another church, instead of saying, "How unloving," he said, "Where is that church because that's where I want to be!"

So let's take that example - a young man after repeated admonitions, refuses to work and care for his family. It is clearly a sin and clearly damaging to the family, the reputation of the church and poor example to others in the church. Do you forgive or do you discipline? Answer: both! Which one is more loving? Answer: both! It's clearly foolish to say discipline is unloving. And it's clearly foolish to say because they disciplined him that the church knows nothing about forgiveness!

So good churches practice church discipline, but good churches also had better practice, unlike this church in Corinth, church forgiveness.

Forgiveness should mark us as Christians in each of our personal lives. Ephesians 4:32, "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." How important is this? An unforgiving soul is most likely a unredeemed soul because it obviously hasn't experienced Christ's forgiveness. That's why Jesus Himself said, "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions" (Mt. 6:14-15). It has been said you are never more like God than when you forgive others.

So what are the reasons this church and our church should forgive? Verse 10, that they, like Paul, like us live our lives under the close "presence of Christ." Our Lord is watching and expecting and empowering us to obey. Forgiving others is a clear command. Paul gets at that in verse 9 when he says he put them to the test to see if they would be "obedient in all things." One of those things of obedience was forgiveness.

Another reason is the desire to be sure that our church is a place of love and kindness and healing and restoration. If there is a sorrow leading to repentance that's great (2 Cor. 7), but if the guy has already repented there is no redemptive value in watching him drown in what Paul calls in verse 7 "excessive sorrow." Regardless of the sin, we don't reject repentant sinners no matter the degree of their sin. We don't kick people when they are down. We don't set arbitrary limits on grace and mercy.

And a third reason is mentioned in verse 11. We forgive "so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes." Now what does that mean? Why did Paul conclude this section with this particular warning?

We need to remember that we have a spiritual enemy forever seeking to destroy the work of Christ. And where is the work of Christ most readily seen? In and through the work of His church! You see, it's apparent that Satan tried to extinguish this church through the divisive faction. That was foiled. So does he give up? He is always looking for a new opportunity. The lack of forgiveness now opened the door once again to his attacks. That's because unforgiveness produces hatred and strife and bitterness and retaliation.

Don't deal with sin in your midst? Fuel for Satan! Deal with sin harshly? More fuel for Satan! He'll do what it takes to gain the leverage he needs for a church split. That's why we are reminded that he is there, and we're also reminded that though he is subtle, he is predictable. We ought not to be "ignorant of his schemes" (verse 11). We are called in Scripture to "stand firm against the schemes of the devil" (Eph. 6:11) and "not give the devil an opportunity" (Eph. 4:27).

Paul dealt with the matter in this church with such a wise perspective. He knew the unity of the church was more important than his personal feelings. He knew when it was time to have this church discipline the man. He knew the dangers that incur when a church refuses to forgive one another. And he knew that this church in their unforgiveness was now more disobedient than the one who was previously disciplined but is now repentant.

Have you given your life to Christ? Is He your Lord and Savior? If so, you are part of His church. And if you are part of His church, you are commanded to attend a local church and be connected to His body.

The local church is the best institution in the world, but let's remind ourselves that the church is not heaven. The church is filled with redeemed sinners that still sin. Therefore may we have the wisdom in our church to consider the church's unity more important than our personal grievances. May we patiently and lovingly confront sin first in our own lives and then in the lives around us. And may we forgive each other as Christ has already forgiven us.


other sermons in this series

Mar 8


Optimistic Admonitions

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 2 Corinthians 13:11–14 Series: 2 Corinthians

Mar 1


Severity In Weakness

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 2 Corinthians 13:1–10 Series: 2 Corinthians

Feb 22


Signs, Sacrifice, and Sorrow

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12:11–21 Series: 2 Corinthians