Churches dealing with hard topics and situations has been the norm for the Christian church from the beginning. It’s imperative for congregations to strike a balance in love and wisdom regarding how to handle people who threaten to weaken an assembly with their sinful behavior. This is what I learned from Corinth’s challenges.
In 1 Corinthians 5, when Paul confronted the church about incestuous fornication between a man and his stepmother, he commanded them to deal with it firmly by delivering the man over to Satan for God to allow the devil to punish his misdeed. They were also to avoid socializing with him.
As a follow-up, Paul explained in 2 Corinthians 2 the motives behind his strict admonishment as follows:
Paul’s motivation was love for the Corinthian church. Any grief that took place was not his goal, but just a side effect of confronting someone’s sin. During this explanation in 2 Corinthians 2, we also discover the incestuous man repented and made amends for his sin because Paul went on to explain the following:
6 Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many.
7 So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.
8 Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.
9 For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things.
The same love that motivated the necessary punishment was the same love he commanded them to show in their generous forgiveness for the man. Just as the disciplinary action was for the sake of love as displayed by their obedience to strengthen the church, the church would also be strengthened by loving, comforting forgiveness in response to the man’s repentance. Furthermore, Paul gives them another warning about the importance of forgiveness when he says in v. 11, “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.”
After they were told to turn him over to Satan for punishment in 1 Corinthians, their forgiveness toward him was for the added purpose of taking the situation away from Satan’s influence for all parties involved. Unforgiveness would have given Satan an advantage by causing “overmuch sorrow” (v. 7) that he would have used to attack their confidence in the Lord, using it as a basis to stir up discord among the brethren.
If the Corinthians loved the Lord, their church, and Paul enough to both confront sin head-on in their midst and then quickly forgive a repentant sinner, what does that say about today’s churches who neither confront sin for the sake of repentance nor freely forgive but hold grudges?