II Corinthians 7:2–16 Forgiveness and Reconciiation.
Key Notes: The Corinthian incident. Forgiving is a mandate. Reconcilation to God is also imperative. A case study in forgiveness. Seeking reconcilation.
Chapter seven concludes Paul’s discussion of a major conflict in the Corinthian church that has now come to resolution. The details of the conflict are mixed in the first seven chapter of II Corinthians with other spiritual messages and require some sorting. We will try to reconstruct the events and make applications. Forgiveness is an important spiritual discipline.
There was a scandal in the Corinthian church—an open display of incest, a man coming to church with his father’s wife.( ICor. 5). Paul demanded that the church excommunicate the offender so that the church would not be corrupted. We suppose that this is the same person mentioned in IICor.1–7.
Paul’s command to discipline this man was apparently ignored ( IICor.1:23–2:10) because he had to write a painful letter of rebuke (2:3), sent by the hand of Titus, his trouble-shooter. (7:7). The reason why this letter was necessary is not spelled out, but Paul said that the situation caused him pain. 2:5
We speculate that it caused Paul pain because the Corinthians got Paul’s I Corinthians letter and reflexly sided with the incestuous person against Paul. He may have been an attractive political figure, a generous benefactor or had a big family in the church. Paul was not going to be permitted to ruin their community. The threat of this rebellion was not just against Paul, but against Christ, whom Paul represented.
Their situation was very different from ours. They had two spiritual leaders, Paul and Apollas. We have come to Christ in many different times and ways and have multiple sources of spiritual input. We can reject a minister without risking our salvation. We can move to another church. On the other hand, Paul was their spiritual father (ICor.4:15) and if they renounced him, they would have endorsed an evil action and turned away from God. Paul is surprisingly strong in his appeal to their loyalty and love, especially for this reason. IICor.6:11; 7:2
Paul was understandably anxious to get a report back from Titus, who was supposed to meet him in Troas. 2:12,13). He was so disturbed that he could not minister effectively there and went on to Macedonia (up the peninsula from Corinth) hoping to find Titus there. The word that Titus brought back was a great relief.
The [incestuous] man had repented and now was in need of forgiveness and restoration to the fellowship. (2:6–11). The majority had supported Paul in pursuing punishment of the offender. (2:6). The Corinthians had eventually reversed themselves as a group, expressing godly grief (7:9) which led to repentance, and an emotional overflow—earnestness, eagerness to clear themselves, indignation, alarm, longing, zeal as well as the punishment (7:10–11). The response was so thorough that Titus came back to Paul with great enthusiasm for the Corinthian church (7:13–16). His mind (7:13) and Paul’s (7:16) were at peace about this matter.
Sin, condemnation, rebellion, reproof and correction, repentance, reconciliation, restoration and forgiveness are all a part of this Corinthian crisis. We will dscuss only the forgiveness and reconciliation..
- In God’s economy, forgiveness and reconciliation are together. Reconciliation of sinful humans with God took place first on God’s part. When we come to God, we ask Him for forgiveness through Christ's sacrifice and reconciliation is complete.
“While we were still enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son”. (Rom.5:16)
“…God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself….” (IICor.5:19).
People often turn to the Prodigal Son as an exception to the rule. They see the father offering forgiveness freely without reconciliation--and making himself appear foolish in the process. But the Prodigal came to his father confessing sin and asking for restoration in a much-reduced capacity—as a slave, not a son. (Lk. 15:21). So forgiveness came after the prodigal’s conversion (turning around), confession and restitution. He offered to make up his debt in a life of servitude. Then the father offered grace.
However, when God instructs us in our relation with others, He commands forgiveness unconditionally. For us, forgiveness is an absolute requirement. Reconciliation by the offender is not. How can God demand our repentance before He forgives us and we cannot demand the same from our offenders? Simply, we are not God. If we are not reconciled to Him, we cannot live in His House.
God allows no rebels in His House. None. Only His dear children are admitted to His Holy Place.
First, we note that the command to forgive is serious, with a threat if we disobey.
“If you forgive, your Heavenly Father will forgive you; if you do not forgive, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive you." (Matt.6:14–15)
“Whenever you stand praying, forgive if you have anything against anyone so that you Father who is in Heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (Mk.11:25)
Forgive and you will be forgiven. (Lk.6:37)
“If your brother sins, rebuke him and if he repents, forgive him and if he sins against you seven times in the day and turns to you seven times, and says ‘I repent’, you must forgive him.” (Lk.17:3–4)
In fact, we are also commanded to love our enemies and pray to those who persecute us. ( Matt.5:43–48) and no reconciliation is implied.
Vengeance is also forbidden because it is God's prerogative. Rom.12:17–21
II. The command to forgive is difficult if not impossible without Christ’s atoning and transforming work in our lives. We know what forgiveness is by Christ’s example, but His example itself is not enough to empower us. We will need the Holy Spirit's help. Most of our forgiving will be in the circle of our family and friends. We may be incapable of forgiving them in our own strength. Nor can we support the Armenian “Christians” who say that the Turkish Moslems will never be forgiven. Armenian forgiveness might produce miraculous changes in the Turks.
- Why should we forgive without reconciliation?
In God’s mercy we are not responsible for the other person’s sin. We are also not dependent on the other person’s submission to get our hearts right. We accomplish the transaction of forgiveness between ourselves and God. It is very freeing. If we wait for reconciliation, we will wait too long, for several reasons.
A The person who hurt me may not even know it. The dangerous action on the highway may not be seen as wrong or dangerous by the other driver. The snub, the dirty look or the casual insult may not have been intended. We are quite capable of misinterpreting the other person.
B. The other person may not wish to acknowledge wrong-doing, ever.
C. The other person may be outraged to have the painful subject brought up again, making the situation worse.
- Signs of real forgiveness. How do I know when I am meeting God’s requirement for forgiveness?
- I do not tell the persons how they hurt me or try to make them feel guilty.
- I let him / her save face to others. I do not spoil the offender’s reputation.
- I accept that total forgiveness does not occur at once. It takes time (years) to forgive. I will have to forgive again and again because the indignation will come back again and again. Forgiveness is a life-work.
Eventually I am able to pray a blessing on the offender, seeking the person’s well-being. Even then, flashes of indignation may come back. The key to real forgiveness is seeking the other person’s welfare, not his destruction. Destruction would likely have been our first impulse. We have a good supply of curses. We have to completely turn around to wish the person well. That may happen slowly and painfully.
- If you seek forgiveness for your own offense, the shoe is on the other foot.
- “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. “ (Matt.5:23).
The context in Matthew 5 is dealing with anger—in this case the other person’s. The next sentence suggests that it may be God whom you have offended. Note that this command is given without a penalty attached.
- Make clear what you want to be forgiven for. Find your spiritual weakness that led to the offense. Don’t rationalize and plead mitigating circumstances.
Don’t dampen the impact of what you did: “if I offended you I’m sorry. ”
- Practice asking forgiveness first. Meet face to face. If you know it was dead wrong, say it was dead wrong. Don’t send a note or card.
- Accept forgiveness when it is offered.
And may God bless you in the doing.
“Forgiving the Unrepentant.” R.T. Kendall; Christianity Today; Mar.2005; p.78.
The following note is an example of forgiveness told by a trained forgiveness counselor, used by permission.
A story told by Gayle Reed.
Gayle Reed (RN, PhD, LLC) has a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin working with Robert Enright on issues of forgiveness. She has tested forgiveness in experimental models and demonstrated its effectiveness in a variety of emotional settings. She has years of experience as a counselor. She has written on the subject and given lectures and seminars. This is her story.
She was divorced with two teen-aged children. She heard through a friend that her ex-husband was going to marry the woman he had been living with for some years. There was going to be a wedding celebration practically on the date of her 50th birthday. She had worked on forgiveness for herself as she had for so many of her clients, but anger welled up again. Gayle prayed for God's help. She had a vivid (rem-sleep) dream that night that she was visiting her ex-husband’s house and he had bought his new wife a Mercedes SUV with her name on the license plate. (Gayle was left with a little Toyota.) She awoke in great agitation and fell on her knees ..."bitterness alert!"… at the bedside in prayer and confessed her bitterness and asked for God's help again.
Some time later she had to visit her ex-husband’s home to deliver her daughter. They shared custody of the children. Her daughter raised the garage door, dragging her duffle into the house. Gayle saw that in the garage there was a Mercedes SUV with the new wife’s name on it. It was all true! Gayle prayed that God would help her with the pain that the situation still caused her. Then she heard the voice of God say “Her name is written on the license plate. Where is your name written?” Gayle thought “In the Lamb’s Book of Life.” Then she heard the voice again “She has nothing. You have everything. You have mercy on her!”
She drove away singing, overwhelmed with joy.