When do you forgive and when do you drop the justice hammer? Our text for this week is 2 Corinthians 2:1-11. The apostle Paul had written a harsh letter to the church in Corinth regarding a man who had done something wrong. The church was ignoring it and Paul told them to do something about it. Apparently, they took his words to heart and dropped the hammer on this guy. So much so, that Paul seems to regret having written the letter.
I love the way Eugene Peterson translates the last part of this passage in The Message,
“The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church. So if you forgive him, I forgive him. Don’t think I’m carrying around a list of personal grudges. The fact is that I’m joining in with your forgiveness, as Christ is with us, guiding us. After all, we don’t want to unwittingly give Satan an opening for yet more mischief—we’re not oblivious to his sly ways”
This is so important for us in the church. The point is not punishment, heaping guilt, or holding grudges. The point is the health of the church. The Spirit of God does expose guilt when we behave in destructive ways. Would you really want a doctor to ignore a malignant tumor and pretend it is “just fine?” Of course not.
The reason Law exists is to give us parameters for what is helpful behavior and what is harmful behavior. When we cross the line, we don’t get punished to bring joy to the punisher. We receive correction for our own benefit and for the good of all society. At least that is how it should be in its purest form.
Here’s my point today. Even in the harshest and most grievous sins, our motivation toward the “sinner” should be the love of God, reconciliation, and the health of the church and the world.
Why? Notice the last phrase. “We don’t want to unwittingly give Satan an opening for yet more mischief.” When we make it about vengeance, spite, pain, and suffering, then our hearts turn dark and we lose, too.
These are easy words to say. I don’t know how you have been wronged, or the pain that you feel right now. I simply pray that God will give you the strength mete out fair justice, quick mercy, and deep forgiveness…the health of your heart, the church, and the world.