2 Corinthians 2:5-9 ~ 20180304 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
03/04_2 Corinthians 2:5-9; Church Discipline for Your Joy ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180304_2cor2_5-9.mp3
I had a few people ask me what I would be preaching on this Sunday, and when I told them that the title of the sermon was going to be 'church discipline for your joy,' you can imagine some of the responses I got. But this is God's word, and this is where we're at in God's word. We take God's word seriously. We take Jesus seriously. We take his church seriously. We take sin seriously. And we take joy seriously.
We're in 2 Corinthians 2:5-9. We've seen at the end of chapter 1 (v.24) that Paul is working together with the Corinthians for their joy. We saw that both joy and sorrow are shared experiences in the body of Christ.
There is community joy, community sorrow. What we do as members of the body affects everyone in the body. It has been a strained relationship between Paul and this church. He wrote them a letter which they misunderstood; he received news of some serious problems in the church, and he received some questions that he responded to with a letter delivered by a co-worker. The church it seems did not heed his letter, so he made an emergency visit to try to sort things out. That didn't go well, so he wrote another painful letter, and sent another co-worker. He is anxious as he writes again to hear how that correspondence was received, and is on his way for another visit.
He didn't visit them as planned, because he wanted to spare them. He wanted to give them time to repent.
Paul was pursuing their joy, at his own emotional expense. His desire, his heart was to see this church thriving, enjoying Jesus, happy in God. He wrote to communicate his abundant love for them. Paul mentions his own affliction, his own anguish of heart and his many tears in verse 4. But in verse 5 he moves them to think about the damage it was causing to the church.
Church Discipline for your Joy
It seems that Paul's painful letter must have demanded the confrontation of someone in the church, and it was to test their obedience to him. Up to this point, they had not listened or responded well to his letters. Whatever the offense was, Paul says it was not only toward him, but toward the whole church.
1 Corinthians 5
We don't know what the offense was. There is much scholarly speculation over who the offending party was and what he had done. But the text doesn't tell us. Through most of church history it has been assumed that this was the man addressed in 1 Corinthians 5 who was in an incestuous relationship with his mother-in-law. In that passage Paul called for his expulsion from the church. That identification of the offender has been challenged, although it is still a defensible explanation [see Kruse, p.41-45; P. Hughes, p.59-65; Garland, p121]. Whether the offender was this man from 1 Corinthians 5 or some unknown offender, it is useful to look at that passage, because there are some clear connections with the subject matter that will help us understand what is going on here.
Paul says ‘Let him who has done this be removed from among you.’
‘Cleanse out the old leaven’ do ‘not …associate with sexually immoral people;’ do ‘not even eat with such a one.’ ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’ Paul is calling for the assembled church to exclude the immoral believer. What would warrant such a drastic response? This is the passage that tells us that Paul had written a previous letter which they had misunderstood. They thought he meant not to associate with any sinners, including unbelievers. He clarifies in 1 Corinthians that he meant not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother. When we put this together with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18, we understand that this is not the initial knee jerk reaction when we find out someone is struggling with sin; this is the final last resort stage of a process of confrontation that is meant for the good of the one rebuked. Even in this passage Paul tells them to ‘deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.’ It is for this man’s ultimate good. It is ‘so that his spirit may be saved.’ This is along the lines of Jesus’ teaching in:
Jesus says that it is better. Better to tear out your eye. It is to your eternal advantage. Better to tear out your eye than to be thrown into the hell of fire. Both Jesus and Paul teach that sin is serious, and it has eternal consequences. Both are pursuing our good, our eternal joy.
Discipline an Expression of Love
You see, discipline is actually an expression of love.
We see this theme many places in the Bible. We see it repeatedly in the Psalms, Proverbs, in Hebrews 12. Jesus even says to a church in:
Discipline is an expression of love.
Church Discipline According to Jesus
It will be helpful to look at Jesus’ teaching on church discipline in Matthew 18. His go-to teaching on church discipline is found in verses 15-17, but in order to do justice to his teaching, we can’t only look at these verses. To really get the heart of what he’s saying, we need to listen to the context of Matthew 18.
Jesus' teaching on church discipline is in the context of a discussion among his disciples about who is the greatest. Jesus tells them they need to turn back and humble themselves and become like little children. And then he talks about receiving children.
This sounds harsh, but Jesus is passionate about the little ones who believe in him, not just children in age, but those who are young in the faith, young believers. He goes on:
He starts with a strong warning against being the one to bring temptation, and then he gives instruction on the seriousness of sin, and encourages us to deal severely with the sin in ourselves. Habitual sin in our own hearts must be dealt with severely. Then he tells a story about the Father's shepherd heart for those who go astray.
It is in this context, a context of not stumbling young believers, of dealing severely with your own sin, of the Father's heart, the Father’s protection, the Father's pursuit of his stray sheep, that Jesus says:
The Father’s heart is to pursue his lost sheep, and he has joy when they are brought back. This is the frame for a brother sinning against you. Go, tell him his fault, in a spirit of humility, not despising, as if somehow you are better than them, with the Father’s heart of loving pursuit, for their good. Go privately first. Don’t gossip. Go straight to the source. Care for his reputation. Treat him as you would want to be treated. Only if he refuses to listen do you bring others, others with wisdom, with love, others who have a heart for his good, a heart to seek the lost. Only if he refuses to listen to them does it become a full church issue. And still, the heart must be in humility seeking restoration, seeking his good. The purpose for bringing it before the whole church is not to shame, not to dispose of him and be done with the situation, but to bring the positive pressure of the full community of believers to lovingly urge and exhort and plead toward healing and restoration. Only after this stage is resisted, is the step taken to remove that one from fellowship. And even there, we are to treat outsiders not with condemnation and judgment, but with love and the truth of the gospel, seeking to win them to Christ.
Confrontation Presupposes Forgiveness
Peter is listening, processing what Jesus is teaching, and he has a question.
Notice, Peter does not say ‘if my brother listens, how often should I forgive him?’ No, he says 'how often will my brother sin against me and I forgive him?' The response of the person is nowhere in view. This is unilateral forgiveness. The process of confronting someone for their good presupposes forgiveness. If you sin against me and I am bitter, holding a grudge, I am not seeking your good, I am seeking to be vindicated, I am seeking payment. You hurt me and you owe me. But if I have already forgiven you in my heart, if I have released you from your debt, then I can come to you for your good, for your joy.
He actually asks how often his brother will sin against him. What is the outer limit? I must always respond to those who sin against me with forgiveness. But to what extent? Jesus answers that this is going to happen a lot. And notice that this is a brother, not someone outside. Don’t be surprised when your brothers and sisters sin against you over and over and over again. You are to forgive. Cultivate a forgiving heart, so that you can work together with your brothers and sisters for their joy.
Then Jesus tells a parable about a servant whose master forgave him an incomprehensible debt, who then went out and began to strangle a fellow servant who owed him pocket change; warning those who refuse to forgive others that they have failed to understand, failed to truly receive the forgiveness that is extended to them in Jesus. One who has received God’s merciful and undeserved forgiveness will be overflowing with amazed gratitude and be eager to extend mercy and forgive as he has been forgiven.
Forgive, Comfort, Confirm Love
Whatever the offense, it seems it had escalated into a personal offense against Paul, undermining his authority and character, and the church did not stand with Paul. Paul says the offense caused grief to the whole body. Whoever this offender was, it seems the church finally took the matter seriously and expelled him. The church finally was obedient to the instructions of their apostle to deal with the sin. And now Paul warns them not to take it too far. It seems the failure of the Corinthians in church discipline (and the same danger is there for us as well) is knowing when to start and knowing when to stop. The goal is always restoration, and when there is confession of sin (which simply means to agree with God that sin is sin), where there is sorrow over sin, where there is repentance (which means a turning to go a different direction), it is enough. The goal, as Jesus stated it, is that he listens. And then you have gained or won your brother.
Paul tells them they ought to now to forgive. They ought to comfort. They ought to confirm their love for him. They had never stopped loving the offender. But their love had to take the form of discipline. Now that he had responded, they were to reaffirm, to express their love.
Our relationships with one another are to display God's character, God's grace. He is for us. He is working with us for our joy. He was willing to bear in himself the cost of our rebellious treason, and forgive. We must work with each other for our joy, willing to confront when necessary, willing to absorb the cost, eager to forgive as we have been freely and graciously forgiven.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org