Acting on the exhortation of Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:4-5, the Church at Corinth disciplined a member for unbecoming behavior. The erring brother seemingly repented between Paul writing 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. The church, like any individual, struggled with the ability to forgive him. Thankfully, Paul gives us a reason to forgive.
Paul wrote, “To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also: for if I forgave anything, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:10-11).
First, Paul forgave because others had also already reconciled the situation, “To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also.”
We should not hold grudges when a situation has been properly handled by the parties involved. Sometimes situations never heal simply because we will never leave them alone. If a physical wound is hindered by constant irritation, how much more is this true with emotional wounds from our friends in Christ. Forgiveness will never be found if we cannot accept that the situation has been addressed.
Second, he also forgave selflessly for the sake of others, “for your sakes forgave I.” Forgiveness should be sought because we value the welfare of other people over ourselves. The unity and peace of the church body, our marriages, and various other relationships is greater than our personal grievances. Within reason, each believer must learn to forgive those who have offended them for the greater good of the cause of Christ.
Finally, Paul forgave others as if he were standing in the presence of Christ, "forgave I it in the person of Christ.” We, both the offended and offender, are forgiven in the person of Christ. We have no reason to hold offenses against others for Christ holds no offense against his own.
It would be unthinkable to withhold forgiveness while standing in the presence of our own sin bearer. Furthermore, forgiveness does not mean that all pain is immediately taken away. Someone will have to absorb the pain. So, what do we do with the pain? Instead of letting it torture you, or punishing someone else with your pain, let the sufficient sacrifice of Christ absorb it. Leave it at the foot of the cross.
If God has forgiven us in Christ, who were far more offensive than those who offend us, nothing should hinder our determination to do the same (Ephesians 4:32).
If we do not pursue forgiveness in Christ, we stand at risk of letting ourselves be destroyed, "Lest Satan should get an advantage of us.” By forgiving one another we avoid being ensnared by Satan. Do not be ignorant of how he works.
Always remember that our lack of forgiveness can push others, and even ourselves, to be swallowed up in sorrow (2 Corinthians 2:7). Forgiveness never comes easy, but the end result is liberating to the soul and therapeutic to the heart.
Forgive and take shelter in the shadow of the cross.
Joshua Winslett is the pastor of Beulah Primitive Baptist Church in Leeds.