Day 21 Devotional & Discussion – March 28, 2014

1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11

There is a person in the Corinthian church that is openly involved in immoral (if not illegal) behavior.  Paul directs the church to take action to expel the individual from the church.  Though there are multiple interpretations on the directive to “hand him over to Satan”, the goal of the action is to discipline and correct his behavior.  Evidently, the church took Paul’s advice and expelled him.  However, the punishment did not end—even after the man expressed his sorrow.  Paul’s second letter advises them to “forgive him, console him and reaffirm their love for him.” 

In a situation where there has been an infraction that has brought damage to the community, what do you think are some of “Satan’s designs” for the law breaker?  For the community?  How does forgiveness and restoration to the community thwart those designs? 

While this is a situation that happens inside the church, are there applications to those who have been convicted of crimes and have been incarcerated?  How can we express consolation and forgiveness to those who have “done their time”?

6 comments

  1. Well, look at this…the exact passage that I am preaching about on Sunday! At this point, I don’t have the sermon finished, but I am seeing that the need for accountability of offset by the difficulty of doing it well. I hate holding people accountable. Yet I see how it is necessary. In this instance it is wild to see the result. Satan wants to destroy the relationship, to turn all parties bitter to one another and the Lord. Love is the way to thwart this. Active forgiveness flows from that love. I would love to learn more about the restorative justice movement. It seems to me that is a way to balance accountability with forgiveness.

  2. Satan’s designs always lead to death and destruction. The church’s lack of consolation and affirmation in response to the law-breaker’s sorrow and repentance is destructive to the spiritual and social well-being of the law-breaker. If there is no room for forgiveness, what is the point of sorrow? If there is no consolation or affirmation, why bother changing? If there is no space made for return to the community, the community has imprisoned the person for life and (s)he is destroyed.

    There is also a spirit of death that takes root in the church. If the church is only known for it’s “get tough on sin” stance, then “sinners” will only find judgment and no grace. We are all redeemed “law-breakers”. The moment we forget our own need for grace and restoration, we can easily become judgmental and “holier-than-thou”–and that leads to failure at our God-given mission to announce restoration and hope to the world. Satan would love that!

  3. Not long ago, this passage from 1 Corinthians was mishandled during a Sunday School class at a church which shall remain nameless. Phil and I were present and the teacher freely admitted he had done no preparation for teaching it. Basically, he used the passage as a justification to put anyone out of the church who did any kind of sinning. I was upset by the lack of forgiveness and grace in his lesson. And never once was there any mention of the 2 Corinthians passage. In fact, after I read this, I looked at a commentary on 1 Corinthians just to see if it’s possible the two are connected. (I trust you, Bruce, but sometimes I have to see things for myself.) So, I’m even more upset that an important aspect of this situation Paul is writing about was left out of that lesson because of poor preparation.

    All that to say that I’m interested in the discussion that will come out of this passage and Joel’s sermon at Faith this week.

    As for how this passage relates to prisoners, I struggle with this, especially where sex offenders are concerned. That is truly a life sentence whether the person convicted serves any jail time or not. Not all sex offenses are equal (like an older teenager who has a consensual sexual relationship with a younger teenager … that’s just one example) but the punishment is often the same for someone like that as it is for someone who as abused a child. Once a sex offender, always a sex offender, and it’s a mark that follows the person into every aspect of their life: where they can live, where they can be, who they can be with. And I’m not sure it can ever be reversed. Our family has some personal experience with this, and in the justice system’s eyes, there is no rehabilitation, restoration or forgiveness for this crime.

    I agree that there has to be balance between accountability and forgiveness. I think sometimes, those who have “done their time” just need someone to trust them or believe in the possibility of a new start. And that’s where it gets scary for the rest of us.

    My brain hurts from thinking about all this, but I’m not sorry about that. Thanks for the resources and the hard questions.

  4. There is significant scholarly disagreement about whether 2 Cor 2:5-11 is specifically referring to 1 Cor 5. It is possible, but it is also possible Paul made a visit to Corinth between the writing of 1 Cor and 2 Cor, and so 2 Cor 2 is about another similar incident. Either way, what Paul says in 2 Cor 2 is very instructive about the “how” of church discipline. Thanks for pointing out the connection!

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