I am not overstating it when I say that the man who caused all the trouble hurt all of you more than he hurt me. Most of you opposed him, and that was punishment enough. Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement. So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him. I wrote to you as I did to test you and see if you would fully comply with my instructions. When you forgive this man, I forgive him, too. And when I forgive whatever needs to be forgiven, I do so with Christ’s authority for your benefit, so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes. When I came to the city of Troas to preach the Good News of Christ, the Lord opened a door of opportunity for me. But I had no peace of mind because my dear brother Titus hadn’t yet arrived with a report from you. So I said good-bye and went on to Macedonia to find him. (2 Corinthians 2:5-13, NLT)
Following up his explanation for the change of travel plans, Paul now turns his attention to an unnamed person who has created grief for him as well as the entire community. Older commentaries assume this unnamed individual was the person guilty of sexual misconduct cited in 1 Corinthians chapter five. But the contemporary line of thinking suggests that the person singled out is the one responsible for the slanderous attack on Paul’s character who also influenced people to reject the apostle’s authority.
Reading between the lines, it would appear that the majority stood up to the trouble maker, possibly excluding him from the community. This, of course, is speculative. Regardless of what happened, the impact was profound as the person apparently repented of his wrong doing. Paul’s response to this report was swift and sure. His counsel was to forgive and comfort him so that he would not be overcome by discouragement. Any further action would be strictly punitive and void of any redemptive value. To withhold forgiveness could potentially create an opportunity for Satan to do destructive work in the offender’s life. Satan’s calling card is division, and if he can isolate a sheep from the herd, the sheep will become exposed and vulnerable.
Forgiveness is the act of releasing someone from a past offense. When we forgive, we forgive for our own sakes. But the transaction is incomplete unless it is stated to the offender. If we are going to forgive, we need to name the offense and then communicate our forgiveness in plain language. It is a mistake to assume a person knows you have forgiven them. When forgiveness is left unstated, we withhold grace and our forgiveness is nothing more than self serving sentiment. Some will suggest that forgiveness must be conditioned by repentance. Others will say we should forgive whether the person repents or not. In my opinion, Jesus calls us to forgive everyone, even if they “do not know what they are doing.”
The act of restoration is, however, a separate act. Restoration is future focused, in that we choose to reestablish trust with the person we have forgiven. Restoration doesn’t forget what has happened or brush it under the rug. Restoration risks trusting again, knowing that an offender can repeat the behavior or perhaps do something worse. While forgiveness may be granted in a given moment, restoration is something that is accomplished over time. It is my belief that while forgiveness is always appropriate, restoration is not. There are times and situations that may not warrant full blown restoration of an offender, especially if he or she is in a position of power.
In this particular case, the person had offended both Paul and the community. Therefore, Paul affirmed the community’s choice to forgive and stated that he had forgiven as well. Since the church was not equipped to deal with this, Paul led by example and guided the community in the process. His objective was not for them to be able to say that they were good people. His objective was to disciple broken humans to live in a fallen world to live with grace and humility. Paul’s example would become the Corinthians example to a watching world.