Life’s Biggest Test
Therefore I urge you to reinstate him in your affections and reaffirm your love for him. For this was my purpose in writing, to see if you would stand the test, whether you are obedient and committed to following my instruction in all things.
2 Corinthians 2:8-9
Bad things were going on in the church in Corinth- really bad things. Sexual sin was rampant, and Paul intended to put an end to it. He wrote a scathing letter instructing the church to discipline a man who had committed a particularly heinous sexual sin. Paul told them to kick him out of the church. A few months later, a report came back that the church had done what he told them to do, and the man repented! Church leaders, though, weren’t sure what to do. Should they keep him out or invite him back into the fold?
Paul’s stern demeanor dissolved with the news of the repentant heart. Now, he begged them to accept the man back with open hearts. Forgive him, restore him, and accept him as their brother again. But Paul also gave them a new insight about his intentions: His directive to discipline the sinning brother was a test for the church as much as it was a test for the man. He knew it would be easier for them to excuse him and act as if his sin were no big deal rather than to blast him and refuse to love him if he repented. But they passed the test.
Dealing with other’s sins is always a test for us. Will we be firm enough to require change in these people, and will we forgive them if they admit they were wrong? Handling sin is life’s ingest for the church- and for families.
If you are not living in the will of God, you are uncomfortable in the Word of God.
Most people and most churches really don’t know how to respond to sin, especially the sins of others. Most of the time sin is ignored or overlooked. To be sure, we might recognize that it is sin, but out of fear or distorted grace, rarely does the church confront sin. Many will even quote, “Judge not, lest you be judged” as rationalization to overlook sin. Others will quote, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Since most of us aren’t perfect, we feel unqualified to confront sin. This is apparently the situation at Corinth. That the man’s sin was known is obvious since it had come to Paul’s attention. So the first thing that we learn from this lesson is that sin doesn’t remain hidden long. Not only does it become known by the church but also by the community and beyond. You see we are always under scrutiny and how we respond to sin is important, not only for the church but also for the community. Even though this man’s sin was well known, the church was by and large letting it continue. It appears that this individual was also in a leadership role and perhaps a person of influence making the situation even more critical. Paul’s first letter may seem to us to be harsh or unkind especially when he says to remove the man from fellowship. But let us remember that the action was based on the unrepentant sinner. The truth is that unrepentant sinners have already removed themselves from fellowship for sin separates us from Christ who is the Head of the church. We may continue to attend services and even participate in activities but our hearts are separated from Christ.
Do not be unequally bound together with unbelievers [do not make mismatched alliances with them, inconsistent with your faith]. For what partnership can righteousness have with lawlessness? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and Belial (Satan)? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said: “ I will dwell among them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people .
2 Corinthians 6:14-16
The Corinthians no doubt felt they were showing kindness and mercy on the sinner by remaining silent and allowing him to continue to practice his sin unrestrained. In truth they were not practicing love at all for love doesn’t let it’s recipients continue it destructive behavior. We may think that not confronting someone who is practicing sin is an act of kindness but we dare not forget that if they continue on that path, their eternity won’t be pleasant at all. Our belief in eternity and the truth of sin and righteousness ought to direct our response to sin.
Though most wouldn’t directly confront sin, many will respond by toning down their association with the sinner which is actually more harmful. We might also talk about this person to others but never speak to the person about their condition. Paul’s instructions may seem to be harsh but look at the results. Perhaps this man felt he had permission to continue in his sin since no one was saying anything about it. I think that is true today. Whenever the church is silent, sinners take that as permission. Think about raising children. Every parent knows that unless they speak up and give correction, children will continue to find destructive activities. They usually don’t improve on their own. Neither do we. If, as the Bible teaches, faith comes by hearing the Word, so then does instructions for righteous living. When Paul instructed the church to confront the man’s sin and to say to him that those who practiced such things had no part of fellowship with the church, he became aware of his sin. And he repented. It might be easy to call out a sin and then walk away but how do we respond to someone who repents of their sin? Do we put them on probation? Do we put them in a special category- they can still attend but they aren’t fully accepted? We may not have this in writing or formal practice but I dare say it is often the reality.
When Paul hears that the sinful man had repented, he instructs the church to make the next steps. Repentance has changed the whole picture. No longer is the man to remain excommunicated but he is to be fully received and fully restored into fellowship. As far as Paul was concerned and we ought to think as well, if the man had repented and had been forgiven and received by Christ, can we do any less?
Sin tests us as individuals. It tests our beliefs about God. It asks the question of whether repentance is truly met with forgiveness. It also brings up the question of grace. Paul says it this way:
“What shall we say [to all this]? Should we continue in sin and practice sin as a habit so that [God’s gift of] grace may increase and overflow? Certainly not! How can we, the very ones who died to sin, continue to live in it any longer? Or are you ignorant of the fact that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We have therefore been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory and power of the Father, we too might walk habitually in newness of life [abandoning our old ways]. For if we have become one with Him [permanently united] in the likeness of His death, we will also certainly be [one with Him and share fully] in the likeness of His resurrection. We know that our old self [our human nature without the Holy Spirit] was nailed to the cross with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. For the person who has died [with Christ] has been freed from [the power of] sin.”
So today if you have sinned, confront it. Don’t allow it to continue in you. Bring it to Christ, confess and repent and be forgiven and restored. If your brother or sister is practicing sin, go to them and confront their sin. Call them to repentance and let God work the ministry of reconciliation through you so that they may be restored to faith.
At one time this was practiced in the church. May God give us grace to restore such practice seeing that time is short and eternity is just over the horizon.
The story of the Corinthian church is truly amazing. For a sinner to be confronted, for him to repent, and for the church to forgive and restore him is a powerful picture of God’s grace. May we too paint such a picture today.
Dr. John Thompson