For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you. Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure–not to put it too severely–to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.
(2 Corinthians 2:4-11)
What happened? Someone in the church did wrong. They justified gross immorality. To make matters worse, the church was too casual about the situation. Paul told the church (1 Cor 5 and 6) to hand the guy over to Satan as part of a process of sorting him out. It worked. The guy realized he had done wrong and he was repentant. Unfortunately, the church was still feeling the adrenaline of moral outrage against the guy who had definitely done wrong, and now they were in danger of going too far the opposite direction. The trap of Satan is to get us to have too much focus on mercy “don’t worry about it, no big deal” or too much focus justice “I can’t forgive him until he pays for what he has done”, neither of which are truly humble before God.
The church must be strong against stubbornness. Christ says one thing and someone says and does another, while calling themselves a Christian, is not ok. That seems reasonably sensible to us when we are talking about doing bad stuff and justifying it: bad stuff like perversion, violence, stealing. But what about the more subtle evils? What about defying Jesus and his teachings on things like forgiveness?
Jesus teaches stuff about forgiveness that we are tempted to resist:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,
but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;
Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,
and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
Don’t do it; don’t resist the lordship of Jesus and his difficult teachings about forgiveness!
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.