Bruised Reeds, Second Chances and Finishing Well Part 14: Withholding Forgiveness
The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. 2 Corinthians 2:6-8 (NIV)
The strongest memory I have of the church where I served during college was the day when a man, who had befriended me, confessed his sin. With his wife weeping at his side, in the middle of the pastor’s message he stood up from his seat to tell how he had abandoned God and family for an adulterous relationship. The people in the room were amazed at his willingness to admit to what he had done, and warmly embraced him. But that was not the end of the story. I went back several years later and popped in for a visit. My friend was still there, now leading the men’s ministry.
As I read Paul here, I gather that the bigger issue facing the Corinthians—and us—is not repentance and confession of the culprit, but us getting to forgiveness. Sometimes we have been so grieved and even angered by the stupid and rebellious acts or speeches of the bruised reed with whom we are dealing that his or her restoration is going to be a bumpy affair at best, nigh on to impossible at the worst.
Why is this so? I have found two reasons for finding forgiveness difficult. The first is that sin of the bruised reed gets too close to home for us. We have our own unconfessed sins. And we hate the sin in me issues we secretly grapple with. So we want to punish ourselves by taking it out on the one weak enough to do what we secretly fear we will someday do ourselves. This is the Mark Driscoll/Darrin Patrick syndrome. Even as Mark was being removed from ministry for ungodly behavior, Darrin, one of the Acts 29 leaders who removed him and his church from their network, was living out the same pattern. Two years later, Darrin’s similar sin choices led to his being asked to resign from his church.
It is easier to withhold compassion and forgiveness when you are hiding your own unfinished business. Forgiveness is hard because you may feel you deserve such treatment.
Or you may think God and others require you to withhold forgiveness. Paul certainly was the one who had commanded the Corinth church to deal promptly with this man who was in a relationship with his step-mother. However, this passage suggests that they kind of assumed that they would need his permission to restore this man to fellowship. Paul’s response must have sent a shockwave through them. Don’t allow the man to be overwhelmed with excessive sorrow. Reaffirm your agape covenantal relationship with him.
And then he says this . . .Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. (2 Corinthians 2:10-11 NIV) Just as Paul passed judgment in the stead of Jesus for the Corinth church, so also does he forgive for their sake! And what is Paul’s point? Forgiveness is necessary to defeat Satan’s schemes against Jesus’ people.
We sometimes come at forgiveness as if God doles it out thimblefuls at a time….as if time and proof must be shown to ‘earn’ it from God—or at least from us. That is how Satan wants us to think. But this is not the way Jesus’ kingdom actually runs. Forgiveness and restoration is at the heart of God’s covenant with us. Remember, all of us are bruised reeds. All of us deserve judgment. And all of us instead get forgiveness when we repent and submit ourselves afresh to God’s reign over us.
This is the opposite of what Satan whispers to us. He wants us to hold guilt over the head of the guilty as long as we can. He wants people to feel hopeless, like there is no way to go home…to keep them useless and unproductive for the rest of their lives, if possible. Jesus is always ready to use us as soon as we humble themselves and repent.
When are believers who have gone astray safe to serve again? I tell you that they would be ready much quicker if we would actively engage in forgiveness and restoration. Jesus does not need us to protect him or his church from the mess made by our brothers or sisters. He demonstrated this by the way he handled Peter after the resurrection. He has not changed his mind about what he plans to do in a single one of us.
And amazingly enough, bruised reeds can end up being used in a greater way after the crash. Just like Peter on the day of Pentecost. Just like my friend ministering to men. Just like me.