160911 2 Corinthians 2:5-11

Last Updated on Monday, 12 September 2016 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: 2 Corinthians 2:5-11
Theme: Love The Lost Like Christ

A host of problems was plaguing the church in Corinth, but this one might have been the worst. Actually it was a full blown scandal, and it was threatening to destroy the congregation. The sin was sexual in nature, the kind of sin that was uncommon even among pagans. A member of the congregation was engaged in a relationship with his stepmother (1 Corinthians 5).

This case of incest was bad enough, but the reaction of the rest of the congregation made it even worse. Instead of condemning the man's behavior for the sin that it was, the other members were filled with pride. Paul doesn't tell us why they were so proud, but if the first century was anything like the twenty first century, we can make some educated guesses. Perhaps they applauded the man's actions as a way to embrace diversity. Maybe they insisted that they had no right to judge. Or maybe they kept telling each other that as long as no one got hurt it was none of their business.

If any of the Corinthian Christians tried out any of these weak arguments on Paul, they didn't work. Even though he was not with them, even though a large body of water separated him from them, Paul knew exactly what needed to be done: put this man out of your fellowship (2), pass judgment on him (3), "hand this man over to Satan" (5).

Paul's instructions sound a bit harsh, don't they? Especially the last one. What would make Paul say something like that? Why would he tell the Corinthians to hand the guilty party over to the devil? To make him pay for what he had done? So that the bad apple wouldn't spoil the rest of the bunch? As a warning for the rest of the flock to fall in behind the shepherd...or else?

Paul's command was not intended to be purely punitive, and he wasn't being vindictive either. He told the Corinthians to "hand this man over to Satan so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 5:5). Paul wasn't trying to get rid of this man. He was trying to save him. And he didn't hate the sheep that had wandered from the fold. He loved him. He loved him because Jesus loved him.

We can learn some valuable lessons from this account, and not just because it has a happy ending. You and I are also the objects of God's undeserved love. We are sinners who rub shoulders with other sinners every day. There are times when we need to point out sin. There are times when we need to forgive and times when we need to be forgiven. And I pray that Paul's inspired words will inspire each of us to love the lost...

LOVE THE LOST LIKE CHRIST

Some time (we don't know how much) had elapsed between the writing of 1 and 2 Corinthians, but we do know that the congregation had taken Paul's words to heart. What they needed now were some words of encouragement, and Paul the pastor was quick to provide them: "If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent—not to put it too severely" (5).

The case of incest that threatened the church in Corinth broke Paul's heart, and he wasn't even there. He was hundreds of miles removed from the situation. And so he could only imagine the effect it was having on the people who were directly involved, on the Christians who crossed paths with this sinner and were reminded of his sin on a regular basis. Paul knew how they were feeling, but he also recognized that their feelings were even more intense than his.

The good news is that their feelings of grief had recently been replaced with reasons to rejoice. Whatever the church had decided to do about this sin, whatever other church members had said to this man, it worked. The law had done its work so well that Paul believed it was time to take a radically different approach. He told the Corinthians: "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" (7-8).

This dramatic change reminds me of one of my seminary professor's favorite sayings, that sinful human beings always seem to running back and forth between the pillar of pride and the post of despair. In 1 Corinthians the man who had his father's wife was blinded by sinful pride. He refused to repent of his sin. We don't even know if he acknowledged that what he was doing was wrong.

But now things were different. Now that he had examined himself in the mirror of God's law he could see his sin. He was overwhelmed by his sin. In a few short steps, he had gone all the way from the pillar of sinful pride to the post of utter despair. He didn't need any more lectures. He needed love. He didn't need to be told how bad he was. He needed to hear how good and gracious God is. What this man needed more than anything else in the world was to hear those three little words: you are forgiven.

And Paul gave his brothers and sisters in Corinth the encouragement to do just that. He wrote: "If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake" (10). Why do you suppose the Christians in Corinth needed the encouragement to forgive? Because forgiveness is not easy. Because giving forgiveness is not natural. Because my sinful nature doesn't want to forgive. It wants to get revenge. "To err is human, to forgive divine" is a famous quotation because it is so true.

How else can we explain Jesus' actions on Good Friday? Even though he had done nothing wrong, he had been sentenced to death. Even though he was innocent, he was about to die. He could have cursed the soldiers who carried out his execution. He could have used his divine power to stop his crucifixion. But instead of doing either of those things the first words he spoke from the cross were "Father, forgive them..." I don't know about you, but I couldn't do that. I don't think I could ever do what Jesus did. Thanks be to God that I don't have to.

The words Jesus spoke from the cross provide us with a perfect example of forgiveness, but Jesus didn't go to Calvary just to be an example for us. He went the way of the cross to save us, to sacrifice his life for the sins of the world, to take away every one of your sins, to forgive you for every time you were reluctant to forgive or even refused to forgive. Because of Jesus your sins are forgiven. Because God has poured out his grace on you, because the Holy Spirit is living in you, you are now empowered to follow Jesus and live for Jesus and yes, even forgive like Jesus.

There would be nothing wrong with putting an "Amen" on the sermon right here, except for the fact that there is one more verse in our text. Paul concludes with this intriguing thought: "in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes" (11). No Christian ever wants to be outwitted by Satan. As Christians we need to be constantly on guard against Satan's schemes. And if we want to defeat the devil, if we want to ward off Satan's schemes we need to know what they are, especially when it comes to the subject of forgiveness.

Two different scenarios come to mind, and the first one goes something like this. You have committed a sin, and you know it. What you have done bothers you so much that you have a hard time thinking about anything else. When you are at your absolute lowest, Satan appears from the shadows and whispers in your ear; "Feeling guilty? Good! You should feel guilty. You deserve to suffer for what you have done. There is no way you can come back from this. There is no way you can expect God to forgive you for this. If I were you, I would give up any hope of going to heaven."

In the second scenario, you are not the one who has committed the sin. Someone else, maybe someone you know, maybe somebody close to you, has wounded you, and it hurts. The emotional pain you are feeling hurts far more than any physical injury you have ever experienced. What you need is some good Christian counsel, but before you can have that conversation the devil gets to you first. This time his tone is not at all accusatory. Instead, he tries to make it sound like he is on your side:

"It's pretty obvious to me that your friend doesn't care about you, so why should you care about them? Why should you always have to take the high road? Why should you always be the one who suffers? Let them have a taste of their own medicine. Let them experience for themselves the kind of heartache they have caused in your life. Let them suffer for a while, and then maybe, maybe you can entertain the possibility of forgiving them."

Two very different situations. Two different ways the devil tries to outwit us with the ultimate goal of destroying us. One foolproof way to defeat him. One common, one word solution that allows Christians to defeat Satan's schemes: love.

If you have ever found yourself drowning in a pit of despair, if you are struggling with a sin in your life right now, if the devil is tempting you to doubt God's forgiveness, repeat these words: Jesus loves the lost. Jesus loves you more than anything. Jesus loves you so much that he was willing to give up everything for you. You are redeemed. You are restored. You are forgiven.

And if you can see yourself in that second scenario, if you are the one who is struggling to forgive someone, if your heart is filled with hateful, vengeful thoughts, let them go. For the sake of the person who sinned against you, but for your own sake too. Remember the difference God's grace has made in your life. Remember that every sinner is a precious, blood-bought soul. Let go of the hurt. Let go of the hate. Let God replace those feelings with his love, and love the lost. Love the lost like Christ. Amen.

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