5 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. 6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 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, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)
Through the Bible: 2 Corinthians 1-4
Some biblical commentators have speculated that the person being offered forgiveness in 2 Corinthians 2 is the same person whom Paul ordered to be “delivered over to Satan” in 1 Corinthians 5. While it’s possible, it’s not likely. The Reformation Study Bible points out that verses 5 and 10 seem to suggest that whatever this person did was against Paul himself. Otherwise, Paul wouldn’t have talked about forgiving the man personally. But the man Paul referred to in 1 Corinthians 5 was guilty of sexual immorality that had nothing to do with Paul. Instead, his behavior—and the church’s toleration of it—was damaging the witness of the Corinthian church in the community.
So, probably not the same guy, but definitely the same principle. The principle is this: the world is watching us to see how we deal with matters of sin and forgiveness. Do we tolerate the one who is unrepentant? Do we reject the one who is repentant? Both have an impact on our witness in the community. The impact of tolerating sin is obvious: the church loses its moral authority. We lose the ability to call out sin in the world when we tolerate sin in the church.
The impact of rejecting repentance is more subtle. While the church may pat itself on the back for “taking a stand on moral issues,” they have failed to forgive as Christ has forgiven them (see Ephesians 4:32). They may claim the moral high ground, but they distance themselves from Christ in the process. And as the parable of the unmerciful servant teaches us (see Day 295: Forgive or Forget It ), the consequences of withholding forgiveness are severe.
This, I think, is what Paul means in verse 11, when he says “We are not ignorant of [Satan’s] designs.” The devil doesn’t care how he discredits the church, as long as it works. So whether the world sees the church as “a bunch of hypocrites who do all the same things they are judging us for” or as “a bunch of mean-spirited prudes who won’t give someone a second chance,” Satan doesn’t really care. Either way, we give the world an opportunity to discount the gospel.
So keep these two situations in tension, and always ask yourself if you are tolerating sin on one hand or rejecting the repentant sinner on the other. Either way, the devil gets a victory.