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A Defense of Discipline, Forgiveness and Authentic Ministry - 1 Cor. 1:23 - 3:6

Tuesday, July 28 –
It is Tuesday, and we are continuing our reading in the New Testament. Our reading continues in 2nd Corinthians 1:23 – 3:6. As you can see, we are picking up the text at the end of chapter 1 and reading thru the beginning of chapter 3 because of the context. After you’ve finished reading the Scriptures, I invite you to come back, and we’ll walk through it together.


Paul’s integrity was still under fire by some in the church, and when he didn’t come, some accused him of avoiding the church. He makes it clear, he had already given them a lot to deal with, and it was not his job to tell them what to do. “The Message Bible” accurately described Paul’s thoughts –
“Now, are you ready for the real reason I didn't visit you in Corinth? As God is my witness, the only reason I didn't come was to spare you pain. I was being considerate of you, not indifferent, not manipulative. We're not in charge of how you live out the faith, looking over your shoulders, suspiciously critical. We're partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant. I know that you stand by your own faith, not by ours” (1:23-24).

Paul wanted them to be responsible for the outcome and not have it be because he was pressuring them. It was an uncomfortable situation for all of them (2:1-2). There were so many tumultuous things that had occurred in the divisions, the case of immorality, eating or not eating meat sold in a marketplace, the misguided way they were conducting the Lord’s supper and the lack of love in the use of gifts...that there was no end of things Paul could have told them they had to do –
“That was my reason for writing a letter instead of coming—so I wouldn't have to spend a miserable time disappointing the very friends I had looked forward to cheering me up. I was convinced at the time I wrote it that what was best for me was also best for you” (2:3).

Reading this first part that begins at the end of chapter 1 and spills over into chapter 2, you can sense Paul’s personal agony for what was best for them – “For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you” (2:4). Trying to help in painful situations is a gut-wrenching exercise in toughness, wisdom, and patience – motivated by love.

As it turned out, the church in Corinth began to deal with each of the things Paul wrote to them about – including the man in the incestuous immoral relationship (1 Cor. 5). Now Paul urged them to forgive him and welcome him back into the church fellowship – “Now, regarding the one who started all this—the person in question who caused all this pain—I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don't want to come down too hard. What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love. The focus of my letter wasn't on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church. So if you forgive him, I forgive him. Don't think I'm carrying around a list of personal grudges. The fact is that I'm joining in with your forgiveness, as Christ is with us, guiding us. After all, we don't want to unwittingly give Satan an opening for yet more mischief—we're not oblivious to his sly ways!” (2:5-11). The church took responsibility and exercised church discipline.

Was it easy? No, Messy, Yes! It never is easy and often is messy, but it is part of the mutual accountability that every person brings to the local church – and frankly, it is not practiced in our churches very much these days. The failure to exercise church discipline is that no one is ever able to move on with a sense of complete forgiveness. If church discipline needs to happen, it is for egregious sins – such as immorality – and the goal isn’t to “get rid of the sinner,” but to “recover the sinner.” The goal is always forgiveness, not shame. This man had responded to the church in a way that demonstrated sorrow and repentance. Now it was time to forgive and welcome him back – “forgive him, I forgive him” (2:7) and, “reaffirm your love for him” (2:8). The whole situation was not just about the erring young man, it was also a test of their commitment to obedience to Christ – “Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything” (2:9).

The importance of both being responsible both in dealing with the nature of egregious sin, and being obedient to do it correctly is not easy, but essential elements of a church’s fellowship. Forgiveness is like discipline, not self-seeking. The issue isn’t about punishment, but reconciliation. “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. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2:10-11). If there is any reality in dealing with discipline is that the Enemy is always present to create division, bitterness, resentment, accusation, and withdrawal. This is something I’ve witnessed dozens of times. If there is no sin, there is no need for repentance. If there is no repentance, there is no need for forgiveness. If there is no forgiveness, then the guilt, resentments, and divisions remain. Satan is cunning in his ways to distract the church from obedience. It’s about a pardon, not parole. “Is there somebody today who needs to hear and feel your forgiveness, comfort, and reaffirmation? What is preventing you from reaching out and touching that person with healing mercy and grace”?

Paul, seemingly, digresses and shares with the church his own personal struggle in a different place – Troas. Troas is on the northwestern side of modern-day Turkey. It was a gateway from which Paul, Timothy, and Silas had launched from when they first crossed over to Macedonia in Acts 16. Paul had gone to Troas from Ephesus, to preach the Gospel of Christ (2:12), and to wait for Titus to meet up with him to hear the news of how the church had responded to his letter –
“Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia” (2:12-13).
Paul left Troas to sail over to Macedonia. What happened then? Did he find Titus? Had the Corinthians responded in a way he hoped they would? Paul, for reasons of his own, leaves us in suspense, and he digresses for five chapters to share the purpose of the Apostolic ministry God had given him in the New Covenant. It is not until chapter 7 that we return to get the answer concerning what happened when he came to Macedonia.

Paul breaks into a different refrain – “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ, we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God” (2:14-17).
If you are wondering why Paul switched subjects and launched into this digression, you are not alone. His words are a contrast between authenticity in God’s called leadership and the charlatans who paraded themselves as Jesus' salesmen.

The picture Paul paints is worth the time to meditate on – “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2:14). The picture was well known to the Roman world. As the armies returned to Rome, they came in triumphal procession. Paul is using the imagery so well known in the Roman world to make a point – in all things Church, it is Christ Jesus who is leading the way, and anything that happens in salvation is to His glory alone.

Paul speaks of “the aroma of the knowledge of Him...” The fragrance of Christ is for some sweet, and for others who reject him, it is like death (2:16-17). Who is qualified to carry this message to a world of mixed smells? No one! “To the one, we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? (2:16). The fact is that the best leaders are inadequate and know it. Yet there will always be charlatans – full of pride, seeking the limelight, wanting the glory. Paul names them – “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ, we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God” (2:17).
Paul didn’t “peddle Jesus,” he proclaimed him. He had one purpose in mind – to present the glory of Jesus Christ, who he had been called to serve.

The chapter ends, but Paul’s thoughts continue - “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? (3:1).
The triumphal procession of Christ’s victory in the Corinthian church is proof of God’s work in their lives. It was not Paul’s work that made that possible, but the work of the Holy Spirit (3:2-4). Paul did not boast of himself –
“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God” (3:3-5).

It is an important principle to grasp hold of, remember daily, and live out as a prayerful life. We each are God’s letter, and the ink on it is the work of the Holy Spirit in conforming us to the image of Christ. It is God who makes it possible – God and time.
“He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (3:6).
Our best intentions will fail if we think we can live out Christ on our own. We don’t have the competency to do this life in God by our own selves. No good works, no mighty efforts, no struggling on our own to get it right. It is God, working in and through us – God and time. All we can do is prayerfully yield, trust, obey, and wait.



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