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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 11am service, 2015-09-06

Text:2 Corinthians 2:5-11

 

In five days’ time all Singaporeans will be heading to the ballot boxes to cast their vote. We have been told that this general election is an important one as it will decide our nation’s future. For the first time since Independence, every available seat in parliament is being contested and there are no walkovers. This means that if there is a freak election result in this Friday’s polls we may be worshipping here under a different government next Sunday. This may happen if everyone who votes has the same idea of wanting to put some pressure on the government without replacing it. We are now in a situation where a wrong decision may bring ruin, while a right one will bring relief. There is much at stake. A lot now depends on the electorate’s response to all the campaigning that is going on.

  The same thing is true about our response to sin. Sin requires a proper response. When a fellow believer sins persistently, a lot depends on how we respond to it. There is much at stake. This is what we will see as we study our passage of scripture. The subject of this passage was a member of the Corinthian church who is mentioned in the vv.5,6 – “But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all. Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many.”This man’s sin was mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:1 – “It is reported commonly that there is fornication(sexual immorality) among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, thatone should have his father's wife.” This member fell into an incestuous relationship with his step-mother, and it was publicly known. The city of Corinth was already well known for its immorality because of its many temple prostitutes. But even the unbelievers there who were accustomed to immorality objected to anyone having an affair with his step-mother. To them it was a horrible sin, and it was utterly unacceptable.

Unfortunately the church members did not do anything about this scandalous relationship, and so Paul rebuked them sharply and urged them to take firm disciplinary action against the offender, even to the extent of excluding him from their fellowship. However Paul’s rebuke was not well-received. In fact he had to make an emergency trip to Corinth and send a strongly-worded letter to them to deal with the unrest that erupted within the church.

Thus we see how one man’s immoral behaviour caused so much grief to Paul and the Corinthians because of differences in their response to his sin. This awful grief is reflected in what Paul wrote in vv.1-4 of our passage – “But I determined this with myself, that I would not come again to you in heaviness. For if I make you sorry, who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me? And I wrote this same unto you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice; having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all. For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you.”

Well, things worked out well, by God’s grace. The Corinthians eventually obeyed Paul’s instructions and thankfully the offender repented of his sin. His repentance then became the occasion for what Paul wrote here in our passage. We can learn two lessons from this passage on how we should respond when a fellow believer sins persistently.

1.  A Wrong Response Will Bring Ruin

What kind of response is wrong? One that we have already seen is the initial response which the Corinthians gave, where they had displayed an unconcerned spirit about the man’s immoral relationship. When the sins of a church member becomes a public scandal, those who know him cannot just continue as if nothing has happened. They should not say, “I don’t care. It’s really none of my business to pry into his affairs.” Why is this response wrong?

Firstly, it leaves the offender to suffer God’s judgment. This is implied in 1 Corinthians 5:5, where Paul had told the Corinthians what should be done to the offender in their midst – “…to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Here Paul with his apostolic authority and under the direction of Christ, delivered the offender to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. This means that God now permits Satan to afflict him physically for his good, e.g. by the loss of all his possessions or by illness (cf. what Satan did to Job in Job 1:12-19; 2:6,7). This is done for only one reason: to make the offender repent, in the hope that his soul would be purified of sin, and hence he would be spared from suffering God’s awful judgment in the day of the Lord Jesus which refers to the second coming of Christ.

The point that needs to be emphasised here is that we cannot be unconcerned for a fellow Christian who sins persistently. How can we be so unconcerned if we know what he will have to suffer as a result of his sin? In March last year, a British freelance writer wrote about her unpleasant experience when taking an MRT train. She was 10 weeks pregnant but when she stepped into the packed train no one offered her a seat even though she looked unwell and was going to faint. In the end she crouched to the floor holding her head in her hands until she reached her destination. This is what she wrote in a BBC news article, “For the first time Singapore had made me feel unhappy. I had been vulnerable - completely reliant on the kindness of strangers. Singaporeans, I felt, had let me down.” This article drew a response from our prime minister urging Singaporeans to be kinder and more gracious to help others.

If we can see how wrong it is to be unconcerned in such situations, how then can we be unconcerned when a fellow Christian we know is living in sin? How can we let him down? Besides this, there also is another reason why we should do something. Doing nothing will let his sin defile other believers. Paul mentioned this in 1 Corinthians 5:6 – “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.”

When I was serving in a church overseas many years ago an elderly member of that church asked me to lend him a sum of money so that his daughter would be able to pay her school fees. Since it was not a large sum, I lent it to him and he promised to pay it back in a month’s time. But month after month went by and he still had not returned what he borrowed. He had not forgotten the debt because every time he saw me in church he assured me that he would return it. He never did. I learnt later on that he had actually done the same thing to a number of other church members, and because no one ever bothered to correct him, his sin became a habit.

What if he did the same thing to a young Christian in the church, and stumbled him? What if other members of the church who had financial problems follow his example and start borrowing money from others? I hope we can see why it is wrong to respond with an unconcerned spirit when a brother sins persistently.

However, there is another response which is just as wrong. Paul warned the Corinthians against it in v.6,7 of our text. He said, “Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.”

The warning given here is against having an unforgiving spirit. By this time, the Corinthians had obeyed Paul’s instructions to discipline the offender, and he had repented of his sin. But now some of the Corinthians went too far. They continued to punish him. They remained hostile toward him. They refused to welcome him back to their fellowship. Now, Paul was afraid that this unforgiving spirit would eventually leave the offender in total despair. He would ‘be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.’ The picture is that of a pitiful soul drowning in his own grief.

Why is it that some Corinthians could not forgive him? Perhaps they had been hurt directly or indirectly by his sin. They may have been closely related to him, and thus they had suffered some degree of shame and personal injury when he had his illicit affair with his step-mother. But they responded to the injury and shame in a sinful way. They allowed their hurt feelings to fester and grow into bitterness. There are many people like this today. Not only are they bitter, they enjoy feeling bitter. They think that they have every right to feel bitter and they feed on it.

Perhaps there may be some here who still feel bitter about things that happened umpteen years ago. How can you tell if you are bitter? One tell-tale sign is that you can still remember every little detail of the hurtful act as if it happened yesterday. Your memory of it is still very fresh and vivid, because you have been going over and over and over that act in your mind. This is a sure sign of bitterness.

If you allow bitterness to dwell inside you, it will consume you from within like a rotting infection. It will give you no peace and rest. And if left unchecked, bitterness will lead you to commit worse sins – sins like slandering, back-biting and violence. Please be convinced therefore that bitterness is a sinful response to sin. Listen to what Ephesians 4:31 says – “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.”

Bitterness is not the only reason why people do not forgive others. One common reason for an unforgiving spirit is a judgmental attitude. Perhaps this may have been the real problem of the majority of church members in Corinth. The offender had genuinely repented of his sin of gross immorality, but the rest of the members could not accept him. His record was permanently blemished with this sin. Now they looked down on him as a failure whom they would rather not associate with.

Unfortunately this attitude is also found in many churches today. For instance, if a brother in Christ in a moment of folly indulges in pornography or commits adultery and then deeply repents of his sin, what response would he receive from other Christians? If you know that a sister in Christ attempted suicide but she survived and regretted it and realized how sinful it was later on, would you treat her the same way as before? What if a church member falls into homosexual sin and leaves the church, and the Holy Spirit convicts him that it is wrong and brings him back to the path of righteousness, will everyone welcome him warmly when he returns to church? What often happens to such people is that they are marginalized, criticized and ostracized. As long as self-righteousness reigns in a church, it is hard to get rid of the judgmental attitude that creates barriers among God’s people.

And this is how the Devil divides believers from one another. He tempts them to sin, and then as their fellow believers allow bitterness or a judgmental attitude to foster an unforgiving spirit toward them, relationships are damaged, families are broken, fellowship is marred, and churches are divided. For this reason Paul tells the Corinthians why they ought to forgive the offender in their midst. He says in v.11 –“Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.”

We must take this warning seriously. Guard yourself against having an unconcerned spirit or an unforgiving spirit, for both of them will ultimately bring ruin on the individual and the church. Let us search our hearts this morning to see if either of these are present in us. Having them will only cause us to respond wrongly when a fellow believer sins.

2.  A Right Response Will Bring Restoration

When a fellow believer sins persistently, our first priority is to encourage him to repent of his sin. This in fact, should be the aim of all discipline. In Luke 17:3 Jesus said, “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.” To rebuke a person does not mean yelling at him or scolding him harshly. It means telling him plainly and lovingly that he has sinned and that he needs to repent. According to Proverbs 27:5,6, “Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”

But encouraging someone to repent of his sin is not easy. It may involve much patient counselling, sensitive handling of the matter, and running the risk of being misunderstood. Listen to what Paul wrote in Galatians 6:1 – “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” This means that we need to prepare ourselves first. Are we spiritual? Are we motivated and empowered to do this by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us? Do we speak to him with a meek and humble spirit, or do we speak with a proud self-righteous spirit? Are we guarding ourselves well against temptation? It is foolish to think that we are immune from falling into sin, while trying to help a brother or sister who has fallen into sin.

Despite all the difficulties involved, the end result is worth all the effort put in. Once a person is willing to repent of his sin, half the battle is already won. He is on his way to being restored. However, a person who repents must be really sincere. He must not make any excuse for his sin, or push the blame to others, or attempt to reduce the sinfulness of the sin he has committed. Listen to what King David said to God when he repented of his sin in Psalm 51:3-4 – “For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight: that Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and be clear when Thou judgest.”

The ultimate proof of true repentance is what comes after that: a change of conduct. It would be a terrible thing for a person to mourn and shed profuse tears over his sin, only to commit it again and again. Whenever there is true repentance, efforts will be made to put the sin away. If the repentant brother has sinned by defrauding others, he would ensure that he returns whatever he has taken from them. If he has been addicted to drinking, he would get rid of every bottle of beer or whisky in his house.

In the case of the man in the Corinthian church, his repentance would have been demonstrated by ending his immoral behaviour. He would have admitted publicly that he had sinned against God and brought shame to the name of Christ. But he would also have stopped his illicit relationship with his step-mother. Nothing less than this could have convinced Paul to write in v.7 – “So that contrariwise ye ought rather toforgive him, and comfort him….”

This brings us now to the most important part of this entire sermon: Exercising Forgiveness. This, above all things, should be our response whenever a fellow believer sins persistently. If he truly repents, we must be willing to forgive him, comfort him and restore him. Why is this so necessary? The answer is found in v.8 of our passage: “Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.”

Let me put it to you that love for a fellow believer requires you to respond to sincere repentance with forgiveness. Is this requirement negotiable? Is it something that we can debate about? Certainly not, because our Lord Jesus has said, “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35) Here we see that love is the mark that Christ has chosen to be the distinguishing feature of His disciples. And if you truly love someone, you must be willing to forgive him.

A couple who was married for 15 years began having more than usual disagreements. They wanted to make their marriage work and agreed on an idea the wife had. For one month they planned to drop a slip in a ‘Fault’ box. The boxes would provide a place to let the other person know about daily irritations. The wife was diligent in her efforts and approach. She wrote the husband’s faults on slips of paper: “leaving the top off the jelly jar,” “throwing wet towels on the shower floor,” “dirty socks not in laundry basket,” on and on until the end of the month. The husband also wrote on a slip of paper and dropped it into his box each time his wife’s actions irritated him. At the end of the month, they exchanged boxes. The husband reflected on what he had done wrong. Then the wife opened her box and began reading. They were all the same, the message on each slip was,  “I love you!” Love bears all things, and covers a multitude of sins.

The home is not the only place where people get irritated with one another. The same thing happens in Church. Whenever we come together for Bible study, for fellowship or even for service, occasional disagreements will arise. Perhaps you may get so irritated with another Lifer’s faults and sins that you refuse to forgive him. You complain, “How could he do things like that? Or how could he say such things to me? He’s supposed to be a brother in Christ, a born again Christian!” Let us understand that not all Christian brethren have reached the same level of sanctification. Some of us have a longer way to go in overcoming sin and becoming Christ-like than others. And so we must be patient with one another’s faults and offences. God is not finished with us yet. If God had not been forgiving and patient with us, we would all have perished long ago.

How then can we love one another and be willing to keep on forgiving one another? It is possible only by remembering how much Christ has loved us and forgiven us. Let us look at v.10 – “To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ.” Here Paul mentions Christ when he was speaking about forgiving others, because all our sins are forgiven through Him. We ought to forgive one another purely because God has forgiven us of all our sins through Jesus Christ. As Ephesians 4:32 says – “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

But someone may ask, “How many times should I forgive a brother who sins against me?” We shall see how Jesus answered this question in Matthew 18:21,22 – “Then came Peter to Him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” How much is 70 x 7? 490. Does this mean that we can stop forgiving on the 491st time? No, it means that we should keep on forgiving indefinitely. We must always be ready to forgive others, since we have been forgiven so much more.

And whenever we forgive a brother who has repented, let us also resolve not to bring up his sin again. You may have noticed that in both 1 Corinthians 5 and our passage, the offender’s name is not mentioned at all. Paul often mentioned the names of people in his writings. Why did he not mention who this offender in Corinth was? Perhaps this was done in order not to embarrass him more than is necessary, knowing that these two epistles would eventually be read widely.

But it also provides a good lesson for us – When a believer’s sins have been dealt with and are forgiven, they should never be used against him anymore. God Himself says, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” (Hebrews 8:12)

In today’s sermon we have seen that when a fellow believer sins persistently, a lot depends on how we respond to it. Responding with an unconcerned spirit or an unforgiving spirit will only bring ruin. But a response which encourages repentance and exercises forgiveness will bring restoration. The bottom line therefore is that we must forgive.

However there is a cost involved in doing this: Forgiveness means denying ourselves the right to feel offended. By forgiving someone, we accept the pain and loss that he has caused us. All this is only possible through love – which is the very same supernatural love that Jesus had for sinners who caused Him to die a cruel death on the cross. It is the same love which made Him cry out, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Those of us who have not experienced this supernatural love yet will find it extremely difficult to forgive others because of the sinful nature that we are all born with. There is only one way that you can experience this love: To turn to Jesus Christ, asking Him to be your only Saviour and Lord and to forgive you of all your sins on the basis of His death on the cross. God’s Word says that all have sinned, and all therefore deserve to be punished with eternal death. But God sent His only Son into the world to bear the punishment of our sins on the cross, so that we may be saved from eternal death. Therefore, anyone who turns to Jesus Christ alone for salvation will have all the blessings of forgiveness, which includes eternal life with God in heaven.

Let me say this now to all those in our midst who are still unsaved: Our nation’s future in the next 50 years may depend on the response of voters this Friday. But your future in eternity depends on your response to Jesus Christ today. A wrong response will bring eternal death, but a right response will bring eternal life. The question is: How will you respond? Will you come to Jesus Christ and receive the blessings of His forgiveness in your life?

 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11