I wonder if you've ever listened to some of those Radio shows geared round ethics and forgiveness. Perhaps Sue Perkins's Radio 4 program called Dilemma; a Panel show in which she poses a series of moral and ethical dilemmas to a panel of comics and journalists. Or Simon Mayo's Radio 2 confessions where people send in stories confessing their darkest secrets and sins which have been kept hidden for years - and then he and his team decide whether to grant forgiveness or not. Well call me a baa humbug but I don't particularly like them - It's pretty obvious they use the wrong foundation to base their ethics or on which to forgive people. I remember speaking to a lady who described one particular sin as unforgivable. I wonder if you can think of a sin tha t someone could commit against you which would be unforgivable - so bad that it would be unforgivable.
We've just had the General Election and it reminds me of my very first General Election - not the first one in which I myself stood for parliament, but the first one I ever voted for once I'd turned 18. I gathered together all the main parties' manifestoes and read through them. And my great Aunt, who was heavily involved in politics herself at the time couldn't understand what I was doing and when I explained that I was deciding who to vote for (on the basis of their politics) said to me that if I didn't vote for her party I was no nephew of hers. If I didn't vote for her party I was no nephew of hers. How loving? - I would be disowned if I voted for a different party!
The question I'd like to ask you this morning is. Is there anything you wouldn't forgive? This is not going to be one of those three point sermons; it's with that question in mind, "Is there anything you wouldn't forgive?" that we turn to the apostle Paul's second letter to the Christians in Corinth. Paul is writing to the Christians In Corinth and they'd had lots of problems. And we learned last week that Paul had planned to visit them but then changed his plans and wrote a painful letter to rebuke them and correct them. (1v23-2v4) And in this week's passage Paul is talking about someone in particular and how to treat him. We're not certain of who this person was. It could be the incestuous person of 1 cor 5 v1-5, the chap who was sleeping with his mother in law. 1 Corinthians 5:1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans:
"A man has his father's wife. And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?"
Or it could be one of the false teachers in the church who had been attacking Paul and saying lots of untrue things about him and as we saw last week accusing him of changing his travel plans at a whim. 1v17 And whoever it was - whatever he's done we see in v5 that Paul saying it's not so much me he's hurt; it's you ; the Corinthian church that he's hurt. Lets have a look at verse 5 He didn't so much grieve me but all of you - Paul is downplaying how hurt he was in order to highlight that actually it was all of the Corinthian Church that had been hurt. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul explained that if one member suffers, then all suffer together; if one member is honoured, then all rejoice together. (12:26) Do you see how we are so interconnected? After all what is church? Is it just people with common interests? If you are part of this church then you belong here. And if you're serious about belonging here then it would be good to go to the belonging meetings, where you can find out more about what sort of church this is.
Do speak to Rod afterwards for more details. Don't be on the fringes. Get involved. But the point here is that if we are Christians we are united to Christ the Head and therefore we are united to each other - we can't help but be interconnected as Christian brothers and sisters and it's with this interconnectedness / this intertwined-ness in mind that Paul tells us to do do something in this passage.
And it seems that the congregation in Corinth must have acted together to impose some kind of sanction on this sinful person who caused the grief. That means they acted together. They must have had a talk about it and agreed to act together. It was probably a formal or judicially agreed punishment, not a group of church members doing what they they think is right but some agreed common course of action. Perhaps it was a church member who was acting like a non-Christian as so they agreed to treat him like one and exclude him from their meetings. Whatever it was Paul thought that the punishment had done its work, done what it was supposed to, achieved its purpose, it got the desired result. verse 6, how do we know the punishment worked, because it made him sad. It caused him sorrow. It made him sorry. verse 7 sorrow can be good. Have you ever thought that? I'm not talking about sorrow from genuine sad things that happen to us but about sorrow which comes from being rebuked or disciplined (Do you remember the times when you were rebuked to such an extent that you'll never do it again? Hopefully you're not just calling to mind those moments when you've been hurt through insensitive rebukes etc). I also recognise that this chap is in a different situation to what many of us will have faced. This is a major thing he did wrong, and it will always be before him. But What is the point of discipline? What is discipline supposed to achieve? We read more in 2 Corinthians 7 that discipline is supposed to make you feel sorry - it is supposed to make you feel sad, to make you feel penitent and it is supposed to lead to repentance.
Parents and teachers when you're choosing a discipline for your children (and I hope you do discipline them) choose a punishment that makes them sad - which makes them see the error of their ways. It shows that you love them - like in our Deuteronomy reading earlier; we read that God disciplines and loves his people. Discipline is supposed to make you feel sorry. But we don't want discipline to lead to "excessive" sorrow. Being overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. What could that lead to? Perhaps depression, perhaps sleepless nights, worrying enough to make you ill. Perhaps even suicide. Drowning in sorrow says Paul. Being overwhelmed.
Being excluded and cut off from your fellow brothers and sisters is awful. Some might think its easy to just move to another church down the road - but do we realise what it means to be cut off from our fellow brothers and sisters? If not then perhaps we don't know what it means to be part of our fellow brothers and sisters - we are interconnected - intertwined - children of the same heavenly Father - we are a family. Perhaps this can be experienced best in home groups in a large church like ours. Being part of a home group is a great way of experiencing people caring for you and you caring for others. And this chap may have been cut off, excluded from all that all that care. And Paul says this guy has caused real pain and hurt; he caused pain to you, not so much to me. And he's been punished for it. The punishment has worked. It was enough and he's sorry for what he did. He's repentant. So now forgive him and comfort him so that he wont be overwhelmed. Show him you love him.
The irony is that the church at first is loathed to exercise church discipline against an unrepentant sinner. And then; when it finally steps up to its responsibility and does so, it then finds it difficult to forgive and restore the repentant sinner. How true of us sinners! How typical of sinners like us - liberal and then proud and unforgiving. But we mustn't let our brother drown in his sorrow - don't let him go under. Do you care about him (the undeserving sinner but penitent sinner) do you care about him? Then show it. Confirm it. Ratify your love for him. Prove it v7-8. Forgive him and be reconciled. Forgiveness and reconciliation aren't exactly the same thing. And there is a place for forgiveness of someone who is unrepentant, without reconciliation - forgiving them but keeping them at arm's length lest you get hurt again and you allow them to do damage. Here Paul is talking about the sinner who has been disciplined, who is sorry for what he's done and is repentant - what should we do with such a person? - we should make sure we forgive them, welcome them back - restored into our fellowship, comfort them and show them that you love them.
Easier said than done. But here we find some reasons which may help: Lets read on verse 9 Gosh, Paul tested them to see if they'd be obedient - and to be obedient in everything. We are to be obedient in every area of our Christian lives - including forgiveness is this not one of the hardest; the hardest area of all? Because it dents our pride. It takes swallowing our pride. It takes humility. It takes servant heartedness. It takes putting others first. Now that's not easy. That impossible. Praise be to God that we have the Spirit of Christ living in us. As we focus on the grace Christ has shown us at the cross then we extend that grace to others. As we focus on the forgiveness Christ has shown us then we extend forgiveness to others. This is why Paul writes what he does in v10 "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". He says he has forgiven him "in the sight of Christ" Christ is watching and if Christ has forgiven you then how dare you withhold forgiveness from anyone else. Again I ask you Is there anything you wouldn't forgive?
Is there anything that someone can do to you that you shouldn't forgive? Is there? Because you have done far worse to God. I have done far worse to God than anyone can do to me - so I have no right whatsoever to withold forgiveness from anyone else. If you want to look into that further then have a look at Jesus's parable of the unmerciful servant in Matt 18. And if ever there is supposed to be a forgiving place - a place where forgiveness reigns - if ever there is a place where people forgive each other demonstrating how much they themselves have been forgiven then it's the church. Is there anything you wouldn't forgive? In a moment we're going to sing
"There is a fountain filled with blood
drawn from Emmanuel's veins;
and sinners plunged beneath that flood
lose all their guilty stains."
If we sinners have been forgiven and Jesus's blood on the cross has washed away all our guilt then brothers and sisters how can we withhold forgiveness from others? So we should forgive because we are in the sight of Christ. But Paul spells out another reason why we should forgive, for the sake of the repentant as we saw in verse 7 so that he wont suffer unnecessarily; he wont drown in excess sorrow. We don't want our Brother or Sister to go under.
But Paul gives some more reasons why we should forgive. There's a huge massive gigantic consequence if we don't; the Devil will have his way in the church. If you don't forgive then the church will be wrecked. The church had already allowed false teaching and immorality. The Devil had been having a field day. And Paul brings this issue of forgiveness and Satan together because they are in such sharp contrast. verse 10-11 just imagine; someone wrongs you. What do you do? How do you respond? Especially if they're sorry - do you forgive or do you harbour bitterness? What do you do? Who is there right beside you? Christ and Satan - the king and a fallen angel. Who are you going to obey? Christ the promised saving King who loves you and gave himself for you and forgave you even though you don't deserve it or the devil; an angel who disobeyed God and is trying to tempt people away from following the ways of love and kindness and is trying to promote selfishness and self serving in order to bring as many people down to hell with him as he can. Both are right there beside you. Who are you going to obey?
Well the good news is that if you are a Christian; Christ isn't just beside you (as if Christ and the devil have equal airtime to your conscience) No. Christ is in you You have the Spirit of Christ IN you. It isn't even an even battle. it isn't a 50/50 chance. Jesus is in us and Jesus has the power. Don't get me wrong. It's only by God's grace that we can obey God and we are only ever one step away from sin and giving in to temptation. If you think Satan isn't there then he will outwit us. Just think about that for a moment; does any of us like being out witted, someone out-smarting us, being cleverer than us and taking advantage of us? Do you want that? And what does the devil want to do? He wants to divide us. He wants to separate us from each other and ultimately he wants to separate us from God if he could. Now Paul makes us aware (as he does in some of his other letters) that the devil is real. He is a real and present danger to us! We should not be obsessed with the devil but we must be alert to him at all times. You may have heard the quote which I think is originally from the French poet Baudelaire but has been quoted in films and elsewhere; that "The devil's best trick is to persuade you that he doesn't exist." "The devil's best trick is to persuade you that he doesn't exist." Don't be obsessed, but do be aware. If we don't restore the penitent; the repentant then the devil will outwit us and he will use the opportunity against us.
So is there anything you wouldn't forgive? I could real off a list of sins but I don't think that would be helpful. It might not be the big sins it might be the smaller things.
Is there anything you wouldn't forgive?
Is there anything that would make you or I say "He's no christian brother of mine, or she's no christian sister of mine?" even though he or she was repentant. Maybe you need to forgive yourself. Is there anything you wouldn't forgive?
Gordon Wilson in November 1987 forgave the IRA for killing his daughter in Enniskillen. He said "I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge." Is there anything you wouldn't forgive? You may have heard of Corrie ten Boom who forgave, when came face to face with, a Nazi Guard who had become a Christian and who had previously made her suffer and been instrumental in her sister's death in a concentration camp during the war. She asks us this question, "Can you forgive? No. I can't either. But He can."
Jesus can! Brothers and sisters Christ forgave us. Brothers and sisters forgive. Forgive in the sight of Christ
So what is there right now that you need forgive someone for - in the silence of hearts we're going to do that now - for a minute and then I'll close in prayer.