Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ.
—2 Corinthians 2:10
In 2 Corinthians 2:1-11 we are offered a powerful picture of Christian forgiveness. Paul references an incident with a particular member of the Corinthian church, one that perhaps led to the previous visit being “painful.” We do not know what the offense was, but we do know the community meted out seems to have come to completion, and forgiveness offered to the offender.
When an offense has been truly painful, forgiveness is not just a momentary action speaking words of peace and restoring a person to the community, but an on-going action of remembering to love, to not let the previous offense be punished again and again and it is an action of the whole body. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” This is reiterated in 2 Corinthians 1:5-7. Just as the suffering and consolation of Christ benefit the whole body, likewise the suffering or consolation of any member is the suffering or consolation of the whole.
Paul speaks of his suffering as being beneficial to the whole body of believers. But he also says that when any individual or particular community in the body suffers, as the Corinthians had, then he also suffers. Paul says forgiveness and comfort work in the same way. If the community decides to forgive and reinstate a member to the body, then Paul, too, will extend forgiveness and love toward that member.
Wow! It is hard enough to get a whole group of people to agree on a restaurant, much less to forgive someone who has done something terrible that hurts the community. Even more so, to be far away from the group when that person is changing, as Paul was, so you remember the pain that person caused without also seeing the transformation. To offer up forgiveness, as Paul does, is not an easy thing. Think about a time when you got angry with someone who hurt a friend or family member. If the person apologizes to your loved one, but you are not there to see it, you probably will remain angry on behalf of the person close to you, even if they are no longer upset.
Overcoming your anger even if you haven’t seen redemption is difficult. Of course, we are called to forgive even when we are not asked for forgiveness, and this is part of that practice. Practice, practice, practice is what is required for faithful forgiveness. We humans will keep messing up, keep hurting those we love, and needing forgiveness. We will keep getting hurt by others and needing to offer forgiveness. Paul knew he couldn’t get any work done, especially since his work was sharing the life-giving love of Christ, as long as he was holding onto resentments and anger every time he or the people he loved throughout his travels were hurt.
Paul wants to forgive the redeemed offender along with the Corinthians so that when he does visit, he will be acting as one with the whole community. His message is that no matter the distance, the community is one in love and deed.
Reflect: Paul lays out a tough task for us today in a Christian body that has splintered over who can be ordained, who can be married, how we worship, and even which translation of the Bible is “correct.” How can we act as one with Christians who we have hurt, or who have hurt us? Who are struggling to forgive? What would it look like to forgive that person?
Notes are from A Heart for Reconciliation, by Megan Hansen and Michael Rinehart. Available on Amazon, it offerers daily readings through 2 Corinthians.
The texts for the six weeks in the Narrative Lectionary are as follows.
- 5/22/2016: 2 Cor 1:1-11, Consolation
- 5/29/2016: 2 Cor 2:1-10, Forgiveness
- 6/5/2016: 2 Cor 4:1-15, Treasure in Clay Jars
- 6/12/2016: 2 Cor 4:16—5:10, Walk by Faith not Sight
- 6/19/2016: 2 Cor 5:11-21, Reconciliation
- 6/26/2016: 2 Cor 8:1-15, Generosity