Series on II Corinthians, I The Dedication of Paul to Ministry B Successful,1 Satan's Advantage Lost. Text: 2:1-11. Title: The Discipline of Love


In I Corinthians 13 Paul wrote, If I speak in the tongues of angels and men and have not love I am only a resounding gong or a clanging symbol, love is patient and kind, love never fails...and now these three remain, faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love. Love is now put to the test. Love is revealed as difficult and painful. In his first letter the Apostle had to deal with many problems: division, disrespect. immorality, and abuses in worship, marriage, and the Lord's supper, but nothing greater than the failure to exercise discipline on a man who had committed incest. We read about this in I Corinthians 5. The Church was proudly ignoring the sin, and unwilling to judge. Subsequent to his first letter Paul visited them to confront this problem and others,and the visit was painful. Now he is writing again. The original problem has been corrected, but Paul is reflecting on it. Surely the Apostle is discovering the truth of the old adage, “He makes no friends who never made a foe.” We are looking here at the discipline of love. Because we live in a sinful world, love must be tough or it is not love at all. If Paul's ministry was successful, one reason was that he loved even when it hurt. Look with me today at the discipline of love: the depth, the danger, the defense.

I The Depth

In the opening section, verses 1-4 of our text the apostle Paul leaves no stone unturned in communicating the depth of his love for the Corinthian Christians. So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be distressed by those who ought to make me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. 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. He speaks of a painful visit to them because he had to confront their failure to deal with sin, but as he says in verse 3, it distressed him. In verse 4 he speaks of great distress, anguish of heart and tears when he first wrote to them. In verse 2 he says that his pain arises from the fact that they are his greatest source of joy, humanly speaking of course. In making them sad he makes himself sad. There is probably no greater expression of loving identification with people than Paul makes here. But, this is not a paper crescendo which echoes in the void. Paul's love was tough. He met their sin head on. This is much like those occasions when parents punish their children, and they say “This hurts me more than you.”  All kids may groan, but you need to believe them. You will never know how hard it is to truly love until you have to be tough. Today more than ever we need the discipline of love. Cal Thomas, syndicated columnist, writing recently said,"For Christians to gain the respect, if not always the approval, of those who define culture, they must first get their own house in order. Surveys have shown that Christians are divorcing at the same rate as non-Christians. So much for family values. Too many preachers tolerate sin in the camp because they are more interested in building big congregations and their next pastoral assignment then they are in preaching the uncompromising and uncomfortable message contained in the gospel."  According to Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, “The legitimate American concern with safeguarding the rights and dignity of minorities, the poor, and the oppressed has fostered a rights revolution where we tend to blame their situation solely on their environment and do not hold them accountable. This demeans their humanity and removes any motivation for accepting responsibility. It is a failure to love!”  I mention this only because the prevailing temper of our society infects the Church. We claim we love the poor and homeless but we are often unwilling to love them when there needs to be confrontation and pain. Both churches and families are affected by this attitude when we ignore sinful actions and refuse to punish the evil doer.

II The Danger v.5-9

According to verses 5-9 the Corinthians viewed the situation mainly as Paul's problem. If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. It was the Apostle who was grieved enough at the sin to write, but Paul reminds them they are all being hurt by this failure to discipline flagrant sin. He had already told them that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough. So the first danger was doing nothing. However, once they followed Paul's lead and dealt with the sinful conduct in their midst they fell into another trap. They ostracized, they shunned, they hated that evil person, and treated him as if there was no possibility of change or repentance. The whole point of Paul's advice to discipline the individual was that his spirit might be saved in the day of Jesus Christ as he tells them in I Corinthians 5.  Pause a moment and think about sinful human nature. It is a fact that we are so prone to prejudice and to stereotyping because we don't understand the grace of God.  God forgives. Often, we do not. First we refuse to say anything bad about the person-and then when it gets bad enough, we refuse to say anything good about the person. A Christian psychiatrist, David Carlson recently wrote a book entitled "Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounded?" That about sums it up. When we encounter these situations in the public arena we need to keep a Scriptural balance. This means turn the other cheek personally, but allow the government to do its job which is to administer justice. Jesus died for our sins on the cross so that we could be forgiven. He fulfilled the law’s righteous demands so that we could be accepted as God's children. This ought to make us secure enough that we would neither regard others as perfectly good or perfectly bad, but just sinners like ourselves in need of repenting. The idea of dividing the world into good people and bad people is the devil's delusion. And so the Corinthians needed to learn that love disciplines and keeps on loving so that as Paul says, love keeps no record of wrongs.

III The Defense v.10-11

According to verses 10 and 11 the defense is two-fold.  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, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes. If the Corinthians failed to discipline, Satan would use that to corrupt others, but if they failed to forgive,  Satan would also use that. Satan would use it because it would be a root of bitterness. It would be as if the purity of the Church could be maintained by a harsh and unforgiving spirit. Our present situation is very like this. People rush to judgment, and others wish to make no judgment at all. This only hurts God’s work. Paul sets the example. They were worried about the Apostle's reaction. They misunderstood his motives. He says if you forgive, I forgive, and indeed I have already forgiven in the sight of Christ. It is a solemn declaration. True love requires forgiveness and that is part of the discipline of love, and forgiveness is something we do because Christ has forgiven us. We never decide that some things are forgivable and others are not. I mean, people do that, but its bad. Nothing is unforgivable because Christ has forgiven us all. So if this poor man was hated after he had repented that would be the weak spot in the armor of the church through which Satan would fire arrows of temptation and the hatred would grow. The only true defense is the discipline of love.