Friday, August 7, 2009

Devotional - Forgiveness and Comfort

Good morning everyone. I apologize for my absence for the last two days. I went out on a photo expedition and started rather early in the morning. Yesterday I did a 35 km tour on foot. I am paying for that even as I type, soaking my blistered and swollen feet in a tub of water. Let's move on to 2 Corinthians 2.

This is a difficult area as we look at chapter 2. We can see how hard it was for Paul to deal with it. Church discipline is never an easy matter and I think most of us make a mess of it most of the time. The reason is because there is a difference between someone who fell into sin and has repented and someone who falls into sin and remains in it. With the first we need to be very careful that our response does not push them further into sin. Often it is the response of the church that will determine the outcome:

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. vs. 6-8

It is difficult to come up with a church policy based on this because there are some assumptions we make. My first assumption is that the punishment of the "majority" was condemnation for whatever the sin was. This person was rejected by the community. It is a natural thing that we do when one person starts behaving outside of what the majority has accepted as "proper". The thing is that God's character moves in the opposite direction to our nature. So Paul says that this reaction is sufficient enough as punishment. Now. let's do it God's way.

God's way is where the Church needs to operate but so often fails. Even our little church has failed in this area on several occasions. We lacked and still lack maturity to understand that God's way is not condemnation but forgiveness and then comfort. What does Paul mean by comfort? The sense we get from this is to nurture the person back to spiritual wellness. Sin damages and it takes careful care and instruction for both the offending party and the church to bring this person back to health. Instead of throwing them away we want to restore them. These are hard words for me to type considering some of our recent struggles.

The reason we need to move beyond forgiveness and work in the restoration area is because forgiveness requires us not only to set aside our emotional response but as well our memory of the offense. Of course to actually forget is impossible for us but we can choose not to respond to that memory, to act as if it had not happened. Most people are willing to say the words but are not willing to commit themselves to true forgiveness. That offense will always be held against that person. I struggle with this as much as anyone. It took a rather big event for me to even realize this part of forgiveness was required of us in order for it to be considered forgiveness. I believe most of us do not even know about this part of forgiveness.

Yet, before restoration can begin everyone needs to agree on the forgiveness. The offense must be forgiven and set aside before the true comfort begins. Paul urges this church to reaffirm their love for this person. That is a big step for the church and the person involved. This is where the church can show its maturity in love, but again it must be more than just the words. It is even more than actions. You know it is love when the offense is never brought up against the person even in the stressful times. Stress is the tell all. That is when a person's or congregation's heart is really revealed.

When I look at it in this way and apply it to my heart I discover in this light that I still possess a lot of unforgiveness. In the darkest corners of my heart I find many offenses that I have never applied forgiveness to. I have applied the words but not the attitude that derives from love. Maybe we need more restoration centres and fewer places of perfection. There is nothing wrong with holiness but even holiness is nothing without love.

I find myself needing to take the time for further reflection on this matter of forgiveness and comfort.

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