“For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.”
–II Corinthians 2:6-7 (ESV)
As best I can tell (and I think this is pretty consistently considered to be the case), Paul is referring to the man mentioned back in I Corinthians 5:1 who had been committing sexual immorality with his step-mother. I think most of us would admit that was a pretty vile thing going on there. Back when Paul wrote his first letter, the Corinthians were acting like it was not a big deal. He rebuked them and told them to discipline the man that he might have shame and repent. Apparently he did.
However, as Paul writes his second letter, the Corinthians had gone to the opposite extreme. They now had a penitent man and they would not accept him back. Paul had to rebuke them again. They needed to forgive him and more than forgive him, they needed to comfort him. This, of course, demonstrated the true nature of his penitence. He needed comforting. He was mourning over his sin now.
I know I have had to let my brothers and sisters know about my sins. Up to the moment I confessed, I feared rejection and isolation. But my brothers and sisters did not reject. I was mourning and fearful. They embraced me, drew me in closer and then lifted me up. What a wonderful experience that was. I can hardly imagine how awful it would have been if I had tried to overcome sin while believing my brothers and sisters hated me. I would likely have given up. Instead, they loved me and that made all the difference.
Now I have to remember that when I see others who are penitent and confessing. They may have committed extremely vile sins, sins at which even the Gentiles would blanch. But when my brothers or sisters repent, I should not hold them at arms length. I do not put them on trial to see if their penitence is real or if it will stick. I need to forgive. I need to comfort. I need to embrace, lift up and help forward. I need to see them as my equals in Christ, not my underlings because their sin has merely been admitted more recently than my own.
Certainly, we must not coddle sin. We must not let it slip in unnoticed. But at the same time, we must not ignore the penitent. Isn’t that all of us?
Keep the faith and keep reading,