Almighty and everlasting God, grant that by your help we grow in faith, hope and love; and, so that we may obtain what you promise, make us also to love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul elucidates a key principle of ministry: A return to Corinth would have warranted severe disciplinary language from the apostle. The reaction may have been too disastrous. Those entrusted with authority in the Church of God do not revel in presiding over issues of strife within its borders. Paul thought it best to spare the rod. Harsh words would exacerbate the situation in the Corinthian church and arouse his enemies there to a pitch of denunciation and division, and turmoil would have been the result. Turmoil gives rise to loose talk and painful exchanges of anger.
However, there was no diminution in Paul’s pastoral love for those ever-difficult people. He sets the example for ministers of the gospel. He has no intention to lord it over the people of God and score points. Sometimes it is “hands off and prayer on”, and reliant patience invested in the work of the Spirit. Dependence upon the Holy Spirit is the essential basis of all ministry and church order. This is true and sound “charismaticism”. The true objective is collaborative joy and this is fostered by amiable cultivation of personal faith without intense directive intrusion into personal lives. Pressurized pastoral control and interference can stifle the Holy Spirit’s individual nurturing and development. Faith cannot be forced or imposed and folk need room to grow beneficially and not through bluster. “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. [2:1-4]. The maxim is love exuding joy in the life of the people of God. Leadership [a dubious word in Christian circles] is not lordship or gratification of ambition and power, but lowly restraint of any tendency to assert oneself over others with a heavy hand.
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. 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. [2-11].
The implication is that someone in the Christian community at Corinth has committed an offense that somehow has a bearing upon Paul, but it also affects the rest of the fellowship. The majority of the membership arrived at a measure of punishment that seems to have brought about a mood of repentance in the spirit of the offender. Paul is satisfied with the outcome and concurs with the forgiveness extended to the penitent who is markedly contrite for the wrong he has done. But he may be in danger of being consumed with guilt as he reflects upon the seriousness of his error and lapse into despair. Paul counsels that this possibility must not happen. Christian discipline is motivated by remedial concern. Recovery of the sinner and restoration of fellowship is the aim of any punishment that has been justly meted out. Discipline is not colored by spite but spiritual concern for the wellbeing of a brother or sister in Christ. It is to be corrective and healing and not permanently harmful and constantly recalled to embarrassing attention.
Paul’s attitude to the offender is remarkably compassionate: Forgiveness and comfort is to be poured into his desolate and ashamed soul. He must not be permitted to fade away into isolation, desolation and neglect. Strongly reaffirm him as a loved one. Moral irregularity of any kind will not be foreign to any gathering or group of professed believers. It does not present occasion for lordly disdain and hasty bitterness but protection and care for the purity of the congregation in the face of evil and the fear of contagion and confusion of conscience. Cleansing and reconciliation are the desires accompanying chastisement. For those who administer the unhappy duty of discipline there is an interior trembling at the sinful proclivities that inhabit us all, that might just surface, but for the grace of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Elders are not headhunters, but rather spiritual surgeons of practical and godly necessity. The wisdom and discernment of the Spirit must prevail in every circumstance of ordering the life of the Christian family.
Paul reminds us that our relationships with each other are in the sight of Christ, and so, too, are our estimations of each other. Are they as fair and charitable as they ought to be? Are inclinations as supportive as they need to be in the vicissitudes of life [BCP, “changes and chances”]. Our openness and candor before the Lord Jesus Christ is preventive of Satan outwitting us by his mischievous and malicious schemes, especially through our unchecked impulses to settle a matter. The enemy is always hovering and hoping to twist and tweak matters to his evil advantage among the Lord’s people and that is why our Litany seeks from God our protection and deliverance from him so emphatically:
Spare us, good Lord, from all evil and mischief; from sin, from the crafts and assaults of the devil; from thy wrath, and from everlasting damnation.
Good Lord, deliver us from fornication, and all other deadly sin; and from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
We beseech thee... finally to beat down Satan under our feet.
Satanic schemes are aways lurking near us, rancor is always brewing, and we are not to live in naive unawareness. Preserving moral order and decency of behavior is a duty for overseers in the church, but it does not depend fundamentally on human acumen or ethical propriety. These will play a part. However, procedural method, verdict and ultimate action will be referred to the motion of the Holy Spirit sought in prayer as the sovereign influence of the Spirit in the minds of the parish representatives and his indication of the effect of discipline upon the person responsible for the presence of grief. There can be a tendency to condemn from a perspective of moral superiority and a self-righteous disgust.
Just as we see how Paul deals with an immoral brother [1 Cor 5] whose callous conscience and stubbornness in evil warrants expulsion from the fellowship, so the conditions of such a decision is delineated in his rebuke to the reckless Corinthians who tolerate [from a desire to be deemed charitably broadminded] such a scandalous example of serious immorality among their company and wantonly fail to evict him from the circle of believers, besmirching the reputation of Christ, and polluting the life of the congregation, endangering its holiness of life and preference of custom before men. This is a situation where any element of human meanness or vengefulness should not occur. It is a solemn scenario of sanctified purgation and concern for the ultimate salvation of the offender through handing “this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” This is the resort to tough mercy and drastic transformation, and a Spirit inspired bid for deliverance.
The eldership is to convene deliberately and explicitly “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The power of the Lord Jesus is to be present and appealed to, and the man is to be handed over in this way to an expulsion exercised it would seem by the Spirit of Christ, not a committee of vengeful human beings, but those exhibiting, in concert with the congregation the righteous character of Christ for the purity of his bride. [e.g. the majority of family members, says Paul, agree with the punishment cf 2 Cor 2:6] There is to be no salivating at the slaughter, [the prospect of discipline does seem to excite certain types of personality who exist emotionally from drama to drama in church affairs] but the sternest expression of love for the sinner in dire peril. Christ is there, [do we realize?] observing everything. But David Broughton Knox offers a further observations that clear away the possibility of unkind, biased and sharp tempers given free rein in confidential proceedings.
First DBK observes that the congregation is to exercise discipline by corporate prayer. The instruments of banishment are word, prayer and the Spirit. Paul envisages the people gathered and carefully prepared together as a church, humbly to make the correct decision, God being present with them in spirit, and their Lord Jesus being present in his power. It is Christ who takes the sinner out of the congregation, Knox affirms. God takes away [the verb is passive in 1 Cor:5v2]. Reliance is placed squarely upon him as is directed in the original language i.e. that he who has done this deed might be taken away from you.
Knox observes that modern Christians misunderstand the situation by thinking of it in terms of formal excommunication, “as though Paul were writing for an ecclesiastical situation centuries later… The congregation is Christ’s congregation. He is its Lord, that is, its judge”, and there is a strong leaning upon the work of the Spirit in the action of the church, and possibly in the mind of the recalcitrant sinner, who may be led to conclude that he does not fit into the fellowship he has so woundingly grieved and so he leaves. “The final step is to withdraw personal fellowship from church members who continue to act sinfully after admonition [Titus 3:10, 2 Thessalonians 3:6], having first talked the matter out with the whole congregation [Matthew 18:17]. Each Christian is to withdraw his personal fellowship from those who name the name of Christ, but who will not reform their lives. He is not even to invite such to a meal [1 Corinthians 5:11]. Secular relationships may continue but no personal fellowship is to be extended to them.”
In the stepping aside from the notion of an “ecclesiastical declaration” to the mournful mind of the congregation which is conditioned by the word, prayer, and influence of the Spirit, the dynamic is altered to a tenor of godly family concern for the integrity of the fellowship and the chastening of an errant member toward the outcome, under God, that he may gain and be confident of his sure salvation. There is no spite involved but the pastoral operation of the Spirit who retrieves, we pray, the sinner from the sad lapse that imperils the soul. The tone of discipline must express components that are punitive and pastoral in necessary measure so that in the decision of the majority in may be said, “Christ has taken away the sinner out of the congregation”.