Dealing with Sin in the Church, Part 3 (Mike Riccardi)

2 Corinthians 2:5–11   |   Sunday, March 29, 2015   |   Code: 2015-03-29-MR



I want to begin this morning by asking you a question. Why are you here? On a day that you didn’t have to get up and go to work—on a day when you could have slept in—why did you get up at 5 or 6 in the morning to come to Grace Community Church? To come to GraceLife at 8:30am? Is it because you’re a sociable person, and your friends are here, and you’re happy to take advantage of an opportunity to see them? Is it because you enjoy listening to the music and singing songs together? Is it because you’re an intellectual sort of person, and you’re intrigued by the sermons you hear preached, and understanding the true intent of a difficult Bible passage or carefully tracing out an author’s complex argument is like a puzzle for you to solve? Is it because, hey, this is just what you do on Sunday! You go to church! You know you’re supposed to be here, and so you show up! Why are you here, this morning? What is it that you’re trying to accomplish by gathering together, interacting with one another, singing worship songs, and then listening to someone preach for an hour?


And why do you go to Bible study? After a long day at work, or a long day chasing the kids around, or a long day of fulfilling whatever responsibilities the Lord has for you—why do you take the time that you could spend relaxing, and gather together with a handful of other believers, and listen to another Bible lesson? Is it because the house you go to always provides great snacks? Is it because, again, you’re just a sociable person and you enjoy being around people? Is it because you’re really stimulated intellectually by the discussion of Scripture?


And how about coming to the pastors for counseling? Or meeting with Christian friends individually and discussing particular problems you’re going through? Or taking Logos classes? Or FOF? Or Grace Evangelism? In all the activity of church life, what is it that you’re aiming at? I’ll tell you what your answer should be: We come to church, and we listen to sermons, and we go to Bible studies, and we meet with one another for counsel preeminently so that we can expose and kill sin in our lives. As you sit here and listen to me speak for the better part of an hour, my goal is not to simply fill up the time! My goal is not to be psychologically comforting to you or to make you feel good about yourself. My goal is not to stir your emotions and make you feel like you’ve just watched a romantic comedy—you know, “We laughed, we cried, and they lived happily ever after.” My goal is not even to be intellectually stimulating, so that when you walk out of here the topic of conversation doesn’t go past, “Wow, I’ve never seen it that way before!” or “Finally I understand this text!” That’s not a bad thing; it’s just not the primary goal.


For the 50 or so minutes each week that you are gracious enough to grant me your attention, my goal is that God Almighty, by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the instrumentality of His Word, would do something to you all! That you would be changed for having sat under the teaching of the Word of God! That, by God’s grace, the light of the Word of Truth would shine upon the darkness of your sinful hearts, and would expose sin in your life. In a real sense, we come to church and we go through the activity of the Christian life to hear from God as to how our thoughts, words, and actions continue to fall short of the standard of His holiness. We come to church so that we can be led to repentance—so that we can be properly informed for our times alone with God in the week ahead when we can do the heart-work of mortifying sin—of putting to death the deeds of the body. You go to Bible study, yes, to learn about the Bible and to enjoy the friendship and company of fellow believers. But preeminently, you go to Bible study so that iron can sharpen iron; so that a small group of other believers who know you—who know your struggles and your weaknesses—can help you apply the Word of God to your life, can help you identify sin in ways that you couldn’t recognize on your own, and can help you put off that sin and put on righteousness.


This is the Christian life! Life together in the body of Christ has as its supreme goal: the glory of Christ through the sanctification of His Bride. That’s why when the Apostle Paul is searching for a way to summarize the whole of his Gospel ministry, he says in Colossians 1:28: “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” That’s why the author of Hebrews commands us in Hebrews 3:13, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (ESV). This is what church is about! Admonishing one another, teaching one another, exhorting one another—all so that we would not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin—that we would be made to see sin in our lives, and that we would be diligently engaged in the work of mortification: as Romans 8:13 says, the work of putting to death the deeds of the body by the Holy Spirit.


So you see, GraceLife, if we are to truly be the church—and not just play church—we must deal with sin in our midst. A faithful church takes seriously its responsibility to deal with sin in the church.


And in the text we’ve been studying over the last number of weeks, 2 Corinthians 2, verses 5 to 11, Paul teaches us how to deal with sin in the church. He has been instructing the Corinthians as to how they are to deal with the man in their church who had been excommunicated for openly defying Paul’s authority and siding with the false apostles. But in response to the discipline carried out by the church, this man has since repented and desires to rejoin the assembly of God’s people. And it’s in that context that Paul outlines five stages for successfully dealing with sin in the church.


And over our last two sermons we’ve examined four of those stages in detail. We won’t rehash all that we’ve said in those points; if you’ve missed one or both of those messages or want to review them in more depth I’d invite you to get the CDs or review the transcript posted online. But for the sake of continuity and following Paul’s flow of thought, I do want to briefly review the four stages that we’ve covered before looking at the final stage this morning.


Review: I. Harmful Sin (v. 5)


The first stage is what we called harmful sin. The first stage of successfully dealing with sin in the church is the sin that makes this process necessary. But I called it harmful sin because we focused particularly on the corporate nature of sin in the church. Paul says in verse 5: “But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree—in order not to say too much—to all of you.”


The conflict between this man and the Apostle Paul was not a matter that was confined to them alone. Paul says, “He’s caused sorrow not to me, but . . . to all of you.” And we derived from this passage the observation that sin’s harm is never restricted to the offender and the offended. Because of the essential interconnectedness of the body of Christ, sin in even one part of the body brings the harmful effects of sin upon the entire church. 1 Corinthians 12:26: “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.” You see, just as the health of one member of my physical body affects the health of the other members, so also is it the case in the body of Christ. The spiritual health of the body as a whole depends on the spiritual health of each member. Unrepentant sin in the body of Christ is a spiritual cancer. If left unchecked, sin will infect the whole body until it destroys all spiritual life. Because sin is so serious, it must be confronted and dealt with.


Review: II. Corporate Discipline (vv. 6, 9–10)


And that brought us to the second stage of dealing with sin in the church. Stage number one is harmful sin. Stage number two is corporate discipline. And Paul refers to this corporate discipline in verse 6. He speaks about “this punishment which was inflicted by the majority.”


And this word that gets translated “punishment,” is a technical, legal term that refers to an official disciplinary act (Kistemaker, 78; MacArthur, 56).  And this official act of discipline was carried out “by the majority.” That is to say, the church had a formal gathering, and deliberated upon this matter, and rendered a verdict. This is none other than the outworking of the process of formal, organized, official church discipline.


And we’ve examined this practice of church discipline in detail over the past two sermons. The most foundational directives for church discipline are laid out for us in Matthew 18, verses 15 to 20, where Jesus teaches us that if a professing believer sins, there is to be private rebuke: “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private.” If he does not repent, but persists in his sin, there is to be plural rebuke: “Take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.” If he still doesn’t repent, there is to be public rebuke: his sin is made known to the church, and the church is to pursue him. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, Matthew 18:17, then he is to be put out of the church and regarded as unbeliever—because in refusing to let go of his sin he’s acting like an unbeliever, and may even be showing himself to truly be an unbeliever, despite his profession of faith.


While some might think this to be spiteful or harsh, it is, in actuality, the most loving thing that the church can do for a sinning brother. He needs to be made to feel the error of his ways, and though it may be painful, excluding him from the life of the church may be the only way to induce that godly sorrow that leads to repentance. This is how the church is to deal with sin.


And any church that fails to deal with the sin in its midst by failing to follow these principles ordained for us by the Lord Himself is derelict in its duty, and is, by definition, unfaithful. In fact, in the Belgic Confession of 1561, the Reformers stated what they believed were the three marks of the true church: (1) the pure preaching of the Gospel; (2) the administration of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s table; and (3) the faithful practice of church discipline (cf. Article 29). The Reformers understood that this was such a big deal that if any church failed to practice church discipline according to the Scriptures, they refused to regard that body as a true church! And they were right! Because, for the sake of the glory of Christ, the true church cares for the purity of Christ’s Bride.


And we saw that that principle had two primary points of application for us. First, it means that you, as the people of God, are to hold your elders accountable to the faithful practice of church discipline—especially as it regards steps three and four: making unrepentant sin known to the church and removing from the assembly those who refuse to repent. But secondly, it means that you, as the people of God, are to be faithful to your responsibility (a) to deal with sin in your own lives—diligently examining yourselves and putting sin to death by the power of the Spirit through the Word of God; and (b) to labor alongside one another in the pursuit of holiness, doing the hard work of giving and receiving correction and rebuke, in order to help one another put off sin and put on righteousness. In other words, you are to be faithful to carrying out steps one and two of church discipline; and you are to hold your leaders accountable to carrying out steps three and four of church discipline.


Review: III. Genuine Repentance (v. 6)


But then after considering harmful sin and corporate discipline, we observed the reality that faithful and successful church discipline does not stop with excommunication. No, the goal of all correction, all rebuke, all discipline, is that our sinning brother might be brought to genuine repentance—that he would forsake his sin, and would be restored to the fellowship of the body. The third stage of faithfully dealing with sin in the church discipline is: genuine repentance. Look again at verse 6. Paul says, “Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority.” The punishment was sufficient. The corporate discipline that the church carried out upon the offender had achieved its intended effect.


He says again in verse 9, “For to this end also I wrote. . . .” “I wrote so that you would carry out church discipline on this man who had rejected Christ’s Apostle, and therefore had rejected Christ’s Gospel, and who was causing factiousness within the church.” But we learn in this passage that they did administer this punishment, and that that punishment has been sufficient. It has served the purpose for which it was instituted: because it produced a godly sorrow, which has led to the offender’s genuine repentance.”


You see, this is what we’re after when we deal with sin in the church. Church discipline is not about vindictive retribution for people who dared to question authority. Not at all. It’s true: when we put a sinning man or woman out of the church, we aim to make them sorrowful, absolutely. But we do not aim at their sorrow in and of itself. We desire that they come to grips with the seriousness of their offense—that they would be made to grieve over the sin that has offended God and polluted the church—that they would be made to feel the sorrow that is according to the will of God, which, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 7:10, produces a genuine repentance without regret, and leads to salvation. Here we learned that church discipline is not retaliatory, but remedial; not retributive, but restorative.


Review: IV. Comforting Forgiveness (vv. 7, 9–10)


And that led us to the fourth stage of dealing with sin in the church. After there has been harmful sin, corporate discipline, and genuine repentance, the fourth stage is: comforting forgiveness. Look again at verses 6 and 7: “Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, 7so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” And from these verses we gleaned a principle that is so important for the people of God not only to know, but also to internalize and to live out. And that is: where there is repentance, there is forgiveness. When a sinner repents, the church forgives.


But the Corinthians were not abiding by this principle. Remember the historical context here. Originally, the Corinthian church had taken sides with the offender who had flouted Paul’s authority. He sided with the false apostles against Paul, and the Corinthians did nothing about it. That was the occasion for Paul to write the severe letter, rebuking them for failing to deal with sin in their midst. But the letter worked! 2 Corinthians 7:11 says that they had repudiated their factiousness, and, though they had been hesitant to discipline the offender, they were now indignant with him! They administered church discipline just as Paul had instructed. And, by the grace of God, that corporate discipline had proven sufficient! It brought this sinning brother to repentance!


But the problem was: the Corinthians weren’t satisfied! They refused to forgive him and welcome him back into the church! Even though he repented, they wanted him to suffer more shame, more grief, more sorrow before they would restore him to fellowship. And so Paul writes and says, “No, dear friends. The punishment has been sufficient. Rather than punishing him further, on the contrary, you should rather forgive and comfort him.” “Otherwise,” he says, “such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” You see, again, church discipline does aim at working sorrow in our sinning brothers and sisters. But we’re aiming for the godly sorrow that leads to repentance and salvation. If we continue to impose discipline—if we fail to forgive our brothers and sisters—even after they’ve repented, we’ve moved beyond the restorative and redemptive goals of church discipline and into punitive cruelty. Keeping a repentant brother out of the fellowship of the church, would only overwhelm that person with the kind of worldly sorrow that leads to despair. And that is not what we’re after.


And we spoke about how unbelievably out of step with the Gospel it is to refuse those who have repented of their sin and asked for forgiveness. We looked at the parable of the ungrateful slave in Matthew 18, who, just after having been forgiven a debt of 150,000 years’ wages, goes out and demands from his fellow-slave a debt equivalent to 100 days’ wages. That’s what it’s like for you and me—we who have sinned against a holy God, and yet have been forgiven the debt of eternity in hell suffering God’s wrath against our sin—to benefit from the forgiveness of such an incalculable debt, and yet for us to refuse to forgive our brothers and sisters who have sinned against us. There is no way that anyone can have sinned against you more grievously than you’ve sinned against God. And yet He has forgiven you. By faith in the person and work of Christ on the cross, you enjoy God’s gracious forgiveness—based on absolutely no merit of your own!


And Scripture says that we who have received that grace are to be characterized by bending that grace out to one another. Colossians 3:12 and 13: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved . . . .” You see what he’s doing? He’s grounding his upcoming exhortation in the grace of the Gospel. Because of the work of Christ, you are chosen, you are holy, you are loved. Because that is who you are—because that is who you have been recreated to be in Christ—verse 12: “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” That is the logic of the Gospel. Forgiven people forgive.


It’s been a blessing for me over the past few weeks to have a number of you come up to me, some with tears in your eyes, expressing how the Lord has used this teaching on forgiveness to restore relationships among you—how brothers and sisters who had been alienated for years have come to one another in repentance and forgiveness, and have been reconciled. I tell you: that is absolutely awesome. There is no greater gift that you can give to your pastor than to put into practice the Scripture that he preaches. That is how you know that the Holy Spirit is at work amongst a people—when they are practically pressing toward holiness even when it’s difficult. And I just exhort you, dear friends, to excel still more. Press after the privilege of imitating your heavenly Father by being eager to forgive those who come to you in repentance, because forgiven people forgive.


V. Loving Reaffirmation (v. 8)


And that brings us to the fifth stage of dealing with sin in the church that Paul outlines for us in this passage. Stage one is harmful sin. Stage two is corporate discipline. Stage three is genuine repentance. Stage four is comforting forgiveness. The fifth stage of faithfully and successfully dealing with sin in the church is, number five: loving reaffirmation. Look again with me at verses 6 through 8: “Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, 7so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.”


Now, this word “reaffirm” is the Greek word, kuróo. And just like the word epitimía in verse 6 that gets translated “punishment,” this word is a technical, legal term that speaks of the validation of legal actions (Harris, 230). Its basic sense is, “to officially ratify.” The only other time this word group is used in the New Testament is in Galatians chapter 3, so turn there with me. In Galatians 3, Paul is making a fairly complex theological point against the Judaizers that basically amounts to arguing that even though the Mosaic Covenant—the covenant of law— came after the Abrahamic Covenant—the covenant of promise—the law does not nullify or invalidate the promise. Look with me at Galatians 3:15. Paul writes, “Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man's covenant, yet when it has been ratified [there’s our word], no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it.” And skip to verse 17: “What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate [there’s our word again, just in a negative] a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.”


So you see the way the word is used there. Paul says he’s using an illustration borrowing from human relations, and he speaks about covenants that men make with one another. Now, we don’t hear too much today about making covenants with each other, but the idea is something very close to a “last will and testament” that somebody draws up in order to set their affairs in order before they die. And we know that that kind of a document is entirely null and void unless it has been validated by a credible witness, usually some sort of lawyer. Well, it’s that concept of “validation” or “official ratification” that is inherent in this word kuróo that Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 2:8. And so when Paul urges the Corinthians to reaffirm their love for the repentant offender, he is calling upon them to formally declare their love for him as a brother by officially readmitting him into the fellowship of the church.


Now, this is very instructive for us as it relates to apostolic instructions for how the church is to carry out church discipline and restoration. Just as the word for punishment was a technical, legal term that called for a public, formal act of discipline, so also is the word for reaffirmation a technical, legal term referring to a public, formal act of reinstatement. I love the balance of the Word of God on these matters; it’s in places like these that the wisdom of the Holy Spirit is on full display! You see, when an unrepentant sinning brother is put out of the church, it’s not merely to be some informal, private interaction. For the sake of the purity of the church, that removal is to be a formal and public act of the whole church, so that the church understands the severity of that sin and so they can consistently carry out the discipline of removing the sinning brother from their midst. But in the same way, if that person then repents and returns to the church, asking for forgiveness—which of course is always our prayer—his reinstatement into the full rights and privileges of membership isn’t to be done in a corner! His reaffirmation and reinstatement is to be just as public and just as formal as was his discipline. Why? So that the whole church knows that he is no longer to be made to feel the shame of being removed from the people of God! So that everyone knows that he is a changed man—that God has worked in his life and he has humbled himself and repented of his sin!


You see, friends, this highlights once again that the goal of church discipline is always restorative and redemptive, and never retributive. Church discipline is not about shaming people for the sake of shaming them. There’s no sense of vindictiveness or vengeance that says, “Well, this person got what was coming to him!” No, from the beginning the goal has always been that the shame of being removed from the fellowship and privileges of membership within the body of Christ would drive the sinning brother to consider the seriousness of his sin, and would bring about the godly sorrow that leads to repentance, which leads to life and salvation. Discipline is never carried out triumphantly, with an attitude that says, “Glad to be rid of him! ‘Hey, don’t let the door hit you on the way out!’” No! The attitude is always that we administer this discipline with a heavy heart, but with the fervent prayer that God would bring this person to repentance, so we can restore our brother or sister to our number with their sin dealt with.


Again, I love the manifest justice of this whole process. Listen to Calvin commenting on this passage. He says, “This passage ought to be carefully observed, as it shows us, with what equity and clemency the discipline of the Church ought to be regulated, in order that there may not be undue severity. There is need of strictness, in order that the wicked may not be rendered more daring by impunity, which is justly pronounced an allurement to vice. But on the other hand, as there is a danger for the person who is chastised becoming dispirited, moderation must be used as to this—so that the Church shall be prepared to extend forgiveness, so soon as she is fully satisfied as to his penitence” (150). You see, there is no domineering despotism in the practice of church discipline. Church discipline is not a weapon for overbearing leaders to wield in the demonstration and vindication of their spiritual authority.


And unfortunately that’s how some pastors and churches handle these situations. A couple years ago I came across a situation where a dictatorial pastor required that a disciplined member who was repentant be required to listen to 52 sermons on the topic of her supposed sin issue—one per week for a year—and hand in detailed notes from each before she would be restored to fellowship! Now friends that is nothing less than abuse of this scriptural practice of church discipline! That kind of thing is light years away from anything the Apostle Paul had ever conceived! Of course, one who professes to be repentant must indeed bear fruits in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8). But that kind of thing is nothing short of tyrannical!


And friends, that same tyrannical spirit can exist within our own hearts. The great majority of you are not going to find yourselves in a position to misuse spiritual authority in matters of church discipline. But you will have the opportunity to be hesitant to receive a sinning brother or sister back into your good graces after they have repented. When someone sins against you, it is hard not to take that personally. It’s hard to forgive that person from the heart. It’s so hard that we find ourselves thinking and saying things like, “Well, I forgive them, but I don’t forget. Sure I forgive them, because I know that Christ commands me to forgive, but hey, I’m not stupid. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. There’s no way I’m going to let myself be vulnerable with that person again! They need to do this, that, and the other thing to prove to me that they’re really repentant!” And just like that you exhibit the attitude of that despotic pastor who demands a laundry list of duties. Just like that you begin to sound like a Roman Catholic priest who demands acts of penance, when you know that’s not what your Lord demands from you—when you know that, because of the sufficiency of the work of Christ to satisfy God’s wrath, all that’s required for God to forgive you is your genuine, heartfelt repentance.


One commentator diagnoses this problem perfectly. He writes, “When people ‘forgive’ one another, an uneasiness often prevents them from treating the offender as if that person is completely restored” (Kistemaker, 78). Another says, “The tendency of human nature is to hold the offender at arm’s length, to forgive but not forget, to say ‘I receive you back,’ but to treat the person like a leper” (Storms, 60). But that is not what Paul prescribes in this passage. He says they are to formally, publicly, and officially reaffirm their love for this repentant man. He leaves no room for hypocritical formalism—no room for someone to say, “Yeah, yeah, I love you, welcome back.” “Sure, sure I forgive you, but I’m going to go ahead and sit on this side of the worship center while you can sit on that side.” It doesn’t work that way. There is to be full-on, heartfelt, love-filled forgiveness that is demonstrated by the warmth and care of the family of God. It’s something of the spirit that the Father demonstrated as he welcomed back his prodigal son. It’s to look that person in the eye, and to embrace them, and from the depths of your heart to tell them, “Brother, I’m so glad you’re back.”


The Purpose: To Stand against Satan’s Schemes (vv.10b–11)


So if the church is going to faithfully deal with sin in its midst, it needs to progress through these five stages. Where there is harmful sin, there must be corporate discipline. And that corporate discipline must be carried out until there is genuine repentance. But where there has been genuine repentance there must be comforting forgiveness and loving reaffirmation.


But what is the purpose of all of this? I know we’ve spoken about the ultimate purpose—that Christ would be glorified when His people esteem His worthiness so highly that they deal with sin in the church so that Christ might have the pure Bride that He is worthy of. But Paul speaks specifically of another purpose, especially of forgiving repentant brothers and sisters, and welcoming them back into the fellowship of the church. Look with me at verses 10 and 11. Starting in the middle of verse 10, Paul says, “For indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.” The purpose for which we dedicate ourselves to the task dealing with sin in the church—and especially to the task of welcoming repentant sinners with comforting forgiveness and loving reaffirmation—is so that we stand against the schemes of Satan.


This word that gets translated “schemes” is a Greek term that has a wide range of meaning. It can be translated “devices,” “plots,” “strategems,” or “machinations.” This passage presents Satan, our great enemy and adversary, as a master strategist who is absolutely consumed with inflicting as much misery and discord among the people of God that he has an entire arsenal of carefully-planned strategies for weakening and neutralizing the church. In one of the best books you’ll ever read, Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices, Puritan Thomas Brooks reminds us about the character of our enemy. He says, “Beloved, Satan being fallen from light to darkness, from felicity to misery, from heaven to hell, from an angel to a devil, is so full of malice and envy that he will leave no means unattempted, whereby he may make all others eternally miserable with himself” (15). And in that book, Brooks goes on to list no less than thirty-eight devices or stratagems of Satan, and then offers multiple remedies for each. Speaking of the schemes of the devil, he writes, “[The word] signifies such snares as are laid behind one, such treacheries as come upon one’s back at unawares. It notes the methods or waylaying of that old subtle serpent, who, like Dan’s adder ‘in the path,’ biteth the heels of passengers, and thereby transfuseth his venom to the head and heart (Gen 49.17) The word signifies an ambushment or stratagem of war, whereby the enemy sets upon a man at unawares. . . . It signifies such as are purposefully, [cunningly], and craftily set for the taking the prey at the greatest advantage that can be” (27).


Satan is continuously and actively planning his craftily conceived assaults upon the people of God. And we are called to be just as active in preparing ourselves to stand against these manifold schemes. Ephesians 6:11 says, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” There is this active, offensive way in which we stand against Satan’s devices, and that is to put on the full armor of God: the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, and so on. But in our text, in 2 Corinthians 2:11, Paul shows that there is another way we stand against Satan’s schemes. We don’t just play offense; we also play defense. He says, “. . .we are not ignorant of his schemes.” Now that means that we are to acquaint ourselves with Satan’s stratagems. You hear it all the time growing up playing sports, don’t you: “Offense is important, but defense wins games.” And if your team has access to the opposing team’s playbook, you would be a fool not to study it and prepare yourselves for the attacks that they’re planning to make on you. And in the same way, if we know the enemy’s battle plan, it makes him easier to resist. If we have any hope of competing in this battle against such an experienced and well-studied enemy, we need to apprise ourselves of his schemes, and study diligently to defend against them.


And we’ve seen two of those schemes as we’ve examined the Corinthians’ dealings with the offender. The first scheme of Satan that we’ve observed in this situation is this: Satan destroys the purity of the church by deceiving God’s people into treating sin too leniently. Satan loves an impure church! Satan loves a church that is tolerant of sin! And so he deceitfully schemes to convince those who profess to be God’s people that it is unloving to confront sin in one another—that it is unloving and judgmental to practice church discipline! And just as he did with the Lord Jesus on the pinnacle of the temple during His temptation, Satan will even twist Scripture to deceive God’s people: “Well you know what Jesus said, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged!’” “No, Satan. On the other hand it is written in John 7:24, ‘Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment’! Satan loves a tolerant, impure church, because a church that fails to deal with sin in its midst is promised to forfeit God’s blessing and the Spirit’s power. And the Corinthians played right into his hands when they refused to discipline the offender for his factiousness.


But! The second scheme of Satan that we observe in this situation is—not only that Satan destroys the purity of the church by deceiving God’s people into treating sin too leniently—but, number two: Satan destroys the unity of the church by deceiving God’s people into treating sinners too severely. And here we see the wretched deceitfulness of Satan put on full display! Because he will tempt the people of God to sin even in our practice of righteousness! The Corinthians had fallen prey to Satan’s temptation to be tolerant of sin with the offender. But then, after they had repented and committed themselves to dealing with sin in the church biblically, they fell prey to Satan’s temptation to be harsh in their administration of discipline and unforgiving of the man who had nevertheless repented! Oh how he loves to swing the pendulum! How he loves to cause people to serve sin in the very moment they believe they are serving righteousness! How he loves to exploit good desires for righteousness and tempt us to become self-righteous.


You see, friends, when we do follow God’s Word and faithfully administer discipline to an unrepentant brother or sister, but then, after there is genuine repentance, fail to receive that brother or sister with comforting forgiveness and loving reaffirmation, we give the devil a foothold (cf. Eph 4:27); to use Paul’s words in verse 11: we allow ourselves to be taken advantage of by Satan. That kind of unforgiveness plays right into his hands! Now a true child of God is broken off from the fellowship of God’s people, and is given over to the helpless despair and overwhelming sorrow of being repentant but not being forgiven. Pastor John captures this so well. He writes, “God wants a humble, merciful, joyful, loving, obedient fellowship; Satan wants one where sin reigns supreme. If sin is confronted, Satan wants it done so in a harsh, graceless, merciless manner. Both failing to deal with sin and failing to forgive repentant sinners can destroy a church. . . . An unforgiving spirit plays right into the devils hands and gives him the leverage he needs to split a church apart” (MacArthur, 61).


And so we need to be on guard against this, GraceLife! We who long for the purity of Christ’s Church need to be on guard against Satan’s plots to exploit our zeal for righteousness and turn us into a merciless, inflexible, self-righteous, unforgiving people. We who desire for justice to be done and God’s Word to be honored, and therefore do not tolerate sin—we need to cultivate our hearts to be the readiest to forgive at the first signs of a brother’s repentance! We cannot allow what is a good desire to see sin dealt with in the church to become exploited by our enemy by refusing to forgive those who sin against us, or by mouthing forgiveness while harboring a bitter spirit of animosity and resentment that works nothing but dissension in the body of Christ, even if it’s silent dissension. No, let us be eager to forgive one another from the heart, “so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.”




And perhaps you’re here this morning, and as you hear God’s Word preached you recognize that you are utterly incapable of the forgiving spirit that God calls you to in this passage. You sit and listen to the exhortations to forgive truly and from the heart and you think, “Yeah, that is just not me. There’s no way I can do that.” Or perhaps you find the virtue of forgiveness attractive! You see the glory and the godliness of it, and you’re ready to leave this morning hot in your moralistic pursuit of becoming a more forgiving person! I tell you right now: that pursuit is pointless apart from true, saving faith in Jesus Christ. The answer to overcoming your unforgiveness and becoming a more forgiving person does not lie within you. You are utterly incapable of obeying this command of God from the heart, because you, along with the rest of the human race, have been totally corrupted from the very core of your being. And no amount of behavior modification or sensitivity training or outward moral reform will purify your sinful heart.


No, friend, for you to forgive like God calls you to forgive, you need a new heart. You need to be born all over again. Before you could ever live out the graciousness of true forgiveness, you need to experience the grace of God in His forgiveness of your sins through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. I call you to look to Christ this morning!


We’ve spoken about Satan’s schemes. Well the greatest scheme of all is mentioned just a little bit later on in the book of 2 Corinthians in chapter 4 verse 4, where Paul says, “[Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Satan’s chief stratagem is to blind the eyes of your heart to the worth and the loveliness and the glory of Jesus Christ, so that you refuse Him who is most precious because you are blind to His value.


But I call you to look to Christ this morning! Look at Him upon that cross—the perfectly righteous, sinless Son of God—bearing in His own person the full exercise of His Father’s wrath against your sin! Look at Him accomplishing forgiveness for your sin of unforgiveness! Look at the Author of Life humbly submitting to death, so that rebel sinners like you and me can be justly freed from the penalty that we deserve! See His glory! And see how His loveliness and worthiness utterly dwarfs every sinful pleasure that you could ever hope to be satisfied with! And turn from those false pleasures, and run to embrace the absolute treasure that is Jesus Christ with the open arms of saving faith! Repent of your sins, and trust Christ this morning for your forgiveness.


And to my brothers and sisters who have beheld that glory, and have received that forgiveness, look to Christ afresh, and receive in Him all the grace and the strength to imitate Him in the laying aside of His own rights and privileges, and bend the grace of the Gospel out to repentant sinners in loving, comforting, reaffirming forgiveness.