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Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. 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. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.  2 Corinthians 2:5-11

The reputation of the Christian seems to endure constant scrutiny. In modern perception wars often driven by media and public opinion, the Body of Christ seems to suffer many blows. Sometimes we see a heavy-handed characterization of Christians as people with unrealistic moral standards, which is contrasted with the public moral failures of prominent church figures. Sometimes we see reality shows portraying an image of believers that places a constant emphasis on their hypocrisy and fame-seeking. And sometimes we even see public acts of violence against professing Christians based on extreme hostility towards any ideas rooted in biblical principles.

These are external issues that the Church has always faced. However, what often more deeply erodes the very identity of God’s people is a silent, internal assassin. Despite the fact that the beloved Bride of Christ has received a priceless pardon from God, we constantly find ourselves wrestling with the issue of interpersonal forgiveness.

The term “church hurt” has recently pervaded many discussions in the wake of seeker-friendly fellowships and the marketing campaigns of massive ministry organizations. Everyone seems to be promising a community that can be trusted—filled with smiling, God-loving people who just can’t wait to lock arms with you in friendship. However, I have often found that many of these campaigns are not truly centered on a community that is forgiving. Far too many times, people nervously tiptoe through church relationships, afraid to display the real version of themselves for fear that they will be directly or indirectly ostracized—sacrificed on the altar of a good-looking church commercial.

What do I mean by that? Since we are the church, we should champion righteousness and truth, right? Yes! Absolutely! However, by championing righteousness, we should make our primary celebration a systematic exaltation of the one who exemplifies this—our Lord Christ. In our interactions with one another, we must constantly call to mind that this same Jesus preemptively decided to forgive us and grant us the grace to trust Him. We have a great opportunity to worshipfully display our gratitude for this gift by lavishing it on one another. It is always helpful to remember that we were all in need of rescuing , and no lawbreaker was better than the other (Rom. 3:23). In light of this, when we are cultivating the internal environments of our churches, we should prepare our hearts and minds to forgive. We should anticipate the messy, dilapidated aspects of everyday people and meet them head on—not with our own righteousness—but with the grace extended to us.

What Paul says here in 2 Corinthians is very touching. He instructs the church not only to forgive the one who sinned, but he also displays three amazing applications:

1) Forgiveness as a measure of avoiding excessive sorrow.

What love this shows! Paul exercises care for the individual and “begs” the Body to “reaffirm their love” for the sinner.

2) Forgiveness by example.

“If you have forgiven him, so have I.” By virtue of Paul’s stature, this type of declaration settles the murmurs of how sin in the church should be handled. He affirms the procedure and closes the door on further contention.

3) Forgiveness to evade the snare of Satan.

A lack of forgiveness oftentimes snowballs to gossip, bitterness, and a loss of trust. Paul gives an awareness of this danger that serves to immediately diffuse the risk of unresolved tension.

What a fantastic salvation we have been called into! Let us model the immeasurable gift given to us in how we interact with one another. We don’t need to run God’s PR campaign , but Jesus says that the outside world should know us by our internal treatment of one another. Let forgiveness be our preemptive pursuit.

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