Reflections on 2 Corinthians 2 and 3
What’s that smell?
There was a time when the church at Corinth was reluctant to deal with the sin among them. In a previous letter Paul pointed out an example of sin in the church that was being overlooked and ignored. It was the kind of sin that would make people blush even if they didn’t go to church. It was an episode of the Jerry Springer show unfolding within the church: a man had his father’s wife. And the church reacted not with grief but with pride. Paul said, “This should have torn you up, filled you with grief and sorrow, but instead, you are just letting this go.”
Have you ever been in a church that just seemed to ignore obvious sin? Why do you think that happens?
Somewhere between that other letter Paul wrote them and this letter that we are reading today, the people woke up. They began to see the sin for what it was — an affront to God and a disgrace to the church. They began to experience the grief that Paul told them was an appropriate response to sin.
And as a church they united to deal with the sin.
- No more sweeping it under the carpet.
- No more, “Well, we are just humans.”
- No more, “Well, God is going to forgive us; we can just keep on sinning.”
- No more, “Look at us, we don’t worry about that sin stuff.”
Instead, they dealt with it. They came together as a church family and dealt with the sin in their midst. You know, it is a powerful testimony when a church family gets real – when they stop spending all their time pointing out the sins of everybody else while acting as though they are perfect — and start spending time addressing their own sins.
In Paul’s previous letter he told them it wasn’t right to just ignore the sin in the church. Sin like this ought to bother them, a lot. The church ought to come together and address the problem. So they did. And as Paul writes this subsequent letter he has to another problem to deal with.
Now they were all filled with grief and had dealt with the sin in their church family, but they were having trouble forgiving and the sinner. So Paul writes to say, you are not finished dealing with this sin until you have forgiven the sinner. It’s time to comfort him.
Don’t let his sorrow destroy him.
The church needs to unite again, this time to reaffirm their love for the sinner. He needs to know that his actions were wrong, sure. But he also needs to know that he is forgiven and loved in the church.
Have you ever been in a church that had no trouble pointing out sin, but really struggled when it came to forgiving sinners?
So Paul is writing a church that at one point is having trouble taking sin seriously — and at another point it is having trouble taking forgiveness seriously. It’s like there is a pendulum swinging in this congregation – swinging from reluctance to deal with sin to reluctance to forgive.
Does that sound anything like us?
Paul tells them to forgive because of what Jesus has done. And he tells them to forgive because of what Satan is trying to do.
- Satan wants to destroy the church.
- Satan will try to get the church to ignore sin, take it lightly.
- Satan will try to get the church to become hypersensitive to sin and insensitive to the sinner.
- Satan will try to confuse the church on what is and what is not sin.
- Satan is trying to outwit us.
But we are God’s people. And God is leading a victorious procession. As a victorious army returned from battle they were led by the general in a victory parade. Behind the general would be his loyal troops and those they had taken into captivity. Incense would be burning. That incense was the smell of life to the victorious, but the smell of death to the captives. God leads the procession – this is His show. We are following Him. Are we following Him as part of the victorious army or are we following Him as conquered slaves?
God is leading us in a procession of forgiveness. To some it smells like life. To others, it smells like death. Paul says, who can possibly do this? To teach both holiness and forgiveness is a difficult task. How do you live in the tension of holiness and forgiveness? Paul lets them know that this balance is not found because he is such a great man and talented preacher – it is because God is at work. God is leading this parade!
This message of forgiveness is all about God, what He has done in Jesus and what He is doing by His Holy Spirit. The preaching is effective because it about God.The people are transformed because of God.
So what do you tell a church that at one point is reluctant to address sin and at another is reluctant to forgive sinners?
You tell them God wants to have a relationship through Jesus.
- You explain that relationship gives forgiveness and new life – it makes us right with God and, gives us boldness and confidence with God.
- You tell them about God’s glory (13 times) and how we are to reflect that glory.
- You watch the transformation take place. Little by little you see more of God and less of you.
- You look for continued growth as the Holy Spirit fills your heart and transforms you to be like God
The church is a community of faith where we are honest about our sin, where we come together to help one another recognize and address our sin where we forgive one another. All this happens — not because we have some super-elders or ministers; this happens not because we are just really good people; This kind of community happens because God is present and active. God is living in our hearts!
You smell that?
That’s honesty. That’s unity. That’s forgiveness. That’s love.
That smell—is the aroma of Christ!