In 2 Cor 2:5-11 we witness a church that is first apathetic about exercising church discipline in a situation in which it was essential to do so. And, subsequently, overly reluctant and hesitant to exercise restoration and reconcilliation when it was essential to do so.
Someone had offended agains the church and against Paul. We don't know who they were or what the offence was. (From later in the letter we might infer that it was some kind of blatant sexual sin, hardly unknown in Corinth). Initially there was no sanction brought against the person until Paul wrote insisting on it.
The result was a divided church. A majority united in bringing a judgement and sanction that "discouraged", but a minority clearly felt, for whatever reason, that the man shouldn't be punished. The sanction probably meant exclusion from the main church gatherings.
It isn't explicit that the man subsequently repented, but it is strongly implied. The sanction clearly had the necessary effect. However, where the church was initially too slow to bring discipline now they are too slow to restore the man to fellowship. His continued removal is bringing him grief that is unnecessary and is in danger of permanenely damaging or destroying his faith (v7). The church needs to forgive and restore not only for his sake, but also for their own as the way things stood Satan had an opportunity to make hay by causing division in the church.
I take the following lessons from this passage:
- While churches should be very cautious about exercising discipline against a member, to be too slow to do so is potentially very dangerous. Why were they too slow? We aren't told. Maybe it was because they knew it would cause a division between a majority and a minority. That would be a very understandable concern, but the lesson here is that it is worse to not bring discipline than it is to cause such a division. Maybe it was because some in the church didn't think that the church or its leaders have the right to bring discipline. That is, the minority didn't just support the man, they refused the whole notion of church discipline. If so they were badly mistaken
- The sanction did not imply that the man was no longer loved (v8). This was applied to a dearly loved brother, for the effect of bringing repentance. It is possible for offence against a church to lead to unloving rather than loving discipline. Sanction should never be brought without tears and deep concern for the offender's welfare
- As soon as it has done its job sanction should be replaced with forgiveness, restoration and comfort. Never let this be delayed. If it is, then the church is guilty of producing unnecessary grief, possibly damaging a person's faith, and allowing Satan to harm fellowship by creating division. Why might a church be slow to restore? Because of feeling hurt or betrayed? For fear that "they will do it all over again"? Or because the discipline was carried out in a heated rather than careful manner, accompanied by hardening of hearts and attitudes, that makes it difficult for those bringing the sanction to back down? We should note how Paul takes very great care to describe the situation accurately and coolly. He doesn't dismiss the offence and need for discipline, but neither does he exaggerate the situation because his feelings were hurt
Churches that are serious about Christ being honoured cannot simply dismiss behaviour that damages his honour. Churches that are serious about Christ's grace cannot fail to forgive and extend grace speedily to people who repent.