The Joy of Restoration
When I saw the overview of the special on "Church Discipline," I was impressed with the completeness of the assigned topics, and I look forward to reading the other articles in this issue. At the same time, I observed that, probably, of all the topics to be considered, this one on "The Joy of Restoration" has been neglected more by those of us who preach than any other. Recently, I heard a speaker say that "we often hear Paul quoted on discipline: 'Put away the wicked man from among yourselves' (1 Cor. 5:13); 'Mark them that are causing the division and occasions of stumbling contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and turn away from them' (Rom. 16:17); 'Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly' (2 Thess. 3:6). But we seldom hear 2 Corinthians 2 applied to the same subject. This passage is essential because if our attitude is not right, our action will not be right! "
Those Who Take The Action
This quote just taken from a speech made by Peter Wilson, and the impact of Paul's teaching in 2 Corinthians 2, has to do with the attitude of those who have withdrawn their fellowship from an erring brother or sister. Unless the action has been undertaken with the proper motive and in the right spirit, fervent, sincere joy cannot follow when the sinner repents. We recognize, of course, that Paul wrote by inspiration (1 Cor. 2:6-16), but how consistent it was for him to speak to them in the second chapter of the second letter about their attitude toward the erring brother who had repented. The whole of the first letter was directed toward correcting mistakes. Sharp rebuke was aimed at these Corinthians regarding a number of things. But the rebuke and the plea for correction came from a heart filled with love. It is interesting to note that after the first letter was written, Paul left Ephesus and came to Troas to preach the gospel, and in his own words, "A door opened unto me of the Lord" (2 Cor. 2:12-13). But he was so disturbed over the reception of the letter that he "had no rest in his spirit." He didn't know if the Corinthians would rebel or be humble and repent. But he was so deeply concerned over their spiritual welfare that he couldn't even preach the gospel until he learned of their attitude. What we are saying is, when an action is taken against a sinner with the love Paul had for the Corinthians, nothing but fervent, sincere joy can follow in the wake of repentance.
1 Corinthians 5 deals with a terrible moral problem within the Corinthian church. One of the members was living with his father's wife and the church had taken no action against the erring brother. The Holy Spirit's command is "deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 5:5). Furthermore, instructions were given "not to keep company" and "with such an one no not to eat" (v. 11). The Corinthians obeyed the Spirit's instructions - they delivered the erring brother to Satan by withdrawing from him, and the action had the desired effect. The erring brother repented, and this occasioned the teaching of 2 Corinthians 2. "Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many, so that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him" (vv. 7,8).
Five words in this passage need emphasis. First, the action taken was "sufficient." It was enough! Any time we do what we are told to do in God's Word, that is sufficient. Doing more than we are told brings sin (2 John 9-11). These Corinthians could not (with God's approval) do anything that would add to the man's burden. The second word worthy of special consideration is "contrariwise." This word indicates a 180 degree turn from the idea of inflicting more "punishment" on the sinner who had repented. The New King James Version says, "on the contrary." Now, the direction these brethren are to take after they had completely turned from the idea of inflicting even more censure is to "forgive" and "comfort" and these two words need emphasis. Does the Lord, when He forgives us, then lay extra burdens on us? Does He, when we try to get up, knock us down another time or two in order to impress the gravity of the sin we committed? The truth is that "as far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us" (Psa. 103:12). In defining the word "comfort," the dictionary says, "to soothe in time of grief or fear; to console . . . help, assistance." The sinner who has repented needs help, assistance and consolation. And if he does not receive it, it may be, as Barclay says, "the last push into the arms of Satan." Then the word "confirm" or "reaffirm" (NKJ) is important. Let our action toward the sinner who has repented be such that our love for him is proven. Let there be no doubt in his mind that we are deeply concerned for him, and certainly the joy we manifest at his restoration will be one of the confirming signs of our love.
Matters of Judgment
At this point in our discussion of the erring child of God, his repentance and confession of sin and our joy at his restoration, comes a difficult problem that occasionally results in differences of opinion and confusion. If he is not immediately given back all of his former responsibilities in the local church, does that mean that those responsible have not really forgiven? Is this an indication that their joy at his restoration has been hypocritical?
To make a concrete illustration, suppose it is discovered that the treasurer of a local church has been skimming the contribution and about $10,000 has been stolen. When he is confronted with his sin, he repents, confesses before the church, and makes arrangements to gradually replace the amount that was stolen. If the elders then decide to give another deacon the responsibilities of being treasurer, have the elders committed sin? Are they duty bound to let the erring brother retain his "job" in order to obey the command to "forgive," "comfort," and "confirm their love"?
We believe the story Jesus told in Luke 15 certainly has a direct bearing on "The Joy of Restoration," and there may be some implications in the story that would help us with the problem under consideration. The joy that heaven has "over one sinner that repenteth" is made clear in the story of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and even more impressively in the return of the prodigal son. And our attitude must not be that of the older brother. Our love must come out of a pure heart and our joy must be unfeigned. When the prodigal son "came to himself," his attitude was, "I will arise and go to my father, and I will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and I am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants." This boy was humble! He did not come home looking to be given the responsibilities he had when he left. To him, being taken back by his father with outstretched arms, and being restored to his home as a son and not a servant, was surely beyond his fondest expectations! He could have cared less what jobs his father would see fit to give him. Would not his humility have demanded that he be grateful, rather than his restoration being the basis for demands on his father? And would not the jobs or responsibilities his father gave him upon his return be a matter of judgment? No one can read these lines without seeing the reasoning involved which, if we be correct, simply illustrates that these matters involve judgment decisions resting on the elders.
The Joy of Being Restored
There is not a Christian reading these lines but what knows personally the joy of restoration. None of us may have stolen from the church treasury or killed in the heat of passion, but all of us have sinned. And what greater joy can one have in this life than to feel the load of guilt lifted and replaced with a close communion with God? What child of God has not at one time or another, gone to bed at night sick at heart over some thing, said or done, unbecoming to a Christian? And then comes the decision to make it right with the person involved and with God. Following this, a prayer reminiscent of David's plea in Psalms 51, and the result is joy unspeakable and a peace that passes understanding. The story of the wayward son in Luke 15 does not mention the joy of this boy when his father took him back, but it was unnecessary. It will come as surely as day follows night. What we need to learn and continually have impressed on our hearts is that there is no communion with God in a "far country," that the way home must be preceded by the decision to go back and confess, that the good intentions must be put in action, and finally, that once we start back, God is there to welcome us, and every saint with a pure heart will rejoice in our return.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 19, pp. 588-589