Uniform 08.10.2014: Moving Forward Through Forgiveness

2 Corinthians 1:23–2:11

When Paul writes 2 Corinthians, both he and the congregation in Corinth are recovering from a “painful visit” (2:1). After spending a lot of time in Corinth, Paul had returned, hoping to reconnect with friends and continue guiding the young church. But he had been greeted with distrust and accusations of insincerity. From 2:5-8, we learn that one person was particularly hurtful to Paul on that visit. The experience was so troubling for Paul that he cut his trip short, and this week’s text explains that he is not yet ready to return.

His reasons for keeping his distance are easy to understand. It’s hard to go back to an environment or community that has been the source of pain. Paul knows that going back to Corinth too soon could cause him—and his friends—more distress. However, Paul makes it clear that he doesn’t intend for his absence to be permanent, and he pleads with the Corinthians to make peace among themselves while he’s gone. He’s heard that the members of the church have cut off the person who was especially unkind during his visit, and he wants them to find a way to forgive him and move on. Paul worries about the toll harboring negative feelings takes on the community as a whole as well as the “excessive sorrow” (2:7) of the person being punished by them.

As it turns out, Paul is right to be worried about his Corinthian friends who refuse to forgive. Psychologists have discovered that sustained feelings of resentment can have negative consequences for our health. Forgiveness, however, offers health benefits, both emotional and physical.

At Virginia Commonwealth University, psychology professor Everett Worthington studies these issues. After dealing with his mother’s murder and his brother’s suicide, Worthington understands the power of forgiving both others and ourselves. He’s even developed a step-by-step process to help people forgive each other.

For Paul’s situation, Worthington might point out the difference between what he calls “decisional forgiveness” and “emotional forgiveness.” Paul wants the Corinthians to decide to forgive the wrongdoer in their community and begin acting differently toward him. But Paul also wants them to experience new, positive emotions instead of the anger and resentment that infect the church. Through love and empathy, Paul hopes that he and the Corinthians can resolve their differences and move forward as friends and fellow believers. For the sake of his health and the health of the community, Paul preaches forgiveness.


Karin Kapsidelis, “VCU psychologist advocates forgiveness, for health’s sake,” timesdispatch.com, 20 July 2014 http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/vcu-psychologist-advocates-forgiveness-for-health-s-sake/article_9e6818ea-2eea-534f-baec-56a74a2402c4.html.


1. Have you ever been deeply hurt by someone close to you? Think about that experience. How did you address the situation? How did you move on?
2. How have you been guilty of hurting people you care about, even if it was unintentional? How did you experience forgiveness?
3. Are there communities you find it difficult to be present with because of previous painful experiences? What would it take for you to feel comfortable among those people again?
4. What negative feelings have you experienced while struggling to forgive someone? How did those feelings change when you were able to forgive them?
5. Consider the difference between “decisional forgiveness” and “emotional forgiveness.” Which do you think is easier? Why? Which is most important?

Reference Shelf

Let us now sound a note of caution: we should not automatically assume that the person who attacked Paul was a “bad guy.” We have already noted inconsistencies in Paul’s thought in this letter—perhaps the man was raising just such an issue, maybe even speaking frankly to Paul (should frank speech flow both ways if people are genuinely friends?). Or maybe he took seriously the nature of the ekkl∑sia as a place for open debate about the course of their lives and offered an alternative perspective to Paul. Since these believers were all new at following Jesus, disagreements and debates were inevitable. Nor should we assume that the majority siding with Paul indicates that Paul was “right.” We all know of minority views that turned out to be the truer position. On the other hand, maybe the man was theologically dangerous and a real jerk. The point is, we don’t know and should not automatically demonize someone who was, after all, a fellow believer.

Whatever this man was about, Paul was grieved by the situation, left Corinth, and wrote the emotional letter that had galvanized the majority into action. They finally rallied round Paul and punished his attacker, though we have no idea what form the punishment took. In fact, Paul now feared they would go too far. The punishment was sufficient and should stop lest the man be “drowned by excessive grief ” (v. 7b). Instead, Paul wants them to forgive and console (parakalein) him (v. 7a) and to reaffirm their love for him (v. 8).


Paul calls the Corinthian believers to forgive his offender so that they do not let Satan take advantage. In our time, South African Bishop Desmond Tutu has offered a powerful witness to the truth of Paul’s words. In his book No Future without Forgiveness he teaches the rest of us what he learned through his participation in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There is, he says, “a movement at the heart of things to reverse the awful centrifugal force of alienation, brokenness, division, hostility, and disharmony. God has set in motion a centripetal force, a moving toward the center,” toward reconciliation among us all that begins with forgiveness. What each of us does hinders or advances this process. Forgiveness isn’t pretending that things are other than they are. It requires exposing the awfulness, abuse, pain, degradation, the truth. In forgiving, people are not required to forget. Instead, “it is important to remember, so that we should not let such atrocities happen again.” Nor is forgiveness being sentimental. It means “abandoning your right to pay back the perpetrator in his own coin, but it is a loss that liberates the victim.” Forgiveness is, he says, “a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end dealing with the real situation helps to bring healing. Spurious reconciliation can only bring spurious healing.” And then, Paul says, Satan has the advantage over us.


Mitzi L. Minor, 2 Corinthians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 43, 49-50.

Bonnie Chappell is the editor of the Uniform Series Bible Study. She is a graduate of Mercer University and Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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