Today’s Reading: 2 Corinthians 2
Frightened by the storm’s thunder and lightning, little Gabby cried out for her parents. Her father entered her room and held her securely in his arms. He explained that she didn’t need to be afraid, since God would take care of her, because He loved her greatly. “Daddy, I know God will take care of me and He loves me,” she said. “But right now, Daddy, I just need someone with skin on to love me.”
God wants us to be His skin to express His love to people. Second Corinthians 2 is a plea for skin. It’s the challenge for the people of God to show the forgiveness of God:
If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. (2 Corinthians 2:5-8, NIV)
Many times we know that God forgives us. But the hard thing is feeling the forgiveness from others. We need forgiveness with skin on. God is not the only One who is called upon to pronounce forgiveness, we are too. And not just forgiveness but the part that puts the skin on the forgiveness. That’s in verse 7. We are called to do what Jesus did: He forgave and then gave us the comforter. And here Paul asks us to forgive. That’s the concept we do in our hearts toward an offense. And then the crazy part is that Paul says add comfort to our forgiveness.
The word comfort here is the same word used in the Gospel of John for the Holy Spirit when Jesus said, “I will send the Comforter.” The word means someone to walk alongside us. Paul isn’t just encouraging us to forgive, but also to close the distance with the person who caused the offense.
Paul is speaking about an offense that was caused to him and the church here in this chapter. An offense that has caused him sorrow.
Perhaps you remember the cartoon strip, Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin is a little boy with an overactive imagination and a stuffed tiger, Hobbes, who comes to life as his imaginary friend. In one cartoon strip, Calvin turns to Hobbes and says, “I feel bad I called Susie names and hurt her feelings. I’m sorry I did that.” Hobbes replies, “Maybe you should apologize to her.” Calvin thinks about it for a moment and then responds, “I keep hoping there’s a less obvious solution.”
Many believe the offense Paul is speaking about is one he first addressed in 1 Corinthians 5. There was a scandal in the church where an incestuous relationship was taking place. A man was living inappropriately with his stepmother. Second Corinthians 2 is the continuation of dealing with the brother who is starting to be broken and repentant over his sin.
There is a difference between forgiveness and probation. Probation says to the offender, I forgive you, but I don’t trust you. I forgive you but I’m watching you. When we say, in essence, “I will forgive, but I will not forget,” that is just another way of saying, “I will not forgive.” The comfort Paul speaks about is a deathblow to this probational way of thinking.
Martin Luther King Jr. summarized the kind of forgiveness Paul is talking about: “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude.” Because we are dealing with broken people who mess up. As Lewis Smedes said, “Gandhi was right: if we all live by ‘an eye for an eye’ the whole world will be blind. The only way out is forgiveness.”
Why is forgiveness and comfort so important? Because unforgiveness unlocks the door for satanic activity:
One whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes. (2 Corinthians 2:10-11)
When we fail to provide forgiveness, we welcome the devil. Do you want to know what spiritual warfare is? It’s fighting to forgive. This is a warning to us: this phrase, advantage would be taken of us by Satan, is one of the strongest warnings in the New Testament. It means direct involvement by the devil himself. That means we have a double problem: unforgiveness and demonic activity.
The devil takes “advantage,” gets more than he deserves, in the situation. Satan always wants more of you and me, and unforgiveness gives him that.
C. S. Lewis was telling the truth when he said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” Second Corinthians 2 takes the lovely idea of forgiveness and makes it alive with people really forgiving and adding proximity and reaffirming love to the one who needs it.
It’s skin on forgiveness.