Coming back home had to be a difficult thing to do. Not only had the prodigal son squandered his entire life savings and well-being, but in the process he had shamed and dishonored his entire family. His actions and words had effectively told his father he wished he were dead. As he walked back to his boyhood home, I imagine he dreaded the reunion with his family. How would they receive him? How would their judgmental gaze feel when they saw him? Would his father even speak to him? (Luke 15:11-32).
For the Corinthian church, this challenge stood before them as well. While we are left to guess the details of the situation Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 2, it is apparent that someone in the church had deeply sinned and wronged the body. Paul speaks of that person causing “pain,” not only to him but to the entire church (v. 5). The sin was devastating to the believers in Corinth. And yet, standing on the other side of the door, like the prodigal son, was this wretch of a human broken by his deeds and asking for restoration and forgiveness. How would they respond?
Rooted in the reality of the gospel, Paul calls the church to display the very forgiveness they have received in Christ. Instead of keeping the repentant outcast at an arm’s length and shunning him, the reality of the gospel calls them to “reaffirm your love to him” (v. 8). More than being a kind gesture, this is a test to the church. The test being this: Do you really understand the gospel? Does your understanding translate into obedience to the gospel?
Herein lies the test for us as well. How do we receive those who have sinned against us? While the pain of others’ sin against us is deep, when they come to their senses and return to us repentant and asking for forgiveness, how will we respond to them? Will realities like “forgiveness” and “comfort” and “love” flow from us to those who have wounded us and our church community? Will we be “the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing?” (v. 15).
When we view the nature of what Christ has done, we are confronted with the reality that this is exactly what He has done for us. He has taken our guilt upon Himself and paid for our sins in His death. He has welcomed us, forgiven us, and what’s more, He loves us! This good news for us is exactly how we are to receive those who return back in repentance. Instead of shaming and shunning, the Father restores His prodigal sons. Because He loved us first, we, too, can receive them with love (1 John 4:19).
Written by Jeremy Writebol