“Word for Today” – 2 Corinthians 2 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Have you ever heard this well-worn proverb? I have. Usually from someone who has been wronged in a monumentally significant and deeply painful way. “I’m never going to let them do that to me again!” they exclaim. “I’m never going to trust them! They won’t be able to fool me again!”
Usually, in a conversation like this one, I will try to help the wronged person understand the difference between foolishness and forgiveness. “Foolishness,” I say, “is when you put yourself in a position where your perpetrator can recklessly and dangerously hurt you. Forgiveness,” I continue, “is when you give up your right to wish hurt on them.” Sadly, this important distinction is often lost on a freshly wounded heart. Objections usually come immediately and vociferously: “I can’t forgive him!” they might say. “If I let my guard down for even a second, he’ll get me again! There’s no way I’ll ever be able to trust him again!”
As hard as it may seem, this distinction between foolishness and forgiveness is a vital one to take to heart. As Christians, we are certainly called to avoid foolishness: “Stay away from a foolish man, for you will not find knowledge on his lips” (Proverbs 14:7). Yet, at the same time we are called to eschew foolishness, we are also called to embrace forgiveness.
Indeed, this is the exhortation that Paul gives the Corinthians in our reading for today from 2 Corinthians 2. Apparently, there was a man among this congregation who had grieved and embarrassed its members greatly by his sin. And, in accordance with sound doctrine, the Corinthians had disciplined this man. But now, this man has repented and sought forgiveness and restoration. And so, Paul tells the Corinthians: “The punishment inflicted on this man by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive him and comfort him” (verses 6-7). I can imagine what the reflexive protestations from the Corinthian congregants must have sounded like: “What do you mean forgive him and comfort him? This guy almost wrecked our church with his raucous behavior! If we forgive him, comfort him, and then restore him to our fold, he could bring us to the brink or destruction once more. He fooled us once, but he’s not going to fool us twice!”
Sadly, those who so stridently hold on to unforgiveness so that they will not be “fooled twice” are actually being played for fools. But they’re not being played for fools by their menacing perpetrators. They’re being played for fools by Satan. For unforgiveness strangles the soul and smothers the spirit – Satan’s very goal and desire for us. That is why Paul encourages the Corinthians to be timely and sincere in their forgiveness: “In order that Satan might not outwit us” (verse 11).
And so, today I call you to choose forgiveness over foolishness. And I’m under no delusion about the difficulty that this choice involves. Indeed, this choice was difficult even for God. So difficult, in fact, that it literally killed him…on a cross. And yet, I must say lovingly, but also truthfully, that one of the most foolish things you can do is withhold forgiveness. For unforgiveness is nothing but a trick of the devil. So don’t let Satan play you for a fool. “Forgive each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
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