Giving Forgiveness

August 6

Lesson 10

Devotional Reading:
Matthew 18:21–35

Background Scripture:
2 Corinthians 2:5–11; 7:2–15

Printed Text:
2 Corinthians 2:5–11; 7:2–15

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:

1. Tell how Paul responded to the evidence of repentance in the Corinthian church and what he urged them to do.

2. Explain why full forgiveness is essential when repentance has taken place.

3. Identify one person to whom he or she needs to extend forgiveness or from whom forgiveness should be asked.

How to Say It

Corinth. KOR-inth.

Corinthians. Ko-RIN-thee-unz.

Egypt. EE-jipt.

Ephesus. EF-uh-sus.

Macedonia. Mass-eh-DOE-nee-uh.

Titus. TY-tus.

Troas. TRO-az.

Daily Bible Readings

Monday, July 31—Forgive Others Their Trespasses (Matthew 6:9–15)

Tuesday, Aug. 1—Jesus Teaches About Forgiveness (Matthew 18:21–35)

Wednesday, Aug. 2—Forgive, So God May Forgive You (Mark 11:20–25)

Thursday, Aug. 3—You Also Must Forgive (Colossians 3:12–17)

Friday, Aug. 4—Forgive and Console Your Offender (2 Corinthians 2:5–11)

Saturday, Aug. 5—Paul’s Pride in the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 7:2–7)

Sunday, Aug. 6—Paul’s Joy at the Corinthians’ Repentance (2 Corinthians 7:8–16)

Key Verse

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

2 Corinthians 7:10

Why Teach This Lesson?

Counselors say that unresolved guilt is one of the great destroyers of relationships. When we feel guilty, we have a spiritual malaise that can incapacitate us. Yet guilt is caused by recognition of sin, and we all have sin in our lives. How, then, do we escape the debilitating effects of guilt?

In this lesson Paul deals with the root cause of this matter: the need for repentance and forgiveness. Confrontation of sin in the lives of Christian brothers and sisters can be extremely painful, as Paul well knew. He confronted the Corinthian church in several areas that caused them (and him) deep grief. But Paul knew that if repentance were shown and forgiveness were given, a sour relationship could become even stronger than it was before the confrontation.

God desires that we be people of forgiveness. By looking at how Paul dealt with his beloved church in Corinth, we will learn how we can develop our own churches into communities where forgiveness is practiced in a loving, godly manner.


A. Joseph’s Attitude

The Old Testament character Joseph models the ability to maintain a gracious spirit in spite of suffering. His divine gifts of wisdom and insight made him Jacob’s favorite son but also inspired the resentment of his brothers. In a fit of rage they mistreated him and sold him into slavery. He eventually wound up in prison in Egypt.

But God remained with him, and after a series of remarkable events, Joseph found himself to be second in command over all Egypt. From this exalted position, he could have exacted vengeance easily. A prime opportunity presented itself when his brothers came to purchase grain during a famine. But, incredibly, Joseph did not condemn them because, as he says in Genesis 45:8, “It was not you who sent me here, but God.”

Joseph was able to maintain this attitude because he saw God’s hand at work in the situation (see Genesis 45:4–7). Repairing relationships can be difficult, especially when we have suffered because of another person’s actions. The key lies in understanding that God is ultimately in control and that he can work his will in every situation.

B. Lesson Background

From an earlier lesson, we know that Paul founded the church at Corinth as noted in Acts 18:1–18. A few years later, Paul spent a significant amount of time in Ephesus. While there he received a letter from the Corinthians asking for guidance on several difficult issues (1 Corinthians 1:11; 7:1). He responded by sending the letter of 1 Corinthians and also by sending Timothy to assist the struggling church (4:17; 16:5–11).

But these remedies apparently were unsuccessful. After Timothy returned to Paul with the bad news, Paul paid them a “painful visit” (2 Corinthians 2:1). This was an unpleasant experience, as Paul apparently had to confront a number of individuals. Paul also suffered slanderous accusations (2 Corinthians 10, 11, 12:11).

After he returned to Ephesus, Paul sent Titus to supervise the situation. Upon hearing no report, he began to worry and decided to return to Corinth. On the way, however, he met Titus coming back to Ephesus over land through Macedonia (Acts 20:1, 2; 2 Corinthians 7:5–7).

Paul was generally pleased with Titus’s report, but some issues still needed to be addressed. He therefore sent the letter of 2 Corinthians to prepare the church for his impending return (2 Corinthians 13:1).

I. Merciful Judgment (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)

A. Sufficient Suffering (vv. 5, 6)

5. 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.

While in Ephesus, Paul received word that a member of the church in Corinth was having an affair with his stepmother. Paul recognized that the sin involved demanded that this man be barred from the fellowship until he repented (1 Corinthians 5). The Corinthians were tolerating something that should not be tolerated.

In the text before us, we see the opposite extreme. Apparently the Corinthians refuse to forgive a certain man even after he confesses his sin. (This may or may not be the same man in 1 Corinthians 5.) “To some extent,” Paul says, “what this individual said or did grieved all of us, not just me.” This sets the tone for the remainder of Paul’s remarks.

6. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him.

Disciplinary actions sometimes are needed to underscore the seriousness of sin or false doctrine. By barring the wayward individual from Christian fellowship, the church unites to let him know that he cannot continue to enjoy the company of the redeemed while such behavior continues. The New Testament presents three reasons for disfellowshiping: doctrinal defection (Romans 16:17, 18; 1 Timothy 6:3, 4; Titus 1:10–16), moral defection (1 Corinthians 5), and divisiveness (Romans 16:17, 18; Titus 3:10).

In the case at hand, Paul’s advice apparently was too effective! The Corinthians, roused from their complacency, apparently dismissed someone from the church for an appropriate reason. But the punishment the man received is now sufficient. The punishment has served its purpose in bringing him back to his senses.

Visual for Lesson 10.

Paul’s movements are complex. This map will help your students keep a perspective on a segment of one of his journeys.

B. Confirming Love (vv. 7, 8)

7. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.

There are two goals to the extreme action of disfellowshiping. One goal is to protect the church’s doctrinal and moral purity. The other goal is to bring about the repentance of the wayward believer. The church is not empowered to punish those who are outside the church; God himself will hand out their punishments in the next life.

What Do You Think?

When someone is to be restored to full fellowship in the church, what practical steps may be necessary for the offending individual to feel welcome again? What is necessary for others to accept that person and feel comfortable around him or her?

The church, instead, is to discipline the backslider who is within the church (1 Corinthians 5:12, 13). A person may be overwhelmed with sorrow and grief as a consequence. But if the final result is the person’s restoration to a relationship with Christ, then the best possible outcome has been achieved! Godly sorrow leads to repentance (see below).

8. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.

Even though this man has caused considerable grief, love must still be the guiding force, not anger and vindictiveness. Paul had reminded the Corinthians in his first letter that “love is patient, love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4). He now urges them to put this principle into action. Church discipline should have a redemptive purpose (Luke 17:3, 4; 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 15; James 5:19, 20).

What Do You Think?

Paul had to “sweat it out” about what would happen as someone else took his instructions to the church at Corinth. What practical advice might we gain from looking closely at Paul’s approach throughout this process?

C. Unanimous Forgiveness (vv. 9-11)

9. The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything.

There is a subtle warning behind this verse. Paul says that he has written as a test of their loyalty to his teaching. Obviously, if they fail to recognize his authority in such matters, then their obedience will again be called into question. As he says in 2 Corinthians 13:1–3, they need to be ready to answer for their actions when he comes on a third visit.

10. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake,

True repentance before Christ brings true forgiveness from Christ (1 John 1:9). The man in question probably has already received Christ’s forgiveness based on what Paul has just said in verses 7, 8. Will the Corinthians have the mind of Christ by forgiving that man as well?

Failure Isn’t Final

It was a typical chapel session on the campus of a certain Bible college. The academic dean was preaching on the ability of God to use even the most difficult moments of life to bring glory to his name. Near the end of his message, he called to the platform—to everyone’s surprise—a former professor who had been released from his teaching duties because of a moral failure.

The auditorium fell silent as the young man ascended to the podium. He had been much loved and greatly respected. All who knew his story had been hugely affected by the disclosure of the problems within his life.

The young man began by relating to the student body the nature of his struggles, errors in judgment, and behavior that had so affected his life and ministry. Then he spoke of God’s amazing grace working through his own repentance and the loving care and forgiveness of his people.

When he finished there was a keen awareness that we were witnessing the amazing work of God in his ability to use a horrible mistake to bring glory and honor to his name. What an encouragement to realize that God can work even in the midst of our mistakes to bring us back to him—if we will let him.

T. B.

What Do You Think?

If one person of a group forgives an individual, do all have to fall in line and also forgive? Why, or why not?

11.… in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

Satan loves to see people fall away from Christ, and he is having a field day with the Corinthians! Their unforgiving spirit is sinful in and of itself. Satan is taking advantage of the situation to keep the penitent backslider away from God for good. Paul hopes that they will see how counterproductive their actions are and that they will evaluate their own motives to be sure they aren’t doing more harm than good.

II. Paul’s Comfort (2 Corinthians 7:2-7)

A. Self-Defense (vv. 2, 3)

2. Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one.

When Paul returned to Corinth earlier, he apparently had been accused of misleading and exploiting the church (see 2 Corinthians 10:1–11). Paul thus sets an example of forgiveness by implying that he harbors no hard feelings in this regard. His motives and actions are always pure. Specifically, Paul never treated anyone disrespectfully, never said anything to encourage moral corruption, and never told the Corinthians what they wanted to hear just to get money (see 1 Corinthians 9:1–12). His actions were always honorable, thus the church is responsible for any hard feelings that ever passed between them.

3. I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you.

Although Paul is not responsible for the conflict, he does not lord it over the Corinthians. Even when he uses strong words, Paul’s goal is not to condemn. Instead, he always acts in their best interests. He models the type of loving forgiveness that he now asks them to demonstrate.

B. Encouraging Report (vv. 4-7)

4, 5. I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds. For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within.

Paul begins to review the recent situation. After his confrontational visit, Paul was forced to return quickly to Ephesus to attend to pressing concerns. He therefore sent his disciple Titus to manage the situation in Corinth (see v. 6, next).

The volatility of the situation left Paul plagued with doubts. At that point in time, Paul was making successful inroads in Troas (2 Corinthians 2:12, 13) but his concern for the Corinthians was such a distraction that he set out to visit them once more.

6. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus,

Paul’s fears turned to joy, however, when he met Titus halfway, in Macedonia. God’s comfort is a major theme in 2 Corinthians, and it is notable here that God’s comfort came to Paul through the report of Titus. God gave Paul spiritual peace in a difficult situation. But the Corinthians gave him an even deeper peace by resolving the problem (next verse).

7.… and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.

Paul wants to make clear that he wasn’t just happy to see that Titus had survived (as in “Praise God that those people didn’t kill you!”). What truly impressed him was Titus’s report that the Corinthians had decided to follow his advice and that they had an earnest desire to do so.

III. Good Guilt (2 Corinthians 7:8-15)

A. Paul’s Joy (vv. 8, 9a)

8. Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—

Many of Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians were very strong and could easily cause distress (see 2 Corinthians 2:3, 4). But true love does not seek simply to placate people; it seeks to do what is ultimately best for them. The Corinthians’ actions were displeasing to God, and Paul had to make them aware of this fact. Because they eventually responded in the proper way, Paul can look back on the situation and say that he does not really regret his actions. Any sorrow was temporary, and the result was well worth it.

9.… yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance.

Paul is not happy to have hurt anyone’s feelings. He rejoices, rather, that strong words led the Corinthians to repent—to change their minds and take the correct course of action.

B. Godly Sorrow (vv. 9b-11)

9, 10. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

Guilt is a powerful force. In our spiritual lives, feelings of guilt can lead to conviction of heart (examples: Psalm 51; Acts 2:37). Sorrow of this type reflects what God desires. We should feel ashamed when we sin, but that feeling should lead us to repent. If our feelings of guilt lead to transformation, then it is truly godly in the sense that it helps us to grow in obedience.

Willing to Change?

One quiet evening the smiling face of the youngest elder of our church appeared at my office door. I had been waiting because I knew he wanted to discuss something. We always had had an amiable relationship, so I was intrigued by what the nature of this conversation would be.

After exchanging pleasantries, he proceeded to share with me several of my faults. After 45 minutes he had outlined every minor character flaw I had ever possessed and even threw in a few I didn’t believe existed! After the ordeal I thanked him for sharing these things with me, and we prayed. He left, no doubt thinking that he had done me a huge favor.

I must admit that my immediate reaction was anger. On the outside I remained calm, but on the inside I was fuming, “Where does he get off thinking he has the right to say these things to me?” I harbored bitterness. I imagined a retaliatory strike.

As the weeks rolled on, however, I began to think. Some of his observations were out of line, but several were right on. I realized I needed to address these areas of my life. Now, nearly 25 years later, I look back on that evening as a key moment in my life. God used it to help me become a more faithful servant.

How we receive discipline is a mark of Christian maturity. God is often waiting for our pride to expire so he can work his will in us.

T. B.

11. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.

The Corinthians’ follow-up actions have proved that their sorrow over Paul’s rebuke was not simply embarrassment at getting caught. Once he brought the issue to their attention, they realized their error and did something about it.

What Do You Think?

In what practical ways do both the offending person and the church benefit if there is both forgiveness and reconciliation?

In this context indignation means that they became angry with themselves for being lax. Thus Paul is commending the Corinthians for taking proper steps after realizing that they had been tolerant of sinful behavior.

C. Mutual Comfort (vv. 12-15)

12. So even though I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong or of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are.

The backslidden person’s flagrant violation of Paul’s teachings, combined with the church’s subsequent failure to protect its own purity, was a serious situation. Paul’s goal was to assist the church in doing the right thing. He achieved that goal, even though it was painful.

In the process the Corinthians saw how much they really did care for Paul. His disciplinary actions actually led to a deeper relationship between them. They, in turn, should take similar steps to restore their fallen brother to full fellowship.

13. By all this we are encouraged.

In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you.

Titus not only managed a difficult situation but actually left Corinth refreshed. This is a testimony to his pastoral skill. Titus is mentioned in the New Testament most often in the book of 2 Corinthians.

14. I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well.

In the ancient world, to be embarrassed means to lose status in the eyes of another person. Even at their worst, Paul remained confident that the Corinthians would not put him to shame. His hopes were fulfilled by God’s providence.

15. And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling.

Although the Corinthians had received Titus with fear and trembling, Paul does not mean that people should fear church leaders. The Corinthians had not been afraid of Titus himself but rather of the implications of his message. They suddenly realized how serious their situation was and how deeply they had offended Paul.

What Do You Think?

Under what circumstances is it wise to send others to help with the “cleanup work” when a messy situation is not improving? What instructions should they receive?

But Titus, like Paul, showed true love toward them. Could the Corinthians not extend the same love and forgiveness to a man who repented of a sin, admitting that he had done wrong?


Those of us who are parents recall many times when our children made us angry. We go into our son’s room after telling him several times to get dressed, only to discover him sitting on the floor in his underwear playing with toys. Such offenses make us mad, and we often lash out in frustration. But stop and think for a moment: Are such actions intended truly to discipline the child or merely to punish him?

Discipline is an action we take to help another person develop and mature. Discipline may result from some crime but does not focus on the crime. Rather, it focuses on the right things the person should do in the future. Discipline encourages the errant one to do better. When in anger we merely punish our children for jumping on the bed, we are not helping them improve.

God does not empower the church to punish the immoral people of the world. God does, however, call the church to discipline its members. This means to help them become stronger Christians who will make godly, holy choices. Our judgmental feelings of anger and resentment must never get in the way of this objective. Forgiveness is a key.

Thought to Remember

When forgiveness is needed, we must give it.


Father, we live in a world where people rejoice in the failure of others. Help us to be lights of forgiveness and love. Give us the grace to give others the benefit of the doubt, when called for. Help us to share the forgiveness we have received from you with people who do wrong but repent. In Jesus’ name, amen.


Underwood, J., Nickelson, R. L., & Underwood, J. 2005. New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2005-2006 . Standard Publishing: Cincinnati