Forgiving Vs. Excusing: What’s The Difference?

I’m back! Today I will be writing about 1 Corinthians 5. Have you ever wondered what forgiveness entails? Do you ever wonder if it means excusing sin or loving the sinner? To find out, keep reading!

What's the difference between forgiving and excusing? Find out in this 1 Corinthians devotional!


What’s special about 1 Corinthians 5?

One of the things that I especially love about Paul’s letter to Corinth is its practicality. As I wrote about in an earlier post, 1 Corinthians is extremely relevant to the 21st century Christian. Paul writes to new believers, covering topics such as sin, identity, marriage, relationships, culture, wisdom, and who God is. In the next chapter of our 1 Corinthians devotional – chapter 5 – Paul addresses the inaction of the Corinthian Christians towards sin, specifically sexual immorality. In this chapter, Paul answers timeless questions such as, Should we judge other Christians? What is the difference between forgiveness and acceptance? Is tolerating sin ever a good thing? Keep an eye out for answers to these questions as we read and examine 1 Corinthians 5!


The Christian difference

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife.

-1 Corinthians 5:1

From the very start of 1 Corinthians 5, we can tell that Paul is obviously shocked at the Corinthians’ behavior. After all, they were blatantly disobeying commandments that had been established centuries before by God for the Jewish community. Yet, you must remember that the majority of these believers were gentiles – completely unused to the rules that had been drilled into the Jews from birth. They were learning to be Christians in the midst of one of the most pagan cultures in the world. Plus, they lacked the established religious community of the Jews. In fact, they were kind of like you and me!

Despite the Corinthians’ difficulties, Paul is NOT sympathetic. Why? The key to this question is in a few words from verse 1: …a kind that does not occur even among pagans… Their immorality was a type that was never even seen in any pagan culture, and yet was going unnoticed in the church! Throughout 1 Corinthians, Paul is adamant that Christians should be different. Different from other people, different from culture, and different from the world. Yet, he understood that this difference didn’t come from anything self-imposed. No, it came from a solid belief in Jesus Christ and a daily effort to live out that faith.

You can imagine Paul’s distress at finding the church of Corinth not only committing evil but tolerating practices not even found among secular culture! During this specific devotion, this is a thread that I will keep returning to: what difference does it make if you act exactly the same as nonbelievers? Are you proud of how similar you are to popular culture, or do you take pride in knowing that you have a home in Heaven and a Father who gives you your identity?


Proud of tolerance

And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? … Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a litle yeast works through the whole batch of dough?

-1 Corinthians 5:2 & 6

Their similarity to secular culture is only the beginning: Paul also writes that instead of repenting, they were proud of their sin! Members of the church who should have been reprimanding and expelling their immoral brother were instead boasting!

Paul does not write specifically what the Corinthians were proud of in this situation of a sexual offense. Indeed, it is hard to think of anything to boast of in this situation! I examined this passage some more and I realized; maybe they were proud of their tolerance of sin?

This option actually makes quite a bit of sense. The Corinthian church was proud that they were accepting these sinners into their church; maybe they even saw it as evangelizing. But, there are many deadly consequences that result from failing to recognize sin.

To be honest, it almost reminds me of today. So many Americans have been disillusioned with lies that tell them to be “tolerant” and “accepting” toward sins such as abortion or gay marriage. They think that they are approaching these evils with almost a “Christian” charity – but are in fact only excusing it as acceptable lifestyles. This is because many Christians don’t know the difference between forgiving and excusing.


Forgiving vs. excusing

You know, this is a distinction I had probably known subconsciously, but hadn’t really considered thoroughly until C.S. Lewis mentioned it in Mere Christianity. I had heard “love your neighbor as yourself” since kindergarten but failed to examine exactly what that meant. So, here are some of Lewis’ main points on forgiveness that I think are especially apt for 1 Corinthians 5.

Loving neighbors as yourself

Lewis believes that forgiveness is one of the hardest Christian virtues. After all, Christ calls us to forgive everyone; friends, family, and especially our enemies. To the average citizen, this sounds impossible. They think it means to excuse that person’s sin and tell themselves that it really isn’t sin. But, Lewis points out that Christ tells us to love them as yourself.

Well, how exactly do I love myself?… Do I think well of myself, think myself a nice chap? Well, I am afraid I sometimes do (and those are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. In fact it is the other way around: my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either… For a good many people imagine thta forgiving your enemies means making out that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are.

Forgiveness means love

So, forgiveness obviously doesn’t entail excusing sins or even thinking the sinner pleasant when he isn’t.  And Lewis goes a step further: he thinks that forgiveness and loving an enemy even includes punishing him if he did wrong. Because, if you committed a crime, the Christian thing to do would be to admit you’re wrong and accept punishment. Lewis then brings up the point:

I imagine somebody will say, “Well, if one is allowed to condemn the enemy’s acts, and punish him, and kill him, what difference is left between Christian morality and the ordinary view?” All the difference in the world…We may kill if necessary but we must not hate and enjoy hating…That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not.

Does this sound familiar? Lewis – like Paul – believes that Christians must be different from the secular world. Even though our outward acts might be similar sometimes, what’s in our hearts is what really matters. Loving an enemy is actually really similar to loving yourself since the Bible says that we were once enemies of God. Next time you struggle with forgiving someone, think about how you forgive and love yourself – despite your imperfections and sin. Love goes deeper than fondness – it is wishing them good even when they deserve bad.


Judging Christians

The Corinthians had made a mistake. They thought that forgiveness equaled excusing sin. Yet, Paul reminds them that forgiveness includes punishment and judgment. But, he makes a very important distinction:

I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral…in that case you would have to leave the world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy…

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”

-1 Corinthians 5:9-13

As Christians, we are not called to judge those that refuse Christ’s teaching – only God can see their hearts. But, the body of Christ is different. Everyone that claims to be a believer is subject to be judged by their actions; as a tree is judged by the fruit it bears. The Corinthians were simply forgetting this important task. They were proud of their tolerance of sin, assuming that it was a manifestation of forgiveness and punishment was not. Paul urges them to carry out judgment on hypocritical Christians because the body of Christ must remain pure.


Application

In this chapter of 1 Corinthians, we talked about how the church of Corinth had been tolerating sin when they thought they had been forgiving it. But, as Lewis pointed out, forgiving is not excusing the sin, but loving the sinner. This means that both punishment and judgment can be legitimate forms of forgiveness IF the heart is wishing the sinner well. This is the Christian difference. Punishing with a loving heart because you must, and punishing out of hate because you enjoy it are two completely separate actions – that the world often confuses for the same thing.

Since I opened with three questions (that hopefully got answered during the post), I would like to close with three questions for you to answer. Are you proud about how much sin you can tolerate? Have you thought about how loving your neighbor as yourself applies to your life? Are you hesitant to judge other Christians as the Bible says, because culture frowns upon “judging”? Thanks for studying with me! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did 🙂

Elizabeth

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