The word of the day is “repented.” Today’s reading from 2 Corinthians 12:20-13:2 concerns the treatment of open and unrepentant sinners in the Body of Christ. The Lord said, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance (OSB Luke 15:7). But what about sinners who do not repent and yet remain in the church?
On the one hand, the Lord taught, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (OSB Matthew 7:1). On the other hand, Paul wrote: “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person” (1 Corinthians 5:11). And again, Paul wrote in two letters, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9 and 1 Corinthians 5:6). Therefore, Paul advises that the church in assembly should “cast out” the offender and “hand him over to Satan” (1 Corinthians 5:5).
Treatment of Those Who Are a Corrupting Influence in the Body of Christ
How then should we respond to the unashamed and unremorseful, especially if they are a corrupting influence in the Body of Christ? In our reading from 2 Corinthians, Paul writes that he fears “lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and lewdness which they have practiced” (OSB vs. 21).
The Discipline of the Offenders
Today we find that Paul counsels two measures against open offenses in the Body of Christ: the discipline of the offenders and mourning for their loss. Drastic actions must be taken against the offenders not because of their sin itself but because of the refusal to repent.
To be sure, the apostle warns that he will not hesitate to correct those who are causing scandal and discord in the congregation. In fact, he says that he will not “spare….” The Greek word “spare” means to “refrain” or “abstain” and has the sense of “holding back” (Strong’s #5339). Accordingly, The New Revised Standard Version translates that Paul will not “be lenient.” Thus, the apostle suggests that although he is weak in Christ, he will still deal with transgressors with the Lord’s power (2 Corinthians 13:4). The Orthodox Study Bible suggests that he will even use his apostolic authority to expel the unrepentant from the church (OSB fn. 12:20-13:4).
Mourning for Those Who Refuse to Seek Forgiveness
However, at a deeper level, Paul says that if he comes during the current situation, he will grieve for those who have sinned and refuse to seek forgiveness. The Greek word implies that the apostle will shed tears as one who mourns the death of a loved one (Strong’s #3996, 197). Thus, if Paul finds that many have not repented, he will weep as the Lord Jesus wept over Jerusalem because that holy city also rejected the mercy of God (Luke 19:41).
St. Philaret of Moscow said, “The Church is holy, although there are sinners within her. Those who sin but who cleanse themselves with true repentance do not keep the Church from being holy. But unrepentant sinners are cut off, whether visibly by Church authority or invisibly by the judgment of God, from the body of the Church. And so, in this regard, the Church remains holy” (Kozheozersky 2011). In other words, the repentance of its members preserves the holiness of the church.
Kozheozersky, Serapion. 2011. “Three Hundred Sayings of the Ascetics of the Orthodox Church.” Orthodox Missionary Society. http://orthodox.cn/patristics/300sayings_en.htm.