Paul urged the Corinthian church to restore people under discipline as quickly as possible to fellowship in the Christian community. He firmly stated that sin should not be tolerated, and he insisted that the church discipline those who refused to repent; however, he looked forward to the time when these people would come back to the Lord and again become a part of the Christian community. Such a time had come for the man referred to in this post. It was time to forgive this man and help him move from his state of separation to full membership in the church. In dealing with believers who back-slide, one extreme is to tolerate the sin and say nothing. The other extreme is to put someone out of the church and abandon him.
A missionary in Africa thought it was time to talk to a certain chief about his relationship to Christ. When the missionary questioned this man, the chief answered that he had received the Lord as his Saviour twenty-two years before. He said, “For years I was a Christian in good standing in the church; then I became sick. I had swellings all over my body. The people in the village made medicine from the bark of a tree. I took the medicine. For days I did not know whether I would live or die. Finally, I recovered. I think the medicine helped me. “Some people, however, reported to church leaders that I had taken medicine prepared by a witch doctor. For this I was put out of the church. I became embittered against the church and other Christians.
This story is sad because the church leaders had not thoroughly investigated the man’s situation when he was disciplined. Even more serious, they had abandoned the chief. They had not expressed their love for him and their concern that he return to the church. Whether a church practices discipline or not, it is important to follow those who once claimed to be believers but who have dropped out of the Christian community. God loves them, and we should love them too.
Christians should, in Paul’s words, be a sweet “savour of life” (II Cor. 2:16). We should announce to those who have fallen that God still loves them and that His grace can bring them home to Him.