02 Oct 2022
The song "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" was a big hit in 1973, and has remained one of the most popular songs in the world today. It is a song about forgiveness and restoration. It tells of a man who has done his time in prison, and who is writing to see if he will be welcomed by his loved one upon his release. In 2Corinthians, Paul also calls for the church to forgive and receive the penitent sinner. Yes, sin must be dealt with. But when there is repentance, the church should also be quick to forgive and receive, lest the brother sink into excessive sorrow, the people develop hard-heartedness and the church remains divided. This quickness to restore should also be applied in our marriages and in our relationships. And we can also be encouraged that the God of the Bible is quick to forgive and receive the penitent.
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We are in our 3rd sermon in the book of 2nd Corinthians, and we come to this passage that speaks about really, forgiveness and restoring those who are repentant.
CS Lewis said, "We all agree that forgiveness is a beautiful idea until we have to practice it".
Maybe there's someone in your mind, and in your life today that you find hard to forgive. Might be your colleague, might be your boss, might be your girlfriend, your boyfriend, maybe your husband, your wife, maybe even your parents or your neighbor. That image of that person just floats up into your mind whenever you hear this word, "forgiveness".
You wish you can forgive, but you have found it very difficult to forgive. "It's a beautiful idea until we have to practice it". And yet the Bible tells us, forgiveness is one of the distinctive characteristics or graces of the Christian life. That God's people are expected and indeed enabled to forgive.
When someone asks Jesus, "How many times must I forgive my brother or forgive the offender?" Jesus replied, "70 times 7 times." Now, is Jesus saying at the 491st time, you can stop forgiving? No! When he says, "70 times 7", He's giving a manner of speech that says, "You forgive him every single time."' That's so hard to do, and yet that's what the Bible tells us, God's people are to do.
Today's story, today text, brings us to this man who has sinned against God, but he has since suffered for his sin, he has been disciplined. He has been in a sense, punished, and he has now been repentant. Paul, in this short passage, then calls for the church to forgive him, and to welcome him to restore him back into the fellowship.
So, this is a simple passage that speaks about forgiveness. It's a passage that speaks about how we need to restore the repentant. And that's what we're going to look at in a short time, we have a short sermon, short passage, but I hope it would be impactful for all of us to obey God. So let's see in greater detail what this is all about.
 The Pain
Number one, in verse 5 , we see the pain, the situation, the problem there.
Paul says, "Now, if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure — not to put it too severely — to all of you." [2 Cor 2:5]
So, someone has caused pain, there's a difficult situation in the Corinthian church. When we read this, very easily we would think of what happened in 1st Corinthians. Many people would recall First Corinthians chapter 5, where there was a man, just one particular man who was found guilty of committing incest.
He was found guilty of having a relationship with his own step mother.
Now, that was a grievous sin! It sticks in people's mind, so when we read a passage about someone who caused pain, many people then immediately link it back to this man who committed incest. And so, they think that the issue here is about this man who has sinned in a sin of incest.
But it is not necessarily so, now, we do not know exactly what the situation is, because this happened some 2,000 years ago. And the Bible, and the Scripture doesn't give us all the details necessary to be so sure as to reconstruct that event, as clearly as we would like. But it will be quite unlikely that this pain or this painful situation is that incest that is committed.
The reasons are found in the text, because Paul says, "If anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me." [2 Cor 2:5] He says, "It's quite alright to me." That's the essence, that's what he's trying to convey. And that's again, repeated, "Indeed what I have forgiven, if I forgiven anything at all." [2 Cor 22:10] He's ... he's understating the problem, he's minimizing the problem.
Now, that sin of incest is not a minor issue. Even if you're not a Christian, you can recognize that's a grievous sin. Paul actually said in 1st Corinthians, chapter 5, "That sin is not even commonly, it's not even seen amongst the Gentiles, the non-church people." So for Paul to now say, "If anyone has caused me pain, he has not caused any pain, it has not caused it to me, if I forgiven anything," it's quite unlikely that is the issue involved.
So the older commentaries, interestingly say,"Oh, the problem of incest," the newer commentaries say, "Probably not!" And I tend to lean towards the new ... newer view, that the issue is probably not about someone committing incest, but someone who is standing up to challenge Paul in his authority.
So someone is opposing Paul and that makes him grieved, and you know why, he then wrote that tearful letter because there was a confrontation, an ugly confrontation, when he visited them. This man probably led a small group and minority to oppose Paul, and so I think the pain here is most likely caused by a man who led a challenge to Paul's authority.
Gospel Light is a church where we have had the privilege to welcome people from all walks of life. And indeed, people from different church backgrounds, you guys come from a whole range, from churches that are very conservative, that's where we were actually, to churches are ... that are a little a lot more liberal, and you've joined us. And I know some of you come from good churches, some of you come from broken churches too.
And one of the most painful experiences I've heard from you all, who have joined us is that you came from a church that is absolutely fractured and broken up, because there has been politics, and divisions and competition within.
I don't think there's anything more painful than that, when you're part of a church, where your life is lived out in that community, and that community is breaking down right in front of your eyes, because the pastor is fighting the deacons or the board is fighting the elders. It's a such an ugly, painful situation. Well, that's maybe a glimpse of what's happening there in the church at Corinth.
I've been in Gospel Light for, I think close to 30 years now, thanks be to God, we have not had these issues whatsoever all these years, and long may that continue. But that's the painful situation they had to face then.
 The Punishment
The text then tells us about the punishment, that is given to this man.
In verse 6, we read, "For such a one [for this man who sinned, not against Paul only, but actually against the church.] this punishment by the majority is enough."
So it seems that there is a minority who follows this man, who was probably part of that challenge to Paul, but the majority recognized that, that was sinful, that was wrong. And I think proper church discipline was meted out to this man.
So, we do not know exactly what that punishment is. You must understand, Paul writes to our people who are going through these issues, we are not so, we may be struggling, "What is it all about?" Most likely, if you read the rest of the Bible, the punishment or the consequence of severe sin against the church, would be that of putting out of fellowship. We call that excommunication, it's probable, that's the case.
So this man is being disciplined may be put out of fellowship, excommunicated. And there is a danger of him being put out for so long to be swallowed up with excessive sorrow. Now, if you're not a Christian, you say, "No big deal what, don't go to church, what's the problem, every Sunday can sleep in, it's so good. No need to go for care groups, Bible studies, it's great!"
Well, if you're unbeliever, then being put out of fellowship is great news. But if you're someone who really loves Jesus and knows the love of Jesus, being put out of fellowship is extremely painful, because you know that's not good for you, and you miss the fellowship of God's people. So, this man put out of fellowship probably, being disciplined, is in danger of facing excessive sorrow.
So the punishment here is that of being put out of fellowship, we call it excommunication — put out of that fellowship. And I just want to remind all of us, Paul did talk about dealing with sin, dealing with severe sin in the church by putting that person out of fellowship. Again, that's found in 1st Corinthians 5, but we don't do this for every single sin.
Huh, the Church must not be trigger happy, we say. There are some characteristics of sins that would qualify for excommunication. One, it must be a severe sin. Now, don't get me wrong, every sin is grievous before God. But in the context of church discipline, we don't do discipline for every single sin.
If you have a slip of a tongue and you just scold someone, "You fool!" Well, your pastor is not going to come to your house, knock on your door and say, "You said that, you're out of the church." If I have to do that, I'll be very bo eng [busy in Hokkien dialect]. Everyday I'll be going around Gospelighters' house, because we will be in deep trouble that way.
So don't get me wrong, every sin is grievous, but in the context of excommunication, it is for severe sins. We ... we see that for example, in 1st Corinthians 5, there's a list of sins that are grievous. We see that also in 2nd Timothy, chapter 3, where there's a list of sins that are grievous that we are to avoid people who commit such sins. So we understand that it is for severe sins
Number two, it must be for outward sins. You cannot excommunicate, you cannot discipline someone for sins in the heart. "Oh, I see that you are jealous, I can see it in your heart." Wow, huh, again, if that be the case, then everybody's got to be excommunicated. So it's got to be sins that are public, outward, obvious.
And thirdly, it must be for unrepentant sins. That's clear! If you have sinned, and you have repented of your sins, there is no need to excommunicate you, isn't it? You have already learned, you have already turned back to God. That's the purpose of excommunication, not to tekan [in Malay] you, not to just torture you, but to love you, to help you, to remind you so that you may turn back to God.
So the purpose of excommunication is restorative. Just, I think as we have read in Matthew 18, the whole goal is to gain your brother. Now, if he doesn't listen, then you proceed to excommunication ultimately, but if you have gained your brother, won your brother over, turned him from sin, job's done! There is no need for excommunication or discipline. But discipline, or the punishment is, so that he may be restored to walking rightly with God, he may be restored from living a life of severe outward, unrepentant sin.
 The Plea
So this is the punishment that is mentioned in this text, so there's this problem, there's this punishment that I think has been meted out, and this guy has learned, and now Paul then gives us his plea to the Corinthians.
He says, "This punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him." [2 Cor 2:6-8]
So the whole idea here is - I think this man has learned his lesson, this man has since repented of his sins, this man has said, "I'm sorry, I should not have done that." The punishment has achieved its purpose.
So Paul says, "Gao liao [Hokkien dialect], enough, it's good enough. So now I beg you, I ... I plead with you to reaffirm your love for him." So now his idea here is — since this man has repented, we have to assume that, please go and welcome him back, receive him back to yourself.
So he says, "First of all, forgive him." The word, "forgive" here typically is a word that means to send away or to let go, apheimi, that's the Greek word used. But in this text, that customary word, "apheimi" is not used here, is another word, "charizomai" which ... which really means to show grace, to be kind.
So the idea here is — yes, you forgive but the nuance of that forgiveness is that you don't just send away the resentment or the unhappiness but you reach out in kindness. He goes on to say, "Comfort him." The word, "comfort" is the word, "parakaleo", which means to call alongside, to come alongside him, to console him, to encourage him, to strengthen him.
And then it is again re-emphasize, or accentuated with the word, reaffirm your love. The word, "reaffirm" means to publicly confirm, declare openly that we love you.
So Paul says, "I plead with you, this person has learned, this person has repented, don't be aloof, don't be cold, don't keep him at a distance, but reach out to him, do good to him. Charizomai, come alongside him parakaleo and publicly confirm your love for him."
"But Paul, maybe we don't dare to do that just in case you're still angry with him." Paul says in verse 9, "No, I'm not angry with him, the issue is quite over for me." "For this is why I wrote he says, that I might test you and know whether you're obedient in everything." [2 Cor 2:9]
"Now, when I told you about this man's sin in my severe letter and encouraged you to discipline him..." I think that's what he's saying, "... I wrote all that not because there's bad blood between the two of us and I cannot forgive him, I want to hit out on him, I want to take it out on him."
He says, "No, I ... I wrote to you so that I may test if you are obedient, to deal with sin within your congregation, within your church."
"Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive." [2 Cor 2:10]
"I am not unable to bury the hatchet as it were. I am not unforgiving, I want to forgive this man. I just wrote to you so that you may responsibly before God, do what is right and deal with sin. So now, don't let me be a hindrance to you. Don't let your misunderstanding of my position be a hindrance."
"Go and forgive him, comfort him and reaffirm your love for him." [2 Cor 2:7,8]
Now, let me ask you, "Do you know what's the number one song on Billboard Hot charts today?" Is it Billboard Hot Charts, I don't know, Billboard Charts. What's the number one song today? Nobody knows, right? Well, I was growing up, we will have the Top 100, Top 10 every week, and maybe we listen to that. Now, maybe not so popular anymore but okay, you do not know it today, it's fine, let me ask you, "Do you know what's the number one song in April 1973?"
Wah, you must have an elephant memory to remember anything like that? I don't think any one of you will remember, but it's this song, it's called, "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree".
Wah, what a 老土 lǎo tǔ [in Chinese], what a ... you know 老土 lǎo tǔ er? Old-fashion! Wah, this, this kind of title also number one song ah!
"Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree", number one. Yes, it's number one song for four weeks in a row in both US and UK.
And if you think this is 老土 lǎo tǔ song, let me say in 2018, this song is ranked top 50 song of all time.
Impressive song! Have you heard this before? I see the heads from the whiter hair people. Uh, the black hair people all si me lai eh [What's that in Hokkien dialect] Anyway, it's a ... it's a really catchy tune. This song was before I was born, but when I hear the, the tune, I say, "Oh, I must have heard it before."
And basically this song is written from the perspective of a man who has done his time in prison, and he's wondering if he will be welcomed back by his loved one, by his love. So he wrote to her saying, "Tie a ribbon, a yellow ribbon round the ole oak tree, and if I see it, I know you welcome me, and I'll come back into your life. But if I don't see that yellow ribbon round the ole oak tree, then I'll just stay in a bus, blame it on me and that's the end of our relationship."
And the lyrics go like this:
I'm comin' home. I've done my time
Now I've got to know what is and isn't mine
If you received my letter telling you I'd soon be free
Then you will know just what to do
If you still want me, if you still want me.
Whoa, tie a yellow ribbon 'round the ole oak tree
It's been three long years, do you still want me?
If I ....
okay ... hah, hah, hah, hah. Alright. Uh. You all still want me? Hah, hah, hah, hah, huh. Okay. Alright, so anyway, that's ... that's ... that's, that's how it goes. It's a familiar song, right.
And if I don't see a ribbon round the ole oak tree
I'll stay on a bus, forget about us, put the blame on me
If I don't see a yellow ribbon round the ole oak tree.
The song ends with these words, there's another stanza, but finally it ends this way:
And I can't believe I see
A hundred yellow ribbons
'round the ole oak tree
I'm coming home.
So, this is the number one song for four weeks in 1973, April.
This song actually has been so popular, it has sparked many cultural movements. I read about the ... actually not a good movement, but the protests in Hong Kong 2014, they use a yellow ribbon. But a good positive note is that in Singapore, we have the "Yellow Ribbon Project", giving ex-offenders a second chance.
It speaks about the path to acceptance, that tying of the yellow ribbon round the ole oak tree is a public declaration to the offender, to the sinner, to the criminal it's over, we welcome you back. It's saying publicly, reaffirming, "We love you."
So the offender in the days of Corinth must be wondering, "I have challenged Paul, I've led a revolt, a rebellion, I've caused a church split. I've since learned my ways, I've repented of my sin, but will the church still love me? Will the church still accept me?" To which Paul says, in effect, "Guys, it's time, it's time to tie a yellow ribbon around our ole oak tree. And so, do forgive him, do comfort him, and do reaffirm your love for him."
 The Precaution
And he adds something to this, he says, "There's a precaution if you don't do so." So, he says, "It's good enough, this guy is repentant, help him receive him. And if you don't be careful, there's something that may happen."
"Indeed, what I forgiven, if I forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs." [2 Cor 2:10-11]
So Paul says, "If you don't do this, then you fall into the trap of Satan, you have gotten cheated or scammed or trapped by him." Now, Paul doesn't actually tell us exactly how, but I suppose you could say, this man would be in excessive sorrow, despair, and maybe perhaps, be ruined in his faith.
And in that case, we have been tricked by Satan, we have been complicit in the ruination of someone's soul and faith. Or perhaps that Satan's designs or ploy is that the church would remain fractured, divided, hardened in our hearts towards those who are repentant, and both cases are not right with God.
So, that's the exegesis or the explanation of this text. And I just want to end with some concluding thoughts for us as a church.
I think as a church, reading 1st Corinthians, chapter 5, though they are not the same sins, but reading 1st Corinthians, chapter 5, with the man who have committed incest and reading 2nd Corinthians 2 with this man who has probably led a revolt or rebellion against Paul, we learned that it is important, it is biblical to deal with sin decisively, with severe outward, unrepentant sin, decisively as a people.
We must! We must not allow open sin to fester and to influence others. We must not allow the Name of Christ to be dragged through the mud. "Oh, that kind of guy who would commit that kind of sin can still be part of the church and be called a Christian, we say, "We cannot ruin the testimony of Christ, we cannot allow the pollution of sin, we must maintain the purity of the church." And we must help the person who is living in such a sin to know the gravity of his sin. So we must practice church discipline, that's established, I think, I hope for you.
But on the other hand, we must also be a church that is quick to receive and to forgive and to show our affirmation for someone who has repented of his sins. That's not an easy thing to do, because you ... I think, we all by nature a bit skeptical. "Will this person really be repentant? Can I really welcome him back?" I think we've got to be wise, but we've also got to be willing to take that risk, as it were.
If someone confesses his sin, expresses his repentance, then I think as a church, according to Scripture, we are to forgive — charizomai, show love. We are to come alongside to console and comfort — parakaleo, and we have to publicly reaffirm our love for him.
I hope that our church would be willing to do so. So that ex, I wouldn't say offenders, but ex-sinners are welcomed and loved. Think about Peter, he blew it! He denied the Lord three times, but you know, Jesus reaffirmed His love for him and said to him three times, "Will you come and feed my sheep?"
So I think that this is true as a church, I don't think we have many examples or cases to deal with, thankfully. But when there are cases like this, may we live out obedience in this way. But can I extend this principle of forgiving and receiving to also more personal relationships?
You know, Satan is out not just to ruin the church and to destroy lives in the church, he's also out to ruin marriages. He wants to destroy your marriage, he doesn't want you to forgive your spouse, and maybe you are having that difficulty right now.
He wants to destroy your marriage, and the best thing to do is to send that resentment and unforgiveness within, and you know, your marriage will not last very long. And it's easy to be resentful towards your spouse, isn't it? It's easy to be unforgiving, but that is exactly where the rubber meets the road.
Someone said this, "A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers." It's very true, because we are all sinners! If you marry someone, you must understand that, that someone is a sinner. He or she will offend you and sinned against you and fail you, disappoint you many times over. But a happy marriage is not the union between two perfect people, a happy marriage is a union between two good forgivers.
And so, we, in marriage must learn, we must be quick to repent, but we are, on the other side, we must also be quick to forgive. And when the person is truly repentant, we also should be quick to receive and to welcome back. I hope there is no hard heartedness in your marriage.
But finally, may I say, "Just as God calls through Paul, the church to be forgiving and to be warm and receptive to the repentant, I think that principle holds true even for God Himself." Some of you today struggle with guilt, and shame. Maybe you're a newcomer, this is the first time you're in church, I'm glad you came, because we're dealing with the is, this issue of sin, of rebellion.
And maybe in your heart today, you're struggling because you know you've sinned against God, and you're wondering, if ... if God will ever welcome and receive you to Himself. I say to you, "Just as the church is called to quickly welcome the repentant, God quickly welcomes the repentant, as well."
If I may say, "Just as the song goes, a hundred ribbons is tied around the ole oak tree, so that the ex offender can return home, God also has a tree for us. He didn't tie it with a yellow ribbon, He soaked it in the blood of Jesus Christ." There's a tree on which His Son, Jesus Christ came. Jesus, the Son of God was born into this world, sinless, live a perfect life, but He went to the cross, shed His blood, because that is the demonstration of God's love for you.
The Bible says, "But God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." He died to pay for our sins, and He died to show you, you can come home to him today. My friends, the message of the Bible is not that you can be worthy enough for God, but the message of the Bible is that we have such a magnanimous, gracious and merciful God, that if you are just willing to turn, He demonstrates His love to you so clearly on the cross.
Maybe the best story to this in the Bible must be that of the prodigal son, I will not rehash the whole story. But when the prodigal, the wasteful, the sinful, the rebellious son, who wasted his father's materials and stuff turned his head, all he did was to turn his head, the father, the Bible, Jesus crafted this story, to show us how demonstrable is God's love for us.
When the man or this son turned his head, the father ran to the son, not the son ran to the father. The father runs to the son! The father cloths the son with a new robe, with new shoes, with a new ring, slays a fatted calf, and sets up a party to celebrate the return of his son. You know why Jesus gives ... gives us all these details, to show us God is so willing to receive the repentant.
Oh, it's not just a hundred yellow ribbons, it's the cross, "I welcome you back to Me," God said. "Turn from your sin, believe in My Son. He has paid for your sins."
Maybe today you as a Christian have sinned against God, and you are struggling with guilt and shame. You wonder, "Will God ever forgive me for that?" I say to you, "Look back to the cross, and remember what God said, "If we confess our sins, if we agree with God with regard to our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness," 1st John 1:9.
Will God forgive me? Oh, yes, look to the cross! And this is not even appealing to God's mercy and love, you realize that? Because it's appealing to something even more rock solid and that, if I may say, "It's appealing to God's faithfulness and just. He is faithful and just is paid for by Jesus, it will be wrong for God not to forgive you now. Jesus paid it all!"
So don't be ... I hope overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. If you come to God with a sincere heart, confessing your sin, hey, our Father opens His arms wide for you.
Let's bow for a word of prayer together.
Restore the repentant — this is God's message for us as a church, this is God's message, I hope for you as well, as a husband, as a wife. Restore the repentant is a message also for those who do not know Jesus as yet, you can come back to God. You can be saved from your sin. You can be embraced by His love, because Jesus has paid it all.
And maybe some of you today are struggling with inward guilt because of sin. I say to you, "If you're repentant, our Father longs to restore you back into His fellowship."
The God of the Bible is a wonderfully magnanimous God, wonderfully gracious, wonderfully forgiving. And it is not because we are good, or that we would do any good, or that we can pay Him back for anything. But He is so wonderfully gracious because Jesus His Son was sent to pay it all. My friends, this is our God! A loving and merciful, gracious God. Whoever you are, wherever you are, turn, repent and rejoice in the forgiveness of this wonderful God.
Father, this morning we thank You. Thank You for who You are, even in a ... in a passage like this, we catch a glimpse of Your heart, reflected in the writing of Your servant, the Apostle Paul. O yes, we are a sinful, dirty, messed up people, but You're not aloof, You do not stay far away from us, but You reach out to us, You sent Your Son to live amongst us and to die for us. And You're calling men and women today, to turn and to come back to You.
Thank You, for a hundred yellow ribbons tied around the ole oak tree, thank You for the blood of Jesus shed on the old tree. Thank You that there is a way back to You. So, bless each heart today, may sinners be saved, may marriages be healed, may the church be protected, and may Your children be freed from that guilt and shame that burdens us so. Bless each one, we thank You, in Jesus' Name. Amen.
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Email [email protected] to serve or to report transcription errors.
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