On April 30th 1943, the corpse of Major William Martin washed up on a beach in Spain. When the body was examined, the Nazi authorities discovered not only the typical wallet litter (license, receipts, bills, pictures, etc.) but a letter from a General to the now-deceased Major Martin alluding, with subtle undertones, to an Allied invasion of Greece. The Nazis, justifiably suspicious of being punked, launched an extensive investigation, employing pathologists and document specialists, seeking to authenticate the body and the letter.
While this research unfolded, the Allied forces did something truly remarkable; something that appeared to validate the intelligence in the letter. They began troop movements, seemingly staging for an invasion of Greece.
For the Nazi authorities, this confirmed the veracity of Major Martin’s letter.
Now convinced that the Allies planned an invasion, they redistributed their forces to fortify the Balkan peninsula, pulling troops away from Sicily…just as the Allies had hoped.
The whole thing was a ruse.
The Nazi army had been duped, the unwitting victims of an elaborate web of disinformation known as “Operation Mincemeat”. The military build-up near Greece had been a tactical ploy, complete with fake troops and inflatable plastic tanks. “Major Martin” was a real corpse, but the letter and identity were all fake, planted on the body as a diversion. And how did the Allies fool the Nazi experts? Well, they created a backstory for “Major Martin” that was so thorough and complete that it included running his obituary in a London newspaper.
The Allied invasion site was actually Sicily, five hundred miles away from Greece and the very place the Germans had withdrawn their troops to fortify Greece. This seduction of the Nazi’s away from Sicily to Greece has been called “the most spectacular single episode in the history of deception.”
By staging for Greece but landing in Sicily, the Allies pulled off an amazing head fake, completely outwitting the enemy.
Flagging the Deception in Corinth
When Paul wrote Second Corinthians, he had been under attack by one of the leaders in the Corinthian church. To respond to this attacker, Paul had already written what he calls a ‘sorrowful’ letter (2 Cor. 7:8) – most likely written between First and Second Corinthians – to rebuke the Corinthian church and call them to action.
The Corinthians read the ‘sorrowful’ letter, and they were smitten. It moved them to action. They disciplined the leader, and then they notified Paul. By God’s grace, the man experienced deep sorrow that led to repentance.
One would think this is the end of the story. The church responds to Paul’s letter by implementing church discipline and the sinner repented. But that’s not what happened. This wasn’t a textbook restoration, as if such a thing exists. In reality, the Corinthians church had a difficult time forgiving this man. They wanted to hold him hostage to his sin. They withheld their love and wanted him to pay.
Paul saw something else at work; a deeper spiritual reality. The Corinthians were at risk of succumbing to a spectacular scheme.
If anyone has caused pain, he has caused pain not so much to me but to some degree—not to exaggerate—to all of you. This punishment by the majority is sufficient for that person. As a result, you should instead forgive and comfort him. Otherwise, he may be overwhelmed by excessive grief. Therefore, I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. I wrote for this purpose: to test your character to see if you are obedient in everything. Anyone you forgive, I do too. For what I have forgiven—if I have forgiven anything—it is for your benefit in the presence of Christ, so that we may not be taken advantage of by Satan. For we are not ignorant of his schemes (CSB, emphasis mine).
2 Corinthians 2:5-11
To Paul, the Corinthians bitterness toward this repentant offender was evidence of the devil’s activity. Satan was seeking to outfox them. The Corinthians thought they were reacting righteously to the sinner, but like the Nazi’s, they were being seduced by clever disinformation. Paul basically says: In reality, the enemy is staging an invasion.
The Devil Made Me Do It?
Back to the context: A man sinned in a serious way. The sinner repented sincerely. But the church would not accept his repentance. So, Paul stepped in to make an appeal on behalf of this man. Paul tells us that this repentant sinner is on the verge of being overwhelmed.
How we respond to moments of hurt, pain and confusion around other people’s weaknesses or sins reveals our true grasp of gospel.
In response, the Corinthians church should “reaffirm [their] love to him.” They should forgive and comfort this man. All of this must be done “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (v. 11 ESV). Apparently, one evil device of the enemy – one design he unleashes – is to convince the church that they don’t need to respond to repentant sinners with forgiveness.
Here is the key question:
How do you respond when you feel sinned against?
How do you respond when someone you know has sinned against you, or maybe people you love?
The way we answer these questions is really important. In fact, I’ll go one step farther: How we respond to moments of hurt, pain and confusion around other people’s weaknesses or sins reveals our true grasp of gospel.
Reasons We Don’t Extend Forgiveness
What’s fascinating about the 2 Corinthians 2 passage is the list of seemingly noble – even respectable – reasons for NOT extending forgiveness. See if you can relate to any of these:
1) The offender sinned against someone they loved.
It’s strange, but sometimes it’s harder to forgive when the victim is not us but someone close to us – a close friend or family member. When your child is slandered, or your spouse is dissed, or someone is disloyal to your best friend, it can trigger outrage. In this circumstance, our bitterness can masquerade behind love and loyalty. It appears noble, but it’s destructive to our soul.
This is a way we’re outwitted. When we’re tempted toward this variety of bitterness, we should remember the incarnation. We must remember that the Father sent the Son knowing that he would be sinned against. He sent the Son knowing that he’d bear our sins, the sins of those who hurt him. We must remember that the Father sent the Son to forgive us, his enemies.
2) The offender sinned in ways that brought embarrassment to you.
When you are close to someone who is in serious sin, their sins tar everyone. You hear reports, you see social media, or you see something that reflects negatively upon you. Embarrassment erupts like a natural disaster.
Being humiliated is hard. The ache comes from many places. Sometimes we grieve over the way others behave, even though we believe it is their burden to bear. But sometimes the sins of those we love reveals just how much we love our reputation. Our pain is not primarily for the sinner being seduced but from our reputation being trashed.
This is a way we’re outwitted.
But the gospel reminds us that Jesus died naked on a cross. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame (Heb. 12:2). The answer to shame is not to punish a repentant person, in a Corinthian-like fashion. We are to follow the Savior who despised the shame and embraced the joy of forgiving sinners. By the way, that means you. Me too.
3) The offender sinned and he must pay.
We instinctively react to the unfairness of forgiveness. After all, treating people as their sins deserve – with anger, emotional punishment, or treating past sin as ever-present –seems more fair and equitable. Protecting ourselves from the offender seems wiser than forgiveness. So, we keep their past sin as a present label. We assume a moral high ground, and we make the offender pay.
But in reality, we don’t recognize that bitterness transforms us into a spiritual Nazi–another scheme by the enemy to outwit us.
Don’t hold on to bitterness. Outwit the enemy by doing what the Savior did.
Paul appeals to the Corinthians because he understands the dangers of bitterness. He understands the spiritual disaster that befalls a church that fails to forgive. He understands the danger of being outwitted by enemy.
My friend, Jesus died to extend forgiveness to repentant sinners. He now calls upon us to do the same.
Don’t hold on to bitterness. Outwit the enemy by doing what the Savior did.
“Forgive one another just as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).
My prayer is that we’ll discern the enemy’s deception which embeds in resentment and bitterness. More importantly, I pray that we will treasure the expulsive power of receiving Christ’s forgiveness and courageously extending it to others.