Along with forgiveness comes tolerance


By Dr. Talmage B. Skinner Jr.


Aug. 6

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Purpose: To teach us that forgiveness is the key to transforming broken relationships.

Bible Lesson: 2 Corinthians 7:2-15

Key Verse: “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.” — 2 Corinthians 7:10


The church at Corinth was organized by Paul. He felt a high level of responsibility and ownership for that church and those people. Several factors must be considered if we are to find meaning for us in this lesson.


First, Corinth was a crossroads of commerce town. Just about every idea and religious practice was there. A synagogue and a pagan temple were there. Morality was far from Jewish or new Christian standards.


Second, the young Corinthian church was split over leadership. Was it to be Peter, Paul, Apollos or others? Whose doctrine was the best? In addition, some of the members had a hard time stopping some pagan practices.


Third, Paul still had to prove that he was called by Jesus to be an apostle even though he had not been a disciple during Jesus’ lifetime. This was made more difficult because Paul was collecting money for the struggling church in Jerusalem.


Keep all this in mind when looking at the Corinthian correspondence. Scholars do not agree about how many letters were written by Paul or how many he received from the church. We do know that Paul had written one that is lost, and that is the one he is talking about in today’s lesson. He must have come down really hard on the church. It seems that on one visit to the church he had been challenged by a person (unnamed). The church had not come to his defense. After writing the letter, he began to think that perhaps he had been too hard and had alienated himself from the people.


Titus then brought him word that the people were not alienated from Paul and had, in effect, excommunicated the one who challenged Paul. Paul expressed how much better he feels about things and goes on to encourage the church to forgive the one disciplined and to do what is necessary to bring him back into the fellowship of the church.


How does this relate to us? We live in a world of many ideas and opinions about religion and religious practice. It is necessary to practice our faith in a culture that is often in direct conflict with the Christian faith. All through the Old Testament the Hebrews struggled with the Baal religion and even tried to worship Yahweh and Baal at the same time. Prophets and mighty judges were constantly calling Israel back to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.


Within our churches, we have differences of opinions on many important issues. Sometimes the church splits over such conflicts. How do we deal with issues like war, peace, the death penalty, homosexuality, fundamentalism, differences of interpretation of Scripture and doctrinal differences? It is hard. To begin with, we need tolerance. Some will say tolerance is bad. There is an absolute right and truth and we should not be tolerant of people who fail to adhere to that absolute. Anyone who thinks he or she knows the absolute truth perfectly is arrogant and has fallen victim to hubris (inordinate self-love).


Forgiveness and tolerance are related. They both begin with acknowledging our own humanity and inability to comprehend the mind of God. Forgiveness and tolerance continue with acknowledging that we are all children of God, not just those who agree with me or say the right religious words.


When Paul wrote the Corinthian church, the people were still trying to get a grip on the meaning of this new revelation – “The Word made flesh.” We still are. We do not need to be “wishy washy;” we just need to stand in awe at the foot of the cross and forgive as we are forgiven.


Aug. 13

Giving Generously

Purpose: To inspire generosity as a response to God’s grace.

Bible Lesson: 2 Corinthians 8:1-15

Key Verse: “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” — 2 Corinthians 8:9


Next to spreading the Gospel to the Gentiles, Paul’s biggest project was the collection of aid for the poor of Jerusalem. He had a genuine concern for those folks. In addition, he was glad to have an opportunity to show those Jewish Christians who believed that Gentiles must become Jews in order to become a Christian that Gentiles would be genuine Christians without being circumcised, etc. In a way that was not a totally bad idea. That is another story.


Raising money is always tricky business. Paul sometimes ruffled feathers or caused suspicion by his fund-raising style. It is interesting to see that even in that early stage of Christianity, people were troubled about money.


For us, the main point of this lesson is generosity, fair play and concern for the “have-nots” of the world. Methodist benevolence is in large measure done as a connectional church. Funds are raised through conference askings and apportionments for World Service and for conference good works such as homes for the aging, children’s homes, colleges, camps, disaster relief and ministerial support for clergy serving churches unable to pay a living wage. Sometimes churches get caught up in buildings and themselves and neglect service to others through the apportionments. This misses the point of Christian service.


Throughout the Bible the people of Israel were reminded that caring for the poor was at the very heart of the faith. Jesus spoke about the poor woman who gave more than the rich because she gave all that she had. It is clear that charity is important. It is also clear that there is something wrong with some people being super rich and others being desperately poor. If he were writing today, I think Paul would say that what is called for is more than a handout and a Thanksgiving basket. Charity calls for justice for the weak and helpless.


There is a saying that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” To paraphrase that, we could say wealth corrupts and overwhelming wealth can destroy the relationship with God and others. A generous person can be a poor person or a rich person. A truly generous person is concerned with the condition of others. The rich person can do more than make spectacular donations to charity. He or she, because of the wealth, has the influence and power to change unfair systems.


What makes it difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God is that their wealth has become an idol. How much does it take to make one happy when this occurs? A one-word answer – more. The world and other people are then seen through a lens that blots out the true plight of the poor. Churches and individuals need to be reminded that all things are God’s. We are stewards of his creation and all we have. As long as there is one poor, homeless naked child in the world we have a moral responsibility to generosity and to working for justice.


Aug. 20

Reasons for Giving

Purpose: To recognize that our giving bears witness t our experience of grace as we share God’s blessings.

Bible Lesson: 2 Corinthians 9:3-15

Key Verse: “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” — 2 Corinthians 9:8


In a church I served a number of years ago, I remember the meeting each year to accept the budget and the conference apportionments. Everyone sat quietly waiting for someone else to speak. One man would speak up and say, “You can’t out give God.” Another would say, “I move we accept the entire set of apportionments.”


Without a dissenting vote, the motion passed. Nobody talked about taking care of their own needs first or giving just a portion. It had been that way for a long time in this church. Not coincidentally, there was a gallery of pictures on the wall of an extraordinary number of persons who had entered the ordained ministry from that church.


This reflects Paul’s reasons for giving. He wanted the Corinthian church to set an example, to have a reputation for generosity. His basic reason for giving was that we give in response to all that God has given us and the ultimate gift given by Christ. Paul also saw the gift to the saints in Jerusalem as a reciprocal gift. In return the Jerusalem Christians prayed for the Corinthians. In Paul’s thought, this was no small thing.


Parts of this chapter must be read with care. Verses 10 and 11 could give the impression that God will bless you and make you rich if you plant the seed with your generous gift. All my life, I have heard people say that if you tithe God will bless you and make the 90 percent left much more. This sounds like a spiritual stock deal or an investment. If one tithes in order to gain, he has missed the point. We should give in response to God’s gifts (not material gifts) to us. He brought us out of Egypt and set us free in the gift of gifts on a Roman cross.


God always takes the initiative. By his grace, he calls us and accepts us. The Christian life is not to earn anything; it is response to God’s gracious act. One of the best things we do is baptize babies. All baptism is infant baptism because it is an affirmation of what God has done – already done. If we are 80-years-old, it is still an affirmation of God’s action.


I wonder how the prodigal son lived after receiving the grace of his forgiving father. I also wonder how the older brother lived after the father told him, “All I have is yours.” “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”


Wow! We can only begin to love God because he first loved us. And because he loved, we can begin to love others, even our enemies.


Aug. 27

Leaning on Grace

Purpose: To rejoice that our afflictions can become occasions to experience and share strength from God, whose grace is all sufficient.

Bible Lesson: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Key Verse: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” — 2 Corinthians 12:9a


Almost everyone who attends church and church school has heard about Paul’s famous “thorn in the flesh.” No one knows what the “thorn” was. Was it a physical problem or rivals in the church who tried to put Paul down and question his right to be an apostle? We do know that his work was never easy and that he had to justify and prove himself everywhere he worked. Paul probably endured all the hardships, both physical and spiritual, while suffering with a disability of some sort. Paul had asked God to heal him, but God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect is weakness” (v. 9).


Two immediate parallels come to mind. First, there is Jesus who accomplished his mission not on a white horse in front of a mighty army, but on a mule in front of a small crowd waving palm leaves. He was not crowned an earthly king but was lifted up on a cross as if he were a criminal. Jesus is humiliated and dies before there is the triumph of the resurrection and the birth of the church.


Then there is Second Isaiah (the latter part of Isaiah was not the Isaiah of the early chapters but a great prophet who lived years during the exile in Babylon) who spoke of a suffering servant. God sends his message through one who suffers the same kind of suffering that is so obvious in the life of Jesus.


We get all excited when someone gets well from a terrible illness. If it is hard to explain, we call it a miracle and an answer to prayer. Yet, there are many who prayed and were prayed for who do not get well. We see evidence every day of good people suffering. Life is not fair. Is it because Paul was not good enough to have his prayer answered? He says it was answered. The grace of God is enough.


In Romans, Paul says nothing can separate us from the “Love of God in Christ Jesus.” That is true whether the thorn is removed or Paul has to carry it every day. It is true if you are healed and true if you die. God is with us in good times and bad, when we feel his presence and we feel his absence. Elijah heard God in the silence or the still small voice.


Like the prophets of old, Paul was called to a tough life and work. He was not healed and had to prove himself every day. The proof was not in a highly successful life, but in his loyalty to the mission. Like Jeremiah he won no popularity contest. Yet, it is Paul who explains the new religion to us. Paul, who never saw Jesus in the flesh, perhaps knew him best in the spirit. There are no easy answers to the problem of evil or why bad things happen. There is only the trumpet call in the face of it all. “My grace is sufficient.”


Skinner is chaplain emeritus of Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. The Mississippi United Methodist Advocate and the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate alternate monthly Sunday school lessons.