Fellowship and forgiveness have been on my mind lately. I have been pondering fellowship with God (the highest level of fellowship) and with one another. God has called us into fellowship with Christ and with each other (1 Cor. 1:9).
John writes that the evidence of our fellowship with God is having fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7; 3:14; 4:20). What a joy! This fellowship results in continuous cleansing by the powerful blood of Christ. Pslm 133 tells us that when "brothers live together in unity," God will bestow His blessing!
What happens, however, when fellowship with our brother or sister ceases, not because of disagreements and differences, but because of an offense, a grieving that has severed the relationship? Someone has offended us, perhaps unknowingly. We may even carry negative feelings toward someone who has already died! We may feel betrayed and angry with God or the church. Our outward walk with God may look the same, but we have no joy or fellowship with His Spirit. We carry the pain inside while we smile on the outside. We may have allowed this pain to turn to bitterness of soul. We do all the right things, but we experience a joyless walk with Christ, one of duty rather than delight.
Forgiving others is so important.
Jesus said, "If you forgive others their trespasses [. . . leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment], your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, . . . neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses" (Matt. 6:14,15, Amplified Bible). Mark emphasizes this solemn truth: "Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him . . . that your Father Who is in heaven may also forgive you your [own] failings and shortcomings" (Mark 11:25-26, Amplified Bible). He goes on to say that if we do not forgive, neither will our Father who is in heaven forgive our trespasses!
Jesus teaches us that worship without reconciliation is unacceptable. If you remember your brother has a grievance against you, leave your gift at the altar of worship, leave your worship songs, church attendance, and a host of otherwise acceptable gifts and be reconciled with your brother (Matt. 5:23,24).
How many gifts on the "altar" does God not receive because of grievances? Notice, the challenge is to the one offering the gift. Although he may not have a grievance, he remembers that his brother does. The Dove departs when we hold grievances. Make peace, and then return to the altar, and God will receive your offering! You will receive the blessing! We are forgiven to forgive.
Christ forgives and heals through the Cross. We may still feel the pain within, but Christ's forgiveness is complete. He truly forgives all! You may or may not be able to restore the relationship, but you have received the grace of God to truly forgive from your heart, as well as to pray for the one who has wounded you. While on the cross, Jesus forgave those who had wounded Him. We can receive that same kind of grace by the Sprit of God, so that we let the offense bring us into new levels of intimacy with the Holy Spirit, and we enter into the fellowship of Christ's sufferings (Phil. 3:10).
In Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus answers Peter's question about forgiveness and adds a parable for emphasis. Peter asked Jesus, "How often should I forgive my brother, seven times?" The rabbis taught that the limit to forgive was three times. On the fourth repetition of the offense, forgiveness was not required (tractate: Rabbi Jose ben Judah; c. a.d. 180). Peter thought he was exhibiting the height of charity by forgiving seven times. But Jesus responded with a staggering figure, "No, not seven times, but seventy times seven." Jesus was saying, in essence, to forgive countless times, not literally 0 times!
Jesus related the Parable of the Two Servants. The first servant owed the king 10,000 talents, or millions of dollars, a staggering amount! Because of his inability to pay this enormous debt, the first servant pleaded with the king not to sell his wife, children, and goods in the open market to pay off some of the debt. The servant pleaded and the king freely forgave! This is a beautiful picture of God's grace to us. Our King freely forgave the debt we could not pay. What love!
A fellow servant owed the first servant only a few dollars, or what could be put in the man's pocket. Yet, the first servant hardened his heart, did not forgive, and threw the man into prison! He refused to share grace with another. Consequently, the king turned him over to the "tormentors" (sickness and torment of soul). He was cut off from the Spirit of Life and Joy.
What can you do if you feel betrayed, bitter, hurt, and angry?
First, pray and settle the matter with God. Ask His forgiveness for your broken fellowship with Him.
Second, ask for His grace to forgive from your heart the offending party. We don't forgive because we feel like forgiving, but because we love the Lord and want to obey Him. We choose to respond to the Spirit's wooing and put our faith in God's Word.
Third, pray for the person. At first, your prayers may be emotionless. God will give you His grace as you pray in obedience and seek the highest good of the person. Your prayer will be with a true sense of God's love, a love of the Spirit.
Fourth, go to the person, write a letter, make a phone call, or do whatever is appropriate to clear the slate. Make genuine efforts to reconcile. If the person refuses, your conscience is clear before God. If the person is deceased, bring the matter before God. By faith, receive grace in your heart and forgive. You may still feel the pain, but you will be drawn to the Cross and again enjoy fellowship with the Holy Spirit. You will enter into a new phase of intimacy with the Lord.
As we continue being forgiven and forgiving, we will enjoy fellowship with Christ and the Holy Spirit and experience a newfound joy!
By Reuben Sequeira