Fellowship and Forgiveness

Fellowship and forgiveness have been on my mind lately ... fellowship with God (the highest level of fellowship) and with one another (the basis of fellowship) ... being called into fellowship with Christ and with one another.

John writes that the evidence of our fellowship with God is having fellowship with one another. 2 What a joy. This fellowship results in the continuous cleansing by the powerful blood of Christ. Psalms tells us that when "brethren dwell together in unity; there God will command the blessing"!3

What happens, however, when fellowship with my brother/sister ceases, not over disagreements and differences, but over an offense--a grieving that has severed the relationship? We feel that we have been offended wrongfully, maybe even unknowingly by the other person. Sometimes these negative feelings are toward someone who has already died! Sometimes our offense is with God and/or the church. Our outward walk with God may look the same, but there is no joy or fellowship with the Spirit. We carry the pain covered with smiles. Sometimes we allow this pain to turn to bitterness of soul. We feel betrayed and somewhat angry. We are doing all the right things, but we experience a joyless walk with Christ--one of duty rather than delight.

Forgiveness given to others is so important. Jesus said, "If you forgive others their trespasses (leaving them and 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 heavenly Father forgive your trespasses."4 Mark emphasizes this solemn truth:  "whenever you stand praying, forgive, that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses."5 He goes on to say that "if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your trespasses!"

Jesus teaches us that worship without reconciliation is unacceptable. Leave your gift at the altar of worship ... of sacrifice, if you remember that your brother has a grievance against you. Leave your worship songs, church attendance, and a host of otherwise acceptable gifts and be reconciled with your brother.6

How many gifts are on the "altar" that are not received by God because of grievances? Notice, the challenge is to the one offering the gift. He may not have a grievance but remembers that His brother does. The Dove departs when we hold grievances. Make peace, then return to the altar. There God will receive your offering! There you will receive the blessing! Forgiven to forgive.

Christ forgives and heals through the cross. The pain may still be there, but the forgiveness is complete. Christ 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 the heart, as well as to pray for the "wounder." Jesus forgave while on the Cross. The wounded forgives the "wounders." That same kind of grace can be given to us by the Sprit of God so that we let the offense bring us into new levels of intimacy with the Holy Spirit, and we can enter into the "fellowship of Christ's sufferings."7

Jesus answers Peter's question on forgiveness (Matt. 18:21-35) and adds a parable of two servants for emphasis. Jesus is asked by Peter, "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. 180 A.D.]). Peter thought that he was being very generous. He felt like he was exhibiting the heights of charity! Jesus' response was a staggering figure: "No, not seven times, but "seventy times seven." Jesus was saying that forgiveness is unlimited in act and attitude--not literally 0 times!

Jesus relates the parable of two servants. The first servant owed the King 10,000 talents. James Boice calculates that if gold was being sold today at about $400 a troy ounce, he owed a staggering 3.6 trillion dollars! Beyond our comprehension! Astronomical! That's the point! Because of the inability to pay this enormous debt, the first servant pleads with the King to spare the sale of his wife, children, and goods in the open market to pay as much of the debt as possible. The servant pleads, and the king (God) freely forgives! What a beautiful picture--the debt we could not pay is freely forgiven by the grace of the King. What love!

A fellow servant owed the first servant what could be put in one's pocket (about $20 – Amp.). He owed a little less than one millionth of the debt (Vincent), yet this unforgiving servant hardened his heart, did not forgive, and threw him into prison! He refused to share grace with another. Consequently, he was given over to the "tormentors" (sickness and torment of soul). He was cut off from the spirit of life and joy.

What can we do if we have these feelings of betrayal, bitterness, hurt, and anger? First, we can pray. Settle the matter with God, first. Ask His forgiveness for your broken fellowship with Him. Second, ask for His grace to forgive from the heart the offending party. It is not a matter of feelings, but love to the Lord and obedience to Him. It is a decision. We respond to the Spirit's wooing and to faith in God's Word. Third, pray for the person/persons. At first, our prayers may be without any emotion. The grace of God will be given to you as you pray in obedience and seek the highest good of the other. Your prayer will be with a true sense of God's love, a love of the Spirit. Fourth, go to the person, write the letter, make a phone call, or do whatever is appropriate to clear the slate. Make genuine efforts to make reconciliation. Even if they refuse, your conscience is clear before God. If the person is deceased, then 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.

Let us go on being forgiven and forgiving and enjoy the fellowship with Christ and the Spirit. We will experience a newfound joy!

1 I Corinthians 1:9
2 I John 1:7; 3:14; 4:20
3 Psalm 133
4 Matthew 6:14, 15
5 Mark 11:25-26
6 Matthew 5:23, 24
7 Philippians 3:10