Choose to Fellowship, Choose to Forgive

Choose to Fellowship, Choose to Forgive

Relationships are like competing in the Indy 500. We’re not talking about a lazy trip down some quiet country road. Relationships are complicated, high-speed stuff. The smallest misjudgment can cause us to spin out. To be successful in the Indy 500, you need a professional driver. When it comes to relationships, there’s only one professional who drove this course — Jesus. He’s the one who made relationships, and He’s the one who can empower them and steer them in the right direction. Jesus said,

Love each other as I have loved you. — John 15:12

He wants to give you His power to love in a new and better way.

Much of what we call love is actually polite selfishness.

We say, “I love you,” but we really mean, “I love you because…” “Because of what you do for me, because you’re pretty, because you’re handsome, because you’re smart, because you’re rich.” Or we really mean, “I love you if…” “If you meet my needs, if you’re not too much trouble.” Or we mean, “I love you when…” “When I’m successful, when I’ve had a good day, when I feel like it.”

Jesus calls us to a higher kind of love. We were never meant to do it on our own.

“As I have loved you,” Jesus said. Jesus Christ can give a power in your relationships that you never dreamed possible — power to love and grow, power so that you are not relationally worn down at the end of every day. What exactly will Jesus give you the power to do? As you flip through the pages of the New Testament, you’ll find yourself regularly coming across challenges to love like Jesus in specific ways. Jesus is your example. The way He loves you models the way you are to love others. The Bible is filled with ways you can begin to practice this “as I” kind of love.

Choose to Fellowship

To love as Jesus loved, we are to choose to fellowship. The apostle John declared,

If we are living in the light of God’s presence, just as Christ is, then we have fellowship with each other. — 1 John 1:7 NLT

Look up the word fellowship on Dictionary.com, and you’ll find that it means “the companionship of individuals in a congenial atmosphere.” “Companionship” fellowship means you must actually spend time with other people; “congenial” fellowship means you enjoy spending time with these people. It’s easy to say you love if you’re spending most of your time alone. You can only truly love when spending time with others.

Let’s admit it, there are many high-tech barriers to fellowship today. Even though you’re with people, you’re not really with them. You’re talking on the phone but reading your email at the same time. You’re on a walk with a friend, and both of you have your iPod headphones on. You’re out on a date — in a movie theater where you can’t talk. We’re at a point where we need to disconnect in order to connect — to disconnect from our media sources in order to connect with people.

The greatest barriers to fellowship, however, aren’t in our technology; they are in our thinking. We misunderstand and minimize the meaning of fellowship. It’s no wonder we do this. Fellowship is a word used mostly in churches, where it refers to a dingy room (the “Fellowship Hall”) in the back of the church where people go to drink coffee out of small Styrofoam cups. Not only is the coffee better at the local Starbucks; usually the fellowship is too.

True fellowship cannot be forced or scheduled; it must be chosen and accepted. Find someone who is making the attempt to follow Jesus in his or her life, someone you would actually enjoy being with. Take the risk to talk to them about a doubt you’re facing, a struggle you’re having, a joy you’re experiencing. Now you’re fellowshipping!

Choose to Forgive

To love as Jesus loved, not only are we to choose to fellowship; we are also to choose to forgive. The apostle Paul urged,

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. — Ephesians 4:32

I often hear people say, “I just can’t forgive.” I’ve learned to ask two questions when I hear this statement. The first is, “What do you think it means to forgive?” People often feel they can’t forgive because they don’t understand forgiveness. Someone has told them that forgiveness means forgetting — and they know they just cannot forget. But the truth is, forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to pretend you don’t remember the fact that something happened. No one could forgive if that was what forgiveness meant.

Forgiveness means you let it go. You let go of your bitterness and your desire for revenge.

Neither does forgiveness mean trusting a person to the extent that he or she can hurt you again. There is a vast difference between forgiveness and trust. If I’m going to follow the example of Jesus, I must forgive immediately — whether the other person asks it of me or not. But trust is rebuilt over time. If someone steals money from you, you forgive them as soon as you find out; but a lot of trust will need to be rebuilt before he or she would be left alone with your money again.

The second question is, “Who are you trying to punish by choosing not to forgive?” If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself thinking you have to hang on to the hurt so you can punish someone for what they’ve done to you or to someone you love. Of course you’re really only punishing yourself. The one who has hurt you likely doesn’t even know — or care — what you think. It’s tearing you up inside, while the person who hurt you goes obliviously on his or her way. Through your bitterness, that past pain hurts you over and over again. This bitterness hurts all of your other relationships, including your relationship with God. Jesus said,

When you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in Heaven will forgive your sins, too. — Mark 11:25 NLT

If you think you can choose not to forgive someone else and not have it affect your relationship with God, you’re lying to yourself.

If you are struggling to forgive, you are not alone. Jesus understands, and He gives you a prescription. He told a story about a servant who was forgiven a debt of millions of dollars but couldn’t forgive someone who owed him just a few hundred dollars. At the end of the story, Jesus related what happened to the servant who could not forgive:

Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison until he had paid every penny. That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters in your heart. — Matthew 18:32-35 NLT

No fluffy, marshmallow language from Jesus on this one. He goes straight to the heart of the problem and frankly declares that our refusal to forgive someone can always be traced back to a misunderstanding of our own need for forgiveness and grace from God. There is a breath of fresh air in this hard-to-hear truth. If you’re struggling to forgive, resist the temptation to focus on your feelings of guilt about that struggle; focus instead on God’s grace and magnify in your mind His great forgiveness of your sins. I’ve found that the only way I can find the strength to forgive others is to embrace the fact that Jesus has forgiven me.

If you’re not sure that God has forgiven you, this is the place to start. Twice in my life I’ve had the opportunity to serve on a jury. After our deliberations I couldn’t help but lock my eyes on the defendant as the verdict was read. Talk about a hot seat! We all sit in private courtrooms every day, having to listen to a voice inside rendering a verdict on the actions of our lives. We all live with a verdict of guilty. Something in our past. Something in our thoughts. Some secret no one else knows. The gavel comes down, and the voice inside us declares, “Guilty.” How do you handle this verdict?

One of first promises I was taught as a new Christian was this verse from Scripture:

God is faithful and reliable. If we confess our sins, He forgives them and cleanses us from everything we’ve done wrong. — 1 John 1:9 GWT

I was taught to trust God instead of myself for forgiveness. God has plenty of good things He wants us to do, but these good deeds are a response to His grace and not a way to earn His grace. It’s a pipe dream to think we could do enough good things to earn God’s favor. The apostle Paul wrote,

You did not save yourselves; it was a gift from God. It was not the result of your own efforts, so you cannot brag about it. God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us to do good works, which God planned in advance for us to live our lives doing. — Ephesians 2:8-10 NCV

Forgiveness is God’s gift to us.

Start by receiving this gift. You receive this gift by offering to God a prayer of trust. “Father, I trust in you for forgiveness instead of trusting myself to earn your favor. I trust you to show me how to live the life you created me to live.” Accept God’s gift. Then respond by passing the gift on to others.

Thinking about My Relationships

Point to Ponder: The only way I can find the strength to forgive others is to embrace the fact that Jesus has forgiven me.

Verse to Remember: God is faithful and reliable. If we confess our sins, He forgives them and cleanses us from everything we’ve done wrong (1 John 1:9 GWT).

Questions to Consider: How can I take my experiences of fellowship a step deeper? Who is the person in my life I need to forgive?

Excerpted with permission from The Relationship Principles of Jesus by Tom Holladay, copyright Tom Holladay.

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Your Turn

How are you doing on fellowship and forgiveness? Are you solving relationship problems by staying away from people? That won’t help! Are you salving with hurts and insults with bitterness? That won’t help! Follow Jesus! He is our example for healthy relationships. Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

Tom Holladay

Tom Holladay is the senior teaching pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Tom’s passion in ministry is to help people discover a love for the Bible and an understanding of God’s truth that changes the way they live. He also assists Rick Warren in teaching Purpose-Driven Church conferences to Christian leaders all over the world. Books he has written include The Relationship Principles of Jesus, Love Powered Parenting, and Foundations: 11 Core Truths to Build Your Life On. He also teaches DriveTime Devotions, a daily ten-minute podcast with more than 26 million downloads. He and his wife, Chaundel, have three children and six grandchildren.

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