The Blessing of Forgiving Others
(The Law of Plentiful Returns vs. The Law of Diminished Returns)

Luke 6:37,38, Luke 11:4


(c) Copyright 2008 Rev. Bill Versteeg

    In his Sunday sermon, the minister used "Forgive Your Enemies" as his subject. After the sermon, he asked how many were willing to forgive their enemies. About half held up their hands.
    Not satisfied, he harangued the congregation for another twenty minutes and repeated his question. This received a response of eighty percent. Still unsatisfied, he lectured for fifteen more minutes and repeated his question. All responded except one elderly gentleman in the rear.
    "Mr. Jones, are you not willing to forgive your enemies?" "I don't have any." "Mr. Jones, that is very unusual. How old are you?" "One Hundred and one". "Mr. Jones, please come down in front and tell the congregation how a man can live to be one hundred and one and not have an enemy in the world."
    The old man teetered down the aisle, slowly turned to face the congregation, smiled and said, "I outlived every one of them!"

On a more serious note:
    My trip to Liberia was a great eye opening experience.  I have come back with an incredible appreciation for the blessings we live in every day.  I hope to share with you some of the things I saw and learned toward the end of march in an evening service.  Until then, just one of many things that happened.

    Liberia has been through two civil wars.  And entire generation is missing.  The country is literally shot to bits.  A lot of forgiving has to happen.  The present government is led by Mrs. Johnson Serif who is trying to build peace by giving stakeholders positions of power and by a peace and reconciliation commission.  As pastors, we started discussing this, and numerous difficulties quickly came to the surface.  One pastor stood up and said: "How can I respect this peace and reconciliation process when the very person who is helping to organize it, the very person who will be across from the table hearing my testimony will be the person who killed my parents?”

    At the beginning of this Lent season, we have come to the most difficult request of the Lord’s prayer: "Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us."  The truths of this passage apply to churches, to marriages that are 50 years old and marriages that have just begun, it applies to us as individuals, it applies to entire countries, it even applies to post war pastors in Monrovia, Liberia.  In the future, we will look at what is involved in forgiving others. This morning I want to focus on the blessings that result from forgiving others.  The scripture that I want to focus on is Luke 6:36-37

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Point of this passage is very basic:  When we do not judge, condemn, when we forgive and give, the rewards we will recieve will be greater then our investment.  That's the point of this phrase
    "A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap."

    The picture is something like a well packed suitcase.  You open it and the contents are so pressed together that they jump out at you and it overflows.  And you cannot fathom how so much could come out of one suit case.  In the same way, when we forgive, what returns to us is far more than we could anticipate and greater than our original investment.

    When we choose to forgive, the word of God tells us that the measure we recieve will be greater than the measure we give.  Now there are two sides to this truth.  The opposite is also true.  When we refuse to forgive, what we refuse to invest comes back at us with a vengeance.

    For the sake of this message we are going to call these two principles the kingdom principle of PLENTIFUL RETURNS and the world's principle of DIMINISHED RETURNS.

    This morning, we start with the principle of DIMINISHED RETURNS as it is demonstrated in our lives when we choose not to forgive somebody.  The basic principle behind the law of diminished returns is that though it promises much, the reward is not comparable or worth the investment.  It promises much but delivers little.

    Why is it that we would choose not to forgive somebody?

    Because the world promises to us that (if we don't forgive somebody their wrong) we will have justified power over them.  Most of us can relate to one degree or another.  We've been hurt by somebody else. The wound goes fairly deep, maybe very deep and our anger burns.  That anger is a lot of pent up power ready to burst forth when the right opportunity arises.  When we choose not to forgive we give ourselves the right to hold that pent up power in reserve just waiting for the chance to retaliate.  Or maybe its power to control, we've listened to the little maxim "Forgive one offense and you encourage the commission of many."

    Even though this world in the practice of not forgiving promises us power - power to retaliate or power to control another person by our unforgiveness - how often has the power actually worked that way?  By not forgiveing somebody have you really effectively wounded them in return?  And if so, what good has it done?  By not forgiving somebody, have you really started to control their behavior?  I doubt it.

    From watching what happens in my life and the life of others, what happens much more often is that unforgiveness gives only the power to break relationship with others.  When spouses choose not to forgive each other, what happens? Unforgiveness doesn't gain control or power in a relationship, rather it destroys relationship. Probably one of the clearest demonstrations of this truth is in fact the church.  The church is a human institution and over the years, sometimes decisions are made that may influence our lives in a negative way.  Many of us have experienced that.  We know that there are many joys to being part of a community, there are also sometimes times of pain.

    Now there are two possible responses to relational pain in the church community.  One is to forgive and the other is to take offense and choose not to forgive.  Have you ever noticed what happens to members when they choose not to forgive the church community.  Seldom does it change the church significantly. What much more often happens is that the person who refuses to forgive is the person who over time is no longer seen in church because they have believed the lie that the power they would gain would be for their benefit but in the end it was only the power to sever relationship.

    Actually the LAW OF DIMINISHED RETURNS is a LAW OF NEGATIVE RETURNS for when we choose not to forgive we choose to hold onto a stituation, an experience, a memory and we give it power to continue shaping our lives.  Emotionally its called "UNFINISHED BUSINESS."  And just like having unfinished business piled up on our desk would cause most of us a fair amount of stress, so to emotional unfinished business has the power to burden our lives, like a sack on our back that eventually we find crippling.  To choose not to forgive is a choice to let an experience shape who we are!  It binds us to the pain of our past!
    I will never forget a man I met in Edmonton, Alberta.  His brothers in a business deal swindled him out of his life savings.  As I listened to him, his brothers actions already completed, he could not understand how his brother could do that to him.  His tears and pain were very obvious.  And he could not forgive.  Forgiving is a process, but he was not willing to even consider that first step of choosing to go through the process of forgiving his brother in time.  There was a hardness, a determination is his unwillingness to forgive.  I met him again about six months later.  This time he was in a nursing home, now mentally and physically disabled, unable to feed himself.  That determined unforgiveness not only crippled, it shaped him into mental illness, it destroyed his personality.  His beauty as a human being was gone.  

    There are other aspects to the law of diminished returns.  When we choose not to forgive we deny a disabled relationship the possibility of rebuilding.  When we hurt each other, which in community always happens, the wounds normally disable a realtionship.  But when we refuse to forgive we keep the wounds open and don't give them a chance to heal.

    And then of course there is the real cruncher if we choose not to forgive.  Scripture tells us that if we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us - in that order.  That is Jesus explanation of this petition in Matthew 6:14
    "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, you Father will not forgive your sins."

Very basic reason - to choose not to forgive is to choose to withhold the grace from others that God has given to us.  This turns us into unthankful servants not worthy of the grace and forgiveness of God.  If we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us!

    When we begin to understand the law of diminished, even negative returns when we choose not to forgive others, we have to ask ourselves very honestly, is it worth it not to forgive?

    Let me focus on the law of increasing returnes as is taught to us in this passage of Luke 6
    "Forgive and you will be forgiven.  Give and it will be given you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap."

    When we stop to reflect on it, most of us have fears about forgiving others.  To forgive is to give up power and if we forgive others their offenses against us.  One of the things that we fear the most is becoming their doormat, something that is repeatedly stepped on.  After all, "forgive one offense and you encourage the commission of many."

    But is it true?  Experience tells us NO!  More often than becoming door mats, what really happens is that we recieve thanks from others who have recieved our forgiveness, especially if they value their relationship with us.  And it is a pleasure to be reconciled.  By forgiving, we make it possible for relationship to be rebuilt with time, for trust to be re-established by building on a new foundation.

But even more!  The measure we recieve is pressed down.
    When we forgive we bring closure to an event.  The business is finished.  Progressively we disable the experience, as painful as it was, from having the power to continue shaping our lives.  The forgetting of forgiveness is not forgetting what happened, it is the removal of the power of pain to shape who we are.  When memories do not shape who we are, they become emotionally less important, and in truth, in time, we do forget them.

    But the blessing is pressed down even more.  Forgiving blesses those around us, especially the generations that come after us.  For the ones who are wounded by our unforgiveness are not just our enemies, it is also our children and the generations to come.  Not forgiving creates a cycle of relational violence that will not be resolved.  And so we hear of Shae’ites and Sunnies destroying each other in Iraq because of wounds that are 1400 years old.  The Pastors of Liberia realized as we talked about the peace and reconciliation commission that not to forgive was to sow the seeds for the next civil war.  To forgive is to pour out blessing on our children.
                    
    And as the scripture makes very clear, as we forgive others, God's grace continues to flow to us. "For if we forgive others when they sin against us, our heavenly father will also forgive us."

    One there is still one more blessing that becomes ours in the process of forgiving others.  We increase our understanding of God who, while we were yet sinners, forgave us.  When we go through the process of forgiving others, we come to understand what God went through to forgive us, we come to understand more clearly the reason for the cross, the pain of the cross and the significance of Jesus words before the cross:  "This is my body broken for you, this is the blood of the new covenant shed for you."

    "Forgive and you will be forgiven.  Give and it will be given you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap."

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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