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"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 4:31 - 5:2.
Bitterness defiles and destroys lives, friendships, families and one’s future. Bitterness is like a cancer. It devours its host. Bitterness is self-induced misery.
Real or Imagined
When we sin, we feel guilt. When others sin against us, we feel bitter. Bitterness is always based upon someone else’s actions. These actions could be real or imagined, they may even be based on a false report, but the bitterness is always very real. Bitter people cannot imagine the possibility that they are bitter over imaginary sins. As far as the bitter person is concerned the other person’s guilt must always be real. Rioters, arsonists, ANTIFA and BLM protestors ae all bitter and angry over something they believe others are guilty of.
“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 12:15. The Bible warns us lest any root of bitterness spring up causing trouble and defiling many people. If there is a root of bitterness, it will bear bitter fruit. Bitterness is destructive and devastating.
The Roots of Bitterness
The fact that you cannot normally see roots does not mean that they are not there. Roots drink in moisture and nourishment and they spread. Because a root is something that is underground, it cannot normally be seen. But sometimes you can see visible evidence of their presence such as when they start to lift up driveways and pavements. The riots in many streets are also evidence of the roots of bitterness bearing destructive fruit.
Family and Friends
The bitterness is not necessarily concerned with how big the sin, real or imagined, is. It more depends upon how close our relationship with the one responsible. Strangers can do incredibly evil things all over the world, without us feeling any bitterness at all. However, our co-workers, family members, friends and immediate superiors are all close enough to us that what they do, or even what they do not do, can be perceived as such an offence that we react in bitterness. It is not how serious the offence is. It may be rather trivial. The relationship just has to be close. As one man said to me: “You remind me of my father! I hate my father!
Bitterness Against God
In the Bible, in the book of Ruth, we read of Naomi who moved from Israel to another land, where her husband and both sons died. The Bible records that Naomi reacted with bitterness towards God. “…It grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me…Do not call me Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” Ruth 1:13,20-21. Bitterness never leads one closer to God. Bitterness is like an acid and it numbs one’s conscience.
Anger Against God
The Bible also tells us about the prophet Jonah who reacted with bitterness when the people of Nineveh repented and the Lord relented from sending judgement upon them. “But God said to Jonah, ‘Do you have the right to be angry…?’ ‘I do’, he said. ‘I am angry enough to die.” Jonah 4:9
Those closest to us are the ones who can hurt us the most. A husband, wife, parent, friend, brother, or sister, are the ones we are most sensitive towards.
Dealing with the Disease
When we are offended, we tend to react in one of two destructive ways: One way is to nurse the bitterness, to keep remembering the details, until we make ourselves sick. The other way is to talk about it to as many other people as possible, spreading the bitterness and sickness widely.
However, God’s Word commands us to dig up the root of bitterness and to get rid of it. To forgive. Jesus taught us to pray: “Forgive our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12
“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, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15
Peter came to Jesus and asked: “‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you not seven times, but seventy times seven” Matthew 18:21-22
The Unforgiving Servant
The Lord told the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant: There was a servant who owed such a fortune to the king, that being unable to pay, he, his wife and his children and all that he owned were to be sold into slavery to re-pay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before the king and pleaded Be patient with me and I will pay back everything. The king took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go free. The Bible then relates: “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him ‘Be patient with me and I will pay you back’. But he refused. Instead he had the man thrown into prison. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told the master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant’ he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? His master turned him over to the jailers until he could pay back all he owed. This is how My Heavenly Father shall treat each one of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” Matthew 18:28-35
Unconditional Unilateral Forgiveness
Not only does the Bible teach us to forgive those who ask us for forgiveness, we are also commanded to forgive others, even when they don’t ask for forgiveness. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:12-13
We are to forgive unconditionally. We are forgiven unconditionally by God, and we are commanded to live a life of unconditional forgiveness towards others. The fact that the offending person may not have had apologised, repented, or undertaken due restitution, does not relieve me of my responsibility before God to forgive those who sin against me.
“But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from Heaven, but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from Heaven is… full of mercy…” James 3:14-17
No matter what the offence, no matter who the offending party, we are commanded by our Sovereign Lord to forgive. To live a life of forgiveness. To forgive your brother from your heart. Freely you have received, freely give. 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, your Father will not forgive your sins. If I refuse to forgive others, I have good reason to doubt my salvation.
The Example of Christ
Our Lord Jesus gave us the greatest example of forgiveness when on the Cross, having been wrongly tried, falsely accused, unjustly condemned, whipped and beaten, with all His disciples forsaking Him, with the religious leaders condemning Him, the crowds mocking, reviling and cursing Him, our Lord Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Luke 24:34
Nothing is so Christ-like as to forgive our enemies, to forgive those who have done us great harm. Our Lord Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad for great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:11-12
This is the Lord’s command and this is His example: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps.” 1 Peter 2:21
There is no more powerful a witness as when a Christian forgives an enemy. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer… bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is Mine to avenge; I will repay’, says the Lord. On the contrary: if your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:12-21
Bitterness or Obedience?
The question is not whether the one offending us deserves to be forgiven. We certainly have not deserved God’s forgiveness. The question is: Are we are going to live in obedience to God’s Word, or in blatant rebellion by harbouring our bitterness, unforgiveness and resentment?
The fact is: if we refuse to forgive, the root of bitterness will continue to grow within us, poisoning every aspect of our lives. We will become sick, spiritually, emotionally, mentally and even physically sick. Bitterness is a poison and it eats up those who carry it within them.
But you may say, “I’m not bitter. I’m just hurt!” Well, the symptoms of feeling hurt are extremely close to the symptoms of resentment. There is a close relationship between feeling hurt, being resentful and being bitter.
Even more seriously, bitterness easily turns into hatred. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.” 1 John 3:14-15
Transform Toxic Thoughts Through Thorough Repentance and Truth
How do I know if I am bitter? Bitterness remembers details. As any teacher will tell you, memory is helped by reviewing, reviewing and more reviewing. When we can remember every syllable, intonation and inflection of the offence, then we must know that we have not forgiven our brother from our hearts, but we have been nursing a root of bitterness. That is a great sin.
Better or Bitter
Those who hope that time will heal this will be sorely disappointed. Instead of fading over the years, the bitterness tends to accumulate, deepen and fester. Instead of getting better over the years, they just get more bitter.
Nor does an apology, or even restitution, by the other person, necessarily end the bitterness. There have been many situations where the other party has done everything that could possibly be done to apologise and make right, but the offended party has continued to harbour a deadly bitterness.
Healing Through Repentance and Forgiveness
The only solution to bitterness is for the one who is bitter to confess before God the sin of bitterness and unforgiveness. The only way to remove bitterness from your life is to kill it at its root.
“The ruthless will vanish, the mockers will disappear, and all who have an eye for evil will be cut down—those who with a word make someone out to be guilty, who ensnare the defender in court and with false testimony deprive the innocent of justice.” Isaiah 29:20-21
“Do not hate your brother in your heart…” Leviticus 19:17
“Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.” 1 John 2:9
“Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers all wrongs.” Proverbs 10:12
“This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness. If we claim to have fellowship with Him, yet we walk in the darkness we lie and do not live by the truth, but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the Blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:5-9
“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in You.” Isaiah 26:3
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa
This article is adapted from a chapter in Character Assassins – Dealing with Ecclesiastical Tyrants and Terrorists. The audio CD of the sermon preached on this subject is also available from Christian Liberty Books, PO Box 358, Howard Place 7450, Cape Town, South Africa, Tel: 021-689-7478, Fax: 086-551-7490, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, and Website: www.christianlibertybooks.co.za.
See also related articles:
Sin and Interpersonal Relationships
A Biblical Response to Slander
When All Men Speak Well of You
Learning From Failure