Bitterness is a terrible sin that afflicts many people. It is the type of sin that seems to spring up, although in reality it has long lain dormant in our lives. No one grows up wanting to be a bitter old man or a bitter old lady and yet so many people in today’s society are bitter. Teenagers, young adults, senior citizens, both inside and outside of Christendom can become bitter. Warnings in Scripture abound about this insidious sin:
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. Ephesians 4:31-32
Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; Hebrews 12:14-15
Sometimes guilt is confused with bitterness. Guilt is what we feel when we sin. Bitterness is what we feel when others sin against us. Bitterness is almost always based on someone else’s sin against us, whether that sin was real or imaginary. What do I mean by this? Imaginary sin is when we think someone said or did something against us that they really didn’t do. We get bitter waiting over an apology that will never come because we only thought we were harmed.
Some sins against us are real. Bitterness is not concerned with how big the sin is, it is based on how close it is to you. It does not depend on how great the evil was, it depends on how close the offending person was to you. Bitterness is directly related to those people we are (or were) closest to.
Hebrews 12:15 describes bitterness as a root. Roots are mainly underground. They are rarely seen. The effects of roots though, that can be readily seen. They break up sidewalks, roads, water pipes. They extend deep into the ground and spread out over a wide area. Roots drink in nourishment and eventually a sprout comes up above ground. Later a plant grows and bears fruits or seeds.
The fruit that is born bears a direct relationship to the root producing it. Apple seeds grow apple tree roots that support apple trees which bear apples. A bitter root in your heart will grow deep and wide, supporting, sprouting and producing bitter fruit. We are told that bitterness defiles many people. That word for defile means to make people filthy. Bitterness spreads like a wildfire, consuming families, workplaces, churches and classes of people. The Bible says we have to get rid of it. Why? Because bitterness, is not only defiling and hurtful, it is also unspiritual – straight from the devil. James 3:14-15 says: But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. If not gotten rid of quickly, bitterness will result in evil practices which will defile both you and those around you.
Before you can get rid of bitterness, you must recognize it. How can you tell if you have a root of bitterness in you, waiting to spring up? Bitterness remembers details. You have thousands of conversations in your lifetime. How many of them do you remember in detail, word for word? Not only the words, but the intonation, inflection, gestures and facial expressions of the other party? Most of the ones we recall are those we feel sinned against by. Memory is helped by review, review, review. A constant reviewing of slights, real or imagined, leads to bitterness. I see this over and over in divorce counseling and family counseling. Conversations from years back are replayed in great detail when a party is hurt but positive conversations are fuzzy in the related details.
In order to get rid of bitterness we have to recognize, admit, and confess we have a problem. And the problem is with us – not the other party. Many times, I hear people say, “I’m not bitter. I just get my feelings hurt easily.” Really? Oversensitivity leads to resentment which turns to bitterness very quickly if not dealt with. You see, bitterness is just resentment that has been held on to. It is resentment that has festered and rotted.
We must recognize how insidious bitterness is. How evil it is. Bitterness always wants to blame the other person, the one who has hurt us. We don’t deal with the sin of bitterness so long as we think continue to think it is the others person’s sin. “When he quits lying” or “When she stops doing this” or “When they apologize to me for…” What if the other person never stops, never apologizes, never even recognizes that they have hurt you? Are you going to be resentful and bitter forever? A Christian cannot. He or she must forgive others even as Christ forgave us for sinning against Him.
When bitterness takes root even an apology will not get rid of it. Bitterness is always the sin of the bitter person alone, unrelated to anyone else. You and you alone choose to remain angry at another and withhold forgiveness. Christ went to the cross for us before we repented of any sin. We were unworthy and undeserving of this kindness and we are to show that type of grace and mercy to others.
In order to eradicate bitterness from my life I have to see that it is evil, satanic and that it is my sin and my sin alone. I do not get rid of it through the other person apologizing. I do not get rid of it if the other person stops their actions or if they die. I do not get rid of it any other way except calling it a sin against a holy God, confessing it and receiving His forgiveness.
If this is not done, bitterness will devastate you spiritually. If you have unresolved bitterness in your life then you are not right with God. You are not walking according to His Spirit but according to your flesh. It will devastate those closest to you. It will infect family, friends and your brothers and sisters in the church.
In Galatians chapter 5 the fruit of the Spirit is listed. Such things as love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, and godliness are mentioned. When you are bitter towards someone you withhold love and you don’t feel joy around them. You are in turmoil, no peace. You are not patient with them nor are you gentle with them. You are not walking in the Spirit. Galatians goes on to say we reap what we sow. Bitterness halts spiritual growth altogether. Remember, if you are not walking in the Spirit then you are not growing in the Spirit either.
Bitterness also destroys you emotionally. Bitterness will lead to discouragement and paranoia. You develop a victim mentality, believing that person is always out to get you. Eventually you may believe that about everyone else as well. You become negative, critical of others, always finding some fault even when they do something well. You become judgmental of their motives and secretly wish them ill, hoping they fail at whatever they try to do.
After admitting our bitterness, confessing it to God and asking His forgiveness, we need to pray for others. Not about them, but for them. To pray that God draws them close to Himself and they become great instruments for Him to use. Think of those people you don’t get along with, those you don’t particularly care for. Can you pray this for them? If not, check your heart. You might have a root of bitterness lurking, waiting to spring up.
A double helping of quotes this morning, these on the subject of anger:
A man who does not know how to be angry does not know how to be good. And a man that does not know how to be shaken to his heart’s core with indignation over things evil is either a fungus or a wicked man.
Henry Ward Beecher
If we would be angry and not sin (says one), we must be angry at nothing but sin; and we should be more jealous for the glory of God than for any interest or reputation of our own.
One of the cardinal beliefs we hold about God is that He is all-knowing. That means that He knows everything that you or I will ever do. He knows this in advance from the day you were born, stretching into infinity. One of the ramifications of this is that He can never be disappointed in us. Disappointment, by definition, means to be discouraged or saddened by the failure to live up to hopes, dreams or expectations. Since God knows everything we will ever do in advance, He cannot be disappointed by our failures, simply because He isn’t expecting us to do anything other than He already knows we will do.
He knows these things, and yet loves us anyway. We can sadden Him, grieve Him, anger Him – but we will not disappoint Him. This is both exhilarating and sobering. It is exhilarating because I don’t have to carry around a false sense of guilt of causing Him disappointment. It is sobering, though, when I realize He couldn’t expect better from me because He already knew when and where I would fail.
The amazing thing of all this is that is shows God’s grace standing above all. Despite knowing my failures in advance, He still calls me to ministry. He still empowers me. He still loves me.
One of the other things you can’t do to God is surprise Him. That, though, will be a subject for another day. Praise God for His omniscience.