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.
This week marks the lighting of the joy (pink) candle. This is the third candle lit, going from expectation of the coming Messiah to longing for His presence now to joy at His appearing. In this world, marked by conflict and division, anger and turmoil, disappointment and despair, we light this candle to proclaim “Jesus came to give us joy unspeakable and full of glory!” Like Mary, we can sing, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
Each day this week we need to contemplate on what a great gift of grace has been given to us. The Holy Son of God came to take our sin guilt, came to pay the penalty we owed to the Heavenly Father, came to give us a new birth, a new life, a life to be lived in Him. It is for that reason we rejoice. Our salvation has come. We who believe have been given a new spirit and are being fitted for our new home with Christ.
Yes, life remains difficult. Yes, we mess up day by day. We are still on our journey after all; we haven’t arrived yet. But, we are confident that as we confess our sins and repent of them that we will be forgiven and the grace we ask for will be given to us. We will still encounter sin. We will encounter it in this evil ,fallen world and we will encounter it hiding in our own lives. When we encounter it we can bring back to mind the words of the angel, “You are to name him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. Matthew 1:21”
If you can’t rejoice over that thought this week, then you have nothing to be joyous about. He came to seek and to save those who were lost. He found me. Has He found you?
Proverbs 1:7 states that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (knowledge)”. In almost all discussions in church classes about this verse it becomes clear that people have been taught that the word fear means “reverential respect.” I beg to disagree. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell”. If the people being addressed were believers, it might be appropriate to use the reverential respect meaning. For an unbeliever, a fear (terror) of a holy God who judges righteously would be the beginning of wisdom. If a person has no fear of ultimate judgment, why would they contemplate salvation? If hell is not a real option, a consequence of not allowing Jesus to be the Lord of one’s life, why worry about an afterlife? The Bible uses the word fear (with reference to God) over 300 times. In quite the majority of those uses, fear means “to be terrified.” The lack of fearing God (according to Romans 3:18) is one of mankind’s chief sins.
For believers, we are told in 1 John 4:18 that “perfect love casts out fear.” How many of us love perfectly? And if fear is just reverential respect, why would perfect love cast it out? William Eisenhower wrote an article for Christianity Today about fearing God. One sentence of his article stands out: “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but love from the Lord is its completion.” We are to fear God’s holiness. We get to experience His mercy and grace. I can go boldly into His presence and obtain mercy from Him, not punishment because of my relationship with His Son. I never presume upon it, though. There are times when He withholds complete mercy. Moses is not allowed into the Promised Land. Ananais and Sapphira are struck dead. So is Uzziah. Believers in Corinth also are put in the grave early. Some mercy is still granted – their soul’s security is still guaranteed. Grace is given in that they did not deserve to enter into His presence. I promise you, though, the early church and the Israelites in the desert feared God with more than reverential respect.
It could be that in many churches our people have lost the fear of serving a holy God and that is why the church looks and feels just like the world. It could be the reason so many churches are powerless and have lost their witness. Without a wholesome fear of God, people will not repent of their sins, and repentance is necessary for the remission of sin. I fear God. I don’t serve Him out of fear, I do it out of gratitude for the salvation He has wrought in my heart, but I also fear Him. He is a God who expects holiness and who has high standards of conduct for His people. He also provides His Spirit to direct and guide and empower us to accomplish His will in His way. I believe that we need to teach that it is proper to fear a God who can destroy both body and soul in hell. It will wake up a lost and dying world and keep those awake from presumptuous sins.
Again, as part of our research in putting together our newest resource, The 180º Project, we have found some good thoughts concerning biblical repentance. Some of these we share below. While not all of these will make it into our final book, all of them are worthy of contemplation. If you run across any that you would like to share with us, please email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please enjoy”
[Repentance] is not a merely intellectual change of mind or mere grief, still less doing penance, but a radical transformation of the entire person, a fundamental turnaround involving mind and action and including overtones of grief, which result in (spiritual) fruit. — D.A. Carson
Repentance is more than just sorrow for the past; repentance is a change of mind and heart, a new life of denying self and serving the Savior as king in self’s place. — J.I. Packer
Remorse precedes true repentance. Changed behavior follows true repentance. But this necessary prelude and postlude of true repentance are not themselves the essence of repentance. True repentance is a denial that anything in us ever would or ever could satisfy God’s holiness or compel His pardon. We humbly concede that we can offer nothing for what He alone can give. Then we rest in His promise to forgive those who humbly seek Him… Repentance, therefore, is fundamentally a humble expression of a desire for a renewed relationship with God – a relationship that we confess can be secured only by His grace. — Bryan Chapell
Our Lord’s idea of repentance is as profound and comprehensive as His conception of righteousness. Of the three words that are used in the Greek Gospels to describe the process, one emphasizes the emotional element of regret, sorrow over the past evil course of life, metamelomai; Matt. 12:29-32; a second expresses reversal of the entire mental attitude, metanoeo, Matt. 12:41, Luke 11:32; 15:7, 10; the third denotes a change in the direction of life, one goal being substituted for another, epistrephomai; Matt. 13:15 (and parallels); Luke 17;4, 22:32. Repentance is not limited to any single faculty of the mind: it engages the entire man, intellect, will and affections… Again, in the new life which follows repentance the absolute supremacy of God is the controlling principle. He who repents turns away from the service of mammon and self to the service of God. —Geerhardus Vos
It is one thing to love sin and to force ourselves to quit it; it is another thing to hate sin because love for God is so gripping that the sin no longer appeals. The latter is repentance; the former is reform. It is repentance that God requires. Repentance is “a change of mind.” To love and yet quit it is not the same as hating it and quitting it. Your supposed victory over a sin may be simple displacement. You may love one sin so much (such as your pride) that you will curtail another more embarrassing sin which you also love. This may look spiritual, but there is nothing of God in it. Natural men do it every day. —Jim Elliff
Here at Ta Ethne we are very bothered by recent trends in our country. In the past week alone, we have had rulings in different states that undermine basic biblical and moral values. Sadly, these decisions are being applauded. One such ruling is that by Massachusetts on allowing students at school to pick whatever gender they want to be identified as and catering to their every whim. You can read more here: http://radio.foxnews.com/toddstarnes/top-stories/students-who-refuse-to-affirm-transgender-classmates-face-punishment.html
Another is the ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court who refused to allow prosecution of a mother who abused cocaine while pregnant and gave birth to an addicted child. Here at Ta Ethne, we have adopted such a child, one born in California hooked on so many drugs at birth a tox screen only turned up 3 NOT in her system. Such a ruling is absurdity at its highest point.
Even more upsetting, the fact that the current presidential administration is even considering helping overturn a California law describing marriage as between a man and a woman is beyond comprehension.
Our country is so far post-Christian that I believe God is going to judge her soon. The Church fell asleep decades ago and now has compromised to the point that the majority of her members are lost. Her influence has waned to the point where most Americans think of both the Church and her God as completely irrelevant. They are not atheists in the sense that they do not believe in a God, they simply have never even considered seriously whether there is or isn’t one.
The time has come for the remaining disciples of Jesus Christ to stand up, speak up and seek to overcome darkness with the light of truth. When we begin to fear God and His holiness more than the ridicule and persecution of unbelievers we might start to have an impact on our society. When we stop coddling fence straddlers and confront people with the need for repentance and holy living we might have a church Jesus is not ashamed to call His own. That is Ta Ethne’s stance — what’s yours?
A fantastic article by Dan Cruver from togetherforadoption.org on thoughts written by the Puritan John Owen. First published on their website on November 6, 2012, this article is well written and very thought provoking. Please take the time to read
Many times repentance is illustrated by having a person walk in one direction and then turn around and walk in the opposite direction. The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary defines “repent” as “to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life”. Repentance is a change of mind and attitude that involves a conscious turning away from wrong actions, attitudes, thoughts and habits that conflict with a Godly lifestyle and biblical commands, and an intentional turning toward doing that which the Bible says pleases God.
As I reflect upon this, I find that many people do not do a 180 degree turn-around so much as they stop at 90 degrees. By this I mean that they stop doing what is wrong but do not replace it with what is right. One only needs to read the words of John the Baptist or the Apostle Paul to see how incomplete that is. The one who steals is to steal no longer but also to work and earn what he needs. Even more, he is to earn enough so that he has excess in order that he can give to those without so that they no longer are tempted to steal. One is to stop talking with a filthy mouth and bless and edify people instead. We are commanded to not only forgive our enemies but to pray that God blesses them, while blessing them ourselves.
In order to tell is a person is truly repentant, John the Baptist gives the definitive proof – do good works (produce fruit) in keeping with that repentance. Talk is cheap. One can pray seeking forgiveness for one’s wrongdoing but never obtain it because they have no intention of repenting. Repentance is often the forgotten aspect of salvation, in that we are not forgiven by God unless we come to Him with a repentant heart.
I.C. Herendeen says is well, when he states, ” For salvation, “repentance unto life” is just as necessary as is faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. No sinner was ever pardoned while he remained impenitent, while he remained in rebellion against God and His authority, and without submitting himself whole-heartedly to His Lordship. This involves the realization in his heart, wrought therein by the Holy Spirit, of “the sinfulness of sin” (Rom 7:13), of the awfulness of ignoring the claims of God and of defying His authority. Repentance is a “holy horror and hatred of sin, a deep sorrow for it, a contrite acknowledgment of it before God, and a complete hear forsaking of it.To exhort sinners to be saved by “Accepting Christ as their Saviour” without pressing upon them the imperative necessity of repentance is dishonest, and is to falsify God’s terms of salvation, for “Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 17:3) is the Divine dictum. The sinner must either repent or perish, there is no other alternative. And since “All have sinned” (Rom. 3:23) all therefore need to “repent and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15) else they will be “punished with everlasting destruction” (2Thess. 1:9). To delay repentance then is most perilous.”
I end these thoughts with the words of Charles Hodge, a great man of God. He says, “The sure test of the quality of any supposed change of heart will be found in its permanent effects. Whatever, therefore, may have been our inward experience, whatever joy or sorrow we may have felt, unless we bring forth fruits meet for repentance, our experience will profit us nothing. Repentance is incomplete unless it leads to confession and restitution in cases of injury; unless it causes us to forsake not merely outward sins, which others notice, but those which lie concealed in the heart; unless it makes us choose the service of God and live not for ourselves but for Him. There is no duty, which is either more obvious in itself, or more frequently asserted in the Word of God, than that of repentance.”
Let us take heed of the words of John the Baptist and truly repent of sin in our life.
Abraham, the great patriarch, stands as an example of what it means to follow God by faith. He was a person who experienced God’s grace repeatedly. As wonderful as Abraham was, though, he was not perfect. There were some major sins in his life, which created repercussions that lasted for a long time.
God called Abram to leave his home and go to a place that God would show him and he did (Genesis 12:1). He left behind the idol worship of his family and followed the directions of the true God. When he arrived in Canaan, the first thing Abram did was build an altar to God. He journeyed further into the land and built another altar to the Lord. He has followed the call of God, been blessed, and in return offered thanks.
While Abram was obedient to God in leaving Ur and traveling to Canaan, it would seem from the biblical records that he was not completely obedient. Abram did not leave the pagan influences of his family behind. His father, Terah, traveled with him as far as Haran, where Abram lingered for awhile. After his father’s death, Abram continued on his journey but allowed his nephew, Lot, to tag along. These decisions would lead to trouble later on.
Abram is to be greatly commended for his faith in following God on a journey across the Arabian Peninsula. It is even more impressive when you realize that he was apparently the first person in his family to believe in Yahweh. It is easy, then, for us to excuse his lingering in Haran, or his failure to distance himself from his family’s influences. To do this, though, would be to make a mistake. While Abram did many great things for God, he compromised his beliefs more than once, developed a pattern of partial obedience, and through selfish actions caused others to suffer. The Bible is quick to write of its hero’s strengths and weaknesses, their victories and their defeats. By taking an honest look at Abram, we will see that even the greatest of men are flawed and in need of God’s forgiveness, power and grace.
After Abram has spent some time establishing himself in Canaan, a famine came and Abram left the Land of Promise and journeyed to Egypt. There is no record that he consulted God about the move. The events that follow seem to show that his lack of asking God for advice was a failure on Abram’s part. He shows a lack of trust in God by making the move. Surely, the God who had led and sustained him on the journey from Ur through Haran to Canaan could have sustained him there. Why would God lead him to a place without having a plan to bless him in spite of the circumstances?
Wouldn’t it have greatly strengthened Abram’s faith to see God blessing him with food in the midst of a famine? Wouldn’t it have confirmed that this is, indeed, where he was supposed to be? However, Abram goes to Egypt. He stops walking by faith and begins to walk by sight. He knows that there is food in Egypt so he picks up and moves on. By doing so, he places himself and his family in a life-threatening situation.
It seems Abram has married a very attractive woman in his wife Sarai. Since the Bible rarely comments on a person’s physical features, Sarai must have been a strikingly beautiful woman. She is so beautiful, Abram is afraid that she will catch the attention of Pharaoh when they go to buy food. He reasons that if Pharaoh sees her and desires her for his harem that he will kill Abram to get her. Therefore, Abram lies about his relationship to Sarai.
Sarai was Abram’s half-sister , but she was also his wife. That relationship should have taken priority in his mind. It also would not be the last time Abram used this deception, as we will see later on. Can you imagine how this must have made his wife feel? He was willing to subjugate her to a humiliating experience, just to save his own skin. Can you see her face, read her emotions, as she realizes that he is not the protector she has grown to depend on? One of a woman’s greatest needs is to see her husband as her champion – a lot of her security is tied up in this. Abram’s treatment of Sarai will have repercussions later on, in how his son Isaac treats his wife Rebekah, as we will see in a later chapter. It would seem that some lessons are passed on, albeit unintentionally.
Abram intended to deceive the Egyptians so he is guilty of lying. Is it ever right to lie? Even a “white” lie? God gives His opinion on the subject in many places, including Exodus 20:16. How many times do we try to justify our actions by rationalizing them away like Abram did? If we are called to be holy people, representing the character of God to a watching world, then we need to make sure we are not guilty of speaking with lying lips.
Because of Abram’s lie, Sarai was taken to the harem of Pharaoh to become one of his wives. This would of placed Sarai in the position of becoming an adulteress. God intervened, and Pharaoh and his household were afflicted, by the Lord, with severe diseases before he could bed Sarai. This begs the question, based on this account, how does sin affect others?
Pharaoh and his house are being punished. He does not know Sarai is anyone’s wife. He has been lied to. Certainly, his household is not guilty of anything. Yet because of Abram’s cowardice and lying, they are being afflicted. Abram is displaying an incredible lack of faith or trust in the Lord. Lack of faith in God’s being able to provide food in Canaan. He is showing a lack of trusting that God will protect him and Sarai in Egypt. Abram is not acting like the father of the faithful right now.
What do you believe would have been Pharaoh’s response, if, after Abram had been caught in his lie, he then would have tried to witness to Pharaoh concerning the goodness, protection and value in worshipping Abram’s God? Could it be that unbelievers may choose to remain unbelievers because of the lack of truthfulness among God’s people? How do we remedy a situation like that of Abram, so that unbelievers will receive our testimony?
Abram did not completely obey and his bringing Lot with him to Egypt would lead to no end of problems. Lot would see Abram’s cowardice on display. Is it any wonder that Lot grows up willing to sacrifice his daughters to save his own skin?
In leaving the land of Canaan and going to find security in the land of Pharaoh, instead of in the Lord God, Abram makes a colossal mistake. Called on the carpet by a pagan ruler, Abram has no defense. He has traded his wife for wealth, his helpmate for possessions, and has been chastised severely. Only by the grace of God is he not put to death by Pharaoh. In addition, he is allowed to keep all that he had received in trading Sarai to Pharaoh.
Abram is kicked out of Egypt and wanders back to Bethel. It is there that problems between Lot and him come to a head. Abram has journeyed a long way but has been unwilling to completely obey God. It will not be until years later that Abram comes to the point where he is willing to be completely devoted to God. His story is lot like ours. We wander for years, sometimes decades, on our spiritual journey before we completely turn our lives over to God’s leadership.
Many people, unfortunately, never reach the point of complete obedience. In fact, if we were brutally honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that none of us is completely obedient to our God.
Recently, as I was leading a small group study through the book of James, I was convicted by a passage we were studying. We were studying the verses on not showing favoritism based on wealth, which led us to talk about the preconceived notions about people we all hold. As we continued to talk, I was recalling the three new people that were supposed to be hired at a place where I work part-time. All we received in our department was a brief summary – names, approximate ages, background, of the new workers. How I was mortified to realize that my co-workers and I had already decided which ones would work out and which ones would not make it through the probationary period. The only one who made it – the one who we had decided wouldn’t last.
It was a humbling experience to realize that I had prejudged people I didn’t even know, which colored the way I acted towards them. Seeing this tendency in my own life, I was reminded again how deceptive the heart is. Thanks be to God who sees the inside, the heart, of all people and loves us anyway. In order to be a Christ-like witness in the world, I must learn to see people as He does, and to see myself as I truly am – a sinful creature completely dependent on the grace, strength and mercy of God. May God continue to transform me into someone who represents Him in the way I act towards people.