Bitterness: A Sin, A Solution
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour.”
For the better part of my life I have been involved in some athletic endeavor. During my active years I suffered many various injuries of which, for the most part, I have recovered. Although I carry some scars, and can recount the injuries in my mind, I have forgotten the pain that accompanied these injuries.
Physical pain basically falls into one of three categories. Type One is well known and easily understood. There is an obvious pain caused from injury such as a burn or a cut to the skin. Type Two, is the pain of inflammation, such as a sprained ankle where swelling, redness, and heat are readily evident. The Third type of pain is caused by abnormal and excessive sensitivity to our body’s nervous system. This is medically known as “supersensitivity.” The basic problem is that the nerves going to the painful area are unwell. Doctors call this “neuropathy.” These unwell nerves tend to magnify ordinary outputs and change them into painful sensations. Such pain can not be “cut away” and “pain killers” and other pills generally mask the pain but briefly. What the nerves are in need of is some type of energy that will facilitate the healing process. That is why massage therapy, heat, or thermal energy, is often used to provide mechanical energy to revitalize the sensitive area.
I have said these things by way of introduction, first to try to understand the supersensitive pain that I now feel in my Christian walk, and, second, as a confession of my sinfulness. I presently find myself in the throws of painful bitterness from things that have been said directly to me and the perception that I have about my spiritual condition. In a recent discussion, with a Pastor friend, he diagnosed my problem as one of bitterness towards one particular individual and the infectious results of my lack of forgiveness. As a result of this discussion I have prayed and come to the following conclusions.
First, I can not afford to nurse bitterness in my life. The consequences are too costly. I presently see to clear choices; (1) I can choose bitterness and risk loosing everything that I profess and hold near and dear, or, (2) I can choose the Holy Spirit and His positive power which I need for the putting aside of this dreadful sin. Secondly, I must identify and define bitterness. I must understand why I am bitter and towards whom this bitterness is ultimately directed.
In the opening text, we are given instruction to get rid of all bitterness. Before one can begin discussing how and why this must be done, it is first crucial to realize that the basis for all our actions in this regard must be what Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross…we are to be imitators of God in our actions.
Bitterness is self induced misery, and it produces chain sinning. A chronically bitter person is his own worst enemy and he becomes difficult to maintain a relationship with. Easton’s Bible Dictionary (1897) defines bitterness; Bitterness is symbolical of affliction, misery, and servitude (Ex. 1:14; Ruth 1:20; Jer. 9:15). The Chaldeans are call the “bitter and hasty nation” (Hab. 1:6). The “gall of bitterness” expresses a state of great bitterness (Acts 8:23). A “root of bitterness” is a wicked person or a dangerous sin (Heb. 12:15).
“The Greek word translated “bitterness” is said to have originally meant “pointed, sharp, penetrating, painful (to the feelings), and bitter (to the taste).” Finally it was used of personal experience when something was unpleasant and undesirable. “In our language the concept of mental bitterness comes from the idea of something that has a sharp or unpleasant taste. We speak of something being bitter if it causes us grief or is hard to bear.” “Bitterness is just resentment that has been held on to. It has become rancid and rotten. It is kept in and it gets worse. The links in the chain continue. There is a connection between bitterness and hatred, and a very clear biblical identification between hatred and murder. What I am saying is that hurt can lead to murder. Some might object that this teaching is to strong. But the strength of it is from the Bible.
Each of us have an inner sense of what is right, or fair, or just. When that is violated a natural result is to react, to right the wrongs and correct the injustices or to become bitter. When one becomes offended or disappointed by others and allows the hurt to germinate in the heart, bitterness and resentment will take root. This is characterized by an unforgiving spirit and generally results in a negative critical attitude which is sinful and self-defeating. Such bitterness when allowed to fester, will destroy and kill. Someone said, “Bitterness is a devastating attitude of sin. It triggers a wide range of other sins, such as: hatred, cruelty, antagonism, self-pity, unteachableness (implacability), vindictiveness and desires for revenge and prideful ambition (arrogance).”
It is part of the human experience to suffer from pointed, sharp, and painful words or actions from another human being. These experiences are motivated by jealously, conceit, hurtful intentions, and ignorance. Yet being the recipient of these experiences does not lessen the pain. “Most of the time, bitterness is caused by people we cannot escape, or people we love, or people we cannot confront, or people we respect and trust.”
Eventually, the pain will resolve itself if the recipient does not responded in a sinful manner. Such pain will resolve in sin when it is allowed to penetrate and bury itself deep within the heart and soul. This type of pain is not one that is noticed on the surface of the skin, nor does it manifest itself with red whelps on the body. What it does do is that it makes the recipient very sensitive and protective of potential situations where his conduct might elicit a negative response. There is a lack of trust and a defensive and self-protective attitude (a “poor me” attitude). This type of pain is virtually incurable and indestructible. Therefore, we can not wait for the person that has offended us to respond and ask for our forgiveness. We must forgive them now before bitterness takes root; it becomes a unilateral forgiveness; it does not depend on the other person!
Second, I must identify and accept the root of the bitterness. The root of the bitterness does not in itself reside toward the person which offended me. The root of the problem is in repentance. Peter’s advise to Simon, who was described as “poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity,” was to repent and ask God for forgiveness. Why should we ask for forgiveness when it was someone else’s actions or words that cause the bitterness? Because the whole counsel of God’s Word agrees that for the root of bitterness to form we must turn away from God and His grace.
It is a hard reality to accept that ultimately one’s bitterness has been directed towards God. By harboring this bitterness I have not allowed His grace to operate fully in my life. I have allowed the bitterness to reach an epidemic state in that I have become bitter towards His church, ministers, and sheep. I have failed to realize that Christian growth is a constant battle against the forces of Satan in my own heart. The battle is spiritual in nature and is fought against my own vicious and destructive thoughts, emotions, and immature ungodly actions.
In the Old Testament Jonah was a bitter man. God said to him, “Doset thou well to be angry for the gourd? I do well to be angry, even unto death.” Here Jonah believes he had a right to his anger. He was saying in effect, to God, “I like being angry, you are wrong to forgive these people…I don’t want you to forgive these people.”
People enjoy holding things against other people. But the Ephesians text requires us to remove all bitterness and to maintain a tender heart. The question is, “Is it possible to be kind, compassionate, tenderhearted and yet bitter at the same time?” These are inner attitudes. Tenderness, be definition, involves a tender loving heart. Bitterness, although inner, is also on the outside, but it is not possible to have two different, contradictory attitudes on the inside.
Paul says to get rid of all bitterness and to be kind and compassionate one to another. Therefore, the bitterness must go. But before it can be removed, it is necessary to know what it is—and that it is there. The bitterness that I am now experiencing originated with the sin of another person. We do not usually get bitter towards evil outside of our own personal contact. Bitterness is based upon somebody else’s sin who is close to us, who did something to us. The problem is that we must not let this sin towards us fester into a sore of sin within us. Scripture in Hebrews 12:15 says that we have no right to harbor bitterness, “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.”
Here bitterness is described as a root. Although the root is underground and difficult, if not impossible to see, it is the root that supplies the nourishment to the plant; if a tree is supplied from a bitter root the entirety of the tree is bitter. The fruit that is born bears a direct relation to the root producing it. The roots of an apple tree provides apples; if the tree contains bitter roots the apples, although attractive, are not fit to eat.
So what is the solution. The world has two solutions. Keep the bitterness in, and make yourself sick, or let it out and spread the sickness around. God’s solution is to dig up the root and expose it to the Son. The Son will dry and wither the root of bitterness through the grace of forgiveness and the spiritual weapons that are provided to His sheep.
These spiritual weapons at our disposal are the weapons of prayer, faith and love. We use prayer as a weapon against our abusers by praying for either their repentance or for their enlightenment to their oversights; faith is a deep trust in the Lord Jesus Christ that the battle has already been won and the victory guaranteed in what was accomplished via His cross; and love is displayed in godly actions in our dealing with those that are enemies in a manner that may open the door of their understanding or repentance. When these weapons are not utilized by me, how can I expect understanding or repentance to be forthcoming from the offending individual? It becomes a matter of forgiveness on my part regardless of the offenders acknowledgement or repentance of his accusations and actions! “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish” (Jam. 3:14,15). Such bitterness is not from heaven but straight from the pit and is of the devil. Every evil practice results from this attitude. But why is it so difficult to get rid of bitterness even though one realizes it is sinful? In order to get rid of bitterness it must be brought back to the heart. Instead, we most often look at the offender and what he did. In order to get rid of it I must recognize it is my problem before I can confess and forsake it.
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