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If you want to see what bitterness will do to people – take a close look at the lives of people who have held tightly to bitterness for many decades. Bitterness promotes increasing resentment, seething hatred, malice, ill-will, and destruction of the other person.
We all have been sinned against. We are supposed to feel angry when we are sinned against. That is righteous anger. But then – if we are not careful, we will allow anger to become sinful. We all have reasons to be bitter – that the world would say are “justified.” The more mistreatment we have endured, the more “right” we have to be bitter and to not forgive. We may even think we have the right to be bitter against God.
The problem with this worldly wisdom is that our bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness is major sin against God.
- For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:14-15
- Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32
- “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Ephesians 4:26-27
Bitterness must be quickly ripped out of the soil of our hearts as soon as it sprouts. We all need people in our lives who will point out if they notice any bitterness in our hearts – because sometimes we can be blind to it. I often ask God and my husband to expose any tiny trace of bitterness in my heart – I know that I cannot afford to have any resentment in my heart at all!
This does not mean that we must trust people who are continuing in unrepentant sin against us. There is a big difference between forgiving – which is an unconditional command of God for all believers – and trusting other people. Trusting others is not a command. If someone broke my trust, they will need to work with me to rebuild it.
The ironic thing is, we sometimes think we deserve our unforgiveness – as if it is a reward and a blessing. But to hold bitterness is to drink poison. Bitterness is a terrible trap, my dear sisters (and brothers)! It is a device of our enemy to steal the gifts Jesus has provided for us through His death – and to destroy and kill us and all of our relationships! Bitterness grieves the very Spirit of God and we lose His power in our lives – then our sinful nature has more and more control, not God.
God commands us to forgive and to let go of bitterness – not because the person who sinned against us should be let off the hook, but to bless US so that we can stay in close fellowship with Him and experience all the fruit of His Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).
We forgive because God forgives us. It is a decision of the will – not the emotions. We forgive because we love God and want to obey Him in everything. We forgive because we need to be forgiven by God. We forgive because forgiveness sets us free from Satan’s snare! We do not say that people’s sin was okay, or that we were not hurt. Sin is never okay and it does hurt and hurts deeply. Sin hurts people deeply and grieves the heart of God. But in releasing those who have hurt us and what they have done, and in deciding not to make them pay us for their sin – there can be peace in our hearts. God says that it is His place to take revenge, not ours. We can trust Him in His sovereignty to take care of others’ sin.
- 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 everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear 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 12:14, 17-21
Either those who sin against us will turn to Christ and Jesus will pay for their sins against us with His innocent, perfect, holy blood – and He will change their hearts and they will grieve over their sin. Or those who sin against us will pay for their sins themselves in hell forever.
There will be justice ultimately for the wrongs we have suffered. And there will be justice for the wrongs others have suffered at our hands, as well. God never ignores sin or sweeps it under the rug. He is just. He is righteous. He is holy. He cannot tolerate any evil at all.
When we realize just how much God has forgiven us and the great price for which He paid for our sins – Jesus’ death – we cannot help but respond with humility, true repentance, and gratitude. And when we have received the mercy, grace, and forgiveness of God for our billions of dollars worth of sin debt – we cannot help but respond with mercy, grace, and forgiveness toward those who sin against us (Matthew 18:21-35 – the Parable of the Wicked Servant). What an incredible witness for Christ it is when believers extend mercy, grace, and forgiveness, rather than hatred and bitterness. Think about the example of the church in Charleston, SC a few weeks ago. What a glorious testimony to Jesus that these believers forgave the man who murdered their loved ones. Because of their beautiful example, the gospel was proclaimed and exalted around the world on secular news stations!!??!?
What miracles might God have in store in our lives and for His kingdom and to bring the lost to Himself if we are willing to obey Him and not hold on to bitterness?
Is bitterness ever attractive?
How have you been tempted by the enemy to cling to bitterness, hatred, resentment, or unforgiveness?
Was it worth it?
How has God empowered you to experience His victory over bitterness, if you have experienced His deliverance? We’d love to hear your story!