Worship Times

Sundays    10:30 a.m.
                    4:00 p.m.

Today's Verse

The Root of Bitterness

by Mark Grant

Sooner or later all of us as humans beings will experience a certain amount of hurt in our life time. The question is not will we get hurt; since it is inevitable that we will. The question is how are you going to handle hurt when it happens to you. Will you use it as a stepping stone to become a better Christian or will you use it to sow bitterness in your heart.


How are you going to respond when someone damages your reputation? What if you’re abandoned by a spouse? Suppose a promotion you think you deserve at work is given to someone else? What will be your reaction when you see the suffering or even the death of a loved one? Being hurt comes from every direction, even from those whom we love the most. It can happen in any kind of circumstance and there is no way to avoid it.


Yet, the direction from which hurt comes is not what matters. What really matters and is the most important thing is, how well you will cope with being hurt when it happens to you. If you handle it successfully it will help you to become a better Christian. On the other hand, if you handle it unsuccessfully it will fill your heart with bitterness.


“That person hurt me so bad,” I have heard many a Christian cry, “I am never going to trust or have any respect for that person again!” Because of the hurt we receive we usually try to cut ourselves off from all feelings. We then become tempted to build walls and withdraw from the one who is hurting us so we can’t be hurt again. Proverbs 18:19 states, “A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city, And contentions are like the bars of a castle.” However, if this temptation is not firmly rejected such behavior can warp our personality, turning us into hardened and hostile human beings.


Dealing positively with hurt isn’t easy since all of us have experienced enough pain to make us bitter. We know that bitterness is unpleasant and wrong. But how do we deal with bitterness? With God’s help it can be done. One passage that gives us God’s prescription for dealing with bitterness is Hebrews twelve. The writer there describes the hardships that come into our lives and speaks of them as God’s discipline. They are a form of training that God in love has determined we need for our own good (v. 5-10). Crushing experiences never seem pleasant at the time. They are painful. It is only later that we see their fruit in inner peace and righteousness (v. 11). Job who experienced more hurt than most of us ever will, longed for the release of his misery for he said, “As God lives, who has taken away my justice, And the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter” (Job 27:2). But he didn’t allow himself to be overcome by bitterness. “But he knows the way that I take; When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). When the trials were over for Job he knew that he was a better person for having had the experience. What Job was going through then was going to have a positive effect upon his life for in the furnace of affliction God will burn out the dross that is in our life (I Pet. 1:6-7).


Just as God can use pain to make us better Christians, Satan can use it to sow bitterness in our hearts. Jesus warned us of offenses when He said, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent, ‘ you shall forgive him” (Luke 17:1-4).


It starts out as an incident: someone slights us, speaks an unkind word, accusess us falsely, fails to keep a promise, inflicts pain of some sort. If we choose to harbor a grudge against that person rather than forgive, bitterness will take root in our heart. The emotional wounds we receive can either heal or they can become infected. It is a medical fact that a large wound which heals doesn’t cause nearly as much damage us a small wound that becomes infected.


To nourish bitterness stems from anger, which leads to a hostile outlook on life that is expressed in resentment and in attacks on others. If bitterness is allowed to take root in our lives it will poison us little by little from within until there is nothing in life that we can enjoy. “Another man dies in the bitterness of his soul. Never having eaten with pleasure” (Job 21:25). Bitterness is a dark evil because nothing good ever springs from it. Rather than nursing it like a child, we should cut it out like a cancer. “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you” (Eph. 4:31-32)1 Forgiveness leads to a much happier life than malice, hatred and revenge. A sweet and forgiving spirit is much more wholesome than a bitter one.


Why then do people insist on clinging to bitterness? We do so because we imagine this gives us some kind of revenge. The person we’re bitter against supposedly feels the force of our wrath, and this will make him miserable. In some instances we really do hurt others by being bitter against them, especially members of our own family (Col. 3:19). Most of us think that if we can hurt those who have hurt us that we will be able to take pleasure in it. This is only foolishness on our part for the bitterness we’re harboring doesn’t bother them in the least because no one has the capability of knowing what we feel except us. “The heart knows its own bitterness, And a stranger does not: share its joy” (Prov. 14:10). Like children who kick their legs on the floor when they don’t get their way, your venom poisons yourself more than its intended victim.


This is why the scriptures teach us, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, ‘ says the Lord. Therefore if your enemy hungers, feed him; If he thirsts, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:18-21).


It was Joseph who refused to let anyone reduce his soul to the level of hatred in spite of all the misery he so wrongly suffered at the hand of others. His brothers hated him (Gen. 37:4) so much that they even plotted to kill him. (v. 20) But was eventually sold into slavery and was taken to Egypt. (v. 28) Joseph was a slave in Potiphar’s house for 10 years until he was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39:10-19), and was thrown into prison for it (v. 20). In the end Joseph chose to forgive his brothers rather than let his life be ruled with malice and hate (Gen. 45:1-15).


Dr. S. I. McMillen wrote: “The moment I start hating a man, I became his slave. I can’t enjoy my work anymore because he even controls my thoughts. My resentments produce too many stress hormones in my body and I become fatigued after only a few hours of work. The work I formerly enjoyed is now drudgery. Even vacations cease to give me pleasure. It may be a luxurious car that I drive along a lake fringed with the autumnal beauty of maple, oak, and birch. As far as my experience of pleasure is concerned, I might as well be driving a wagon in mud and rain.


The man I hate hounds me wherever I go. I can’t escape his tyrannical grasp on my mind. Then the waiter serves porterhouse steak with french fries, asparagus, crisp salad, and strawberry shortcake smothered in ice cream, it might as well be stale bread and water. My teeth chew and I swallow it, but the man I hate will not permit me to enjoy it. The man I hate may be miles from my bedroom; but more cruel than any slave driver, he whips my thoughts into such a frenzy that my innerspring mattress becomes a rack of torture. The lowliest of serfs can sleep; but not I. I really must acknowledge the fact that I am a slave of every man on whom I pour the vials of my wrath.” (None of These Diseases, Fleming H. Revell)


It’s one thing to become angry for a moment. It’s another thing to allow this anger to smolder and grow into full-fledged bitterness. “ 'Be angry, yet do not sin.' Do not let the sun go down upon your anger; And give no opportunity to the Devil” (Eph. 4:26-27 TCNT). Whenever bitterness exists it’s always a matter of choice because it just doesn’t happen suddenly. It begins as an incident and progresses gradually. A person is not bitter just because he’s angry. We come face to face with the beginning of bitterness when we choose to nurse our anger or habor a grudge instead of being willing to forgive. Bitterness is like a plant ready to take root in in our hearts when we give it the soil in which to grow. This poisonous plant has to be fed a steady diet of self-pity and resentment in order to survive. Deny it this by extending your forgiveness to those who have wronged you then you remove the soil in which bitterness grows and the poisonous plant will die.


Forgiveness of course, is a simple word that can stir up complicated and sometimes, conflicting emotions. Many have mistakenly believed that asking for another’s forgiveness means we are saying the it’s okay that the other person hurt us; that asking forgiveness for someone else lets the other person off the hook. Forgiveness, however, is not about letting the other person off the hook. It’s about setting yourself free. You ask God to forgive the person who hurt you for your own inner peace, to rid yourself of anger, resentment and bitterness.


The method of forgiveness is simple, but not easy. No doubt some of you are thinking that it is easy for me to say that you shouldn’t be bitter when I have no idea how badly you’ve been hurt. No, I do not, but Christ does and He is the only one that can bring healing to your wounded spirit and save you from self-destruction. The quickest way to forgive someone is to pray for God to forgive that person. Jesus is the one who prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Notice that Christ did not say, “I forgive them,” rather he said, “Father, forgive them.” He ask the Father to forgive those who done him wrong because He “committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23). Christ didn’t lash out at his murderers or seek personal revenge. He prayed for their forgiveness. And this is the example He left for us so that we might follow in His steps. “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: "Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth"; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Pet. 2:21-24).


It was Stephen who was being stoned by a angry mob when he cried out with his last dying breath, “Lord, do charge them with this sin“ (Acts 7:60). Stephen simply ask the Lord to forgive those who were even murdering him. What on earth does a Christian gain by being bitter, other than the sadistic sense of getting even. When you choose to take refuge in your bitterness are you not showing that your defiance is based on how deeply your spirit has been affected by the hurts you have received? So you can choose to cling to your bitterness if that is what you want; to be sure you can vow to hate your offenders until the day you die. But the only one you’ll wind up hurting the most is yourself for a Christian becomes his own worst enemy when he refuses to forgive! “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:25-26).


For those who prefer a more secular approach to shifting from negative to positive thoughts and emotions, consider this: It’s been said that holding on to anger, resentment and hurt is like drinking rat poison and expecting the rat to die. It just doesn’t work. The good and right thing to do is keep your heart free from this evil. Do it by extending forgiveness to your offenders. To forgive someone doesn‘t mean pretending you haven’ t been hurt. It doesn’t even mean you don’t have good reasons to be bitter since you probably do. It means you choose to set aside your grievances, you choose to write off the debt, you choose to cast your ill feelings aside and commit yourself to “Him who judges righteously.”


When injury comes you have two choices: you can ask God to forgive the offender or you can allow bitterness to take root in your heart. Your hurts can make you “bitter“ or they can make you “better.” How you respond will determine which of these two it is going to be. “Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which not one will see the Lord: looking diligently lest anyone fall short of the grace of God: lest any lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Heb. 12:14-15).