Overcoming Bitterness

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Series: Be an Overcomer

Overcoming Bitterness

August 09, 2015 | Randy Smith
Hebrews 12:15

Overcoming Bitterness

Hebrews 12:15
Sunday, August 9, 2015
Pastor Randy Smith

  • You were fired from your job because you were honest and refused to do unethical things in your business. The company prospered after your dismissal.
  • You were betrayed by someone you trusted.
  • You were hurt by a parent thorough abuse, neglect or favoritism toward another sibling.
  • You were unfairly represented in the will after the death of a family member.
  • You were cut from a team because your parents were not as connected with the coach.
  • You were taken advantage of in the purchase of a product or the hiring of a service.
  • You were significantly inconvenienced by an inconsiderate neighbor who plays loud music, doesn't trim her bushes and lets her dog relieve himself in your backyard.
  • You were passed over for a promotion at work when you deserved it more than the other person who received it.
  • You were not invited to a party.
  • You were publicly humiliated.
  • You were spoken of negatively by another behind your back.
  • You were the victim of an unfaithful spouse who is now happily remarried, but has left you to clean up the mess.

All of these are common realities of life and too often painful experiences that many of us in this room can identify with. It's hard to receive this treatment from another and not let it have a negative effect on our lives. Our natural tendency is to be mad. And when the anger is permitted to fester, it rapidly progresses into an awful characteristic the Bible calls bitterness.

In the verses I read earlier, Hebrews 12:15 compares bitterness to a root. "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."

In order for there to be a root, there must be a seed. Often the seed is small. But when we experience unrighteous anger we plant the seed. The seed sprouts and produces a root. Like a root, it's underground. It's invisible to the naked eye, but that root of bitterness is there. And it grows and when it grows its tentacles begins to wrap around our heart. The more we cultivate the root of bitterness through rehashing the situation and dwelling on the incident and slandering the person and drawing people into our pity and standing for our pride, is the more we water and fertilizer and prune the root of bitterness. And the more the root grows; the more bitterness takes control and dominates our lives.

If you are looking for a quick definition, bitterness is the result of responding improperly to a hurt. That hurt can be what someone says to you, what someone does to you or what someone takes away from you. It's being offended or disappointed by another and allowing anger to fester whereby resentment becomes the outcome. We are usually bitter toward a person. I've even met many people that are bitter toward God.

Do you struggle with the sin of bitterness? I remember hearing the story of a very bitter woman who was bitten by a rabid raccoon. Tests are run and the doctor tells her she has rabies. She then got out a notebook and began to write down names. The doctor asked if she was making a will. She replied, NO! I am making a list of all the people I am going to bite!

Do you struggle with the sin of bitterness? Why don't you ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you possess a critical or cynical attitude?
  • Do you find pleasure speaking negatively of anybody in particular?
  • Do you try to get others to dislike someone and take your side?
  • Do you have any feelings of anger or malice toward another person in particular?
  • Do you resent someone?
  • Do you experience outbursts of anger?
  • Have others said that you unpleasant to be around?
  • Is there someone you simply refuse to forgive?
  • Is there anyone you will not reconcile with?
  • Is there a certain name that you just can't stand hearing?

In this short sermon series we began last week we will be examining some of the most common and debilitating sins that often have a tight rein on our lives. The series is entitled, "Be An Overcomer." Because if you are in Christ Jesus, God wants you to live victoriously. God wants you to experience the fullness of your blessings in Christ!

Listen to these promises from our Savior: John 15:11, "These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full." John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you." John 10:10, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." John 8:36, "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." Are you personally experiencing these blessings?

If you are harboring bitterness in your heart or you have ever been around someone suffering from bitterness, you know for certain that these spiritual realities are the furthest things from their lives. They are shacked and paralyzed and suffocated in their bitterness. It consumes. They are miserable people and tough to be around as they only get worse with time. In their bitterness they fail to realize that they are drinking their own poison as they wait for their enemy to die. Bitterness is self-defeating. Their relationships are deadened. Their joy and peace is non-existent. Their heart is open for satanic attacks and their physical life begins to erode. It's been said, "Not every sick person is bitter, but every bitter person is sick.

Since bitterness is so destructive and something all of us in this room deal with to some degree, I'd like to spend the remainder of our time this morning examining what the Bible has to say about overcoming bitterness. I can promise you that if you are a believer empowered by the Holy Spirit, willing to submit to God's Word regarding these simple five steps, you will never experience bitterness again and will enjoy the fullness of life promised to you in Christ.

1. Acknowledge Your Bitterness and Ask God's Forgiveness

First, acknowledge your bitterness and ask God for forgiveness and the strength to repent.

Without a doubt, the Bible calls bitterness a sin. Romans 3:14 condemns all unredeemed humanity saying, "Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness." Ephesians 4:31 puts "bitterness" in the same category as "wrath and anger and clamor and slander [and]É malice" and says we must "put away" these sins. James 3:14 says if we "have bitter jealousy"Éin [our] heart[s]É [we are]Éarrogant andÉlie against the truth." And though the word is not mentioned specifically, it could easily fit ("things like these" - Gal. 5:21) in the Galatians 5, "deeds of the flesh" of which if we practice give evidence of not being saved (Gal. 5:21).

Proverbs 14:10 >says, "The heart knows its own bitterness." Bitterness is a hard sin to hide from others and especially from ourselves. Most of us are aware if we are struggling in this area. So it doesn't matter how bad you were hurt. It doesn't matter is the person has yet to ask for your forgiveness. It doesn't matter how strongly you feel you can justify your bitterness. It doesn't matter is the offender still continues to sin against you. Bitterness in any form is a sin against God. You are choosing to be bitter (if someone spits on you, that don't make you bitter, they make you wet). You will never be free until you acknowledge your bitterness, own up to it and ask for the Lord's forgiveness.

1 John 1:8-9, "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

So the first step, acknowledge your bitterness and take it to the Lord. Ask for His forgiveness and help to repent.

2. Try To Live At Peace With Others

Second, ask the Lord to give you a heart that desires peace with other people. The Bible teaches us that we must be in the active pursuit of peace. Romans 14:19, "So then we pursue the things which make for peace." 2 Timothy 2:22, "PursueÉpeace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart." Hebrews 12:14, "Pursue peace with all men."

The children of God are not those who solve their conflicts like the world. We don't withdraw and we don't attack. We are not to be people who bear grudges and we're not to be people of strife. We are ones that understand and appreciate the peace we've been given in Christ - we love peace - and pursue that peace in all our human relationships with others. Didn't Jesus teach us in the Beatitudes, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

Bitterness is the result of a perceived injustice. Listen, no one faced more injustice that our Savior. Yet in 1 Peter 2 we read He "committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Pet. 2:22-23). Our response to that text? Peter says He "suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps" (1 Pet. 1:21).

So when someone hurts you, remember how much you have and continue to hurt Christ. He left the comforts of heaven to suffer tremendous agony to make peace with those who offended Him. How often do we follow in His footsteps in extending ourselves in a fraction to this degree to make peace with those who offend us? Are we, Colossians 3:15, "Let[ing] the peace of Christ rule in [our] hearts?" Bitterness is a fleshly sin of the world that centers the issues on ourselves. Pursuing peace by gently speaking to the other person or overlooking the transgression centers the issue on our relationships.

Romans 12:18, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men."

3. Pray For The One That Hurt You

Third, pray for the person who hurt you.

Not only does prayer seek the greatest good for another, but prayer is one of the best antidotes to crucify the flesh. You see, when we are hurt by another we are immediately tempted to act in the flesh. Bitterness is a deed of the flesh. Yet the seed of anger and the root of bitterness never gain that fertile soil if we commit ourselves to pray for the individual. It's impossible to genuinely pray for someone and have the root of bitterness grow in our hearts.

Here is how one author put it, "I have found it is impossible to be unforgiving toward those I am praying for. It's not easy to start praying for them; it's one of the hardest things I've done. But when I make that person an object of prayer, I open the door of my heart a little wider so that God can come in and breathe on my hardened heart, melting the icy resentment that is there" (Anne Peterson, How to Deal with Bitterness).

Let me ask you; is there anyone to whom you are bitter towards? Do you pray for that person? I mean, are you committed to regular, specific, fervent prayer for that person? It is hard to ask the Lord to bless them when we want the Lord to punish them, but fewer things will kill that root of bitterness and really show the heart of Christ in and through you.

4. Respond With Kindness and Grace

Number four, another step in your desire to defeat bitterness, also in line with the actions of Christ, is to treat the person with kindness and grace. We are never called to simply repent of sins without replacing the former sin with a deed of righteousness. I'll come back to this in a moment.

I need to come to grips that God is a better god than me. He is sovereign, not I. It's His universe and He's permitted to run it according to His wisdom. In His sovereignty He permits people, at times, to hurt me. Yet without excusing their sin, He has a reason for inflicting pain in my life. It's my job to trust Him as God, knowing that He has my best interests in mind, working all things together for my ultimate good (Rom. 8:28). It's not about me becoming bitter over my trials. It's about Him making me better through my trials.

Furthermore, bitterness is my feeble attempt to play God in the domain of justice. If I am wronged by someone, my bitterness is evidence of my desire to even the score for their injustice. Instead of allowing God as the perfectly just Judge of the world to deal with the matter, I believe it's in my hands to settle these accounts.

So, if I entrust the matter to entirely to Him, if I cast all my cares upon Him (1 Pet. 5:7), what's left for me to do? Am I just to be a passive sufferer? No, I am to be an active suffering (and here we go) responding to the other person with the deeds of kindness and grace.

Listed to the juxtaposition in these verses. "Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all menÉ Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:17-21).

God is a faithful judge. Therefore don't fight back with evil, but show you are filled with the Spirit and while bearing the fruits of the Spirit fight back with good.

One more, Ephesians 4:31-32. "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, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you."

I hate to admit it, but in all my years of counseling bitter people, the overwhelming majority of their bitterness has been directed toward their spouses. So let's stay with this principle of extending love and see how it practically applies in a marriage relationship.

"I've had it with her. If she does that again I'm going to leave her." Verses, "I will keep loving her as Christ continues to love me when I don't deserve it."

"I'll get her back for that one." Verses, "I'll return good for his evil because my love for him does not depend on his love for me."

"She did that deliberately to hurt me." Verses, "I need to believe the best and pursue peace with her."

It's putting off cutting remarks and speaking good things about our spouses.

It's putting off negative thoughts and thanking God for the person we chose to marry.

It's putting off plots to retaliate and planning loving things we will do for our spouses.

And it not keeping a record of wrongs, but living with our spouses in a spirit of ongoing forgiveness (adapted from S. Scott, The Exemplary Husband, p. 112-114).

When people hurt us, it's a reminder to see our sins against Christ and the abundant grace that freely flows to us in Him. Keep your eyes on the Lord and allow the grace He has given you to freely flow from you to others. I've come to learn that it's actually a lot easier to love people than be bitter toward people. It's also much more liberating for my heart. You know, God's commands are always in our best interest.

5. Forgive From The Heart

And that takes us to our last, and perhaps most essential step to overcome bitterness (I've been hinting at it throughout the sermon) - forgive those who hurt you! The bottom line is, our lack of forgiveness is, I believe, the primary reason we choose to hold on to our bitterness.

When overwhelmed with the flesh, forgiveness seems beyond consideration, but when our minds are sensible it is the only logical conclusion for God to expect, moreover command of us. If we as sinful creatures can accept the forgiveness of the sinless Almighty God, how can we not extend forgiveness to other sinful creatures like ourselves that have offended us at a much, much, much less significant level? It's the epitome of hypocrisy. It's the indication that our eyes are fixed on ourselves and not on Christ - who forgave those who were nailing Him to the cross (Lk. 23:34). It's the revelation that we do not understand God's grace. It's the realization that we might not even be saved. That's why Jesus said, "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions" (Mt. 6:14-15).

"Then Peter came and said to Him, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart" (Mt. 18:21-35).

Growing up wasn't easy with my father. He wasn't horrible; he just wasn't the sensitive and involved and encouraging father that most sons would desire. He knew he feel short. I remember soon after I was saved I sat down with him and told him about my faith in Christ. I then read to him this parable from Matthew 18. I asked for his forgiveness for not being the son that honored him as I should have. Then I told him that I had forgiven him for all his wrongdoings. There was a great freedom that both of us experienced that day. But guess what - he still sinned against me going forward with his condescending remarks. Yet the hurt didn't stick to my soul any more. The sting was gone and through my ongoing spirit of forgiveness, it was water running off a duck's back.

If you want the greatest remedy to overcome bitterness, learn to forgive all who injure you in your heart. Perhaps the time will come for full reconciliation, but either way, a forgiving heart is where the roots of bitterness go to die. Forgiveness is a promise - you will not bring up the offense, speak about the offense or dwell any longer on the offense. You are releasing the other person and also releasing yourself from potential bitterness. If you are in Christ you have the grace to do this. It's not a question of ability. It's a question of willingness. You can forgive (Phil. 4:13) and you must forgive (Col. 3:13).

My friends, is there any bitterness in your heart? If so you're not only hurting yourself, but you are sinning against the Lord. Ask the Lord for forgiveness and the strength to repent. Seek to pursue peace with others. Pray for those who have injured you. Respond with kindness and grace. And forgive those who have offended you from the heart.

Series Information

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