We Have All Been Hurt by Others:
Sin against us HURTS. Deeply. Sin is always wrong. God always hates sin. He hates every sin people commit against us – whether it is in thought, motive, word, or deed. He hates the sin people commit against Him. He hates our sin, too – even the ones we think are “trivial” or that we justify to ourselves. God is absolutely holy and cannot tolerate any sin at all. (Verses about God’s holiness)
We all have reasons to be bitter – reasons not to forgive – that the world would say are “justified.” The more mistreatment we have endured, the more “right” we have to cherish our bitterness. We may even (wrongly) think we have the right to be bitter against God if He allowed something awful to happen and didn’t stop it, or He didn’t answer our prayers the way we thought He should have.
- The problem with this worldly wisdom is that our bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness is major sin against God.
God Commands Us to Let Go of Our Bitterness:
If you want to see where bitterness leads – observe someone who has been holding on to bitterness for many decades. Unrestrained bitterness leads to hatred, contempt, malice, a desire for revenge, and a desire to hurt or even kill another person. It completely consumes a person’s life and becomes their sole idol, many times.
There are few things that can kill a relationship as effectively as bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness. In fact, God can and does often heal marriages from infidelity, pornography addictions, alcoholism, and drug addictions when people repent from these sins and allow Him to change their lives. But unrepentant bitterness causes a marriage to be unable to be healed. I held on to bitterness myself for many years, until God showed me that I had to choose – Jesus or my bitterness. I could not have both.
We may think that if we forsake our bitterness, we are saying that another person’s sins were okay, or that it didn’t hurt us. But that is a lie! God never glosses over sin – and yet He forgives, though He is perfect. We are certainly not above God. We can affirm that someone’s sin against us was very wrong, hurtful, and destructive and that it was not at all okay. And then, in God’s power, we can forgive. If we don’t forgive, we open a door for the enemy to enter and conquer our souls.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 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
A wife wrote to me a few years ago, “Don’t take away my bitterness! It’s all I have left!”
Bitterness Is a Deadly Poison to Us:
Bitterness must be quickly tended to as soon as it sprouts. It is evil – and it grows rapidly. The longer we allow it to grow and the longer we water, feed, and nurture it – the more painful it is to tear it out later.
Bitterness is a terrible trap, my dear sisters (and brothers)! It is a device of our enemy to attempt steal the gifts Jesus has provided for us through His death. 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. Bitterness hardens our hearts until we can no longer even hear God’s still small voice.
God commands us to forgive and to let go of bitterness – not because the person who sinned against us deserves to 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 and abundant spiritual life (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! Our goal MUST be to get rid of every trace of bitterness so that we can experience the power of God’s Spirit working in and through us to enable us to live holy, godly lives.
In releasing those who have hurt us and what they have done, and in deciding not to make them pay us for their sin – we can have God’s peace in our hearts. God says that it is His place to take revenge, not ours. (This doesn’t mean we trust unrepentant sinners or stay if we are not safe or the other person is not willing to rebuild trust.)
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.
Replacing Bitter Thoughts with Godly, Holy Thoughts
We must take each thought captive for Christ. Every time I realize I am thinking a bitter thought, I must repent, turn away from it, confess it to God, and replace it with the truth of the Bible.
Bitter thoughts: “My husband doesn’t really love me. He hasn’t done X for me in years! If he loved me, he would know I want him to do X. I’ll show him! I’m going to give him the cold shoulder for the next 3 months. Let’s see how he likes that!”
Holy thoughts: “Let me write down the ways my husband has shown love to me lately. (If he is in unrepentant sin and has truly not been loving, I may need to write down that he is ensnared in sin and that he needs deliverance and needs me to pray for him. I may need to pray about confronting my husband about his sin if he has not repented. It is not a godly thing to pretend that sin doesn’t exist.) I can also write down what God says about me and my identity in Jesus. I can focus on all of the good things God has done for me. I can sing praises to God. I can write about my pain. I can pray about my pain and ask God for healing. I can ask God to show me how He might want me to bless my husband and how He might give me the power to overcome evil with good. I can ask God to help me better understand my husband if I am misunderstanding his masculine perspective. And I can seek ways to do good to him just to please Christ.”
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).
God Uses a Believer’s Forgiveness for His Glory!
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 months ago. What a glorious testimony to Jesus that these believers forgave the man who murdered their loved ones. That didn’t mean that what he did was okay with them at all. What he did was awful – the very epitome of evil! But what they did was supernatural. Because of their beautiful example, the gospel was proclaimed and exalted around the world on secular news stations!!??!? Are we ready to allow God to use us to shine for Him, too?
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 to others?
How have you been tempted by the enemy to cling to bitterness, hatred, resentment, or unforgiveness?
Was it worth it?
Can we possibly bless others with the Gospel and love of Christ if we are consumed by bitterness?
How has God empowered you to experience His victory over bitterness, if you have experienced His deliverance? We’d love to hear your story!