Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more~ Psalm 71:20-21 NIV
There are a few sins unique to a few seriously creepy individuals. Normal people might joke about murder. However, very few people actually kill people. Even fewer people joke about cannibalism or human sacrifice.
Then there are the other sins.
Those irksome little sins that sprout-up like weeds in a garden. The sins we all struggle with (1st Corinthians 10:13). There is simply no one in all of human history who has not grappled with lust, inappropriate anger, jealousy, hatred, selfish ambition and the inclination to gossip (Galatians 5:19-21, Colossians 3:5-6) at some point in their lives.
Bitterness is another.
Scripture clearly instructs Christians to avoid becoming bitter and remaining bitter (Ephesians 4:31, Hebrews 12:15). That being said, most of us (if we’re honest) will admit to giving into the sin of bitterness at some point.
Here’s the thing.
Most people do not become bitter without a valid reason. This inevitably leads people to feel justified and even righteous as they wallow around in the anger and resentment that ultimately leads to bitterness. I am well-acquainted with the sin of bitterness. I learned first-hand over the course of several miserable and painfully unproductive years bitterness is one of those sins that hurts us far more than it hurts the people who have sinned against us.
It is critical we understand God does not forbid bitterness because it is not a defensible, logical or understandable reaction to certain situations. Sometimes it’s all of those things. God forbids bitterness because bitterness gradually undoes every good thing God has done in our hearts, minds and spirits. At the root of a bitter spirit is unforgiveness. Unforgiveness causes us to miss the grace of God and prevents us from experiencing the Christian life in all its beauty and fullness (Matthew 6:14-15, Hebrews 12:15, Luke 17:4).
The paths that lead to bitterness are endless. Something as small and seemingly insignificant as being offended or ignored can cause a bitter root to develop in some more sensitive people. An unfaithful spouse, a two-faced friend, a tough childhood or ongoing, unrelenting injustice can cause bitterness in even the most thick-skinned of individuals.
Because bitterness is such a common sin and because it is something we are cautioned to avoid at all costs there are at least four things every Christian needs to understand about bitterness.
Bitterness makes spiritual growth impossible-
It does not matter how many sermons the bitter person hears (or preaches). Nor does it matter how much of the Bible a person can recite verbatim. There is something about the choice to remain bitter that makes it impossible for that person to apply the truth they are taught or are teaching to their own life. Any learning that does take place is typically just empty academic agreement (head knowledge) rather than a full emotional and intellectual adoption of truth we have understood and embraced (heart knowledge). Satan celebrates when Christians become bitter because bitterness keeps Christians stuck in a cycle of obtaining knowledge without actually growing (2nd Timothy3:7).
Bitterness halts clear communication with God-
Bitterness is a sin (Ephesians 4:31). Sin impedes communication with God. Repentance from sin is the only way to restore clear and unrestricted communication with God (2nd Chronicles 7:14, Daniel 9:1-19). Sadly, bitterness blinds us to the lack of communication we have with God, making it more difficult to get right Him.
We have a responsibility to prevent our own bitterness-
There will always be situations that come into our lives that have the potential to make us bitter. Some of those situations are one-hundred-percent unforeseeable and therefore entirely unavoidable. That being said, the author of the book of Hebrews tells the readers of the book to “see to it” that no “bitter root grows up”. The writer is instructing Christians to process and forgive offenses as quickly and completely as humanly possible. Likewise, Christians should be very careful about voluntarily placing themselves in situations where bitterness is an obvious and foreseeable end result of said situation (Ephesians 5:15).
Behaving in a way that causes others to become bitter is as sinful as bitterness-
The New Testament clearly teaches a principal of mutual accountability when it comes to sin (Matthew 18:6). For example: Christians are clearly forbidden from committing adultery (Exodus 20:14, Mark 7:21). However, spouses are also cautioned against refusing each other sexually because doing so could tempt their spouse to commit adultery (1st Corinthians 7:1-5). Obviously, a lack of “IT” in a marriage does not make adultery acceptable to God (Hebrews 13:4). However, it does make the other partner accountable to God for their refusal to obey Scripture. Similarly, each person is responsible before God for their own choice to become bitter. However, we have an obligation to live in such a way that we do not give people just cause to become bitter. If we don’t we will be accountable to God for our sinful, selfish or evil actions.
Finally. There really is only one path to getting free from the sin of bitterness-
We have to forgive.
Seriously. It’s that simple. We have to let go of the hurt and bitterness we are holding onto and let God be the judge and jury of the other person.
It’s His job (1st Samuel 24:12, Hebrews 4:13, 1st Peter 4:5) and it makes us free to do what He has called us to do.