Bitterness and Unforgiveness
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice (as the believer puts his faith in the cross and keeps his faith in the cross, giving the Holy Spirit latitude to work, these evil things can then be “put away” from our lives): And be you kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another (be quick to forgive), even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you. (Christ’s forgiveness of us is to always be the basis of our forgiveness of others.) —Ephesians 4:31-32, The Expositor’s Study Bible
The Evil Twins
Bitterness and unforgiveness are twin evils that can oftentimes be found dwelling together. They complement each other in a negative way and reinforce the heart of the one affected by one toward the other. In other words, a person who is unwilling to forgive will become bitter and most of the time those who are bitter about something are unforgiving. We want to look at the horrible impact that these conditions in the heart can have on a believer and encourage the reader to be honest with himself. If either of these qualities are evident in your heart and life, let them be “put away” today.
Bitterness is usually caused by an unhappy situation. In Proverbs 13:12, the Bible says, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.” When we are looking forward to something happening—an event, a visit by a loved one, or a raise in pay—we are disappointed when that which we were hoping for fails to come to pass. Disappointment can turn to anger, for self was not pleased with the lack that we now face in that disappointment. The longer we dwell on that circumstance, the more we look at what we perceive was the cause of the emotional or physical hurt we are now feeling, the easier it is to become bitter. The word bitter is used by Paul to describe bitter anger. The base of bitterness is defined by Strong’s dictionary as “acridity (especially poison).” The Old Testament use of the word holds the idea of being heavy hearted or discontented, again with anger. By adding these definitions together, we see that bitterness is anger that, if not eliminated, is poison to the human heart.
I remember hearing a story told years ago of a brother and sister who were looking forward to a wealthy inheritance. Both parents died early, and they had been people of great wealth. When the will that distributed the inheritance was read, the brother received a far greater portion than his sister. She was not excluded by any means, but the bulk of their parent’s estate went to the brother. The sister was so bitter over the disappointment that, in time, it began to affect her physical body. Whenever someone mentioned her brother’s name, she grew angry, even incensed. Her body began to curl up upon itself until she was confined to a wheelchair. Arthritis curled her hands into useless closed fists. Doctors were at a loss as to how to attend to the problem. She remained bitter and gnarled to her dying day. Bitterness can’t be cut out by the hand of a physician; it is in the heart.
While bitterness deals primarily with circumstances, unforgiveness deals with our relationships with other people, saved or unsaved. We can perceive a wrong perpetrated by another that was intended to hurt us and become dominated and controlled by an unforgiving heart. Unforgiveness can exist in a circumstance where we just think or imagine that someone has intended to do us harm. If we perceive an attack against our reputation, a criticism of our abilities, or an insult toward our character in any way, the chance exists that seeds of unforgiveness will be planted and flower into poisonous bitterness and destruction. If we hold a grudge against any person for any reason, that attitude will backfire on us and cause us great harm spiritually and, perhaps, physically.
The Cross Is The Answer
The believer has no choice but to forgive others. The reason for this is because we have been forgiven. Jesus paid a high price on Calvary to pay our sin debt. Our faith in Him brings us freedom from the penalty owed to God for our sin. God has chosen to place the curse of the broken law upon His Son on our behalf. Therefore, not based upon performance but rather by faith, we are as clean as the blood of Jesus can make us. With the knowledge of forgiveness freely afforded to us by faith, we are to have “pocketfuls” of forgiveness for those who do us wrong. The Word of God is clear on his issue. In Mark 11:25-26 the Bible says, “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
The Fight Of Faith
We forgive others by faith. By this I mean we release them into the hands of the Lord, and we refuse to consider what they have done to us as worthy of future attention. This is hard because the offended person often feels as though evil wins. We feel as though the offending party is getting away with their wrong. However, when you release a situation or a person into the care of the Lord, by faith you are believing that He will take care of that situation in the best way.
The one doing the forgiving will never forget the incident, but the Holy Spirit is now free to take the poison out of his heart, so the situation doesn’t produce a stronghold there. To allow this, faith is required, and that faith will be tested. As memory of the event comes, the person who has released the issue or circumstance into the Lord’s capable provision will have to “fight” to keep it there.
The act of forgiving others is made possible when individuals place their bitter situations into the cross of Jesus Christ and allow Him to draw out the poison and bring about the best outcome.