1) Happiness (Ephesians 4:29-5:2) It is easy to recognize when somebody else is bitter. You can see it in the eyes and in the lines of the face – even if the person is young. You can see it in their mouth, and you can see it when they're smiling or laughing. They are bitter and you can see it. You can hear it in the tone of their voices. You can hear it when they protest that they are not bitter. They might seem happy one minute and then any old thing sets them off, and they magnify every little problem into some gigantic catastrophe or emotional nightmare. The bitterness is central and pervades everything. They may say, “well, I am just sick of” . . . well of course you are . . . if you keep biting into bitter fruit you will keep getting sick.
Look at the text. You must let Christ “put it away”, which means expiate (pay for, atone for, satisfy the debt) it. This text isn’t talking about gritting your teeth and bearing it, it is about giving it to Christ and letting Him bear it. The Greek for “be put away” is an aorist passive imperative. A one-time event, that you receive, and it is a command. In other words, God commands you to let it go.
See the reason we can do this, in verse 32? Let Christ do the work, if not you are holding on to it and you will have to pay for it. Either you let Christ satisfy the debt and you become satisfied in Him, or you hold on to the debt and Christ doesn’t pay it and neither can the other person or you. Like verse 32 says, Christ has paid for it and you must let it go. If you keep trying to fight for your rights you are struggling against God, and no wonder you aren’t happy (James 4:6 / 1 Peter 5:5). A bitter person is not a humble person, they are grieving the Holy Spirit, and so they will not be Christ like, they will have no peace, they won’t be happy, and their fruit will be rotten.
2) Holiness (Hebrews 12:14-15) Jesus can’t live big on the inside of you in a house full of your rotten fruit. Matthew 5:8 – your heart is not pure that is why you see evil – You cannot see the Lord working in other people or other situations because bitterness colors all you do. Luke 6:45 – if there is venom on your lips, there is poison in your heart. James 3:11 – coming from the wrong fountain.
Of course everyone has had an argument, dispute, or falling out in a way with someone. Did it ever happen and then, after awhile everything seems okay, maybe even for a long period of time? Did you ever wonder why that one day, suddenly, one little thing happens, and there is an explosion of bitter emotion? It is as if all the past came forward to the present, attached itself to this little thing, and exploded into a major conflagration, as if the original event never died down. Well that is exactly what happened, the original event was only avoided over time, but time cannot heal this wound, bitterness begins to rot, and becomes a root, and the Greek here in this Hebrews text says that its fruit springs up, that is, it happens suddenly.
Make sure you catch that: it is pictured here in this passage as a quick process; the root is ready to produce instant fruit. Time can make bitterness seem invisible, but it is like a time bomb waiting to go off. If you don’t allow Jesus to take your bitterness, it will spring up again and again. It won’t just go away, bitterness is the foe that won’t let go. It’s keeping you from God’s best.
Holiness is being “wholly other,” and holding on to bitterness is what the world proscribes. You may think you have a right to be bitter, but the Bible does not grant anyone the right to be bitter. The Ephesians text says to get rid of all bitterness. The world says stand up for your rights, but Jesus didn’t stand up for His did he? You see no matter what has happened to you, no matter how you have been wronged, you must get rid of bitterness.
We are nearing Christmas time, where we celebrate the Incarnation, Jesus taking on human flesh and coming to earth. But Jesus didn’t come to liberate us from our social situation, He came to liberate us from our sinful situation, and bitterness is a sin that will keep you from God. Your bitterness can be forgiven, but only if you give it to God. It cannot be forgiven if it hasn’t been given. 1 Peter 5:7 – you mustn’t care about it anymore! You must drop those chains.
3) Heaven (Daniel 12:2) Bitterness is just resentment that has been held on to. It has become rancid and rotten. It is kept in and it gets worse. There is a connection between bitterness and hatred, and a very clear biblical identification between hatred and murder. What I am saying is that hurt can lead to murder. Some might object that this teaching is too strong. But the strength of it is from the Bible. Many are deceived that they have believed in Christ, but you cannot hold on to bitterness and Jesus at the same time. Christ leads us to repent of our bitterness against God, and our bitterness against other people. Jesus said if you don’t forgive other people you will not be forgiven (Matthew 6:14-15). He was not giving some requirement for salvation. He was saying that those who are forgiven become forgiving people themselves. If we do not forgive we become resentful, of other people, of life, and of God. Resentment leads to cynicism, which leads to bitterness, which leads to contempt, and contempt leads to hell, in which Jesus said there would be the “gnashing of teeth”.
What are the wrong ways to get rid of bitterness?
James 3:14-15 (NIV) – But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. Don’t spread it out or hold it in, those are the wrong ways of dealing with it.
What happens to a person if he keeps bitterness on the inside for many years? What happens to him physically? Can he get physically sick? He has not defiled many people – he has kept it down inside. When he keeps it inside for some years, he finally begins to hurt. He goes to the doctor and the doctor says, "You are right, you are sick. But I am going to send you to the other kind of doctor."
So he sends him to the psychiatrist, and the psychiatrist agrees. "Yes, you are sick all right. And I know why you are sick. You are sick because of 20 years of bitterness toward your father. You have kept it suppressed all these years and it's just rotted out your insides. You have kept this poison within and this acid on the inside has made you just physically ill. So what I want you to do is I want you to go home and share it with your father. Why keep it in and get sick?
You have heard that we shouldn’t pick at sores; we all know you can’t keep opening a wound and expect to get healed. Why, then when we are emotionally injured, do we go to somebody else and keep opening the cut, or keep showing it so that infection continues to grow?
The world has 2 solutions. Keep the bitterness in, and make yourself sick, or let it out and spread the sickness around. God's solution is to dig up the root. Don't nurse a grudge. Don't allow the poison of the past to pollute the present. Get rid of it. But this takes the grace of God. A man must know the Lord Jesus Christ to be able to do this. He is the source of grace. Whether the past sins are your own or whether they're others, accept an experience of God's grace. Jesus, the Great Physician, can heal you. He has felt your pain, and He has paid for that sin. Time can’t heal this wound, only Jesus can.
Bitterness does not help it hinders
Because bitterness empties the soul by eating us up on the inside, many cling to bitterness because it actually gives them a tangible, physical energy boost. It feels empowering and right to them. But you cannot have the fullness of the Spirit with bitterness in your soul. You cannot rely on His energy when your flesh is feeding itself. Holding it in will destroy you. There are many people like this today. Not only are they bitter, they enjoy being bitter. They somehow like it, and they feed on it. They wouldn't know what to do if they got rid of it; they wouldn't have a purpose for living.
In the book of Ruth, there was a woman whose name meant Pleasant. Her name was Naomi and she had moved from Israel to another land with her husband and sons. But her husband had died and within the next ten years both of her sons died. Her bitterness was toward God. It was God who had taken away her husband; it was God who had taken away her sons, and she held it against him.
There are bitter people in the Bible besides Naomi. In fact, there are quite a few. For example, Jonah was a bitter man. The Lord said to him, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?" "I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die" (Jonah 4:9).
Bitterness does not heal it harms
The world of psychology and self-help says to let it all out, to vent, and to blow off steam, but letting it out isn’t the same as letting it go. Getting it off your chest only puts it onto someone else, but the bitter tree is still producing bitter fruit, and you will have to unload your bitter harvest again and again. It does you no good, and letting it out will destroy others. That is what the Hebrews text is saying. Beware lest any root of bitterness spring up, cause trouble, and defile many people, which means to make many people filthy.
Have you ever seen bitterness go through a family, or a church? Bitterness can go through a congregation like a prairie fire. It can go through the work place or any group. Why is this? Somebody decided to share. He was bitter, and let the root bear fruit. He shared it and many people became bitter. The author of Hebrews warns us about this. He says beware of missing the grace of God. When you allow it, bitterness comes up and defiles many people. It makes many people filthy.
There is a lot of soap opera qualities regarding and surrounding David and his life and those around him. His sins led others to become bitter. 2 Samuel 11:3 / 15:31 / 23:34 / 16:20-17:23: Ahithophel’s granddaughter was Bathsheba. He had kept that bitterness for 9 years, and tried to help David’s son Absalom take the throne. He had been a wise man but became bitter, foolish and committed suicide. He is a type of Judas. The bible says that after denying Jesus Peter had wept bitter tears but they were cries of true repentance and he became better, Judas didn’t. When someone doesn’t meet your expectations, or you don’t meet your own, you will either allow Christ to help you become better or you will become even more bitter. You will either experience His grace or wrath.
If you cut off and even destroy the bitter root, you still have the fruit already produced that is lying around the ground and on the tree, and you have to deal with that. How do we do that? Ephesians 4:32 – present middle imperative, “keep on becoming kind”. In other words, now, whenever it is happening, always be doing it. You are doing it and it is being done to you, you are allowing God’s power to work and working in it instead of struggling against it. It is a command. You let it happen, you are willing to allow the bitterness to be taken away, and you start becoming more and more kind, you are intentional towards others. This is discipleship, willing and intentional (Romans 12:1-2). These are not simply moral imperatives, a “just do it” type of command to pick yourself up, it is a grace experience. If you are willing and intentional the power of grace will be there.
Bitterness is easy to recognize in others, but it's not so easy to see it in ourselves
Guilt is what we feel when we sin, and bitterness is what we feel when others sin against us. The very definition of bitterness points to the action of another. If we had committed the offense, we would feel guilty and would know that we had to confess and forsake our sin.
Bitterness is based on sin that somehow relates to you. It is not concerned with how big the sin is; it is based upon how close it is. For instance, if some great and gross immorality occurs in another part of the world, what do we do? We read about it, but we will not feel guilty. We read about it, but we will not feel bitter. We might be appalled or amazed, but we do not feel guilty, and we do not feel bitter. Nevertheless, it was an awful sin, and someone actually committed it. And it can get closer to us as it might remind us of how we or someone we love was treated unjustly and we become bitter, based on something we have nothing to do with that we saw on TV or something like that. So it does not depend on how great the evil is, it depends on how close the other person is to me. Bitterness is related to those people who are close. Did someone hurt me or someone I care about?
Before we can get rid of bitterness, we have to realize that we are. How can we tell if we’re bitter?
One good rule of thumb is this: Bitterness remembers details. You have had thousands of conversations in your life, most of which you have forgotten. But this one took place five years ago, and you remember every single word, his intonation and the inflection of every part of his voice. You know exactly what happened, which means you are bitter.
Now, it is also possible to have a good memory of a wonderful conversation, but not as likely. Why? Because memory is helped by review, review, and more review. People do not usually mull over the exact details of wonderful things as much. But they do go over and over and over the bad things. I have done counseling with people who are in the process of getting divorced. I have known some at a happier time in their life. But at the time of the divorce they cannot remember a single happy time. All they can remember is that which they have gone over and over. They are bitter.
This doesn't mean there were not happy times. It just means that they have concentrated on how right they were and how wrong the other person was. If someone has a sharp, detailed memory for things that happened years ago when he was a child, or a young man or woman, and that memory is at all accusative of anyone else, then it is an indication of bitterness. And the solution for bitterness is to get rid of it.
What is the problem? Why is it we do not get rid of bitterness? If I tell a lie, I can confess it and be forgiven. In order to get rid of it I have to bring it back to my own heart. We need to bring the realization of bitterness back to our own hearts. Instead, the temptation is to look at the offender. Look what he did. That is the nature of bitterness. In order to get rid of it, I need to recognize it is my problem before I can confess and forsake it.
But you say, "I am not bitter. I just get hurt easily." There is a close relationship between being hurt and being resentful. Someone gets hurt and then he gets resentful. There is another very close connection between resentment and bitterness. Resentment turns into a deep bitterness. Bitterness turns into contempt, where anything the other one does is seen with jaundiced eyes.
What we want to do is make it apparent how sinful bitterness is. The bitter person must first recognize that he is bitter, and secondly, that it is a gross evil. Again, the reason people do not deal with this sin is that they think it is the other person's sin. The devil says, "Well, when he quits lying, or he quits doing this or that, or when he says he's sorry, then you will feel better."
But suppose he does not quit? Suppose he never quits? Are you going to be bitter the rest of your life because someone else insists on being in sin? That does not make any sense at all. You may say, "I will forgive him when he says he is sorry, but not until then. I have a right to my bitterness until then. When he says he is sorry, I will forgive him and everything will be fine." You keep this wall of bitterness up, and one day he comes to you and he says, "I'm sorry." Can you now forgive him? No, because bitterness doesn't forgive. In order to forgive this person when he says he is sorry you have to be ready before he says he is sorry. And if you are ready to forgive him before he says he is sorry, then it doesn't depend on whether he says he is sorry or not. In other words, you get rid of bitterness unilaterally. It does not matter what the other person does.
In reality bitterness is a sin that stands alone. The bitter person decides to be bitter independently of the offender. You say, "No, he sinned against me, and when he says he is sorry everything will be fine." But this is not true. I've known situations where an apology was offered and the person is still bitter. Suppose the offender is dead and cannot apologize. I know people who are extremely bitter and the bitterness is toward their parents who died years ago. But the bitterness has not died. Bitterness is the sin of the bitter person alone, unrelated to anybody else.
In order to get rid of it, I have to see that it is evil and that it is my sin and my sin only. I do not get rid of it through the other person saying he is sorry. I do not get rid of it if the other person quits or dies. I do not get rid of it any other way except calling it sin against the holy God, confessing it and receiving forgiveness. You cannot be free of it if you won’t let go of it. Bitterness is the foe that won’t let go. You don’t just shake it off, you have to cut the root, destroy it, and eliminate the residual fruit and the seeds lying around. Jesus broke the chains and you mustn’t pick them up again.
The difficulty is in getting my eyes off the other person's sin. But just the fact that I think it is his problem shows that it is not. If it were his problem and I was filled with sweetness and light, and not bitter, then I would be concerned about the other person. I could say, "That poor guy! Look what he did. If I did something like that, I would feel awful. He must really feel awful. I think I will go help him." But if that is not my response then I am bitter, and it is my sin, not his. Orange juice in a glass illustration – A cup of sweet juice cannot spill even one drop of bitter juice, however suddenly jolted. If someone is filled with sweetness and someone else gives him a jolt, what will come out? Sweetness. Jolts do not turn sweetness into bitterness.
I believe that this sin is a major hindrance to revival in this country. When Christians start confessing their sins, they will be able to forgive the sins of others. We can be free from bitterness because Jesus paid for all my sin, and for all the sin done to me. He did that by putting the sin on himself (2 Corinthians 5:21). The sin has to go somewhere. If we allow God to give his grace freely, if we let him take it, then the sin (disease) goes away.
However, if we deny Jesus the right to give his grace freely then we must take the sin on ourselves. If we say, no, they must pay, then God says no, you must pay. And it travels down to succeeding generations (the Biblical illustration for this is 2 Kings 5).
That doesn’t mean you have to dig up the past and try and reverse some curse. You are not cursed with bitterness, believing that is blaming someone else for your sins, and it only continues the cycle. You don’t have a curse; you have just accepted chains. Now others may have brought them to you, you may have been around bitterness and become filthy with it yourself, they may have been passed down from generation to generation, but you don’t have to wear them anymore. It doesn’t matter what they did. It is you who has the bitterness, and Jesus can set you free today, once and for all. You don’t have to find when the supposed curse started or where the curse came from; you have to break the chains now, and it is Jesus who sets you free, He has broken the chains, don’t pick up the chains of bitter bondage again. You deny Jesus Christ by holding on to bitterness. Be set free today.