You won’t find many people who willingly describe themselves as bitter.
From our own perspective, our bitterness or dissatisfaction is always completely justified. “It just wasn’t fair,” we argue to ourselves.
This is the moment when the root of bitterness is planted: When we feel that we don’t get what we deserve. When we feel like we have been mistreated.
Make no mistake, bitterness is a sin. (James 3:14-16) It is a sin that has broken up marriages, friendships, and hindered many people from finding peace and rest in their Christian life.
What does “bitter” mean?
“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.” Hebrews 12:14-15.
This verse helps us to understand the danger that lies behind bitterness. It isn’t a simple, innocent or meaningless thing to be bitter – bitterness is a root that grows into division, accusation and even hatred.
If bitterness has been given the chance to take root in our heart, it is nourished every time we agree to the spiteful thoughts that come up from our flesh. Over time, bitterness can flourish in our heart, consuming any care, love and gentleness that existed there before. This transformation will eventually come out in our actions. (Proverbs 4:23) Our words become razor sharp. Cold. Hostile.
After many months or years, we may not even remember exactly why we became bitter in the first place – all that is left is the sting of accusation and hatred.
Many people today have allowed bitterness to rule in their hearts. But there is a way to break free from bitter and accusatory thoughts! We don’t need to keep holding grudges year after year because of perceived wrongs that have happened to us.
It is only after we acknowledge the sinful tendencies that are part of our nature that we can begin to take up a battle against them. This is why a person who justifies or makes excuses for their grudges, animosities, envy or chipped shoulders will never become free from their bitterness.
This person is feeding their flesh – giving in to their hidden desire to protect their honour above all else. This attitude is completely contrary to how we should live as Christians. Philippians 2:21 gives us a warning about this: “For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.”
In the moments when we are tempted to be bitter, then we need to become completely reliant on the Holy Spirit to show us the truth about ourselves. Without the Holy Spirit as guidance, we quickly become self-satisfied and begin to handle situations with our own knowledge – which only leads us to fall back into old habits.
“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13.
When we cry out in need, the Holy Spirit will be there to reveal to us our own lacks; that it isn’t the others who need to change, but there is something in ourselves that needs to be put to death. Then we can begin to truly recognize our demands and tendencies towards bitterness as the sin that it is. And the Spirit will also give us the power to overcome.
We must acknowledge bitterness for what it is and then make a firm decision to hate it with a perfect hatred!
How can we hate the sin of bitterness? By seeing the damage that it causes! Bitterness can never build up or edify. It is simply impossible for bitterness to produce peace, joy, love and rest.
“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” Ephesians 4:31.
Put an end to bitter thoughts!
It costs something to put an end to bitterness in our lives. It means we have to give up our pride and instead go the way of humility. Our flesh hates to suffer – but that doesn’t need to stop us! We can instead arm ourselves with the mind of Christ and do God’s will. (1 Peter 4:1-2)
We must find the bitterness that dwells in us and tear it out by the root! Rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us and to help us. Choose to pursue love and all that flows forth from it. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) It is a decision that we need to make over and over again in our everyday dealings of life. No matter what happens to us, we choose love and goodness over bitterness and sin.
Yes, the temptation to be bitter will come again, but bitterness can only harm us if we agree with that temptation. Instead, we can take a firm and decided stand against division, against envy and against sin.
When we make this decision to give up our own pride and to esteem the others higher than ourselves, then it simply isn’t possible to be bitter anymore.
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” Philippians 2:3.