Have you been wounded or offended in a way that you just cannot forgive? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be free of that injury?
I have learned much in the months since I wrote this article. The most important thing though is about the relentless passionate love that the Lord has for us in our suffering and struggles. This article deals with the terrible destructive effects of bitterness, but it is upside down to some extent because it begins by addressing bitterness at the national and church levels, and doesn’t get into the neighborhood of familial bitterness that affects most people where they live until the end.
Be patient with me as I lay out the problem, and know that my heart has suffered just as yours may be suffering. I will get to you and your family problems before I’m done because the freedom you will achieve in breaking those bonds of bitterness will change your life.
There is an alarming phenomenon occurring in this nation, and likely across the world that has even the ungodly marveling. A divisive spirit exhibiting power which the modern world has never before seen is not only causing widespread division, but outright hatred between social, cultural and political factions.
Worse, it is a force that is active in many churches and families. No longer do people simply agree to disagree, but when offended, injured or confronted with beliefs or comments that disagree with their firmly-held convictions, they react with unbridled hatred.
The concept of bitterness discussed here is bound closely to the presence of division, since bitterness manifests almost invariably as division. Both will be discussed here in an interchangeable manner because where one exists, the other almost certainly is present. Such divisions may be concealed, especially within families, but their destructive force is not mitigated thereby.
What benefit is there to be derived by focusing on bitterness? The ways in which it conceals itself in gossip and whispering campaigns can be deadly to a family, a church, or a nation. A divisive spirit was at the heart of the deception that led Eve to eat the apple. “Hath God said?” sneered the serpent, rolling his eyes. Clearly the warning in Hebrews about a root of bitterness ‘defiling many’ was an understatement.
What has opened the door to such hatred? The Lord himself spelled it out in His description of what to expect just prior to His return:
“Because iniquity will be multiplied, the love of many will grow cold.”Matt 24:12
So, step one is an absence of love. Real love comes only from God, and that true love never grows cold. The Savior is speaking here of the human imitation of that Godly love; the kind of natural love that parents have for their children, that citizens have for their nations, that the rich have for the poor, or that fans have for fellow fans who share their devotion to some football team. As the wickedness of the world is strutted about with growing defiance, natural love withers.
What is it about Godly love that prevents the kind of divisions that have become rampant?
“Love is patient and is kind; love doesn’t envy. Love doesn’t brag, is not proud, 5 doesn’t behave itself inappropriately, doesn’t seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of evil; 6doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Cor 13:4 (emphasis mine)
There is a spiritual principle at work here. The writings of the Apostle Paul demonstrate it in 2 Corinthians 2:5:
“10 Now I also forgive whomever you forgive anything. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, 11 that no advantage may be gained over us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes.” (emphasis mine)
Here we can see that we are dealing with one of the schemes of Satan. Things get a little tricky here, so stay with me. I want to show you something important. Feelings of anger are always a reaction to something else. Anger doesn’t spring from nothing. It always flares up in response to a perceived injury, insult, hurt, offense, or even a mild irritation. Angry=Hurt. (Stew on that a while, or as the Psalmist said, Selah.)
In the above passage, Paul demonstrates how such influences are negated in an atmosphere of love and forgiveness. But in the absence of such a forgiving spirit, anger is nurtured and grows like cute little dog. Not only that, but it spreads from person to person as the injured party allows it to jump into the laps of others and wag its little tail. It is called a root of bitterness because of the tendency of it to grow and spread.
Bitterness not only spreads and grows through paths that we are consciously aware of, but can spread imperceptibly like a virus. As believers, we are bonded together in love and these bonds can serve as pathways for blessings or a defiling influence.
Satan uses dissension and division to achieve his diabolical purposes. His number one target is the Church, but the scheme is effective in every setting, and on every level. Wherever it arises, bitterness erects walls to communication, love and reconciliation. Injured parties throw the baby Jesus out with the bath water (excuse the play on words) as they reject and condemn the Spiritual authority that Christ has provided to guide and protect them whether it’s a dad, a pastor, or a president.
Bitterness as a force is used also by Satan to unify people and create factions. In the 1940s, the people of Germany became united under Hitler partially motivated by their hatred for the Jews. Bitter people spread bitterness to recruit others to their cause. United by bitterness, their force and effectiveness grow exponentially.
The presence of bitterness or divisions is a red flag to the Christian that the flesh is in control. The following passage illustrates that bitterness is just one part of the problem:
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, 21 envyings, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these; of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19 (emphasis added)
OK, bitterness isn’t the first thing on the list, but isn’t it interesting that it could be interpreted to be at the root of eight items on that list? You could even say that those eight items comprise a list of the fruit of bitterness.
Before some of you “works” advocates (God help you) seize on this passage as proof that the Lord requires us to perform up to His standards, be assured that it is not our flesh that will inherit the Kingdom of God or anything else. In anyone who has accepted the gift of salvation, that flesh will die, and it is the new creation; the redeemed spirit clothed in a resurrection body, perfect and perfected in Christ that enters into His rest.
Getting back to the perilous power of bitterness, one would think that surely, God would have warned us about a malevolent strategy that is so deadly that it can split a nation, a church, a family. As it turns out, He did. From Hebrews, which many believe was also written by the Apostle Paul, we receive the clearest warning against a root of bitterness that can be found in all of scripture:
“14 Follow after peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no man will see the Lord, 15 looking carefully lest there be any man who falls short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and many be defiled by it;” Hebrews 12 (emphasis added)
Paul’s warning here was to a body of believers, urging them to avoid any root of bitterness that might spring up, defiling many. Is there any reason to believe that the same principle is not at work in families, churches, or nations? The laws of God are consistent throughout all creation; a fact that Satan often uses to his advantage. The problem of division pops up also in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:
“Brothers, I couldn’t speak to you as to spiritual, but as to fleshly, as to babies in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not with meat; for you weren’t yet ready. Indeed, not even now are you ready, 3 for you are still fleshly. For insofar as there is jealousy, strife, and factions [translated also as divisions] among you, aren’t you fleshly, and don’t you walk in the ways of men?” 1Cor 3 (brackets and emphasis added)
It is clear here that the presence of divisions is a product of sinful flesh, not the Spirit of God.
What about Israel? The Children of Israel, miraculously delivered from centuries of crushing bondage in Egypt, escaping violent death through the Red Sea, sheltered from the blistering sun and warmed at night by the presence of Jehovah in a cloud above them, receiving the water that they drank and the food that they ate by the power of the living God, were such bitter complainers that even Moses nearly reached the end of his tether with them.
In the process of negotiating the relationship that Jehovah God would have with Israel as they became His people in the Earth, God addressed the root of bitterness as follows:
“Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall [also translated bitterness] and wormwood;[more bitterness] 19 And it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst: 20 The LORD will not spare him, but then the anger of the LORD and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the LORD shall blot out his name from under heaven.” Deut 29:18-20 (emphasis and brackets added).
In this passage, bitterness is associated with idolatry. It constituted a toxic presence among the Children of Israel; one with a tendency to spread, and one that God found intolerable.
America has never before been seen to be so divided; so severely polarized that even the wicked are amazed. Not coincidentally, recent decades have seen a massive increase in the politics of division; the creation of numerous ‘victim’ groups designed to attract people to the destructive influences that are ripping away at the nation, churches and families.
For example: are you a woman? Presto! You, yes you are a member of an oppressed group! Some women somewhere have suffered at the hands of evil men, so you must identify with these victims and be enlisted into the struggle to destroy the offenders. Not only that, you must subscribe to the belief that these enemies of women are intrinsically flawed and irredeemably evil. You have been recruited into some group based on hatred and bitterness.
Entire new genders are being created to be picked on. Civil rights are being showered on deviant groups so that women and children are no longer safe in public restrooms; or teen-aged girls in their school shower rooms. If you’re still feeling left out, simply claiming to be a member of an oppressed race despite your lily-white heritage now earns you a place among their downtrodden ranks. A local woman ascended to the presidency of the NAACP chapter in Spokane. She was forced to resign in disgrace when it was revealed that her black heritage extended no farther than her braided hair and spray-tan. The ridiculous arguments of those defending her, nationwide were fantastically devoid of common sense. Satan can barely get his breath, he’s laughing so hard.
The divisions are no longer left vs right, conservative vs liberal, protestant vs Catholic, young vs old or based on any traditional rivalry. With the eye of truth, it can be seen that the divisions now fall consistently along the lines of good vs evil.
Is bitterness ever justified? Can you dismiss the offense of a violent criminal based on the neighborhood he came from? Is it tolerable to sympathize with someone who has been wronged in their bitterness? Does it do them any good?
It is ironic that people reared in a climate of wealth, freedom and prosperity such has been seen in no other nation throughout all of world history are signing up in droves to join some victim group based on grievances that belong to someone who looks like they do or the dead of centuries past. It reminds me of those murmuring Children of Israel who complained constantly despite the fact that their every need had been met by God.
In reality, the poor of America are the envy of most of the world as they enjoy technological advances, modern conveniences, easily available food and health care that even royalty in past ages would have found incomprehensibly luxurious. I have traveled by road all the way to Central America, and believe me, unless you have been there or in some other poor nation, you have no idea what real poverty looks like.
Both the rich and poor of ages past frequently lost wives to childbirth, husbands to war or slavish vocations like coal mining, and children to childhood diseases. For untold billions of people throughout history, the depredations of warfare or starvation due to famine have been a common part of life. What legitimate complaint do modern Americans or Europeans now have?
Foreigners from all over the world, many with no knowledge of the English language come to America, assimilate into the culture and prosper as they avail themselves of the economic and educational opportunities here. They build successful businesses and obtain advanced degrees. Their children, brought up with a similar appreciation for the bounties here, succeed as their parents have. Every American, of whatever economic or racial group, and virtually every stranger that is within our gates has recourse to the protection of law when injured. Based on these facts, what valid grudge can they possibly have? If things are so bad here, why are the poor of the world knocking down our doors to get in?
By contrast, many Americans of all races who were born here, enlisted and invested in their victim status, seek reparations, follow the path of least resistance, passively waiting for that government check, and blame someone else for the failure of their lives. Many are functionally illiterate, barely speaking the language, going through life with a chip on their shoulders, a smart phone in their hand and an attitude of entitlement that produces nothing but grief. “Black Lives Matter” is a powerful and sorrowful example.
Wasn’t it the same Satanic spirit of bitterness and hatred that gave birth to communism just over 200 years ago as it called on the workers of the world to unite? That bitterness never led to anything other than more, and often worse bondage, and the mass murder of millions. The workers simply traded one tyrant for another.
Even if a believer has what they consider valid grounds to nurture bitterness, such a practice poisons the soul, blocks spiritual growth, and is an obstacle to fellowship with God. It literally bonds them on a spiritual level to the offending party. It is for these reasons that the Holy Spirit has so wisely and consistently warned Christians to beware of any root of bitterness, whether it is theirs or someone else’s.
This discussion seems to be all over the place, but here are the main points: Bitterness as it is often manifested by division is a key tactic used by Satan to achieve his nefarious goals and keep people in bondage. Bitterness arises when there is a lack of the love of God, which is the cure for all ills. God warns us against bitterness and considers the sowing of dissension among the brethren an abomination. Bitterness is a major obstacle to inner peace and a walk with God in the life of a believer.
To tolerate bitterness is to court disaster. Bitterness completely blocks your spiritual development and, ironically, will bond you to the person or people who have injured you; opening a broad avenue of access for oppression in most cases.
Harbored bitterness is never a little thing because the Lord equated hatred with murder when He said if you hate your brother without cause, you will be subject to the judgment. (Matt 5:21-22) Jesus was speaking to Jews, living under the dispensation of law, but the passage makes it clear that He takes bitterness seriously.
Let me bring this home to the doorstep of the individual. For the unsaved, this is a call to accept the gift of salvation and freedom from the bondage and oppression of sin. For the saved, it is a call to remove the sin that so easily deprives us of the peace and happiness that characterizes a walk with God.
There is no condemnation in this because we have all sinned and are deserving of the death penalty. We have all struggled with bitterness; guaranteed. The Lord came to save sinners, and the only thing that can hinder His work of sanctification in our hearts is our unbelief and reluctance to be freed from our bondage. The Holy Spirit doesn’t speak to us about bitterness to condemn us, but to free us.
Some of us have been wounded so deeply, betrayed so treacherously by someone we loved and trusted that the pain dominates our lives. We can see no way of ever forgiving that person and have not even the slightest desire to do so. It is like having a deep wound that will not heal. The whole area is very tender. You try to ignore it; keep it concealed beneath a bandage, and if anyone touches it, you slap their hand away. ‘How could they possibly understand my pain?’, you think. You may actually resent the fact that they have not been similarly wounded. I speak from experience here.
If you are trapped by bitterness, come close to Jesus. If you are unwilling, or unable to forgive an offending party, confess that to our Lord Jesus and believe that He can change your heart to make you willing.
Just be willing to be made willing as you confess your inability to achieve that Godly forgiveness on your own. It is a wonderful opportunity to watch as the Holy Spirit changes you and frees you from bondage. It may take some time, but He will change your heart and your life in miraculous ways, and you will see it as you begin to pray for that offender with a sincere heart. God is able. He is able.
- Adapted from #91237724/Jankovoy-adobe stock.com
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- Adapted from #114954968/allouphoto-adobe stock.com
- Adapted from chaingang.jpg
- Don’t Mess With Israel by Greg Lauer @alittlestrength.com