It was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.”

Paul the Apostle wrote to the church family in Ephesus, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT)

Bitterness: it’s a temptation that dogs our steps and waits patiently for our full or partial cooperation. Bitterness is the one sin that people rarely admit to or see in themselves.

Has bitterness taken root in your heart? Is it defiling the people around you just as the Bible warns? If so, walk carefully and prayerfully through this little note. If not, praise the Lord and learn some new insights.

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The Bible often teaches on the topic of bitterness, and the most common verse that we learn from is found in Hebrews:

“Try to live in peace with everyone, and seek to live a clean and holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Look after each other so that none of you will miss out on the special favor of God. Watch out that no bitter root of unbelief rises up among you, for whenever it springs up, many are corrupted by its poison.” Hebrews 12:14-15 (NLT) 

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Bitterness, what is it? The dictionary defines it as anger and disappointment at being treated unfairly; resentment.”  The word here in the Greek is literally “a wicked person whose life and behavior is now offensive to God and obnoxious to men (cf. Deut. 29:17, 32:32; Rev. 8:11).” Understood that way, we can see how easy bitterness can creep into our lives and create a foothold in our lives and thinking.

“The heart knows its own bitterness, And a stranger does not share its joy.” Proverbs 14:10 (NKJV) 

There is a danger of “any root of bitterness” (NKJV). The word “any” is a very important one. We are warned to watch out for any cause that might stir you to become bitter. Things like disappointment, neglect, being overlooked, inadequacy, sin, disease, mistreatment, lies, slander, and gossip, are all common sources where bitterness takes root. There are also relationships that can be a source of bitterness like friendships, marriages, bosses, employees, in-laws, ministers, and fellow believers. Bitterness can be caused by any thing or any person who has failed us or brought disappointment and trouble to us in some way.

Signs of bitterness taking root in a person’s heart include: sharpness, a critical spirit, sarcasm, resentfulness, cynicism, coldness, harshness, intense stress, intenseness, relentlessness, and being unpleasant. Of course this isn’t an exhaustive list, but who wants to live this way? God has provided the sweetness of His love in forgiveness to deliver us from bitterness!

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Bitterness can pop up in a church family (Ephesians 4:31).  Bitterness causes a person to live in darkness (1 John 2:9-11). You’ll recall that it was bitterness that grew in Joseph’s brothers’ hearts that turned into hatred and murder (Genesis 37).  Bitterness even enveloped Cain to the point of murder (Genesis 4:3-8). That’s why I believe the author to the Hebrews warns us against this spiritual foe:

“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 (NKJV) 

It’s interesting to me that bitterness and falling short of grace are connected here by the Holy Spirit. How do we fall short of the grace of God? First of all, this isn’t a passage that teaches we lose our salvation or can fall away from God’s gracious love to us. Rather, it’s describing an attitude that comes up in our lives when our eyes are on others and not on Jesus. A better translation of that phrase would be, “looking carefully lest anyone fall short BECAUSE of the grace of God.”

Chapter 12 of the book of Hebrews opens up with the race we’re running, surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV)  

We’re to keep our eyes on Jesus, our example of how to run. We’re to lay aside the stuff that slows us down. We’re to understand the Father is for us, not against us. We are to be careful of bitterness. Why? Because after the discipline of the Lord, we’re vulnerable to bitterness toward those who enjoy the grace of God. There is the danger of our eyes getting off Jesus and on to others. We may think: It’s not fair. It’s not good. It’s not right. It’s not reasonable. Yes. You may have even been hurt, and they don’t even blink an eye or care. True.

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“Truly, the tendency for us, like the prodigal son’s older brother of another parable, is to murmur and complain when grace and mercy are lavished on those whom we deem undeserving. And it ought not be – for the root of bitterness is far more deadly than it appears.” Jon Courson

Bitterness is a choice. Choose life! Choose forgiveness! Choose holiness.

“Disappointment is inevitable. But to become discouraged, there’s a choice I make. God would never discourage me. He would always point me to himself to trust him. Therefore, my discouragement is from Satan. As you go through the emotions that we have, hostility is not from God, bitterness, unforgiveness, all of these are attacks from Satan.” Charles Stanley

“Bitterness Is Poisonous” – 2 Samuel 14 from STUDY STARTS AT 44:00 on Vimeo.