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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 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 a 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.

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

Hebrews 12:14-15 (NLT) “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.” 

Bitterness, what is it? The dictionary defines it as anger and disappointment at being mistreated; resentment.”  The word here in 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 easily bitterness can creep into our lives and create a foothold in our lives and thinking.

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

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

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!

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 bitterness 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:

Hebrews 12:14-15 (NKJV) “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.” 

Interestingly, the Holy Spirit connects bitterness and falling short of grace. 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 for us. Instead, it describes 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.

Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV)  “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.” 

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 onto 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.

“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.



  • Bob says:

    This is so good that I had to read it 3 times. It appears that bitterness springs up in me when I see injustice in the world or around me. I think that they are mini-explosions that desire righteous behavior, but it’s bitter behavior with a wrong expectation.

  • Doug says:

    Bitterness is hard for people to admit, especially Christians because we sometimes mistake resentment for not seeing others do the right thing.

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