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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Dr. L. K. Landis, Wilderness Voice Publications, Liberal, KS
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"Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; " (Hebrews 12:15)
Bitterness is a terrible thing! It has been suggested that bitterness is the #1 killer of Christians, as far as being used of the Lord is concerned. Throughout life there are many things that cause people to grow bitter. Some are bitter at circumstances, some are bitter with fellow citizens, some are even bitter with the Creator. How sad that anyone would allow their joy and happiness to be swallowed up by a whale of bitterness.
There are parents who are bitter with their children and children who in turn are bitter against their parents. There are churches splintered into little schisms and cliques because of bitterness against their brothers and sisters in Christ. There are church members who are bitter with the preacher and preachers who are bitter at certain people who have "done 'em wrong" somewhere down the line. There are husbands bitter against their wives and women who are eaten alive by bitterness against their husband.
I doubt that anyone outside of the Lord Himself could even halfway calculate the number of people, the number of whole congregations, the number of preachers of the gospel who live defeated lives because of bitterness. Bitterness is much like acid in that it renders the container it is in useless for other things. Acid destroys the "usability" of the potter's vessel just as bitterness-destroys the spiritual life, and oftentimes the health, of the believer.
THE CAUSES OF BITTERNESS
When we get right down to it, bitterness is anger that has been left untreated, unconfessed and unforsaken. What we must then commit to doing is getting rid of the anger before it has a chance to ferment into bitterness. There are basically three wells from which this awful bitterness flows.
1. DISAPPOINTMENT is a source of bitterness.
Often times when children don't get their way, they scream, yell, beat their head upon the floor, hold their breath and absolutely throw a fit. They do this because they are angry; disappointed with something or someone. They have been deprived of what they wanted. Their will has been challenged. Their desires have been denied. Unfortunately, the very same thing often happens with adults who have never learned that we don't always get what we want. Bitterness comes when disappointment flourishes. This disappointment boils and turmoil creeps in. Turmoil then turns to anger over the situation. Finally that unconfessed, unforsaken anger sours into bitterness.
Do you remember the Biblical story of Hannah, the mother of Samuel? She is a good example of disappointment turning to bitterness. Hannah had prayed for a baby. She was a good, moral, faithful wife. She had never rebelled against her God or her husband. She was submissive. She went to God's House. And yet, God had still not given her a child. Now, before you condemn her too much, consider the following. What she wanted was an honorable thing, a child. She wanted the child for a worthy reason, to honor her husband and to glorify God. But God saw fit to deny Hannah her petition.
Notice I Samuel 1:5. It was God who had shut up her womb. Even though she desired to have this baby so that she could give it back to God (vs. 11), she was still not given this desire of her heart. In fact, "...she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore" (I Samuel 1:10). How many times have people been bitter because they were sorely disappointed, let down, refused their own will? Too often, I am afraid, bitterness stems from not having something we want so very badly, not being allowed to have our way.
2. DISILLUSIONMENT with the actions of others is also a source of bitterness.
Ask yourself this question, "Have I ever been put out with someone because they did something contrary to what I thought they should have done?" If your answer to this question is no, you aren't telling the truth. We all get disgusted with the actions of others. We all get put out with someone for doing something we don't like. There is not a person alive who has not shaken their head in disbelief at the actions of others.
At one time or another, every husband, every wife, every father, every mother, every sibling has been angry because of something someone else has done. I once knew a grown man who would not speak to his mother or his father because they had been unreasonable with him in his teenage years. He did not even attend his father's funeral. He let disillusionment with the actions of his parents steal joy away from him as an adult. He grew bitter. Almost every time I talked to him the conversation eventually came around to his hatred for his parents. This bitterness ate him alive, so to speak. It ruined the relationship with two of his three sons. It destroyed the relationship between he and his wife, they eventually divorced. He could not cope with his second son and constantly placed him in boys’ homes even though the man never could pin-point why the boy irritated him so. I suspect that it was because that boy was the "spitting image" of his father in deed and actions as well as looks.
According to the Bible, children can be a source of grief and bitterness (Proverbs 17:25) as well as a person's spouse. In Colossians 3:19, the Lord instructs us "Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them." Now, the Lord would never have said for husbands not to be bitter against their wives if it were not possible for a man to be bitter in that fashion. And I believe that if a man can be bitter at his wife, then a wife can be bitter at her husband.
In this we find that bitterness creeps into the lives of people little by little. No man ever loved his wife with all his heart one day and hated her and was bitter at her the next. It happens a little at a time. This is why we are told, "…let not the sun go down upon your wrath:" (Ephesians 4:26). Every day we should confess our anger to the Lord, confess our bitterness and then we may start each new day without any hurt feelings or anger toward our spouse. Not only can people be disillusioned with family, but the actions of people in general often cause us to be bitter. Having preached this Gospel of Jesus Christ for many, many years,
I could not begin to tell you of all the people who are bitter at the church or particular members in a church or the pastor of a church. These are people who have had their Confidence in someone shaken and they have become bitter. It is this reason for which we are admonished "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man" (Psalm 118:8).
If your confidence is in the Lord, you will never be disappointed. His actions are always perfect and right. His decisions are correct. He is never wrong. He never does anything to harm people. If we are in disagreement with what God does, then we can be assured that it is we who are wrong and not Him. Another thought along this line is that if we never expect very much from other people, then we will not be disillusioned when they do not meet our expectations.
3. DEATH is another source of bitterness according to the Scriptures.
In I Samuel 15:32, the Scripture acknowledges that death can be a source of bitterness in that Agag made the statement, "...surely the bitterness of death is past." Even though this is a common affliction known among the lost, it should be totally unheard of among those who claim the name of Christ. Even though we might grieve over the loss of a loved one, we are admonished "...concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope." This is one of the many great blessings and comforts that belief in the Scriptures provides.
I Thessalonians 4:16 says, "Wherefore comfort one another with these words." And certainly at the death of a loved one who has been saved by God's grace, we can be comforted by the promise of God that we shall see them again.
THE CURSES OF BITTERNESS
When we allow bitterness to fester like a sore, its infection spreads and soon begins to affect us in every area of our life. If we do not confess and forsake the hurt, and we refuse to accept God's will, then bitterness comes to fruition. The Scriptures are full of examples of what this bitterness will do to us. If not treated with the "balm of Gilead," God's healing power, the bitterness will soon destroy us and totally steal God's peace. There are nine definite problems that bitterness will cause.
1. Bitterness DISCOMFORTS (troubles)
Consider Hebrews 12:15. When disappointment and disillusionment go unconfessed, bitterness takes root and troubles us. Bitterness can cause insomnia. The longer we allow a matter to "eat on us," the more it will trouble us. We will fret over it at night. We will wake with it on our mind. It will tie our stomach in knots. The physical distresses that bitterness can cause are referred to as psycho semantic illnesses. That is, brought on by worry, stress and bitterness. Certainly we can also say that bitterness robs us of our joy, peace and contentment.
2. Bitterness also DEFILES
Again consider Hebrews 12:15. The last part of the verse says, "...lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled." Unconfessed, unforsaken bitterness can and does render us unusable for the Lord's work. When we are bitter, we have an improper spirit that defiles us. When we are bitter, we are filled with hatred and that, too, disqualifies us from being used of God. When we are bitter, we are guilty of harboring unconfessed sin in our life, which in turn defiles us and makes us unusable. As long as we remain in that condition then, we cannot have the fullest blessings of God upon us.
3. Bitterness DISCREDITS
The most accurate example of this in the Bible is the account of Hannah in I Samuel 1:10, "And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the LORD, and wept sore." You will remember that Eli, the priest, mistook Hannah's bitterness for drunkenness (I Samuel 1:12-13). We know that Hannah was a righteous woman and that her heart was in the right place, but the fact remains that she was bitter because she had no child. Bitterness nullifies our testimony and makes us a poor testimony for the Lord. We, who are saved, are expected to accept God's will for every area of our life and, as I have stated before, bitterness is rejection of God's will. In this case, bitterness caused Eli to think poorly of Hannah; to mistake her bitterness for drunkenness.
4. Bitterness DISTRACTS
Just for a moment think about Proverbs 14:9-10, "Fools make a mock at sin: but among the righteous there is favor. The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy." The Hebrew word for "knoweth" can mean to study or to ponder. In other words, when a person is bitter, that bitterness consumes much of the persons thought life. Therefore it can be said that bitterness keeps us from fulfilling Philippians 4:8. When we are bitter, we will not be thinking about the blessings we receive from God.
Bitterness, left to itself, will cause us to begin to look for things to be critical of. Since bitterness is a negative emotion, it begets negative thoughts and we begin to "knit-pick." Countless thousands, and probably millions, of good people have quit serving God and have forsaken the House of God because unconfessed bitterness caused them to have a critical spirit. Furthermore, because we are constantly thinking about what has made us bitter, we will begin to talk about it to others (Matthew 12:34), we will begin to gossip. This opens up a whole new can of worms. Bitterness distracts us from thinking right thoughts. It makes us self-centered, concerned only about ourselves, and we forget about others. It distracts us from our duty (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
5. Bitterness DISCOURAGES
Remember the story of Job? He had lost his children. He had lost his wealth. He had lost his health. His friends had deserted him. And his wife encouraged him to curse God and die. Most of us have never been through one-tenth as much sorrow, grief and woe as Job, and yet we complain over every little thing that comes our way. However, even the great servant of God, Job, became discouraged because of his adverse situation. Job 10:1 "My soul is weary of my life; I will leave my complaint upon myself; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul." Job does not elaborate on his situation and we do not know who or what Job was bitter at, but nevertheless, bitterness had discouraged him. Job said that this bitterness had made him "weary of ...life". He was so depressed and discouraged that he didn't care if he lived or died. One thing that Job did not do, however, is to blame God for his unhappy situation; "In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly" (Job 1:22). If a person dwells on something long enough, even the most positive person will get discouraged. And Job was no exception.
6. Bitterness DETERS
II Samuel 2:26 gives indication that bitterness is an emotion that keeps us from doing what is right. It was bitterness that kept the people from making things right with David and God. In instance after instance most ministers have seen bitterness manifest itself in this manner. People who are bitter will put off coming to the altar. People who are bitter will not spend the time in prayer that they ought to. They will not spend time reading their Bible, but rather will depend on frivolous and superficial things to while their time away. Bitter people will not witness as they ought. And oftentimes bitterness will ultimately cause a person to find excuses to keep from attending the House of God.
7. Bitterness DESTROYS
First of all, bitterness destroys a person spiritually. Consider Job 21:25, "And another dieth in the bitterness of his soul, and never eateth with pleasure." It destroys our relationship with God. It keeps us from confessing sin and thus severs our fellowship with God. The person who is bitter is concerned only with themself and how unjustly they feel they have been treated. The central focus of the bitter person is on self, and self is a major hindrance to godliness. Bitterness renders its victim worthless for the cause of Christ. A bitter Christian is a disobedient Christian.
God tells us what to do if we feel we have been wronged (Matthew 18:15-17), and harboring resentful and bitter feelings isn't permissible. Not only does it destroy spiritually, but there is a Biblical example which illustrates that if left to itself, bitterness can destroy a person physically. We are told the story of Ahithophel and what bitterness did to him. He was the grandfather of Bathsheba and, I believe, David's adulterous relationship with her caused the old man to become bitter. Bitterness boiled in his heart and soul for quite some period of time and then when his advice to David was spurned, he returned to his home and committed suicide (II Samuel 17:23). Yes, bitterness, if not taken care of properly, can ultimately destroy a person.
8. Bitterness brings DISCONTENTMENT
The bitter person becomes a chronic complainer; nothing pleases him. Job 7:11, "Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul." Bitter people are fault-finders. When a person begins to manifest a critical spirit, the cause of that spirit is usually unconfessed, unforsaken bitterness.
9. Bitterness DEGRADES
In Romans 3:14, bitterness and cursing are linked together; "Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness." Oftentimes people who are bitter say things that they don't really mean. They lash out at people who love them. Their tempers flare and words are said that they later regret and sometimes are even ashamed of. In this, bitterness has caused a person to be less than what they really are. Unconfessed, unforsaken bitterness degrades a person's testimony for Christ and causes them to be ineffective.
THE CURE FOR BITTERNESS
The cure for bitterness is in reality a very simple one. It involves a three step process and has a 100% cure record if followed specifically. First, we must ACKNOWLEDGE that we are bitter (Psalm 38:18; 51:3). We cannot be delivered from bitterness until we acknowledge that we have a problem with it. This is often the most difficult step to take in the entire process. Even though we do not see ourselves as being a bitter person, we should ask ourselves some very important questions that will expose bitterness.
Do I feel that I have been "wronged"; my "rights" violated; that I have been treated unfairly, unjustly and unkind? Do I resent the person who has done this to me? Regardless of whether they have actually done something to me or not, do I resent them? Do I harbor thoughts of retribution, vengeance or "getting even?" When I see that person, do I wish they were elsewhere; that I didn't have to see them. Do I find myself avoiding that person? Do I feel a sense of satisfaction when I hear something negative about them? Do I look for opportunities to tell someone about the situation and how that I feel that I was treated? Do I "rehash" the incident over and over in my mind? Do I think about it at night when I lay down to sleep? If your answer to even one of these questions is "yes," then dear friend, you are probably bitter.
The second step is to CONFESS it as sin (I John 1:9). Whether we like to admit it or not, bitterness is a sin. When we clear away all the undergrowth and view bitterness for what it is, we see that in actuality it is dissatisfaction with the way God is conducting our life. When a person is saved, they surrender the rights of their life to Christ and He becomes Lord and Master. Thus, if He allows heartache to come into our life, it is there for our benefit. If He allows someone to treat us unkindly, then it is for our benefit. Bitterness comes when we rebel against His will for our life. It is sin. We must confess it as sin. We must be willing to submit ourselves to Christ, to give Him the absolute control of our life. If God is sovereign, then He must be allowed to be Sovereign in the life of the believer and that includes accepting whatever He has in store for us.
We must confess the sin of bitterness, submit to His rule in our life, and thirdly, we must FORSAKE the bitterness. The other two steps to freedom from bitterness will be to no avail if we do not forsake this sin. This is imperative to a life without bitterness. The believer must train his mind to think on God. Consider Isaiah 26:3, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee."
Bitterness robs us of this perfect peace. When that which makes us bitter is allowed to run unrestrained through our mind, it only brings suffering, misery and sadness. However; when we have acknowledged our bitterness, confessed it as sin, and forsaken it, that wonderful "peace that passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7) is ours once again. Romans 8:6, "For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." This verse of Scriptures is yet further proof that bitterness is sin and that when our mind is concentrated on the things of God, we have peace.