An email question from a few different listeners recently, who ask: “Pastor John, How can I fight bitterness in my life?”
Well, that is not a foreign question to me. Bitterness is usually owing to a deep wrong we have experi-enced or lots of them or even most painfully the same one done over and over and over again. And it is intensified usually by the fact that nobody really knows the depths of this besides you. And therefore the sense of injustice grows. If people only knew and you can’t tell them for various reasons. And so it gets deeper and deeper from frustration and disappointment to anger, outbursts, to settled deep, long term bitterness. And God really knows about this and he really wants to help us with this. And there are four amazing things he tells us to embrace and believe and ponder in order to fight this.
And here is number one. Let it sink in. And, by the way, all of these depend on God. God makes all the difference here. You can’t manage bittereness successfully without God, because even if you decided, ok, I am settling all accounts in this world on my own, you wouldn’t be able to do it. They would slap you in jail or something would go wrong. You can’t do it. We cannot settle the accounts of those who have wronged us in this world. If there is no God, there is no solution to bitterness. So here is what God said. Ponder and let it sink in that you don’t deserve better than you got from God. And I don’t mean when I say that that it was right you got treated the way you did or that they are not guilty. If they are guilty and you shouldn’t have been treated the way you are treated. I don’t mean to say that their injus-tice ceases to be because you don’t deserve better from God. All I mean is to say is we have all sinned, fall short of the glory of God and we are by nature children of wrath, Ephesians 2:3. Anything that hap-pens to us from God’s stand point is not a wrong to us from him. It may be a wrong for others that God disapproves of that. But it is not a wrong from him. And that doesn't solve the whole problem, but wow, what a huge deal changer that is emotionally, because so much of my anger comes from failing to see before God almighty I don’t deserve any better from him. So that is my first thing, just know how little we deserve from God.
And now the second thing is: And realize and ponder and embrace how much we are getting from God, how much we have been forgiven. And at what cost. This is the text that is directed directly at bitterness from Ephesians 4:31. Let all bitterness—and there is the word—let all bitterness be put away from you and be tenderhearted and forgiving one another and kind because God in Christ forgave you. And, again, in chapter five verse one. Be imitators of God as beloved... you are loved as a child of God. Walk in love. In other words, don’t walk in bitterness as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering, sacrifice to God.
So the point on this second thing is holding a grudge is a way of saying Christ acted toward me inade-quately or foolishly when he didn’t hold a grudge against me. I have overwhelming guilt and I have overwhelming forgiveness. How can I not extend it to others? So that is the second thing.
And here is the third thing. We need to embrace and believe and savor that in all the pain that has been done to us, God is working for us and not against us. 2 Corinthians four verse 17. This light, momentary affliction—and fill in the blank. How much has she hurt you? How much has he hurt you? How many wrongs have been done to you? This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. That is simply amazing. The question is: Can we believe it that sins against us, hurt done against us, injustices, slanders done against us are not just something that we should forgive, but something that is actually producing a weight of glory greater than if they didn’t happen to us and therefore there is positive reason for why these things should not undo us and make us bitter. God is using them.
And here is the last one and it is surprising in one sense because people think, whoa, maybe you shouldn’t think like this. The fourth thing that God wants us to embrace and believe and savor is that nobody gets away with anything. Nobody who has done you a wrong will get away with it. You may think and the world may think they do, because they are not in jail, or because they haven’t been... they didn’t lose their job or they didn’t have the accident or... and God says: You need to relax here and let me be the one who takes vengeance. This is Romans nine and Romans 12:19. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God. For it is written. Vengeance is mine. I will repay. If your enemy is hungry, feed him. Do you see what that says? If you have an enemy and he deserves to be punished and nobody is punishing him, nobody sees what he has done or nobody agrees with you that he has done wrong, God says: He won’t get away with it. He won’t. So you can relax, because one of the reasons we feel bitter, I think, is this universe is not right. It is letting people get away with murder and nothing is happening. We scream bloody justice has to be done here and that text is to take away that anger and say: Look, you are right. Justice hasn’t been done yet. And so here is the concluding surpris-ing point. We don’t need to seethe with vengeance, because either the wrong done to us is going to be punished on the cross if those people repent or it is going to be punished in hell more fully, more per-fectly than anything we could do. And in either case we can lay it down and become Christ to those people, hold out forgiveness as long as they live. And if they won’t take it, God is going to deal with them.
Thank you Pastor John. And thank you for listening to the podcast. Email your questions to us at askpastorjohn AT desiringgod DOT org. Visit us online at desiringgod DOT org to find thousands of free books, articles, sermons, and other resources from John Piper. … I’m your host, Tony Reinke. Thanks for listening.