Here is a question we have received from a few different listeners recently. They are asking, “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 experienced or lots of them, or even most painfully, the same one done over and over and over again. It is intensified usually by the fact that nobody really knows the depths of this besides you. Therefore, the sense of injustice grows.
Four Ways to Fight
If people only knew, and you can’t tell them for various reasons. 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. There are four amazing things he tells us to embrace, believe, and ponder in order to fight this.
1. We don’t deserve any better.
Here is number one. Let it sink in. By the way, all of these depend on God. God makes all the difference here. You can’t manage bitterness successfully without God, because even if you decided, “Okay, 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. 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. They are guilty, and you shouldn’t have been treated the way you were treated. I don’t mean to say that their injustice ceases to be because you don’t deserve better from God.
All I mean is to say is, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and we are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). Anything that happens to us from God’s standpoint 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 that I don’t deserve any better from him. So that is my first thing — just know how little we deserve from God.
2. We have been forgiven much.
Now the second thing is to 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 4:31–32, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
“I have overwhelming guilt and I have overwhelming forgiveness. How can I not extend it to others?”
Then, again, in Ephesians 5:1–2, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” You are loved as a child of God. Don’t walk in bitterness.
So the point on this second thing is, holding a grudge is a way of saying Christ acted toward me inadequately 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.
3. God is for us.
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. “For this light momentary affliction” — Fill in the blank. How much has she hurt you? How much has he hurt you? How many wrongs have been done to you? — “is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). 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? Therefore, there is a positive reason for why these things should not undo us and make us bitter. God is using them.
4. No wrong will go unpunished.
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 didn’t lose their job, or they didn’t have the accident.
God says, “You need to relax here and let me be the one who takes vengeance.” This is 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,’ says the Lord.” To the contrary, “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.”
Lay It Down
So here is the concluding surprising 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 perfectly than anything we could do.
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.