Professional counsellors admit that a large part of their work is helping people to forgive and become free of bitterness. Bitterness is animosity and hatered directed towards another person. It is usually over some injury or wrong that has been done to a person, either intentionally or unintentionally. It may even be over a misunderstanding, where there was no actual violation at all. Whether over actual, imagined, intentional or unintentional violation, bitterness binds up a person’s soul, is sin, and must be resolved.
Bottled up anger has many effects on a person, all of them negative. The resentful person may have anxiety, difficulty sleeping, difficulty interacting with others and physical sickness. They lose their ability to be gentle-spirited and kind. They may even become captivated with the desire for revenge.
Friend, if you are wrestling with bitterness or resentment, the Bible has the answer for you. It will help us with this critically important life-issue, and its message is forgiveness.
Forgiveness is truly one of the most beautiful words in the English language. It is about releasing other people and about ourselves being released. Forgiveness is something that we need to give and receive our whole lives long. Scripture says; “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit!” (Psalm 32:1-2).
All alternatives to forgiveness are deceptions and further entrapments. There is something within the reasonings of men’s minds which says, “I just need to clear my chest and repay injustice done to me. Then I will feel better.” Sadly, clearing your chest often is just another way of saying “venting anger on people.” Repaying wrong done to us is often just vengeance, and vengeance provokes a response of further vengeance. This is how conflicts escalate. It must be said that there is a place, in some instances, for defending yourself legally. In many cases, if not most cases, it is advisable to suffer wrong done to us and dismiss it by an act of forgiveness.
The first known example of bitterness and unforgiveness was that of Cain. (See Genesis Chapter Four). Cain and his brother, Abel, brought sacrifices to the LORD. However, Abel took the all-important, obedient step of offering to the LORD the type of sacrifice that God wanted. Cain did not do this but, instead, made a sacrifice of crops. Consequently, the LORD accepted Abel’s sacrifice and rejected Cain’s sacrifice. Cain chose to hate and blame his brother for God’s rejection, and even killed him in a fight. This is bitterness running its full course, from resentment to ill-will, to murder. Bitterness sometimes is carried to this extreme end but, whether or not it is, it is still ugly in all of its stages.
Friend, the very first thing that we must remember about bitterness is that it is sin. God commands that we rid ourselves of anger and malice. We read; “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.” (Colossians 3:8), and; “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, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
How do we forgive someone when they have wronged us? Wrongs can be very severe and injurious. Can they be dismissed when the feelings of anger are still within us? Yes. Forgiveness is a choice of our will. Our feelings may or may not line up with our choice of forgiveness at the moment of forgiving another. Ask God to help you forgive and then make the choice to do so. Your heart will be immediately made right and healed. The issue of your feelings will slowly heal over time.
When seeking God’s help to forgive, God has given us a tremendous help in His Word. The Bible is full of examples of forgiveness, the greatest being that of Jesus Christ, Himself. Jesus had no sin of His own. He had committed no crime. Yet, a death sentence was placed on Him. He suffered horrible torture and, yet, could pray with sincerity for His very executioners. We read these words; “But Jesus was saying, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.” (Luke 23:34) and; “and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;” (1 Peter 2:23).
They mocked Jesus, but He did not revile or threaten them. He, instead, showed grace and endured.
When Jesus forgave those who crucified Him, He was living up to the standard that He had called for Himself. He taught men to forgive each other. We read:
Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus *said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord *said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.’
The Bible is, with great frequency, calling us to forgiveness. Consider the Apostle Paul’s words:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.
How often should we forgive? Peter asked Jesus the following question and heard the Lord’s response:
Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus *said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
The Christian learns to forgive when we reflect on the fact that the Lord has forgiven us for so much. How could we not, in turn, be the same way in response? How could we learn from experience how good it feels to receive forgiveness, and then not show it to others? Again, we read; “ bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” (Colossians 3:13).
Forgiveness sometimes involves a further, difficult step. It often involves going to the person that we are bitter against and apologizing for that bitterness. This is not always the case. It is possible to be upset with someone without them even knowing that you are. In such cases, you can resolve the issue between yourself and God. However, many times bitterness is something that is communicated and there is a need to go to the person, or persons, involved and make peace. They may have the greater part of the blame. By going to the person first, you are taking the mature step of taking the initiative to forgive. Many times the other party won’t take the initiative to heal the relationship. However, they will often respond positively to someone coming to them for forgiveness.
Friend, if you are struggling with bitterness and unforgiveness, you can pray in words similar to these:
Lord Jesus, I come to You for You are Lord and You lived the greatest example of forgiveness that has ever been lived. You are the great Forgiver and I want to be a forgiver, too. Jesus, I feel like I have been wronged by someone and I need Your help in forgiving them. Help me. I see from Your example what forgiveness is and if You can forgive my sins, then I can forgive too. Then I can forgive this person too. Lord Jesus, forgive all of my sins. Wash them away. I turn from my sins and commit to following You and Your higher way. I forgive those who have wronged me. I make the choice to forgive. Bring a healing to my heart this day and help bring my feelings in line, even if this takes time. Give me the courage to go to those who have felt my bitterness and make things right with them. Thank You for Your love. Amen.
The Billy Grahm Christian Worker’s Handbook. Minneapoli: World Wide Publications. Billy Grahm Evangelistic Association, 1984.
Forgiveness: The Lost Art Of Keeping Short Accounts. The unpublished Study Notes Of Jake Balzer.
Ted Haggard. Primary Purpose. USA:Creation House 1995.
“Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,
1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission.” (www.Lockman.org)