Over the years we have all met bitter people and guilty people. More than likely we have all experienced bitterness and guilt at some stage to some degree.
We quickly feel the weight of guilt, but I do not think we identify bitterness quite as well. Bitterness is one of those sins we see in others long before we see it in ourselves. Yet bitterness unchecked will destroy us and hurt those around us.
In Ephesians 4:31 Paul writes,
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:”
Anger, like guilt in general, gets a lot of attention, but I do not see so much about bitterness.
In Hebrews 12:15 we read another warning,
“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;”
So, Paul teaches us to “put away” bitterness and the writer to the Hebrews instructs us that bitterness displays a failure on the part of the believer to embrace grace, that it will take root if permitted, brings trouble and defiles us.
Instead of bitterness we should “follow” or pursue peace with all men and the holiness of God (Hebrews 12:14). Bitterness cannot exist at the same time as peace and holiness. In Ephesians 4:32 Paul offers the alternative and remedy to bitterness,
“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
Instead of bitterness we should show kindness, tenderness and forgiveness.
- Not forgive genuine hurts
- Blame others for problems (real and imagined, often just imagined)
- Accuse others for things they may or may not be guilty of
- Resent others (for all kinds of things-sins, successes, failures)
Bitterness will also
- Rob us of the fruits of the Spirit (bitterness grieves and quenches the Holy Spirit)
- Anchor us in past faults and not free us to passionately envision the future
- Make us unfit for service and worship
- The bitter root will bring bitter fruit
- Infect those around us
In some ways I see guilt as a possible remedy in some circumstances, some, but certainly not all. The complete remedy we’ve briefly noted in Ephesians 4 and Hebrews 12. So, why do I prefer guilt?
- Guilt puts me in control. I can confess my sin and move on. Bitterness puts others in control.
- Guilt admits my part in the transgression. Bitterness holds others wholly accountable.
- Guilt focuses on my responsibility and my relationship with God. Bitterness focuses on others’ responsibility and their relationship with God.
- Guilt can lead to humility and repentance. Bitterness leads to pride and self-righteousness.
Has someone hurt you? Then forgive them, as Christ has forgiven you, and move on. Do not let the offence of others anchor you in the moment of hurt and hinder you from moving forward.
Do you feel you have been dealt with unfairly or unjustly? If reconciliation is not feasible, then leave it with God and move forward.
Bitter people rarely learn from past experiences because in their opinion all problems and faults are other people’s and not their own. Bitter people have long lists of how they could have done better or been better or accomplished more, but others held them back or hindered them. We may face opposition and hurtful people, we may be hindered and attacked, but the worst thing we can do is allow bitterness to define us.
Bitterness accomplishes nothing positive as I cannot control others, but guilt can lead to repentance and frees me to look ahead.
So, let’s pursue peace with people and the holiness of God and may we show kindness, tenderness and forgiveness.