There are several subjects in the Bible that need to be revisited on a somewhat regular basis. The subject of “bitterness” is one of those subjects. I know that I need to hear this often, as bitterness threatens me. It’s related to the subject of “forgiveness,” but it has its own unique characteristics. Perhaps you’ve heard some of this before but, if you’re like me, you need to hear it again and again. Bitterness is one of the most insidious sins; it is sneaky; it lurks in the background. It can defile individuals, families, churches and cultures. Unlike momentary sins, bitterness is a lingering sin; it does its damage a little at a time; it’s relentless in its corroding work. If it’s not dealt with, it grows over time, and so, it must not be nurtured at all. Bitterness does even more damage to the container that holds this corrosive than it does to the objects upon which it is poured (though it usually hurts others as well). To conquer the sin of bitterness is to ensure, not only your happiness and peace, but also to spare many others misery as well.
Jostling the cup doesn’t change the contents of the cup, but the jostling frequently reveals the contents of the cup. For example, the Internet has given a megaphone to the contentious, who are easily outraged and offended by the slightest nudge. Alone in their cloister, with a keyboard (which has replaced the old fashioned fisted-crayon), the curmudgeon lashes out in indignation and judgment while bristling over the slightest challenge to his own motives or character. He is gifted at reading between the lines―a seer of hearts―a bearer of grudges. His self-imposed exile has left him alone and angry―quick to react―slow to forgive. Proverbs 11:9 warns that “the hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbor,” and verse 12 tells us why: “He who is devoid of wisdom despises his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his peace.” Rage is a powerful weakness (Pr. 15:18; 16:29. 32). Such cranky spirits are the product of a bitter soul.
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.” And the Apostle Paul tells us not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. 5 1 Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. —Hebrews 12:14-16
The Scriptures recognize that not everyone is going to be amiable and gracious, not in pursuit of peace. Bitter roots often run deep. In time, however, everyone can see what God already sees i.e., bitter roots always bear bitter fruit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. —Galatians 5:22-26
God’s word not only warns us about becoming bitter, it also gives us clear instructions on how to respond to others who are bitter and perpetually contentions persons: “Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11). BTW: don’t expect them to agree. You can pray for them, love them, and welcome them to make peace, but don’t fertilize their root of bitterness.