Just one more thing: Practice love, forgiveness to overcome bitterness
Let's face it, our humanness causes most of our problems. We are bundles of potential problems looking for a place to happen. One of those deep problems of human nature is bitterness.
In his letter to the Ephesians. Paul deals with the "gut" issues of unity, theft, lying, malice and to put off the old man and put on the new man (Ephesians 4:22-24).
Then as the fourth chapter of Ephesians closes. Paul zeroes in on the thorny problem of bitterness.
Bitterness destroys friend ships and the fellowship in God's Church. The theme of Ephesians is the unity of believers in fellowship in the Body of Christ.
Bitterness will destroy this unity. How?
A bitter person can't keep his or her bitterness to himself or herself. Misery loves company. He finds sadistic pleasure in telling everyone who will listen how he has been mistreated.
The result is (if allowed to persist) his or her bitterness will spread through the Church like a malignancy.
Paul, writing in Hebrews, sheds practical light on the subject when he says we are to follow after peace with all men (even those who have wronged us): "Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking diligently lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness spring up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled" (Hebrews 12:14, 15. Revised Authorized Version throughout).
Are you "burned up" with someone right now? Have you let your anger grow in to a grudge or bitterness? If you have, here are three essential steps to help break the bondage of bitterness.
• First of all we must recognize it for what it is — a sin! We are commanded to get rid of bitterness.
The apostle Paul says, "Let all bitterness. wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice" (Ephesians 4:31). This command deals with a number of related disposition problems.
Bitterness here does not mean just anger or wrath, but refers to a malignant disposition, a long-standing resentment, or a spirit that refuses to be reconciled. We normally think of it as holding a grudge.
Wrath, on the other hand, refers to the impulsive outburst — as when a person blows his top. This type of wrath or anger can lead to bitterness.
We have seen it happen in sports. I once watched a football player jump up, throw his helmet on the ground and storm back to the huddle after the referees made what he considered a bad call.
The commentator observed the player's anger and wondered if he would seek revenge. Sure enough, the angry player tried to get revenge the next play. His anger gave way to bitterness.
The vehicle for expressing most bitterness is the tongue. A bitter person is frequently involved in what the apostle Paul calls clamor (Ephesians 4:31) or loud talking. Most of us have noticed that loud talking or arguing almost always accompanies anger.
Another way we express bitterness with the tongue is through what Paul called evil speaking. It also means failing to tell the whole truth.
Have you ever stretched the truth when recounting how someone wronged you? If you have, you are guilty of expressing bitterness through slander.
We are commanded in God's Word to get rid of problems that come from an evil, harmful disposition. Paul says, "Let all... be put away from you, with all malice." We are to make a clean sweep of the bitterness that cause sour dispositions to go sour.
Therefore, first, if we hope to deal with bitterness, we must begin recognizing bitterness for what it is — sin; and then deal with it as we would any other sin-confess it and go to God for help (I John 1:9). Please read the whole chapter.
• Try to keep from hurting others. Paul says. "And be kind one to another, tenderhearted" (Ephesians 4:32). This is a direct command to display human kindness to other people. Kind here means "pleasant or gracious."
Greet people with a smile. A lot could be said about this simple gesture. A smile goes a long way toward removing seeds that would produce bitterness.
We are to be tenderhearted and compassionate. In practice we find it's easier to be compulsive than compassionate. Think of the damage or hurt our unkind actions do in the life of someone else.
Showing kindness and compassion means to accept people just as they are (not as we want them to be) and to overlook personal hurts or wrongs suffered at the hands of others.
It has been said the most flammable material in the world is a chip on the shoulder. Our conduct with others should be based on compassion for them in their needs. This again is the real spirit of giving.
We have a responsibility in removing bitterness in others. In His Sermon on the Mount. Christ made it clear it is up to us to take the first step in restoring those who hold a grudge.
"Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23, 24).
Christ does not discuss who is to blame, nor whether the brother has a right to be angry with you. The right or wrong of his or her bitterness is not the issue.
If your brother has something against you, you have the responsibility to take the initiative in restoring the brother and affecting a reconciliation. Failure to do so will hinder your worship.
It's impossible to worship God while you know a brother is holding a grudge against you.
In practicing human kindness don't be concerned about who is right or wrong. The real issue is reconciliation and restoration between two people in order to prevent the fruits of bitterness.
You might say. "That is a hard thing to do." I agree! But this is where real Christian character is developed.
Paul exhorts us in Colossians 3:12: "Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering: bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone have a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do."
• Practice human forgiveness daily. That's what Paul meant when he said, "for giving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32).
We are to display human kindness toward those who are upset with us whether or not we have done anything to them. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is to be practiced with those who have hurt us.
The word forgive in Greek is a participle picturing continuous action. It means to forgive freely: not holding back or forgiving grudgingly. Think of it!
We are to practice forgiving everything others have done against us, whether they seek our forgiveness or not. We are to seek their forgiveness when we offend them and then go ahead and forgive others who offend us. That's not the way the world looks at it!
If practiced it solves lots of human problems. As Christians we have the responsibility to be kind to others as well as forgive them, and in so doing, we will bid farewell to bitterness.
When others offend us, we are to practice forgiveness freely because without a forgiving spirit, we will never be able to pry loose from the grip of bitterness.