Why We Need to Let Go of Bitterness to Find Freedom in Your Life

If we’re examining burdens that we need to let go of, there is one in particular that many people struggle with: resentment and/or bitterness. What’s interesting about this burden is that – if we follow the ethics laid down in the Bible – it is one that we should never come close to shouldering. Yet we let anger build up, let bitterness cloud or view of others, and let resentment smolder in our hearts. Fortunately, we can gain freedom from bitterness in our life.

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Read It

22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”

24 “Please pray to the Lord for me,” Simon replied, “so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

Acts 8:22-24 (HCSB)

Simon was a sorcerer who lived in Samaria. He was able to do things so incredible that people called him, “The Power of God.” When Philip came to the area, Simon lost many of his followers as they saw the true God’s power at work in miracles. We’re told that eventually, even Simon believed (Acts 8:13).

When the early church heard about how the gospel was spreading in Samaria, they sent John and Peter to the area. Okay, this part gets a little complicated, so just hang in there with me. The new converts in Samaria didn’t have the Holy Spirit alongside them until John and Peter laid hands on them and prayed over them.

While we’re not told that anything dramatic happened like in Acts 2, there was something noticeable happening. Simon, we learn, has not truly abandoned his former ways. He offers to pay money so that he, too, can have the ability to pass on the Holy Spirit. The section above is Peter’s response.

30 And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by Him for the day of redemption. 31 All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. 32 And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.

Ephesians 4:30-32 (HCSB)

These verses are near the end of a passage about finding new life in Christ. Paul contrasts what the Christian life should look like with what it shouldn’t. And – just in case you were wondering – the famous “don’t let the sun set on your anger” verse takes place earlier in this passage.

Learn It

The Root of Bitterness

Isn’t that a great phrase? It shows up in Hebrews 12:15. I really wanted to use that passage, but the entire passage is actually pretty difficult. I felt like there was too much contained in those verses to keep focused on finding freedom from resentment.

So before we look into our Scripture today, let’s talk about what causes bitterness and resentment.

First, there are very few verses that use the word resentment. I think that’s because resentment is a form of other emotions that has a specific origin. In fact, if you examine the definition of resentment, it is often explained as a combination of anger, bitterness, and sorrow because you perceive a wrong.

Notice that the word is perceived. As we’ve already covered in ‘A Biblical View of Anger’, selfishness can skew our perspective on an issue until we feel like somebody wronged us.

When we let anger – or, in some cases, sorrow – build up, we are really letting the emotion ferment into bitterness. When our bitterness clouds our relationships with others, then we have let our bitterness transform into resentment.

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So, let’s take an ordinary situation. You find out that a work colleague that you don’t know very well said something behind your back. One of your friends then repeats this to you. You are offended and hurt. The next time that you see this work colleague, you resolve to be professional. You interact as your job requires, but you cut short any of the extra conversations. I mean, why would you want to talk to her, right? You have let resentment guide how you treat this person.

Why is this bad? For one thing, the entire tone of the conversation may have been misrepresented to you. It could have been spoken as a joke and received by the audience as a joke. In fact, you probably slandered the names of those present in your own mind: “How dare Billy and Suzanne join in a conversation about me like that! Then again, they’ve always been gossips without a backbone.”

Yes, This Happens

I anticipate that somebody out there is going to bristle at the example I gave. So, while yes, the hypothetical joke shouldn’t have been said at all, let me just go ahead and clarify that a similar situation has happened to me before. Since I didn’t know the women involved very well, I just left it alone.

However, I didn’t forget. Whenever I saw them, I would think smug little thoughts about how awful they were. So when I was forced to work alongside them on a project, I was shocked to discover just how nice these women actually were. In fact, I learned they often made the same kind of jokes about themselves.

In my situation, I truly was the immature idiot. I let my bitterness over a comment color my entire perspective of who they were. I resisted building a relationship with them, which was, in a way, telling God, “Eh, send somebody else to them. I don’t want to do it.”

Hmmm…that sounds like Jonah.

The Poison of Bitterness

22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”

24 “Please pray to the Lord for me,” Simon replied, “so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

Acts 8:22-24 (HCSB)

Simon the Sorcerer’s bitterness may now have been caused by a person so much as an event (losing his influencing over the people), but there are two very important things listed in Peter’s reply:

  • Bitterness is a poison
  • Bitterness is connected to sin

As a fiction writer, I’m not as well-versed in ways to kill somebody as Tumblr users would have you believe. However, poison wouldn’t have been the quickest way to kill somebody back in Bible times. It would be slow, gruesome, and almost impossible to reverse due to a general lack of knowledge on the subject.

So how is bitterness a poison in our own lives? As I’ve already shared, bitterness is a slow process compared to other sins. As the ‘poison’ spreads, it begins to affect how we treat people. We begin to withhold kindness, friendship, and the Gospel from them. We show a conditional form of love: “I’ll only give you these things if you straighten up your life.”

Do you need to let go of bitterness in your life? | Freedom | Life Management | Christian Devotional | Christian Lifestyle | Quote

Busy Moms, I’m sure you teach your children almost daily that two wrongs don’t make a right. You have to scrutinize the situation, but there is a point where bitterness leads us to answer a person’s wrong with a wrong of our own.

The Antidote

Fortunately, the Bible has some really good advice for avoiding this burden in your life. In fact, Cathy McIntosh has written a post on ‘Showing God’s Love in Tense Circumstances’ and Heather Hart shared ‘Three Practical Ways to Do Unto Others’ with us already. I highly suggest that you open those posts up in your browser to skim over because they both go with this subject.

The rest can be gleaned in our second passage:

30 And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by Him for the day of redemption. 31 All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. 32 And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.

Ephesians 4:30-32 (HCSB)

What stood out to me about this passage was not that bitterness needed to be set aside, but the group that it was placed into. Bitterness, anger, wrath, shouting, and slander are all intertwined into one messy and hard to untangle knot. These things all have a symbiotic relationship with each other, which is very bad for us.

While I was prepping for this message, I asked myself, “Do I ever feel bitter without anger?”

No, I do not. Bitterness always replaces the spot that anger once filled. Then, I tend to forget about bitterness until there’s another flare of anger that feeds the monster again.

Hmm…if only there was some guidance on how to deal with anger in the Bible. Oh, wait…

Okay, So It’s More Like a Vaccine

I wrote in the beginning that bitterness and resentment are burdens that we shouldn’t even come close to bearing. This is because the Bible equips us with all the tools that we need to cut bitterness off at its root:

  • Don’t hold onto anger.
  • Be effective with our communication.
  • Forgive
  • For those of you who are bitter because of circumstances, we’re told not to envy. It’s hard to compare our circumstances to better circumstances if we don’t let envy take control, right?

If we strive to align our lives in accordance with the practical commands of the Bible, we’re already protected against bitterness. There won’t be room for it between the love and the joy.

Do you need to let go of bitterness in your life? | Freedom | Life Management | Christian Devotional | Christian Lifestyle | Quote

But Vaccines Are Useless If You Have the Disease

Every analogy breaks down somewhere. This is ours. This is a good practice for our faith: whenever you realize you’ve drifted from the path, retrace your steps until your back at the point that you deviated. In this case, that’s going to take us right back to the root.

And there’s also a second way to combat bitterness listed in Ephesians 4:32: be kind and compassionate. In other words, show love to others.

If you make this your goal to treat everybody with respect and with the same kind of love that God has for us, then you’re not going to have room in your mind to also retain the bitterness. I think this is what it means in 1 Corinthians 13 when it says “Love covers all offenses.”

It’s not that those offenses have been forgotten; it is recognizing that there is nothing that anybody can do to make them undeserving of God’s love. And God’s love is the same love that should be overflowing from the heart of His believers.

 “But What About Toxic Relationships?”

Listen, I am not the Holy Spirit in your life. I also don’t know your exact situation. Are there times that people need to cut ties and move on? Absolutely. Does bitterness play a role in that? It is difficult for it not to play a part. The best advice I can give you is this:

Pray to God over it. Find Christian Counselors who talk about these things (even if it’s online), because I do not have the knowledge to give you a sound examination of how Christian ethics should guide our actions in these types of situations. Listen for the Holy Spirit to guide and to guard you in this decision.

I also know one thing: bitterness is not something that you have to retain. As Sarah Geringer wrote recently, there is freedom in forgiveness. At the same time, forgiving somebody does not mean you must dismantle all boundaries.

 Apply It

  • Ask: “Have I let bitterness take root in my heart? Where did this originate from?”
  • Do: Look for one way to show a little extra kindness and compassion this week to somebody who has wronged you in the past.
  • Pray: “Dear God, please protect me from a heart of bitterness so that I don’t miss out on the freedom that you have promised. I am a new life in Christ, and bitterness no longer has a place in my life. Help me to live life in the way that You have commanded. Amen.”
Go Deeper

If you want to dig even deeper into this post, then you need to connect with the Chaotic Life community. Comment below with one of the following:

  • How you combat bitterness in your life
  • A testimony from when you let go of bitterness in your life
  • A prayer for those struggling with bitterness

Look for another comment or two to respond to. You can also join Chaotic Weekly for even more Chaotic Life encouragement by signing up for the Freedom from Burdens journal below.

Do you need to let go of bitterness in your life? | Freedom | Relationships | Life Management | Christian Devotional | Christian Lifestyle>

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More about Lauren C. Moye

Lauren has had a lifelong passion for both writing and for helping people. Once upon a time, she would have laughed if somebody suggested she write nonfiction to achieve those goals. A couple of years ago, she would have scoffed if somebody suggested she write for her peer groups. Today she's writing to "HELP BUSY CHRISTIAN MOMS MANAGE LIFE."

2 thoughts on “Why We Need to Let Go of Bitterness to Find Freedom in Your Life

  1. Christine

    Lauren, great post! Bitterness is so damaging. It is worth the painful process of self-examination and repentance, even though it can feel like spiritual surgery – to be rid of it! Keep up the great, relevant writing on topics we all deal with. You are a blessin!

    Reply

  2. Naomi

    Such a thoughtful piece on bitterness. I appreciate the way you broke it down, applied the scripture, and used analogies to help others understand! You definitely have a gift for teaching, Lauren!

    Reply

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