While putting away bitterness and all its sinful relatives, we must also put on Christlike virtues like kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness. Forgiveness is the golden key to uprooting bitterness in your relationships. Forgiveness is letting go. “Let go” or “put away” is what the word forgive means. Therefore, to forgive someone is to actively let go of the wrongs your heart is tempted to grip tightly.
Two posts ago, we began thinking about what the Bible teaches about bitterness. Namely, that Scripture presents bitterness first as an experience and then as a response—first as something that happens to us, and then something that arises within us. Biblically speaking, the word bitter means to be angry, chafed, and discontent. We also learned that Scripture reveals two major categories of bitterness. The first explains the bitterness of hard life experiences, which impact the way we view ourselves and God. The second exposes bitter responses to these hard life experiences and the wrongs committed against us.
Today, our focus is on the second category of bitterness; that is, the response of bitterness which comes from within our hearts. The heart is the always-active, ever-worshiping, always-wanting-something control center of our lives. Therefore, when something or someone gets in the way of our desires, we are tempted to respond in anger. If this anger lingers—if it simmers in the crock pot long enough—then we become bitter. To confront this second category of bitterness, we will set up camp in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Here the Spirit of God warns us against bitter responses, but also provides us with the remedy.
Pay Attention to Biblical Warnings
If you are in Christ, then you are a new person; you have a new life. In Christ, you are dead to sin and alive unto God because the Spirit of God has caused you to be born again by the power of the life-giving gospel. Therefore, you must put off your sinful ways and walk in the righteousness of Christ (Eph. 4:1-24). Then, in verses 26-27, the apostle warns us about anger in two important ways.
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.
Righteous anger quickly becomes unrighteous when you linger there. You might say, “I didn’t know there was such a thing as righteous anger.” But Scripture commands us to be angry, and the Gospel accounts inform us that Jesus, the sinless Son of God, was angry at times. So, yes, it is possible to have righteous anger. However, the line between righteous and unrighteous anger is extremely thin—it is easy, even natural for us to quickly cross over. So, even when our anger is righteous, we must not linger there: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Deal with it immediately. Work through interpersonal conflicts as soon as possible.
Lingering anger gives the devil the advantage and opportunity to destroy. When we don’t get what we want, we often become angry and bitter (see James 4:1-10). The devil then exploits our unmet desires, tempting us to remain angry and discontent. If we linger there, we give Satan ownership of some of the real estate of our hearts, and we become easy prey for him to gobble up. This was certainly true of Esau, whose bitterness produced the desire to murder his brother, and corrupted his heart further (see Heb. 12:14-17). Bitterness will turn you into a murderer too. Maybe not by taking a person’s physical life, but by destroying their spirit with your words or your silence.