I don't think that's it at all.
There are so many in the church today who are living with walls and fortresses around their hearts, and for seemingly good reasons. Because the church is made up imperfect people, those who come and sit on their favorite pew week after week are hurt, jilted, and angry. They are tired of people treating them with disrespect, speaking to them rudely, or spreading rumors about them to others within the congregation.
And so, they start building walls. 'If I don't make myself vulnerable to you, you can't hurt me', some will say. And week after week, year after year, the walls get higher, the bricks more mighty. And instead of keeping other people out of our hearts, we're closing ourselves off from Jesus.
You see, bitterness is a scary thing. It is a highly contagious, fast-spreading poison. It is a creature that oftentimes sneaks its way into your life, buries itself deep within the confines of your heart, and rears its ugly head only after weeks and months of cultivation. Sometimes, before you even realize that it's there, it's woven itself into your heartstrings so tightly that it isn't a quick fix. It isn't something you can get rid of by simply willing it away. It takes time, effort, and an extreme amount of dedication.
So why should we even bother with ridding our hearts of bitterness? Don't we have the right to hold a grudge against someone who has wronged us? Especially if they have wronged us in such a deep, possibly even publicly humiliating way?
Let's look at what the Bible tells us about the sin of bitterness:
"But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there." James 3:14-16
"...lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled." Hebrews 12:15From just these two places in scripture we see that bitterness is a serious heart disease. It is demonic. It defiles us. It incapsulates every evil thing. These aren't light, easy to swallow words. These words are harsh. These words indicate a very grave subject matter. Simply put, we cannot be people of God and people who hold grudges. We cannot be people of God and people whose hearts are given over to bitterness.
So what is the Bible's remedy for bitterness? If we are not to be people who hold grudges and have bitter hearts, how are we to change? Look at the verses surrounding those mentioned above:
"But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." James 3:17-18
"Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord." Hebrews 12:14Without peace, we will not see the Lord. And that peace? We are to pursue it with all people. I love the way James illustrates wisdom--the way we are to behave to be pleasing to God:
- It comes from a place that is pure. Our motives are to be like Christ, not "forgiving them" so we can use them or hurt them when they trust us again.
- We are gentle and willing to yield. Sometimes you have to concede and give way to others. When they hurt you, they may never apologize for it. You have to be willing to put your pride on a shelf and yield to them, knowing they are the weaker brother.
- We have to be full of mercy (which, as I've heard it stated, is not giving someone something they do deserve--kind of like the opposite of grace). The world may tell us that certain people or certain types of transgressions are unforgivable. We never have to trust them or love them or speak to them again. Ah, but peace is full of mercy. God's infinite wisdom shows us that.
- It is also impartial and without hypocrisy. When the Hebrews writer tells us to pursue peace with all people, it means just that. We do not get to pick and choose the people we forgive, or the types of things we forgive. In order to be fully forgiven, we must fully forgive (Mt. 6:14-15) and pursue peace by whatever means we have to.
There is a beautiful way to attain this type of peace, and Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6-7 exactly how that is possible:
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."When we are in constant contact with our heavenly Father, His peace will guard our hearts and minds. I don't know about you, but when I am at odds with someone, it tends to make me anxious. When something has gone terribly wrong and tempers have flared, it tends to stress me out and make me physically ill. But through inspiration we know that if we will simply talk to our Father about it, He will in turn grant us peace. When someone wrongs you, talk to God. If it is causing you extreme pain and you are feeling especially tempted to hold a grudge and be bitter, pray even more. The more you pray, the more peace you will be given.
I have struggled for a significant portion of my life with bitterness. There are grudges that I have been clinging to for years on end. And, by worldly standards, I may have had the right to hold these grudges. I was legitimately hurt, humiliated, forsaken, discarded, and misused. But that list? That list is nothing in comparison to the way that people treated the only begotten Son of Almighty God when He was on this earth. How did He respond? With outstretched, nail-pierced arms. Why, then, do we excuse ourselves when our attitudes are different? When our attitudes are prideful? Should we not react as Jesus did, with unconditional and abiding love?
Pursuing peace isn't easy, but it is commanded. Letting go of our personal agendas isn't easy, but it is necessary if we are going to have God's agenda. If we are seeking our own will, we aren't seeking His. May we all strive to be people of peace in this self-seeking, bitter world.