“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Ephesians 4:31-32 (ESV)
The title of this article is not the exact term used in the Bible. Rather, Hebrews 12:15 says: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” (ESV) The root of bitterness is the source of many grievances.
Aggrievement arises out of a sense of injustice. When being unjustly created, the first taste is bitterness. It is something that makes one wince. When that feeling recoils inward, bitterness is planted and grows a root from which other evils spring.
The fertile ground in which bitterness germinates is a compound of several elements. Rejection, competitive jealousy, and covetousness could have been in Simon (the sorcerer) when he was warned by Peter: “For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” (Acts 8:23, ESV)
As one who earned a living by magic, Simon craved the tremendous power the apostles had when they ministered with signs and wonders. He had just recently been baptised, but was still a babe in spiritual matters; he offered money to the apostles so that he could get that power. Peter could discern that Simon’s heart was not right before God and that what he desired was wickedness (not only in the sense of being evil, but also that it twisted the value and purpose of spiritual power).
Certain habits and traits may make us predisposed to bitterness. Hebrews 12:16 elaborates with the case of Esau. He was already immoral (as in sexual) and unholy (as in godless, profane); God was not a factor in his life. So he was quick to sell his inheritance for just a bowl of soup, simply because he was famished. When he later realised what he had done, the root of bitterness had already sprung up in his heart.
We may not use the word bitterness, as it sounds just like what it tastes. A more politicallycorrect word is “grievance”. It denotes a sense of being victimised, which is a sure way of gaining sympathy and support.
Grievance has a way of radicalising our views and actions and distorting them out of proportion, like Simon and Esau. We may even justify them by believing that we are really on a holy crusade against those we identify as our enemies.
How do we treat such bitter grievances? For Simon, he immediately repented, upon being rebuked by Peter (Acts 8:22-24). For Esau, however, his itterness turned to hatred for his brother Jacob (Genesis 27:41). When one leaves bitterness untreated, it has the power to damage its host.
The remedy recommended by Paul in Ephesians 4:31-32 is clear: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (ESV)
For one who experiences bitterness, the pill to swallow is forgiveness. It is not just a human response of goodwill. The source of this remedy is the way Christ forgives us. It would be ideal if we could always face the person(s) whom we perceived to have grieved us and work out the presenting issues. However, that is not always possible, as in the case of Christ, who spread a blanket of forgiveness over all people so as to cover their many sins, and not just those of His contemporaries, but through all eternity. He wiped away all their sins, and remembers their sins no more.
So, “strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14, ESV).
Bishop Dr Wee Boon Hup was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2012. He has been a Methodist pastor for 29 years.