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The people I admire most don’t return anger with anger.
I recently watched a friend come under horrific false accusations. They calmly and respectfully laid down healthy boundaries, but they refused to retaliate in anger. The attacks continued for a long period of time and even increased in vitriol. Remarkably, my friend persisted in prayer for his attacker, refused to speak negatively about them, and successfully defeated bitterness.
The Bible is clear about how Christians are to handle bitterness. We’re to refuse to let it have power in our lives. And we don’t have to be rocket scientists to know when it has a stranglehold on our hearts.
- We talk negatively about the other person. We may try to hide our attitude with a false agenda, but people can see bitterness, even when we’re blind to it. We get annoyed just thinking something positive about the other person. We like it when other people make snide or critical remarks about people we hold bitterness toward. Take the time to be honest with yourself. You’re not hiding anything from God.
- We constantly compare ourselves to the other person and get jealous. We see what other people have or how other people are treated and we think, “Hey, I deserve that!”
- We avoid “them.” You know what I’m talking about. Moving to the other side of the church. Dodging down another aisle at the store. Not talking to that relative any more. Not going to that group any more. We find ourselves enjoying people less and less.
- We’re annoyed when something good happens to “them.” Something inside us wants them to suffer because we think they’ve gotten something we deserve.
- We take things personally that aren’t about us. We make assumptions about things without facts. People are against us. People are talking about us. Things aren’t fair. Someone is trying to irritate us.
- We complain a LOT about the same things and overgeneralize perceived or actual negative experiences. We develop “tunnel vision” about a person and can only see them from our single, bitter perspective. We hold on to negative perceptions because we’ve rationalized away the positives.
- We think the person (or the world) owes us. We feel like we’ve been wronged, we’re owed an apology, and life is unfair.
So what’s the answer to bitterness?
Hopefully, we will have the honesty and integrity to see when we’ve given in to sin, repent, and take action to change our heart. Sometimes we may need prompting from the Word or from a loving, brave friend. But left ignored, bitterness will destroy us from the inside out.
Jesus gives the simple (NOT easy) solution for bitterness.
1 Peter 2:23: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
Jesus didn’t see himself responsible for responding to abuse and attacks. The word revile is a strong word that literally means to “lambaste” in the manner of attacking and abusing someone. Jesus chose to trust God to make things right. He remained silent.
In the face of abuse, Jesus chose to react with peace, verbally and physically, while trusting God to judge.
Easy? Absolutely not.
Possible? Absolutely, through the power of the Holy Spirit and our conscious choice to lay down what we falsely believe are our so-called “rights.”
He left vengeance in God’s hands. He did not become bitter. He prayed for his enemies’ repentance and best interests (Luke 23:34).
“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15 NIV)