“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)
This study on scriptural steps to overcoming bitterness was taught in December of 2014 and the study outlines are below:
Step 1 – Expect Others to Sin Against Us
Bitterness is essentially a sinful reaction to other people’s sins (whether real or imagined).
The first step to avoiding bitterness is, perhaps, having appropriate expectations of others:
– Sinners can do nothing but sin (Genesis 6:5, Psalm 14:1-3, Ecc. 7:20, Romans 3:10-18, etc.)
– Saints still sin even on their best days (Isaiah 64:6, 1 John 1:10, Romans 7:18, Phil. 3:12, etc.)
So often we are surprised by other’s sins, thinking, “How could they do that to me?”
This reaction is wrong and, if left unrepented, it can wreak havoc in our hearts.
Let us, therefore, simply have realistic expectations of both sinners and saints: They will disappoint us.
2. Understand God’s Mercy Toward Us
The phrase “even as God in Christ forgave you” invites us to think about other people’s sins in a proper perspective.
Specifically, we must first acknowledge the enormity of our own offenses against God (Ezra 9:6; Psalm 38:4, 40:12).
Having acknowledged this, think also of how God forgives us (Psalm 103:12, Isaiah 44:22, Jeremiah 31:34, Micah 7:19).
Understanding God’s mercy toward us should make it somewhat easier to extend mercy toward others.
In order to establish and illustrate this lesson, Jesus offered the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35).
We should return often to this parable, find ourselves standing right in it, and pray for deliverance from the spirit of bitterness.
3. Extend Forgiveness Toward Others
The most difficult step toward overcoming bitterness is this: Extending forgiveness to those who hurt us.
It is difficult, because it is contrary to our fallen nature. Everything in us cries, “They do not deserve it!”
This is very true. No one deserves to be forgiven their debts. But again, this is the whole point of the gospel.
Consider again how God in Christ forgave us: He ordained, accomplished, and applied it without our aid.
This makes the act of forgiveness an essentially one-sided decision. It sounds something like this:
“I hereby decide to forgive _______ for the hurt (s)he caused me. The debt (s)he owes me is canceled and I will mediate upon it no more. Lord, help me in this and heal my hurt.”