The Cure to Bitterness is Forgiveness
Jesus taught that we should make things right with our brother before bringing our gifts to the altar. I am of the conviction that this is because bitter hearts are a rip-off to God. We shortchange Him in our worship experience and cheapen His sacrifice to us. A heart full of grace is one that has a generous amount to pour out. If your heart is full of bitterness you haven’t much to give, not anything God would want anyway. It’s not that He is impressed with the size of our offerings but the purity of them is of great concern to Him. He doesn’t want us to get shortchanged either. He wants us to enjoy the ultimate worship experience and bitterness clearly gets in the way of that.
I base my thinking on many passages throughout the Bible but what immediately comes to mind is the sad story of Cain and Abel. This is the first account we have in scripture of gifts being brought to the altar. Cain held back, Abel did not. Cain had issues with his brother, Abel did not. Abel’s offering was respected, Cain’s was not. Cain grew angry, Abel did not. There is an undeniable pattern here which must not be ignored. After his little charade at the altar Cain’s countenance dropped like an anchor into a dry creek bed. He turned into a complete sourpuss. The Lord told him the fix; if he moved in a righteous direction his offerings would be accepted. If not, sin would come a knockin’. But Cain paid no attention to God’s counsel and allowed his bitterness to fester against his brother. Bitterness killed Cain and Cain killed Abel. End of story.
You may also want to consider the tragic tale of Job. This righteous man had fallen victim to a long series of unfortunate events, plus he was surrounded by a circle some real irritating “friends”. With each chapter things just grow bleaker and bleaker. You really start to feel bad for the sorry sap and wonder why God doesn’t step in at some point and bail poor Job out. He had to fight bitterness as if he were battling the final stages of cancer. Yet Job becomes a shining example of one who warred against bitterness and won. He doesn’t win until the very end of the last chapter, chapter 42. How does he get the victory? He prays for those misguided chums who made his life miserable. Then the Lord blessed Job more than he’d ever been blessed before. And he lived happily ever after.
Bible expositor John Courson refers to forgiveness as a safeguard for our mental heath and emotional stability. This is true. As a pastor I have seen bitterness destroy too many lives. There are those I have pleaded with, almost to the point of tears, to be reconciled with family members or loved ones they were hurt by. Yet they chose to hold onto the offense. Sadly they grow more miserable by the day; they are snappy, irritable and harsh toward others. These are the ones that are always complaining, griping and pouting because they have no friends. Furthermore, it is a wonder to them that God does not hear their prayers. The fact is unforgiveness does hinder our prayers. Jesus gave us a model for prayer which includes the line, “Forgive us as we forgive others.” This wasn’t just randomly thrown in there for purposes of sentimental rhetoric. It was included as a condition for our own forgiveness. It is there for us to check our own hearts, and to free us of the baggage that comes with bitterness. It is there to remind imperfect people that anything we might have on our brother, God has a whole lot more on us. After teaching the disciples to pray Jesus immediately elaborated on the issue of forgiveness saying, “If you forgive the failures of others, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failures.” (See Matthew 6:14-15). This divinely inspired footnote to the Lord’s Prayer should tell us that forgiveness is serious business and vital to our spiritual well being.
Our expectations are completely out of whack if we think God should forget our numerous offenses when we’re not willing to extend lesser grace to others. Jesus makes this clear in the parable of the unfaithful servant. You remember this heartless schlep don’t you? He was ready to pound his debtors face in because the guy owed him some chump change. This came immediately after he was forgiven an enormous debt that would have taken more than a lifetime to pay off. Jesus explains at the end of this parable that it is the unforgiving one that really pays in the end. I know this first hand. I paid handsomely when I allowed bitterness to rule my heart. I held onto the offenses of others for seven miserable years. It ate me alive. Things didn’t change until I was twenty-two, when I gave my heart [back] to Christ. And I have lived happily ever after.
Excerpt from my book “There & Back”
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Calvary Chapel of Austin Church
1601 Pecan St., Pflugerville, TX 78660