Teaching on Overcoming Bitterness

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A key topic in the lives of many churchgoers is bitterness.

Bitterness is the internal feeling that results from long-term dwelling on a hurt, resentment, or disappointment. A person who is dealing with bitterness will become isolated, distrustful, and will struggle to engage in healthy interactions with others. A bitter individual is unable to properly reflect the character of God to others and becomes increasingly self-focused and unusable for the kingdom of God. The Bible has much to say about the topic of bitterness and how to overcome it. What are some key sermon ideas to help people deal with bitterness in their lives?

The historical books of the Old Testament contain a number of good examples of the origin of bitterness and the ways in which the people involved a deal with it. One example that mirrors how many believers in God react to hardship is found in Ruth 1:19-22. This section describes the return of Naomi, the mother-in-law of Ruth, to Jerusalem. When she left the city she had been married with two healthy sons, but in the land to which they moved she found only death. The loss of her husband and her two sons produced deep bitterness inside Naomi. Her bitterness was so deep that she rejected her given name and asked to be called ‘Mara’ instead. She no longer identified herself with pleasant things, but instead with those which were bitter. Bitterness is often the result of trusting in those things which cannot last. Every close connection that a person has is merely a temporary gift from God and that truth must be acknowledged in order to avoid bitterness.

Another historical person that dealt with bitterness was Hannah, the mother of Samuel. 1 Samuel 1:9-11 describes her reaction to her hard situation. Her inability to conceive children is a condition shared by many women. These women must endure the shame of being unable to bear children and the resulting disappointment.  Hannah took her bitterness before the Lord and sought his power to overcome her lack. She promised to honor the Lord with her first-born if he would remove her inability to bear children. This promise resulted in the great prophet Samuel who would lead Israel through a crucial period in its existence. Rather than dwell on her bitterness as Naomi did, Hannah laid it at the feet of the Lord and sought his intervention and power to overcome and bring wholeness to her life.

Another section of scripture where bitterness is described and dealt with is in the wisdom literature. Job is a classic example of a man who endured much that would make any person extremely bitter toward God and life in general. Job lost his children, his health, and his wealth and yet he did not give in to the deep bitterness that caused his wife to advise him to curse God and die. Giving in to bitterness distorts a proper understanding of who God is and of his love for his people. Job gave free vent to his bitter feelings in Job 10:1, 2, but he also sought to understand why God had allowed the great loss to come to his life. Bitterness condemns God, but Job trusted that God would do right and sought to understand why God had acted as he had. Avoiding bitterness does not mean that a person denies the pain in his or her life, but instead brings it honestly before God and seeks wisdom to understand God’s heart and reflect His character is reacting to it.

The psalmists often reflected the reality of bitterness as a result of pain and loss.

Psalm 71:20 describes how the psalmist accepts that it is ultimately God who allows troubles and calamities to come in the lives of his people. In this portion of scripture, the writer holds out hope that the same God who allowed trouble to come will bring revival and strength where there is lack and weakness.

The focus that God desires from his people is not one that curses the darkness but instead looks up to the one who alone is able to bring relief from the darkness and the strength and vitality that comes from his presence. Holding on to bitterness keeps the believer in God from receiving the life that God promises to those who trust in him at all times.

The New Testament writers continued the theme of dealing with bitterness. The Apostle Paul gave clear instructions regarding bitterness to those in the church in Ephesus in Ephesians 4:31, 32. The follower of Jesus Christ has a choice with regard to bitter feelings. Hard times will come and offenses are inevitable, but the Christian has the choice to put away bitterness and instead to act in kindness and forgiveness. The willingness to forgive is the best way to overcome the poison of bitterness that can so easily grow within an individual life. By remembering that the sacrifice of Jesus for sin was the ultimate act of forgiveness, the Christian can avoid and be set free from bitterness and bring true kindness and reconciliation into the lives of others. The more that a follower of Jesus comprehends the depths of God’s forgiving spirit, the more that person will be able to overcome bitterness and grow in true love and kindness toward others.

The writer of Hebrews picks up a similar theme in Hebrews 12:15.

The grace of God is the fundamental truth for a follower of Jesus Christ. Receiving God’s grace shows that a person is truly humble before God and has honestly repented of his or her sinful past. This verse of scripture warns the reader to avoid becoming bitter by fully grasping how it was the sheer grace of God that enabled him or her to be set free from sin. Bitterness is like a poison that spreads very easily throughout a group and brings defilement to many. An understanding of the harmful effects of bitterness to the self and those around will help the follower of Jesus to choose to reject bitterness and show the same grace that God did in making him or her a child of God. Demonstrating grace is a key element in overcoming and being set free from bitterness.

The Bible has much to say regarding the topic of bitterness.

It contains historical examples of people dealing with bitterness. It demonstrates the deep feelings that can lead to bitterness unless the person truly casts his or her cares on the Lord. It also contains clear scriptural teaching on how to put aside bitter feelings by showing the kindness and grace of God to others. There are a number of important scriptural sections that can be used to raise the issue of bitterness, to show the dangers that are inherent in becoming bitter, and show the path that can be used to overcome bitterness and be a whole follower of the living God.

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