In Ephesians 4:31, Paul writes: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” In this month’s newsletter article, I want to focus on the danger of a bitter heart. The Bible outlines an array of difficulties that emerge in our walk with the Lord and with others as a result of a bitter heart. Proverbs 4:23 states, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” This scripture reminds us that the state of our hearts will determine the quality of our lives. So, with that in mind let us examine how bitterness affects our hearts and lives.
Bitterness develops when we allow anger and hurt to fester in our lives. Ephesians 4:26 tells us that we should not “let the sun go down while you are still angry” because it gives the devil the ability to take an offense and make our hearts bitter. The longer we let an offense dwell within us, the more bitter our hearts will become—and the more devastating the consequence. This is why Proverbs 17:9 states, “He who covers an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” If we do not let go of the anger, we end up repeating the offense over and over in our minds, which in turn makes our hearts bitter and makes all of our relationships suffer.
When our hearts are full of bitterness, our minds are filled with confusion, our words are full of gossip (Psalm 64:3)/slander (Heb. 12:15)/complaining (Job 7:11), and sinful actions (Job 21:25). Jeremiah 2:19 tells us that bitterness is an indication of a fragmented life in both our relationship to God and our relationship to others. Proverbs 14:10 states, “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy” (NLT), which means that we are alienated from genuine relationships because no one wants to be around you! At the end of the day, bitterness leads to misery for you and misery for those who surround you.
So, how do you deal with bitterness in your life? Well, consider the principle: if you don’t feed something, it will die. In keeping with this principle, stop feeding your heart with evil thoughts (Matthew 9:4) and anger and bitterness will die. Most people are surprised by this statement, but it is your choice to be bitter or to be better. Paul says in Ephesians 4:32 that instead of being bitter you should “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” If you allow someone’s offense to take hold in your life—you give him or her power and the devil a foothold. However, when you choose to do what God tells us to do, it keeps the dysfunction of your offender from becoming your dysfunction and the devil has to flee from you (James 4:7). Turn every offense into a prayer—every persecution into a praise—every test into a testimony—and you will enjoy the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
Lastly, how do you deal with those who have bitter hearts? First, pray for them (Luke 6:27-28). When you pray for them it accesses God’s amazing power to change hearts and it guards your own heart from becoming bitter (bitterness is contagious). Second, love them. No one likes being around bitter people, but Jesus tells us that it is the sick that need a doctor (Matthew 9:12) and when you love them it can plant a seed for repentance (Romans 12:20). Third, “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19)…in other words, make sure your words build up and not tear down (Ephesians 4:29). Lastly, always remember that God “has called us to live in peace” (1 Cor. 7:15) so guard your own heart (Proverbs 4:23) and don’t let their dysfunction become your own.
Dr. Rob Weinstein is an Associate Professor of Business Studies/ Chair of Human Resource Management Studies. He is the Founder and President of the M25 Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness in Cumberland County, NJ. He is also the Founding Pastor of Bethany Grace Community Church in Bridgeton, NJ.
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