Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled. (Hebrews 12:14-15)
Bitterness is distrust that results in an intense resentment or hostility towards others. The Bible teaches us to “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” It then goes on to teach us how to deal with such bitterness and its fruits by being kind “to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)
Bitterness is the emotional state where a person is hurting and angry and they want everyone else to feel the pain that they are feeling. It is because of that need to make people feel their pain that they end up lashing out either in a passive or aggressive way.
Verse 15 explicitly says that bitterness will defile us. That means that it will make us unclean on the inside. The Bible is very clear that bitterness is something that needs to be avoided at all costs, because it will totally destroy our relationships with our family, friends, and especially with God.
Bitterness is tied to un-forgiveness. Remember the parable of the unforgiving servant? (Matthew 18:21-35). Even though he had been forgiven of owing ten thousand bags of gold, he could not forgive the servant who owed him a hundred silver coins. This was because of bitterness. He was angry and consumed with the fact that he was owed something. Bitter people think that others owe them something and they are going to demand that they are paid a price no matter what. The result is that they become bound up and so focused in their own lives that they can’t see beyond what is right in front of them.
One reason that bitterness is so extremely dangerous is because it starts to take root and begins to grow and spread and spiritually contaminates and defiles our heart and spirit before we even realize what’s wrong with us. Sinful human nature makes it very easy for us to rationalize and justify ourselves for harboring hurt feelings or a grudge against others when we feel that they have wronged or mistreated us.
The world is full of people who do not know how to deal with an old hurt. Therefore, they seek things to criticize, to find fault with people as a mean to justify the way they feel. Have you ever met people who are super critical? Generally, these are bitter people. They know how to manipulate the events to get people to act the way they want, and when we react this further justifies their bitterness and efforts to control us.
When we willingly allow the roots of bitterness to grow in our life, it is like opening the door to the enemy. The Bible tells us, “not to give place to the Devil!” (Ephesians 4:27). And James 4:7 tells us: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
People who are bitter never blame themselves for anything that seems to go wrong; they’re always blaming other people, similar to the self-righteous hypocrite who never blames himself either.
The Bible is so practical and clear that if we take what God teaches us about overcoming bitterness and apply it, we can be free of its bondage. God encourages us to deal with it as Paul wrote: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with malice.” (Ephesians 4:31)
Paul is describing a number of emotions here that come along with bitterness. When bitterness is taking root in our heart, usually wrath is too. The same happens with anger, slander, and malice. One way to root out bitterness from our heart is to pray for the offending person.
As believers we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, therefore, we need to live in a close relationship with Him so that we do not grieve Him (Ephesians 4:30). We are to be filled and controlled by the Spirit, who enables us not to fulfill the sinful desires of the flesh, but rather to produce His fruit of righteousness in us (Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5:16). But the Spirit-filled life is not exclusively passive; we have an active role to play, where we fight daily against the sinful desires that tempt us and yield to the Holy Spirit in obedience to God’s Word. All bitter people are proud and pride will always divide.
Remember: Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:17-19)