There are more people harboring bitterness than you and I are aware of. The reason that we’re not usually aware of their bitterness is that if you suggest to bitter people that they are bitter, they will deny it. Yet, when an incident arises that deeply affects them emotionally, their bitterness will become apparent immediately. They will tell you things about the person or people against whom they are bitter and then you will see their bitterness clearly. So, we need to talk about the evil effects of bitterness in hopes that if you are bitter you will put bitterness away from you before it does more damage than it has already done.
Bitterness distorts your reality. Ruth 1:20. Naomi came back from a ten year sojourn in Moab [Ruth 1:4] with Ruth, one of her daughters-in-law. Her husband died in Moab, her two sons died in Moab, and her other daughter-in-law stayed with her family in Moab. So, when she returned to her home in Bethlehem, she was bitter. She said, “Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me,” [Ruth 1:20]. Her name, Naomi, means “pleasant.” Her name she chose to be called means “bitter.”
She was bitter because she said, “I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty… the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me,” [Ruth 1:21]. In fact, her view of her situation was worse than it really was. She wasn’t empty. She had Ruth with her. And Ruth was “better to (her) than seven sons,” [Ruth 4:15]. But she couldn’t see that since she was bitter. The Lord took care of her the whole time she was gone. And the Lord had Boaz waiting to redeem her land and marry her daughter-in-law and restore her life, with a son born into the line of Christ.
When you are bitter you lose sight of your reality. You lose sight of God’s provisions. Your view gets distorted by the condition of your heart. You see things as you want to see them and not the way they really are. You build a case to support how you feel. You keep lists of things that contribute to your bitterness. So, you couldn’t possibly see all the blessings of God that are apparent to anyone else who knows God and knows you. Your bitterness distorts your reality.
Bitterness impairs your judgment. Saul was blessed with David, the most faithful and successful captain and son-in-law he could possibly have had. He was a man after God’s own heart. He was “cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the Lord (was) with him,” [1 Sam 16:18]. What more could he have possibly wanted? Yet, Saul tried repeatedly to kill David. And even when he did, David never attempted to retaliate against Saul and even avoided killing him when he had two perfect opportunities to do so.
When you get bitter, you lose your ability to judge properly. You will justify the wicked and condemn the just [Prov 17:15]. You will accuse the innocent. You will despise people whom God chooses to use. You will be unkind to those who deserve mercy and grace. You will become angry with God and not even realize it. You will seek to avenge your bitterness by seeing others hurt. You will retaliate against anyone who is supportive of the person or people against whom you harbor bitterness. Saul even tried to kill his own son, Jonathan, because of Jonathan’s friendship with David.
Bitterness breaks up your relationships. Heb 12:15 – God warned, “lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” You get troubled and then others get defiled. Hurting people hurt people. In 1 Sam 30:6, when the men returned to Ziklag with David and saw that the city had been burned, and their families taken captive, and their possessions taken away, they wanted to stone David. David was their captain; he was the future king of Israel. He was the man after God’s own heart. Yet, they wanted to kill him because they were hurting.
When you get bitter, you hurt. And when you hurt, you will hurt others. That’s how your relationships get broken up. People don’t want to be around bitter people. Your influence in their lives is defiling. On the one hand, they love you and want to try to help. But on the other hand, they can’t stand your bitterness. It affects your relationship with them in ways that drive a wedge between you and them. Some people will feel sorry for you and support you in your bitterness. This support person or these support people will cause you to believe that you are justified in your bitterness. But many of your other relationships will suffer as a result.
Bitterness afflicts your spirit. Job 7:11 – Job said, “Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” A friend said to me recently, “I don’t harbor bitterness against other people. When you hate others, you hurt yourself.” A common saying goes, “In bitterness, you drink the poison and hope the other person dies.” An old theologian described bitterness as “an irritable state of mind that keeps a man in perpetual animosity – that inclines him to harsh and uncharitable opinions of men and things – that makes him sour, crabbed, and repulsive in his general demeanor – that brings a scowl over his face, and infuses venom into the words of his tongue.”
You’re not accomplishing what you hope to accomplish when you get bitter. You’re the one you’re hurting. Other people that you’re trying to hurt, who are wise to your bitterness, won’t internalize the cruel things you say and the cruel attitude you harbor. They sleep well at night while you toss and turn. They go on in their relationship with the Lord while you get stuck and eventually backslide.
Conclusion: the solution to all this trouble is to put all bitterness away from you, Eph 4:30-32. You’ve grieved the Holy Spirit. He can’t work with liberty in your life. The blessings he would like for you to enjoy are restrained from you until you can get past this hurdle. He wants you to be “kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” But you want to get even. You want malice. It’ll never happen. The solution is not to get what you want in your bitterness. The solution is for you to get better by getting rid of this bitterness. Put it away from you, like Paul said. That’s the only thing that will work.