Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The anatomy of bitterness

The anatomy of bitterness
Genesis 4:1 – 8

* The following sermon extensively uses the book “Get the Junk out of your Trunk: Let go of the past to live your best life” by Duane Vander Klok (2005).  For further information visit  (Chosen books is a division of Baker Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI)

I.    What’s the story?

    A.    Bitterness is the primary issue!

        1.    It is one of the most important spiritual dangers.

            a.    It causes us to live lives below our potential.

            b.    It can rob you of peace.

            c.    It can steal your joy.

            d.    It can keep you helpless.

            e.    It can ruin your relationships.

            f.    It can constantly drain your energy.

        2.    Bitterness keeps you from personal, emotional, and relational fulfillment.

            a.    Typically it is the people closes to you that is your greatest source of pain (and directed resentment).

                1.)    The closer we are the more vulnerable we are to them.

                2.)    The close we are, the more we care and the higher the expectations.

            b.    Bitterness creates trust issues.

                1.)    Bitterness starts when you take offense, and hang on to it.

                2.)    Bitterness can happen when people fail to live up to our expectations.

                3.)    Bitterness is nurtured when you hang on to it.

(Ill.)  It is like picking up rotting garbage, stuffing it into your pocket, and then blaming someone else that your life stinks.

    B.    Bitterness is a universal problem.

        1.    Bitterness is a choice because forgiveness is a choice.

            a.    Jesus example in Luke 23:24.

            b.    The attitude of love: 1 Corinthians 13:5

            c.    Psalm 119:165 KJV “Great peace have they which love thy law; and nothing shall offend them.”

        2.    Bitterness comes from “unforgiveness.”

            a.    “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” [unknown]

            b.    Forgiveness may not ease the pain of the memory, but it takes the stink (sting) out.  (Takes the power to control away from that memory.)

                1.)    Pain creates control.  (When you hurt, it can control your behavior and emotional state.)

                2.)    Bitterness produces a permanent connection between you and the person who offended/hurt you.

                3.)    Bitterness is the way you begin to share that sin.

                4.)    Forgiveness detoxifies you.

            c.    Unforgiveness makes us think we have the right to collect a debt. [David Seamands: Healing for Damaged Emotions]

                1.)    We think “good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell.”

                2.)    By that we mean, we are good and someone else is bad.

                3.)    But the Bible says, “it is by grace you are saved, through faith...” [Ephesians 2:8a]

                    a.)    Not by “goodness” or “badness.”

                    b.)    It is through “grace” or God’s loving-kindness... His “want to.”

(Ill.)  B. T. Roberts noted that unforgiveness is to “indulge in hard feelings.”

II.    What’s What?  A case study from Cain and Able [Genesis 4:1 – 8]

    A.    God’s will was plain and simple.

        1.    God established the blood sacrifice.

        2.    Able followed God’s plan but Cain did not.

        3.    Cain developed an “attitude” (pride, self-deception, bitterness)

    B.    Where did this attitude take Cain?

        1.    Cain developed his own morality (and solution).

        2.    Cain made his own moral judgements, demonstrated by his attitude problem toward Able.

        3.    Cain took offense at Able (face was “downcast”).  His bitterness lead him to murder.

    C.    Murder is serious, we would never commit that crime!

        1.    “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' [22] But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, `Raca, ' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, `You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. [23] Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, [24] leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” [Matthew 5:21 – 24]

            a.    The progression from the condition of the heart to the crime is possible.

            b.    Jesus equated murder to anger and a sharp tongue.

            c.    From the heart’s central allegiance comes attitude, emotion, language, and action.

        2.    “We shall reach places in our experience where we shall fail unless we have the God-given charity that beareth all things and endureth all things.” [B. T. Roberts]

            a.    Nagging discontent is a temptation cause by bitterness.

            b.    Blaming others is a temptation cause by bitterness.

            c.    Grumbling is a temptation cause by bitterness.

            d.    We think we are being cheated by others and by God.

            e.    We can end up doubting God’s character.

III.    Yes, but...

    A.    Some have been very badly hurt.

        1.    What do you say to a victim of a crime?

            a.    Bitterness keeps you connected to the criminal and his actions.

            b.    Forgiveness frees you and allows God the freedom of dealing with the criminal.

        2.    What do you say to someone who has been abused or abandoned?

            a.    Not allowing the offense to “stick” means you are not reliving the horror.

            b.    Trust God to take care of business.

    B.    Some would say they have the right to demand justice.

        1.    I have heard people say, “You don’t know how bad it has been...”

            a.    Reality check: allowing the poison does not help you.

            b.    When you “let go” you break the cycle and move on with your life.

        2.    Fact: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. [15] But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  Matthew 6:14 – 15

        3.    Another consideration: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” [Hebrews 12:15]

Bottom line: “When we think we are so important and the damage done to us is so great that we need not forgive, we make ourselves greater than God, who freely forgives all.” [Vander Klok]

The Bible says, “If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” [1 John 4:20]

IV.    Now what

    A.    At this point we do not know an answer, we must learn more.

        1.    Scripture does not record anyone who has overcome bitterness on their own... every case required direct intervention.

        2.    Scripture does say a lot about the need to prevent bitterness.

    B.    Learning the disciplines to prevent bitterness will give us some tools to give God leverage to push bitterness out of our lives.

        1.    Know Jesus.  Forgiven people are able to forgive.  They go together and can not be separated.

        2.    Find a place (and time) of peace you can operate from in life (Matthew 10:12 – 13) such as a closet or prayer room (Matthew 6:6) where you can be with the one true giver of peace.

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