Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
We don’t hold on to wrongs for days, we hold on to wrongs for years. In many ways bitterness is the result of sin distorting our memories. The ability to remember is a blessing. When we are hurt, or wronged, or we perceive ourselves to be wronged, the sin of self centeredness takes our memory and uses it to produce self-focused anger. Enter bitterness.
The worst part about bitterness is we tolerate it. We give it a home, feed it, and nourish it. This is not just unwise, it is blatantly sinful. God commands us to put away bitterness, along with its accomplices wrath, anger, clamor (shouting in a quarrel), slander, and malice. The way Paul phrases this calling in Ephesians 4:31 is interesting because by using the passive voice (“let bitterness… be put away”) he puts the focus on what is being “put away.” Perhaps an analogy is to picture an umpire pointing his finger at an out of control baseball manager and throwing him out of a game- “you’re outta here!” There is no room in the Christian for bitterness.
So God calls us to rid ourselves of bitterness, but how? Notice Ephesians 4:32, Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. We must refuse to hold on to the past in self centered bitterness and decide to be kind to each other and forgive. The only way this is possible is by remembering the sweet forgiveness God has shown us in the gospel.
Don’t miss this. We do not release bitterness because wrongs are not a big deal. They are a big deal, but the cross is a bigger deal. Yes, it was wrong of that person to steal your car stereo. Yes, it was wrong of that person to gossip about you. Yes, it was wrong of your spouse to treat you that way. But you can forgive them because God has forgiven you in Christ.
The tragic reality of bitterness is that in order for us to remain bitter, we must purposefully ignore the cross. We say, “yeah, yeah, Jesus died for me and all that. But you don’t know what they did.” I may not know, but God certainly does. God also knows what you did, have done, and will do. Rather than be bitter at you, God acted to save you. Therefore, put away all bitterness and be kind to one another.
Unfortunately, much (most?) of what we choose to be bitter over isn’t even a true wrong. We feel we have been slighted, but in reality we have an over-inflated sense of self-importance. Our worlds revolve around our desires, and when we don’t get what we want we get angry and bitter. This is not only unhealthy, it is unacceptable in Christians. Jesus commands us to let bitterness go. Maybe it’s time to reflect on the infinite graciousness of God towards us in our attitude towards others. You don’t have to hold on to that wrong. You can find relief and peace. Because of the sweet gospel of Jesus Christ, you can let bitterness go.