Bitterness leads to Unforgiveness – Unforgiveness leads to Spiritual Death
What was your response the last time someone hurt you?
Perhaps you felt the urge to retaliate. Maybe you took no action, but instead harbored bitterness in your heart. If so, you failed to realize that you do great damage to yourself when you have an unforgiving spirit. Failure to forgive is a devastating form of self-punishment—a destructive landmine in the path of the believer.
In Ephesians 4:32, the apostle Paul writes, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” It sounds fairly simple, doesn’t it?
Yet, you and I know the truth that, though it’s simple, it’s not necessarily easy. When someone commits a terrible offense against you—no matter whether the hurt came by way of words or deeds—forgiveness can be terribly difficult. The enemy will entice you to be so angry that you take revenge. As a mature believer, however, you must avoid the enemy’s landmine and choose the peace of forgiveness as Christ has shown you.
Ephesians 4:26–32 Supporting Scripture: Matthew 6:9–15; 18:21–24;1 John 1:9
1. The definition of unforgiveness.
If you want to understand unforgiveness, you must first know what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is the willingness to give up your resentment toward someone who has wronged you, regardless of how serious or painful that wrong might have been. In other words, you renounce any desire to get even. We can identify three elements to forgiveness: to give up resentment about the wrong; to give up resentment toward the
wrongdoer; and to give up plans for retaliation. Forgiveness is more than just saying some words; it must come from the heart.
Unforgiveness, on the other hand, is a deliberate mindset to do the opposite—to resent the wrong and the wrongdoer, and to seek revenge. In Ephesians 4:31, Paul associates unforgiveness with bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice. It is hard to understand why anyone would choose those painful attitudes over tenderness, gentleness, and a forgiving spirit. However, many people today are physically ill because they do just that. They live day by day, year by year, with the cancer of an unforgiving heart.
2. The description of unforgiveness.
The unforgiving heart clings to the past, refusing to extend to others what our heavenly Father has extended to us. In Ephesians 4:32, the apostle insists upon our “forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” As a result of a resentful attitude, there will be certain negative consequences in the life of an unforgiving person. One of the most significant repercussions is that bitterness takes root in the heart, and then it spreads its poison to choke out every godly trait there.
The truth is that people choose to be unforgiving—it is a deliberate decision and a self-inflicted pain. We carry the illusion that other people have caused our misery, but in reality, we have elected to take on a form of self-imposed bondage. It is a spiritual “acid” that eats through the spirit within us. Few people realize the terrible effects of unforgiveness.
3. The disobedience of unforgiveness.
This root of bitterness will keep you from being the person God wants you to be, and prevent you from carrying out ... His will for your life. The refusal to forgive is an act of pride and rebellion—deliberate disobedience to the Word of God. When He taught His disciples to pray, Jesus added, “If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:15). This does not mean the believer loses his salvation, but it does indicate God will hold him accountable—there will be discipline. We are never given the right to harbor an unforgiving spirit. In Matthew 18:22, Jesus
teaches us that we must forgive “seventy times seven,” which means we must always forgive. Paul, too, writes that we should bear with one another and forgive one another because, in the same way, God has forgiven us. All of these passages from God’s Word make it very clear that unforgiveness is never an option for the committed believer.
4. The destruction of unforgiveness.
What are the consequences of an unforgiving spirit? Jesus teaches us that God wants to answer our prayers, but that we must first forgive others. If we don’t, it will make us bitter and will affect our prayer life. Likewise, our worship will be affected. Jesus teaches us that when we are in conflict, we are to stop—even in the middle of our worship—and go to set matters right. Our witnessing, our giving, and our overall spiritual growth are terribly weakened by a heart that carries bitterness. Every other aspect of life is affected as well. When we are loaded down with stress, anxiety, and resentment, physical illness may result. Finally, because others don’t enjoy being around bitter people, our relationships are poisoned.
5. Dealing with unforgiveness.
To confront an unforgiving spirit, the first requirement is to take it seriously and assume full responsibility for our own decisions and actions. We acknowledge unforgiveness as a sin and confess it honestly to God. The next step is to lay our anger down—strip it away—because then we can ask God’s forgiveness. After that, we should begin praying for the other person. If that person has been aware of our bitterness, we should go to them and ask their forgiveness. We can live out God’s grace by asking Him to show us something we can do on that person’s behalf—serving them instead of resenting them. Finally, we prevent the devil from trapping us again by refusing to rehash the same old issue or allowing the bitterness to seep back in. This debt must be forgiven and canceled in the same way our sins are.
6. Demonstrating forgiveness.
Some Christians believe they have forgiven the person that’s wronged them, but the roots of bitterness are still deep in their hearts. So how can you know you have truly forgiven someone? There are two indications that you have been obedient to Christ in this area. First, you know you have forgiven when your feelings toward the other person have changed. When you see him or her, you will be aware that the resentment is gone. Second, you know your forgiveness is genuine when you feel concern for the other person—you care about his or her spiritual welfare and you want what is best for him or her.