It’s there. You may not want to admit, but you know it's there. It’s inside you. It’s behind the excuses… behind the rationalizations… behind the self-deception… behind all the ways we may “spiritualize” it… but it’s definitely there. And like termites within your house or cancer within your body, if you allow it to live within you, it’s just a matter of time before it eats you up and destroys you completely.
"It" is no joke. "It" is BITTERNESS.
We don’t like to admit because it makes us feel weak, but the truth is that we all struggle with bitterness to some degree. It takes different forms and comes with different names, but it’s the same at the root. Bitterness, resentment, grudges, hatred… they all fall under the category of “anger of the heart” – feeling like someone else took something from me or owes me something and be unwilling to let go of it.
Jesus spoke about His standard when it comes to this “anger of the heart” when He said,
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment.” (Matthew 5:21-22)
In other words, “not murdering” them is good; but “not being angry” is the expectation.
Let’s be honest. The standard that Jesus set is a far cry from where we live today. We hold on to grudges and allow anger/resentment to fester within our hearts. We do so because we think it’ll somehow make things all better; we think that by holding on to our anger we’re hurting the other person and “getting even.” We think to ourselves “if I stop being angry then that’ll somehow let that person off the hook.”
But the truth is that we’re only hurting ourselves. Trust me on this one: the most self-destructive thing you’ll ever do in life is to hold on bitterness. That is the quickest way to ensure that you live miserably and lonely for the rest of your life.
Holding on to bitterness in order to hurt the other person is like standing in front of your enemy with a rifle and shooting yourself in the head with the hopes that the kickback from the gun will bruise your enemy’s nose. You think you’re hurting the other person but you’re only hurting yourself.
So what do I do? What CAN I do? How can I get rid of that feeling of bitterness that’s been there for so long? Do you know how much I’ve been hurt or how wrongly I was treated?
First of all, I will say up front that I do NOT understand how you’re feeling, but I know someone who does. JESUS. Jesus knows how you’re feeling and no matter how you wrongly you were treated, He had it worse. For sure. 100%. No doubt about it.
And He – “who committed no sin nor was deceit even found in His mouth” – commanded us to let go of the anger within. He is the One who told us to forgive not once, not twice, not even seven times, but SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN TIMES (see Matthew 18:21-22).
In fact, if you read that passage from Matthew 18:23-35, you’ll see Jesus make it abundantly clear that He expects forgiveness to be a defining characteristic for members of His eternal family and kingdom. Read the passage for yourself and see.
Now two questions naturally arise when the topic of forgiveness comes up. 1) What does it mean? 2) How do I do it?
Let me address the first one today and I’ll come back to the second one later this week.
WHAT IS FORGIVENESS? HOW DO YOU DEFINE IT? Forgiveness is the one of the most misunderstood, over-complicated topics in Christianity today. We got messed up because of the concept of “forgive & forget.” Our parents tell us to forgive & forget when our brother steals our Halloween candy. Our teacher tells to forgive & forget when someone gossiped about us in school. Our priest (even our priest!) tells us that when Jesus forgives, He forgets and we need to do the same.
But is that true? Is that even possible? Does Jesus really expect us to “forgive & forget”?
This is where we lost the meaning of forgiveness and watered it down to an emotion. We think that if we can’t forget what someone did to us, then that means that we can’t forgive them. NOT AT ALL!
Forgiveness is much more than an emotion. Forgiveness is a choice. It is a conscious decision to “cancel the debt.”
Go back to that parable in Matthew 18:23-35 and you’ll see that there's a master and two servants. The first servant owes his master 10,000 talents (very large amount). The servant can not pay so the master FORGIVES him by cancelling his debt; he says you no longer owe me anything. You are forgiven. You are clear.
“Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.” (Matthew 18:27)
Did he forget the debt? NO! He forgave it. He cancelled it. Big difference.
The second servant comes along and apparently he was in debt to the first servant. He owed him 100 denarii (small amount). But now the first servant does NOT forgive the second servant.
“And he would not [forgive him], but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.” (Matthew 18:30)
He refused to cancel the debt. He insisted that he be paid back.
Forgiveness = cancelling the debt.
What debt are you holding on to? In what areas are you waiting to be “paid back”? Who do you feel “owes you”? A sibling? A friend? A spouse? A parent? Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting what they did; forgiveness means cancelling the debt and letting go of payback. Forgiveness means saying “YOU DO NOT OWE ME ANYMORE.”
How to do that? I’ll talk about that later in the week. Stay tuned…