Overcoming Bitterness

Intro: Josie Anello; her death notice in the paper was different than most. She died at the age of 93. Her notice said, , “She is survived by her Son, ‘A.J.’, who loved and cared for her; Daughter ‘Ninfa’, who betrayed her trust, and Son ‘Peter’, who broke her heart.” (Tampabay.com, February 22, 2012) The unusual notice was picked up by national news services and became a story. Upon further investigation it was learned that her children were involved in an ugly battle over her money. As the short death notice revealed, there was a lot of bitterness among her children. This type of bitterness is not pretty, is it?

I. What is bitterness? What type of attitude are we discussing here?

A. Eph 4:31-32Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. The opening word is Paul’s list is rendered as bitterness in most translations.

      • The word is Pikros in the Greek and literally means “sharp, piercing”.
      • John MacArthur describes it as “a smoldering resentment, a brooding grudge-filled attitude… It is the spirit of irritability that keeps a person in perpetual animosity, making him sour and venomous“.
      • Another commentator says bitterness is “settled hostility that poisons the whole inner man.”

1. Although it often starts with angry feeling over a specific offense it is more. Bitterness involves angry feelings that we hang on to. Anger turns into resentment as we continue to think about the offense.

        • It especially resurfaces when we are around the person who has offended us. So we avoid them. When we are around them the slightest provocation sets us off.
        • We become jaded about everything that person does. We always assume the worst and attach the worst motive to everything they do.
        • Even when efforts are made to reconcile we refuse to talk or impose impossible conditions
        • It works like a long-acting poison, killing the person from the inside.

II. Joseph’s Battle with Bitterness: Many of the bitter people we might meet are absolutely convinced that their special circumstances justifies their attitude and anger. “You do not know how bad I have been treated”. But God has an answer for that. He would point us to a man named Joseph in O.T. If there was ever a man who had a right to be bitter, it was Joseph.

A. Genesis 37 records the animosity of Joseph’s brothers and their willingness to sell him into slavery. He ends up in Egypt as a slave, but things do not end there. While in Egypt, Joseph had suffered a number of setbacks.

    • When he refused the advances of his master’s wife, she accused him of trying to assault her and Joseph was thrown into prison. He is lied about and betrayed again.
    • In prison, he helped one of his fellow inmates who later forgot him when this inmate was released. He is betrayed again.
    • Through God’s providential power, Joseph is given the opportunity to interpret the dream of the Pharaoh, and a great famine is averted. Joseph is appointed to a very powerful position. In the preparation for the famine Joseph is put in charge of distributing the food that was stored. When strangers from a distant land come to buy food Joseph recognizes them as his own brothers. Here is Joseph, a powerful man now, with their very lives in his hands. What would he do? What would we do?
    •  Read Genesis 45:1-15 Howe could Joseph treat these guys so good after all they had done to him? Joseph musty have fought a tough battle with bitterness. Elbert Hubbard, an early 20th century American writer, has observed: “The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure contemptuous treatment without resentment.” Joseph showed his greatness

III. What can we learn from Joseph? Sometimes anger can make us lose our perspective. We inflate things in our minds and this helps justify our bitterness. I am challenged by the wounds that Joseph suffered. Few of us have faced this degree of mistreatment.

A. The Longevity of the Temptation: Joseph’s faith was tested over a long period of time in this matter. After Jacob dies Joseph’s brothers fear that animosity and vengefulness still lie sequestered in the heart of Joseph. Here is the perfect opportunity for Joseph to get even for the evil that was done to him long ago.

1. Read Gen. 50:15-21 – Certainly Joseph could view his desire for revenge as an opportunity for justice. It is important that we are able to properly understand the principles and characteristics of the God we serve. Joseph understood that God’s blessing and providence were not given to him to serve his own fleshly desires.

B. Joseph’s Initiative: I am challenged by Joseph’s initiative in turning back the bitterness. One of the reasons people fail to work out their problems and wind up becoming bitter is because no one is willing to take the initiative to fix them.

      • A husband and wife have a fight; the husband feels like the wife is wrong and he’s going to be mad and they’re not speaking until she comes and apologizes.
      • Brethren have a fuss, both feel the other is wrong and refuse to resolve the problem until the other guy takes the first step. Who made the rule that the other guy has to come to me? Jesus did not.
        • If you are the offended one you should go: Matt 18:15 – “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.
        • If we have offended someone, we go to them – Matt 5:23-24Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. If we’re going to win this battle over bitterness, we must be willing to take the lead to work things out!

C. Joseph’s Kindness: Notice that he does not simply forgive his brother’s past offenses. He also floods them with acts of kindness. He gives them food when they deserved none. He protects them. Gen 50:211 Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

1. Notice how the Bible describes the hatred of his brothers when he was young. Gen 37:4 – But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him. Joseph’s heart was not contaminated with the envy and hatred that was evidenced in the tone of their voice. He spoke kindly to them.

2. Joseph’s actions point to a true key to battling bitterness. Sometimes even after forgiveness has been voiced tensions remain. That emotional tension can cause bitterness to breed. But doing active good for another can heal the emotional hurt. If they get sick, be the first to take some food by or send a card. If they need some help, be the first to volunteer. Have them over for a meal. It will not be easy, but it is the right thing to do.

        • Matt 5:43-453 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven;
        • Rom 12:19-21Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

3. Paul proclaims that God’s people must not seek vengeance, but rather allow for the vengeance of God. In fact, Paul’s argument is that the individual has no right to seek justice on his own. He goes on the express the right of the government (because it is ordained of God) to execute justice. When the government is unable or unwilling to acquire justice, the Christian must rely upon God.

4. More than an acquiescence to mistreatment, God calls us to repay evil with good. Our hearts must be purified of every vestige of self-justification. By absolute submissiveness we overcome evil. That is what Joseph did here. All of the evil that was brought into his life by Satan was undone by God through the right moral choices of Joseph. He overcame evil with good.

D. Joseph’s Perspective: I am also challenged by Joseph’s way of looking at what has happened. Gen 50:19-20 – Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. As he reflects on what happened, he does not focus on the terrible things his brothers did, but on the good that came from it. He focuses on what God has done positively in his life. This was a choice on his part.

1. It may be difficult at times to see God in our mistreatment, but there is usually some. At times our most objective and beneficial critics are our enemies. We need to pay attention to what they say. I can benefit from their wounds. Has some unfair criticism of your children made you reevaluate your parenting? Has some slight by others during a time of need made you more careful to care for others during their time of need. Some difficult person can help me grow my patience. James 1:2-4My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

Conclusion: Are you being poisoned? Satan is at work. We must be willing to act like Jesus.