by Greg Neal
“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” —Ephesians 4:32
If we squeeze a lemon into our mouths, we will have the aftertaste of bitterness. There are certain foods that can be very harsh and leave a bitter aftertaste. Likewise, when we are around a person who is bitter, we can have a bitter aftertaste. The same is true regarding experiences in our lives. There are events that take place that can leave a bitter aftertaste or leave us feeling bitter within our hearts.
Recently, after a church service I watched the people leaving. There was laughter and rejoicing. I sensed joy and happiness in the people of our church. We had heard many wonderful testimonies and seen many wonderful blessings throughout the day. While watching the people, I thought of the bitterness that some of them were facing in their lives. Some were dealing with serious illnesses or diseases. Others were facing major disappointments in their lives, such as a wayward child or a spouse who had been unfaithful or had abandoned them. Some had experienced the death of a loved one. Others had been betrayed by a friend or mistreated by an employer. Beneath the surface of these rejoicing people were “bitter” things with which they were dealing in their lives.
We are warned in Scripture of the danger of bitterness.
Hebrews 12:15 says, “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;” Bitterness is born out of the disappointments and hurts of life. It is born out of disappointment, betrayal, and heartache. Even in the midst of joy, bitterness can spring up; it can choke our joy.
As a preacher’s kid, I was privy to many in our church who faced bitterness in their lives. I came to realize that bitter Christians can create more difficulty than those who are bitter in the world. There is nothing more tragic than seeing a child of God lose their joy and be overtaken by bitterness. People who never thought they would be bitter lost their joy because a root of bitterness sprung up in their lives, choking out their spiritual joy.
It may seem a bit strange to include a chapter on anger and bitterness in a book on forgiveness. However, forgiveness is a major weapon in fighting these things. Christians who learn to forgive typically are not defeated by bitterness. That is not to say that they do not face disappointments and difficulties. They most certainly do. Nevertheless, they have learned the scriptural method for dealing with those situations.
Ephesians 4:32 speaks of forgiveness. Conversely, it is preceded with an admonition regarding anger. Most bitterness stems from anger. It may be anger toward a person; It may be anger toward circumstances or situations faced in our lives. When a Christian learns to deal with anger, they are preparing themselves to be forgiving.
In order to possess forgiveness we must learn how to deal with anger. The Bible gives us some specific principles to follow.
We must understand that anger, in and of itself, is not a sin.
The Bible says, “Be ye angry,…” (Ephesians 4:26) While that is not specifically a command, it is an acknowledgement of the God-given emotion of anger. It is not wrong to feel anger. It is not wrong to be angry when our spouses abandon us. It is not wrong to be angry when a friend has betrayed us. It is not wrong to be angry when another Christian has disappointed us. It is not wrong to be angry when our children have rebelled against us. It is not wrong to be angry when we have been diagnosed with a disease. The emotion of anger, in and of itself, is not a sin. We were given that emotion.
We must realize that there are times when we will be angry. Thus, we must be aware of certain things in order to deal with our anger.
Expect to be angry. We must not deny the fact that there will be things that anger us. Just as we prepare for any other temptation, we must prepare ourselves for the inevitable anger that will arise on occasion in our hearts.
Prepare for anger. This is one of the most important parts for handling all temptations. Anything that can lead to sin must be anticipated, and we must be prepared beforehand to deal with it.
Allow others to be angry. We must not deny others the feeling that we, at times, experience ourselves. There will be times when people we love will be angry with us. We should give them room and accept their anger.
Do not expect anger to resolve itself. It is foolish to think that an emotion such as anger will merely dissipate without us taking the proper steps.
Be aware of what makes you angry. One way to deal with anger is to know what makes us angry, both to prepare us to handle that which we cannot avoid and to enable us to avoid that which we can.
Be spiritual in your anger. It is hard for some to imagine that anger can be spiritual. The proper reaction to anger can lead to spiritual responses rather than unspiritual ones. We must understand the nature of anger and prepare ourselves to respond in a spiritual manner.
Understand that anger can lead to positive results. When anger is handled spiritually, good can come from it, just as bad can come from anger when it is not handled spiritually.
Be angry and sin not.
The first part of that statement is a declaration of fact while the second part is a commandment. We have within ourselves the ability to choose whether or not we will sin in our anger. The command was given because God knows that we have the ability to obey it. Many people commit terrible sins as a result of their anger. The sin was committed because of the choice that was made when anger arose. There are several ways in which we sin in our anger:
We sin with our attitudes. Most bad attitudes are a sinful reaction to anger. Something or someone angered us and we responded with an angry or hateful spirit.
We can sin with our words. The worst things we say often come when we are angry. Words spoken in anger are sinful words. Silence is the way to spiritually deal with anger.
We sin with our actions. Time and time again, as a pastor, I have seen people lashing out at others and seeking to hurt them because they were angry. Most drug addicts begin their slide into addiction because of anger with which they did not deal in a spiritual manner.
We sin with our choices. Many Christians quit their ministry in a church because they are angry. Many spouses walk out and abandon their partners because they are angry. Some of the worst choices people make are made in times of anger.
Deal with anger quickly.
The Bible tells us not to allow the sun to go down on our wrath. (Ephesians 4:26) It is interesting to note that anger turns into wrath very quickly. That anger which is not handled properly can turn into wrath almost immediately. People commit horrible crimes in the heat of anger which went unresolved, though only for a few moments. The Bible is not telling us merely to avoid wrath. It is telling us to quickly resolve any anger within us so that when we face the evening time, it has been resolved. There are important principles regarding this:
While that which has caused the anger may go unresolved, the anger must be resolved anyway. We must not wait to fix a problem in order to deal with anger. In fact, the quicker we face it, the better the opportunity will be to prevent the anger from turning into wrath.
Immediately take the anger to the Lord. The quicker we confess the anger to the Lord, the better the chance will be that it will not turn into sin or cause wrath in our lives.
Do not allow anger to lead to wrath. Sometimes people talk about those who have anger issues. I am not certain that it is anger that is their problem. Their problem is that they have wrath issues. Anger which is left unresolved leads to wrath; and wrath is comparable to turning a campfire into a forest fire.
When anger is not responded to properly, it compounds in our minds, which leads to wrath. It is interesting that we can find more things about which to be angry whenever we do not deal with anger. Wrath causes us to remember things that we should have forgotten and will even cause us to imagine things that did not happen in that particular way. Wrath is typically a compounding of things upon what could have been a simply resolved matter.
Do not give Satan a place in your heart.
When we do not spiritually resolve our anger, we are giving Satan a free pass into our minds and our hearts. If a burglar were loose in our neighborhoods, we would not leave our doors unlocked, much less leave them open with an invitation on the door for the burglar to enter. When we do not deal spiritually with anger, we are putting up a welcome sign on the doors of our hearts and minds and inviting Satan to enter. He will add other emotions to the anger. When anger is not resolved, other emotions compound the problem.
Worry. Satan will cause us to worry about that which angered us, and this will lead us to be bitter.
Fear. When we are unable to deal with anger, sometimes we are filled with fear regarding what could happen that would be hurtful to us. This also leads to bitterness.
Disappointment. Satan will take that anger and lead us to feel disappointed in someone or in some situation. Sometimes he will even cause us to be disappointed in God. This leads to bitterness.
Disillusionment. Most bitter people have become disillusioned by the thing or the person which brought about the anger.
Sadness. Bitter people have lost their joy. Satan will compound the anger with the emotion of sadness and cause bitterness.
Weariness. The Bible tells us not to be weary in well doing. (Galatians 6:9) When anger comes into our lives, we must avoid being weary in the good works that we are doing. Anger can lead us to lose the enjoyment of our service to God. Once we have lost our delight, we become weary and often bitter at the very opportunities that once brought joy to us.
Beware of corrupt communication. (Ephesians 4:29)
Of course, we can include vile language as a part of what we consider to be corrupt communication. However, we are given more of an explanation when we see the context of this verse. Bitter people say bitter things. We become angry; soon our anger leads us to say things that are not appropriate. There are two descriptions of what the proper communication should be. These types of communication reveal that our hearts are not choked with bitterness.
Our communication should be edifying. Unfortunately, this is not a word that we hear used often enough. When a person is bitter their words do not edify. The word edify means to bring improvement to another. For example, someone who teaches Sunday school is edifying because they are instructing or improving others. Bitter people seldom build up. Instead of building up, they tear down with their words. That is why the Bible tells us that sweet and bitter waters cannot come from the same source. A bitter person cannot edify by their communications.
Our communication should minister grace to the hearers. To minister grace means that we are speaking of God’s grace rather than speaking of others’ sins. Bitter people love to gossip, slander, and accuse. That is not ministering grace. When our anger is not dealt with properly, it will lead us to use our words to accentuate the sins of others rather than accentuating the grace of God. Administering grace to others leads to speaking of the goodness of God rather than complaining about that which has angered us. Anger often leads to complaining. We are accentuating the negative things rather than the positives. Bitter people complain.
Anger leads to grieving the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is our Comforter. When we grieve the Holy Spirit we are removing His ability to comfort us. What began as a moment of anger has led to the very Holy Spirit of God being grieved by the bitterness that has come from our anger. This leads to even more emotions, as we discussed in a previous chapter. When we allow our anger to be left alone, other sins accompany that bitterness: wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking, and malice. When we refuse to let anger take hold, we can put these sins aside.
Angry people are not able to forgive. The reason that they are not able to forgive is because they cannot possess the qualities necessary for forgiveness. As a result, they are unable to forgive one another; they are unable to be kind in their anger; they are unable to be tenderhearted in their anger.
Why can a Christian not forgive while knowing that they have been forgiven by God? Anger has blinded them to the forgiveness in which they are living because of Christ. An angry person is an unreasonable person. That lack of reasoning causes them to forget the grace and mercy that God has shown to them on behalf of His own Son.
To begin the process of being a forgiving person, we must learn how to deal with those moments when we become angry. We will be angry, and of that we must be certain. It is, however, the way we deal with that anger which determines our ability to forgive.
This post is a chapter in an upcoming book project, Seventy Times Seven, Understanding Bible Forgiveness.