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Counsel the Bitter Person with a Warning from Jesus

We must consciously practice the obedience of forgiveness.

Mar 23, 2023

The heart that has been forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47). This should mean that as we ponder the depth of our own sinfulness (like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears) and consider the greater depth of God’s forgiveness, we will grow in our love for Him. One result of this growth should be that our hearts are prepared to respond humbly when others sin against us.

In contrast, when we forget God’s grace, our hearts become proud, and we who have been forgiven much may act like one who believes he has been forgiven little. When this happens, the soil of our hearts is in danger of being fertilized and ready for bitterness to take root. We must, therefore, consciously practice the obedience of forgiveness. If we do not, a spirit of unforgiveness will grow into resentment, leading to bitterness. Bitterness then erodes the effectiveness of our prayers and may, in fact, reveal that something far more serious is wrong.

Therefore, when counseling a bitter person, be sure to bring the following warning from Jesus to bear upon their heart.

[Pray in this way:] And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors … For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions (Matt. 6:12, 14-15).

This post explains how you can minister this Scripture to a bitter person. Jesus’ words describe three characteristics of the forgiving heart and warn against the pride that actively works against the obedience of forgiveness.

The forgiving heart is energized by a healthy awareness of personal sin, but the proud heart thinks it is superior to others (V. 12A)

Jesus includes confession of sin as a necessary element of humble prayer. We ought to pray, “forgive us our debts.” A daily awareness of our sinfulness will lead us to regularly ask God for forgiveness, which is a healthy part of spiritual growth. When we remember that we are wretched, we will, in turn, praise God for the victory found only in Jesus (Romans 7:24-25).

The bitter person, on the other hand, thinks himself superior to others. A shallow recognition of his depravity makes it difficult for him to imagine that he is quite capable of committing the very sins for which he stubbornly refuses to forgive his brothers and sisters. The unforgiving person has not lately thought about the gravity of his own sin.

In contrast, those with forgiving hearts humbly acknowledge their own need for a daily supply of God’s grace and mercy. As a result, they are trained to be ready to forgive others.

Exhort the bitter person to humble himself before God by repenting of stubbornness.

The forgiving heart is expected from the one who is forgiven, but the self-deceived heart has a short memory (V. 12b)

Jesus continues, “as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Oh, the power of that little word “as”! Jesus assumed that forgiving others would be the general practice of the child of God. The Bible expects Christians to be forgiving people. In fact, it entertains no other healthy option. We are called to the highest standard of forgiveness. We are called to forgive as God forgives: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32; see also Colossians 3:13).

The bitter person, on the other hand, has deceived himself into thinking that somehow he deserves forgiveness, but his offenders do not. Why else would he be so reluctant to grant it freely? The unforgiving person has a short memory concerning his own sin. Pride has erased all remembrance of the blackness of his sin. Pride has blinded the eyes of his heart so that he no longer sees the ugliness of his past. He fails to remember the depth of the grace and forgiveness God has so freely given him and, therefore, is slow to pass on the same to others.

In contrast, those with forgiving hearts have a long memory concerning their own sin, but a short memory concerning the sins of others. The long-lasting memory of their own sin is grievous, but the remembrance produces joy as their hearts reflect on the newfound freedom of forgiveness in Jesus. Equal joy fills their heart when the humble person extends that same forgiveness to others who have sinned against them.

Exhort the bitter person to humble himself before God by repenting of spiritual forgetfulness.

The forgiving heart secures its own forgiveness and God’s listening ear, but the vengeful heart will not find rest (V. 14–15).

Jesus places a sobering—if not frightening—condition upon our own forgiveness. If we forgive, “[our] heavenly Father will also forgive [us].” But if we refuse to forgive others, “[our] Father will not forgive [our] transgressions.” Bitterness breaks our fellowship with God. Since God refuses to forgive those who refuse to forgive others, we may conclude that God does not listen to the prayers of bitter Christians. As Lehman Straus has written, “The person who will not forgive had better hope that he will never sin.”1Lehman Straus, Sense and Nonsense about Prayer (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), 101.

The bitter person refuses to release his brother or sister from sin’s debt because he has exalted himself to be their judge. As judge, he will execute whatever punishment he determines is necessary until his offenders “prove” they are worthy of his forgiveness.

In contrast, those with forgiving hearts leave vengeance in the hand of the Lord (Romans 12:19). Forgiving people have no desire to get even because they know God has already got even with sin at the cross.

Exhort the bitter person to humble himself before God by repenting of the sin of vengeance.

Bitterness is a prison. It is self-destructive; it is spiritual suicide. That’s why it’s often been said, “The bitter person drinks a vial of poison and waits for their enemy to die.” Therefore, when counseling the bitter person, the warning of Jesus should not be neglected. Use it to direct the eyes of the bitter person away from himself to God and help him to unlock his self-made prison by walking in the obedience of forgiveness.

Questions for Reflection

  1. In what other ways does bitterness reveal itself as a deed of the flesh?
  2. Read Matthew 18:21-35. What other warnings does Jesus give to the bitter person?
  3. What other Scriptures could you use to admonish the bitter person to repent of pride and put on a heart of forgiveness?

This blog was originally posted at Kevin Carson’s Blog. View the original post here.