Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail
These are some of the last words written by one of the greatest men who ever lived. He wrote them while in prison, waiting to die for his faith. He has just spoken of people he trusted who had deserted him. He is lacking even the bare essentials. A man, knowing how difficult his life was, had done additional great harm to him. No wonder he would open this window into his suffering soul and let us all look inside. Despite all this, he was not bitter.
Have you ever felt mistreated, even felt like people were actively against you? Or perhaps felt like people you count on abandoned or neglected you when you needed them? Maybe you have suffered for your faith. It is tempting to become bitter, even to lash out against the church and God. Paul is a great example of how to think when you feel unsupported and deserted by those you count on. After making that statement in 2 Timothy 4:16, he says some other things that can help us when we feel, at least in a small way, the way Paul felt.
If you’ve never felt unsupported and deserted, you probably will at some future time. The temptation will be great to let it become a spiritual problem for you. Why not remember Paul’s response when he was in his deepest valley? It’s the way up to the spiritual mountaintop.
“Where was God when my child was killed by a drunk driver?” “I’ll never forgive brother Jones for that time he… He’s a big hypocrite!” “It’s not fair what they did to me. I hope they get theirs!” Persons raising clenched fists or pointed fingers and growling through gritting teeth epitomize that common, though unattractive, display of bitterness. Sadly, bitterness is not a disease confined to the alien sinner. Christians in crisis, dejected elders and preachers, and offended brethren are not immune to that sourness of spirit.
What, exactly, is BITTERNESS? Eadie says,
It is a figurative term denoting that fretted and irritable state of mind that keeps a man in perpetual animosity — that inclines him to harsh and uncharitable opinions of men and things — that makes him sour, crabby and repulsive in his general demeanor — that brings a scowl over his face and infuses venom into the words of his tongue (Rienecker, 534).
In motion, bitterness is a deadly snake. In result, it stings both predator and prey. In fruit, it is destructive. In category, it is sin! Ephesians 4:31, in part, reads, “Let all bitterness … be put away from you…” One source says of bitterness in this verse, “Bitterness is the opposite not only of sweetness but of kindness. It is the spite that harbors resentment and keeps a score of wrongs. Aristotle defined those who display it as ‘hard to be reconciled'” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 11:65).
Paul says such an attitude must be destroyed. It is to be replaced by the sweet, savory, Christian characteristics like kindness, tenderheartedness and forgiveness (Eph. 4:32). If ever one had cause to be bitter, surely the crucified Lord did. But he offered a prayer asking for the Father to forgive the spike-driving and ridicule-hurling sinners who placed him in such an agonizing position (Luke 23:34).
How can we overcome bitterness? First, by obeying God’s Word. Explicitly, New Testament writers warn Christians against bitter thoughts and behavior (Col. 3:19; Heb. 12:15; Rom. 3:14). Second, by imitating the forgiving attitude of Jesus (Eph. 1:7). Third, by crowding out angry and festering thoughts, replacing them with praiseworthy and virtuous thoughts (cf. Phi. 4:8). Fourth, by praying for those against whom you feel bitter (cf. Mat. 5:44).
Christians must not willfully harbor feelings of anger and resentment. Such produces hearts easily offended and easily provoked (cf. 1 Cor. 13:5). Bitterness is defeated by a perpetually cheerful and thankful heart. Everyone has problems. Yet, as John Henry Miller once said, “Circumstances and situations do color life, but you have been given the mind to choose what the color shall be.” As Paul wrote, “Let all bitterness be put away from you.”