By James Merritt
"DON'T GET BITTER, GET BETTER"
1. Of all the human emotions, the one that I personally and
actually fear the most is bitterness. Bitterness is an
emotional cancer that will eat you up from the inside out. It
is a blight that will contaminate you. It is a burden that will
crush you. It is a blaze that will cook you in its own juice.
2. Otto Von Bismarck was the Chancellor of Germany during the
first World War. Toward the end of his life he got mired down
in the quick sand of bitterness, and never got out. He carried
the bile of bitterness into his grave.
3. One morning he got up out of bed and proudly announced to
his household, "I have spent the whole night hating." The
burden of bitterness eventually crushed his health. He had to
grow a beard to hide the twitching muscles of his face.
Jaundice, gastric ulcers, gallstones and shingles racked his
body. When he was offered a small fortune to publish his
memoirs he began to write with a reckless disregard for truth,
using his pen to spill out the poisonous venom of hatred and
bitterness on men and women who had long been dead. Expressing
his bitterness became the very thing he lived for, and the very
thing that killed him. He died embittered, cynical, lonely,
miserable and self-consumed.1
4. Many who are hearing this message are slaves in bondage to
the master of bitterness. Some of you are bitter toward God
because of a tragedy that happened in your life for which you
blame Him. Some of you are bitter toward others, such as a boss
who unjustly fired you; a spouse who left you for someone else;
a business partner who skipped out and left you holding the bag.
5. Some of you are bitter toward parents, perhaps because you
were physically abused, or sexually abused. Some of you are
bitter toward a dad who never spent any time with you.
6. Many people get bitter toward the church and toward
ministers of the gospel because of a bad experience that they
had. They are bitter because somebody hurt their feelings.
They are bitter because something did not go exactly to please
7. Bitterness is the result of feeling that someone has done us
wrong. I would define bitterness this way: Bitterness is
harbored hurt hidden in the heart. At the root of all conflict,
whether it be a church fight, or a world war, is bitterness. In
my estimation there is not a more dangerous emotion than the
emotion of bitterness.
8. Bitterness is like a malignant tumor that will ultimately
turn a healthy body into a cold corpse if it is not removed, and
the sooner the better.
I. The Deep Root Of Bitterness
1. "Looking diligently lest anyone fall short of the
grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause
trouble, and by this many become defiled." (v.15) Bitterness is
described as a root. A root is something that is beneath the
surface, invisible to the eye, but none the less real. It is a
deep root because even though it is not far from the surface, it
stretches deep into the soil. Likewise the root of bitterness,
though never far from the surface of one's lips, reaches deep
into the soil of one's heart.
2. The root of bitterness takes very little soil, needs
very little cultivation, is very quick to grow, but very
difficult to remove. It is so easy to plant the seed of
bitterness, but so difficult to weed it out.
3. We get bitter for basically one of three reasons.
First of all, because of what is done to us. Secondly, because
of what is said about us. Thirdly, because of what is taken
from us. It is amazing how Jesus dealt with all three of these
problems in the Sermon on the Mount.
4. Concerning what is said about us, Jesus said, "Blessed
are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of
evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be
exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so
they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matt.
5:11-12) If somebody has ever said anything that was wrong
about you, congratulations, you are in great company. They did
the same thing to the prophets. They did the same thing to
Jesus. They're going to do the same thing to you.
5. Then concerning the wrong that is done to us, Jesus
said, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a
tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil
person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the
other to him also." (Matt. 5:38-39) What Jesus was saying here
was, it is not what happens to you that is important, but how
you react to it that really counts with God.
6. Then concerning what is taken from us, Jesus said in
Matt. 5:40, "If anyone wants to sue you and take away your
tunic, let him have your cloak also." The principle that Jesus
was trying to lay down was this: IT IS BETTER TO BE WRONGED,
THAN IT IS TO DO WRONG. When someone does you wrong - and they
will sooner or later - you have one of two choices: you can get
bitter, or you can get better. Incidentally, those are the only
two choices that you have, and you will make one choice or the
II. The Destructive Fruit of Bitterness
1. We are expressly warned in v.15 that if a root of
bitterness does spring up, it "causes trouble." A bitter root
always bring forth bitter fruit. This root is no different.
There is no passion of the human heart that promises so much and
pays so little as bitterness.
A. It Saturates The Mind
1. As the root of bitterness grows, you will find
that it takes up more and more of the soil of your heart. It is
like a plant, we are familiar with here in the deep south,
called kudzu. Kudzu is a vine-like plant that grows like
wildfire and takes over everything it can. Likewise, bitterness
will consume you and absorb you like a magnet. You will find
that your mind is drawn again and again to that person toward
whom you are bitter.
2. Years ago a brilliant doctor by the name of S.
I. McMillen, wrote a best-selling book entitled None of These
Diseases. In that book Dr. McMillen points out how destructive
emotions, such as bitterness, can consume a man both physically
and mentally. Concerning bitterness, Dr. McMillen said:
"The moment I start hating a man
I become his slave. I can't enjoy my
work anymore because he even controls
my thoughts. My resentments produce
too many stress hormones in my body and
I become fatigued after only a few hours
of work...The man I hate hounds me where-
ever I go. I can't escape his tyrannical
grasp on my mind...
The man I hate may be many miles
from my bedroom; but more cruel than any
slave driver he whips my thoughts into
such a frenzy that my innerspring mattress
becomes a rack of torture. The lowliest
of the serfs can sleep, but not I. I
really must acknowledge the fact that I am
a slave to every man on whom I pour the
viles of my wrath." 2
3. Bitterness can make you like the lady who went
to see a doctor for an examination. She felt terrible. The
doctor got very serious and said, "Madam, I hate to tell you
this, but you have rabies." She got out her notebook and
started making a list. He said, "What are you doing, making out
your will?" She said, "No, I'm making a list of people I'm
going to bite."
B. It Saddens The Spirit
1. Bitterness is a depressant. If you will look
closely you will find there are no happy bitter people.
Criticism, cynicism, negativism, pessimism are the marks of a
bitter person. Bitterness will depress you and sadden you and
even get you to the point where you cannot even function
2. Edwin Markham was a great poet, who having
reached the age of retirement, found out that his banker had
defrauded him out of a great sum of money. Instead of retiring
to a life of ease, he thought he had earned, he was penniless
3. He became so bitter he could no longer even
write poetry. The candle of joy had been blown out in his heart
by the blaze of bitterness. He became so obsessed with wanting
to do this man harm, that all he could do was think about it,
and brewed over it. He was obsessed with what this man had done
to him and with how he could get even with this fellow.
4. One day, in a depressed funk, he was sitting at
his desk just doodling, drawing circles on his paper, thinking
about this banker who had stolen all of his money, and he said
that the Holy Spirit spoke to him and said, "Markham, if you do
not deal with this thing, it is going to ruin you. You cannot
afford the price you are paying. You must forgive that man."
That great poet said, "Lord, I will forgive him, and I do freely
5. At that exact moment Markham said he could feel
the root of bitterness being pulled out. He could feel the
river of joy begin to flow back in his heart, and when he did,
he said his mind was unshackled, his pen was loosened, and he
then sat down and wrote perhaps his most famous poem entitled,
He drew a circle that shut me out -
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout;
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.3
Bitterness will dam up the joy-juices that God intends to flow
through your heart, mind, soul, and body until it is broken and
shattered by the hammer of forgiveness.
C. It Sickens The Body
1. The human body was not created to nurse
bitterness and to carry grudges. Dr. McMillen, in this same
book, enumerated over fifty diseases, ranging from ulcers to
high blood pressure, that can be caused by an emotion such as
2. Now I am not trying to imply that every sick
person is bitter, nor that every bitter person is sick. But
every bitter person, who remains bitter, will ultimately have
his physical health affected.
3. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale was preaching one
Sunday up in New Jersey. After the service a woman came by to
see him, a younger woman, well dressed and attractive. She said
to him, "I always itch. I have an itch I cannot get rid of, and
it itches the worst when I go to church. Can you help me?"
4. Well after talking further with her, Dr. Peale
called her personal physician. The doctor told him that he
could find nothing physically or organically wrong with this
lady and had concluded that she had some kind of a neurosis or
an obsession that he described as a "inner mental eczema, a
scratching on the inside that to her seemed to be on the skin."
5. Then the physician told Dr. Peale that he knew
that she and her only sister had had a falling out years ago,
and that there was a great deal of bitterness involved in her
life, and that could be the cause of the problem.
6. When Dr. Peale confronted this woman about her
sister, she broke down and admitted they had had a falling out
years ago over a dispute concerning the disposition of the
proceeds from their deceased father's estate. A minor
disagreement blew up into a major argument. They had a
tremendous falling out and this woman had made up her mind never
to speak to her sister again. It was at that exact moment that
the itching started.
7. Dr. Peale, first of all, had her to confess her
sin of bitterness to God, and ask God to take the bitterness and
the hate away. Then he had her call her sister and ask her
sister to forgive her. When she hung up the phone the lady
looked at Dr. Peale and said, "That is amazing. I do not itch
any longer." She never itched again.4
8. Let me tell you something I have learned about
bitterness. The bitter person hurts no one more than he hurts
himself. Bitterness does a great deal more damage to the vessel
in which it is stored than the object on which it is poured.
9. Bitterness will poison your worship. You cannot
pray with confidence. You cannot praise with joy. You cannot
preach with power if you are bitter toward someone else.
l0. Bitterness will paralyze your work. You cannot
serve God when the bile of bitterness is flowing through your
11. It will pollute your witness. It will taint
your testimony. It will seal the lips of a soul-winner.
III. The Defeating Pursuit Of Bitterness
1. Remember that a root is something that is underground.
If you want to get rid of it you have to go after it. You have
to find it. You have to dig it up. You have to get rid of it.
2. Everyday our bodies cleanse themselves of harmful
toxins through the processes of waste elimination. If these
toxins were allowed to accumulate, they would cause us to sicken
and they would eventually kill us. If we want to remain
mentally healthy we must get rid of toxins that come to the
mind, and that come to the heart. Acts 8:23 speaks of the
"poison of bitterness." It, too, is a poison that, if allowed
to accumulate, will ultimately kill you spiritually, mentally,
emotionally, if not physically. So how do you uproot and root
out the root of bitterness?
A. Forget The Problem
1. Whatever caused the problem that brought
bitterness into your life, must be put behind you. Ephesians
4:31 says, "Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil
speaking be put away from you, with all malice." The word "put
away" means to dispose of, to discard, to get rid of.
2. If you are going to remove bitterness from
your life, the first thing you have got to do is get this "get
even" feeling out of your heart. You've got to bury that
problem in an unmarked grave. It was Benjamin Franklin who
said, "Doing an injury puts you below your enemy; revenging one
makes you even with him; forgetting it sets you above him."
3. The story is told that General Robert E. Lee
visited a lady in Virginia after the Civil War. She was
consumed with bitterness and hatred toward the Union. When he
asked her why, she took him out in the front yard and showed him
the scared remains of a very valuable prize tree, one that was
hundreds of years old.
4. During a raid on her home, all of the limbs
had been shot off by the Union Army. They had carved their
initials on that tree and totally defaced its beauty.
5. She said, "General Lee, what do you think I
ought to do about that?" He said, "My dear madam, I think you
ought to cut it down and forget it." That was great advice.
You see, it is not enough just to remove the root, you've got to
cut down the tree. You've got to forget the problem.
B. Forgive The Person
1. If you don't, we are told in v.15 you will
"fall short of the grace of God." Now that does not mean that
you lose your salvation. But it means rather that you are not
living out your life according to the grace of God that is
within you. You are falling short of God's grace-goal for your
life. You see, that is what grace is all about, forgiving
others who have done you wrong.
2. Now you may be thinking to yourself, "I just
don't know if I can forgive this person or not." Well you can
if you have been to Calvary.
3. After Ephesians 4:31 comes 4:32, "And be kind
to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as
God in Christ also forgave you." That is the key. You've got
to forgive others even as God has forgiven you. I don't care
how dirty you have been done, no one has ever been treated
dirtier than the Lord Jesus. "Good Friday" was not so "good" to
Him. But even as He was dying on that cross for your sins and
mine, He said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they
4. If you cannot find forgiveness in your heart
for that person toward whom you are bitter, I suggest that you
go back to the foot of the cross and hang around for awhile.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, "Let us go to Calvary to learn how
we may be forgiven, and then let us linger there to learn how to
5. You must forgive that person who has wronged
you. You must forgive him freely. That is, whether he asks for
it or not. You must forgive him fully. You can't just cut your
bitterness in half. You've got to forgive that person
completely and then you've got to forgive that person finally.
That is, you must forgive that person once and for all.
6. Too many times, instead of totally forgiving a
person, our prayer is something like this one:
May those who love us, love us;
And those who don't love us
May God turn their hearts;
And if He doesn't turn their hearts,
May He turn their ankles,
So we'll know them by their limping.
7. That kind of attitude will never remedy the
problem of bitterness. It will only intensify it and make it
C. Forsake The Practice
1. It is not enough just to forgive and forget.
Verse 14 reminds us, "Pursue peace with all men, and holiness,
without which no one will see the Lord." The word pursue means
"to go after in an aggressive fashion." We are to actively
pursue peace. That is, we are to take the initiative to end the
war, pull down defenses, rebuild the bridges, and restore the
2. If you do not have joy, happiness, peace,
contentment and satisfaction because of what someone has done to
you, it is not because they took those things away from you.
You gave them away.
3. I cannot control what happens to me. But I
can control what happens in me. I cannot control how you act
toward me. But I can control how I react toward you.
4. Perhaps you need to make this poem your
From pettiness and that desire
Which goads one to retaliate;
With patience, I would quench the fire
Of vengeance, ere it be too late.
And in defeat may I cast out
The moods of envy and despair,
And from my heart, Lord, I would route
all bitterness. This is my prayer.6
5. Jesus died to deliver you from the sin of
bitterness in this life. But He was raised from the grave to
deliver you from the sting of bitterness in the life to come.
6. Hell is a bitter place filled with bitter
people. People who are bitter because they listened to the
wrong voice. People who are bitter because they ran with the
wrong crowd. People who are bitter because they made the wrong
decision. People who are bitter because they served the wrong
7. The greatest bitterness a person can ever know
is the bitterness of being in hell, yet knowing you could have
been in heaven if you had simply and sincerely confessed Jesus
Christ as Lord and believed in your heart that God raised Him
from the dead. That is what Easter is all about.