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Facing the Giant of Bitterness

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Enniscorthy Christian Fellowship – 28th October 2007

Facing the Giant of Bitterness 2 Samuel 9

The Causes & Effects of Bitterness

2 monks were walking through the countryside when they came to the edge of a river.  An old woman sitting there, upset because there was no bridge. The first monk offered to carry her across. The two monks lifted her between them and carried her across the river. When they got to the other side, they set her down, and she went on her way.

After they’d walked another mile or so, the second monk began to complain. “Look at my clothes,” he said. “They’re filthy from carrying that woman across the river. And my back still hurts from lifting her.” The first monk just smiled and nodded his head.

A few minutes later, the second monk griped again, “My back is hurting me so badly, and it is all because we carried that silly woman across the river! I cannot go any farther. But why is it you’re not complaining about it, too? Doesn’t your back hurt?”

“Of course not,” the first monk replied. “You’re still carrying the woman, but I set her down five miles ago.”

We’re often like that second monk.  We don’t let go of the pain of the past.  As a result we still carry the burdens of things done years ago.  As someone has said: “No matter how long you nurse a grudge, it won’t get better.”  And that bitterness damages our lives. 

Promise Keepers is an organization that aims to ignite and unite men to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ.  In its early days, the demands of this ministry put tremendous strain on the marriage of its leader, Bill McCartney. In her book, his wife, Lyndi,  describes how she struggled with bitterness as a result. 

“I never enjoyed sharing my husband. I always felt cheated. So many times Christians would send me cards or flowers, writing lovely letters saying how much they appreciated me sharing my husband with them.  Sometimes I'd want to tell them to "quit borrowing my husband." I really did not like sharing him so much, and I began to resent it.  I spent about a year in isolation…  I didn't answer the telephone, and I shut the door on all outsiders. I even shut out friends who loved me...  I had to confront my own bitterness. I was hopelessly caught, eyebrow deep, in pain, and I was blind to all the good. I was a wounded, ugly woman.”

This couple worked on reordering their priorities and God restored their marriage.  But bitterness can so easily invade any of our lives.  Someone has written this: “In counseling Christians, we frequently see bitterness associated with jealousy. The examples include successful attorneys who envy the abilities of their colleagues, Bible college and seminary students consumed with jealousy toward fellow students … pastors or missionaries envious of others who have seen more outward evidences of success.” 

We’ve all had experiences that could cause us to be bitter.  We’ve had disappointments, hurts, offences, things said or not said, things done to us or not done for us.  In fact recent research from the Barna Group reveals that 16-29 year olds are perceiving Christians not as representatives of Christ but as “hypocritical,” “insensitive,” “judgemental” and … unChristian. 

Overcoming Bitterness with Grace

This is now what we should be like.  Paul writes in Ephesians 4:31: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” How can we do that?  How can we live in this world and experience all the ups and downs of life and yet overcome the giant of bitterness, and represent Christ to this world?  The answer is to be people of Grace.

David had experienced his fair share of disappointments and hurts.  And yet David was not a bitter man.  He was a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22).  A heart of grace: Read 2 Samuel 9:1-5

A.    David’s Grace to Mephibosheth

v1 “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul?”  A normal question.  The first order of business in a new regime was usually to search out and eliminate any remaining members of the former royal house.   It was seen as necessary for security and stability in the country.  And David had lived as a fugitive from Saul for years.  He, and his family, had lived in fear of their lives.  He was unjustly accused; hated for no reason.  We would excuse David had he felt bitter against any member of Saul’s family.

But David’s search was not motivated by bitterness, but kindness.  “ whom I can show kindness.” v1.  It was motivated by love, not hatred, grace not resentment.

1)                  The Wages of Sin

And this search revealed a son of Jonathan. This man had lived such a sad life.  Full of possibilities not realized.  He had been born into a very privileged situation.  The son of a prince, grandson of a king.  Position and prosperity and opportunity should have been his.  But one day it all fell apart.  We need to jump back to 2 Samuel 4:4 to see the details of this on the day that King Saul and Jonathan were killed in battle:  2 Samuel 4:4:  “Jonathan son of Saul had a son who was lame in both feet.  He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became crippled. His name was Mephibosheth.”

a)                  Loss of  Love

Mephibosheth had an amazing dad.  A wonderful example of what it meant to be a man of God.  Jonathan was a man of humility, integrity, loyalty, of compassion and love.  I’m sure he was a great father.  But that day, Mephibosheth lost all of this.  He grew up without his dad’s example, wisdom, support, and love. 

b)                  Loss of Status

He also had lost his status.  He was no longer a child of the king.  No longer did he have that privilege and honour.  Mephibosheth knew this.  Look how he comes before David in v6: “When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honour.  David said, “Mephibosheth!”  “Your servant,” he replied.”  He’s no longer a son of a king.  He is only a servant. 

c)                  Loss of Peace

And look at the first thing David says to Mephibosheth in v7 “Don’t be afraid.”   Mephibosheth probably had always been afraid.  He’d grown up in fear of the day the king’s soldiers would knock at the door.  All his life, he had lived under this threat.  He had never been at peace.

d)                  Loss of Dignity

But this is not all.  Look at how Ziba, Saul’s servant describes Mephibosheth: v3: “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.” Perhaps Ziba was trying to explain how Mephibosheth was no threat to David.  He was not about to lead a rebellion. 

But I think it’s more likely that this is how Ziba and others saw Mephibosheth.  “Why bother with him? He’s crippled.”  People didn’t see him as a young man.  They saw him as the crippled man.  They didn’t see him.  They saw his disability.  He was helpless.  Dependent on others.  Unable to provide for himself.  His dignity had been robbed from him. 

Look at how he sees himself: “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” v8  He had so little self-esteem.  He was a nobody.  A burden on anyone who would bother with him! 

e)                  Loss of  Satisfaction

And look where Mephibosheth lived.  A place called “Lo Debar” v5.  This name means: “no pasture.”  A place of empty and want, a place of no satisfaction. 

And all of these losses were the result of the sin of Mephibosheth’s grandfather, Saul.  Everything can be traced back to Saul’s rebellion against God.  His family suffered tremendously as a result.  “For the wages of sin is death” Romans 6:23.  The consequences of sin are always extremely serious. 

2)                  A Gift of Grace

But Romans 6:23 goes on to say: “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   David illustrates for us God’s grace in Mephibosheth’s life.  Look at what David did.  Read 2 Samuel 9:7-13


a)                  Peace

“Don’t be afraid. For I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan.” v7  There was kindness and mercy in David’s voice as he spoke his name.  No hint of bitterness or anger.  No condemnation.  These were words of peace!  Can you imagine the relief of Mephibosheth?  Perhaps for the first time in his life he felt safe.  The threat of was finally removed.  He was safe.  He was at peace. 

b)                  Dignity

“I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul.” v7  David restored to Mephibosheth all the lands and farms that would have been his had his father not disobeyed God.  And David provided Mephibosheth with Ziba and his sons and his servants to work that land so that he “may be provided for.” v10.  No longer would Mephibosheth have to live off the charity of others.  David gave Mephibosheth his dignity back by giving him a way to provide for himself and his family. 

c)                  Satisfaction

But that was not all.  David’s grace went further: “And you will always eat at my table.” v7.  Mephibosheth had experienced the barrenness of Lo Debar.  Now he was going to experience the satisfaction of the king’s table. 

d)                  Status

But of course this was about much more than food.  This was not only an invitation to eat the king’s food.  It was an invitation to be part of his family!  In fact v11 stated, “So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.”  Mephibosheth had been an enemy.  An outcast.  A nobody!  Now he was accepted as a son!

e)                  Love

Mephibosheth was invited to fellowship with the king!  What an amazing expression of love.  Chuck Swindoll describes the scene like this: “The meal is fixed and the dinner bell rings and along come the members of the family and their guests. Amnon, clever and witty, comes to the table first. Then there’s Joab, one of the guests—muscular, masculine, attractive, his skin bronzed from the sun, walking tall and erect like an experienced soldier. Next comes Absalom. Talk about handsome! From the crown of his head to the soles of his feet there is not a blemish on him. Then there is Tamar—beautiful, tender daughter of David. And, later on, Solomon. He’s been in the study all day, but he finally slips away from his work and makes his way to the table.  But then they hear this clump, clump, clump.  Here comes Mephibosheth, hobbling along.  He smiles and humbly joins the others as he takes his place at the table as one of the king’s sons. And the tablecloth of grace covers his feet.”

What a complete transformation of this man’s life.  From poverty to feasting, from fear to fellowship, from death to life!

3)                  A Promise Kept

And this was all David’s doing.  David made the first move by searching out Mephibosheth.  David covered the cost himself.  And he didn’t ask for anything in

return.  It was a free gift.  A generous, unconditional, sacrificial, outrageous, gift of grace!

There was nothing that Mephibosheth had done to deserve any of this.  The reasons given for this gift here are two-fold: “for the sake of your father Jonathan.” v7  Mephibosheth benefited, not because of who Mephibosheth was, but because of who Jonathan was to David.  This was David’s gift of love in response to the love he had received from Jonathan his friend. 

In 1 Samuel 20:14-15: Jonathan said “But show me unfailing kindness like that of the Lord as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family.”  And David had agreed to this covenant because of his great love for Jonathan.  David was keeping his promise made to Jonathan many years previously.

The second reason is in v3.   David said that he wanted to show “God’s kindness” to Mephibosheth.  The kindness that he had experienced from God he wanted to show to Mephibosheth.  God had raised David from a humble shepherd to a glorious king.  He had experienced God’s kindness and grace.  He wanted to express this grace to others.  David was a man who gave graciously because he had received graciously. 

B.    God’s Grace to Us

I hope we all see ourselves in Mephibosheth.  This is an amazing picture of what Jesus does in the lives of everyone who trusts in him!  Transformed from a sinner to a son!

a)                  Love

Of course even in our sin, we’ve always been loved by God.  There’s never been a day of our lives when we were not completely and utterly loved by God.  And yet our sin separated us from experiencing his love: “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you.”  Isaiah 59:2 

Paul writes we were, “without hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” Ephesians 2:12-13.  Through Jesus, we’ve been brought into the joy of a loving relationship with him. 

b)                  Status

As sinners “we were God’s enemies”, outside of his kingdom, lost.  But now we are the children of God.  “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” 1 John 3:1 There is no greater status in this world.  Children of the king!  “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,” Galatians 3:26

c)                  Peace

Without Christ, we have no peace,  Hebrews 2:15 says that people “all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” But if we trust in Jesus we do not need to fear, because “he himself is our peace” Ephesians 2:14.   And Paul writes: “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” Romans 5:1  Through Jesus we have peace with God, peace with each other, peace with ourselves. 

d)                  Dignity

Outside of Christ we were “a slave to sin” John 8:34.  We were crippled by our sinful nature – unable to live the life we want so dearly.  Paul says: “what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Romans 7:15

But “Christ has set us free.” Galatians 5:1  Free to live a life of purpose, power, of self-control, of purity! Paul can say: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10  We’ve been saved to serve God.  To live to see God’s kingdom built through us.  We’re not useless.  We’re not a waste of space.  We’re god’s masterpiece.  Kingdom builders! 

e)                  Satisfaction

Without Christ there is no satisfaction.  There is always a deep emptiness of life that this world and its pleasures cannot satisfy.  Ecclesiastes 1:2 stated: “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”  

But 1 Peter 1:18 says we’ve been “redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you.”  Jesus declared , “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35  We who were consigned to an empty life, now have Jesus in our lives, the only one who can truly bring the satisfaction we crave.

God has given us his peace, dignity, satisfaction, status and his love.  And all of this is in the same way as for Mephibosheth as gift of grace.  We were not accepted in God because of who we were or what we’ve done, or even dependent on what we will be or will do.  “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no-one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9  Mark Hall writes in his song, “Who Am I?”:

“Who Am I, that the eyes that see my sin

Would look on me with love and watch me rise again…

Not because of who I am

But because of what You've done

Not because of what I've done

But because of who You are”

C.    God’s Grace Expressed through Us

1)                  Freely Giving

And now we are called to express this grace to others.  When Paul writes in Ephesians 4 to: “Get rid of all bitterness...”  He goes on to give the reason… “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-32

We’re called to love because we’ve been loved.  Jesus said: “Freely you have received, freely give.” Matthew 10:8  We’re called to give because we’ve received.  Called to be people of grace, people who will reach out and do good to other, even when they don’t deserve it.  Serve people in a no-strings attached way.  As a generous, unconditional, sacrificial, outrageous, gift of grace!  Just simply because God has reached out to us and done so much for us, out of his amazing grace.  “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” Ephesians 5:1-2

2)                  Focussing on God

If we’re going to overcome the giant of bitterness we need to choose what we will focus on.  If we focus on the pains and hurts that we’ve endured, we’ll always be defeated.  David could easily have done this.  Focussed on Mephibosheth as the grandfather of the man who had made so many years of his life a nightmare.  Rather David choose to view Mephibosheth as the son of Jonathan, the man who had loved him in such a gracious way. 

We need to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 3:18   We need to choose not to focus on people around us – what they’ve done or not done, whether they deserve our love or not.  Rather our focus needs to be Jesus.  We need to fix our eyes on him.  Focus on his grace in our lives.  When Paul was encouraging the church in Corinth to give he said this: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9.  It is this that will enable us to overcome bitterness in our lives and motivate us and energise us to be people of grace.


What will be the impact of living as people of grace?  Jack had been president of a large corporation.  But when he got cancer, he was dumped.  He went through his insurance, and his life savings, and had practically nothing left.  One day, a church leader called Ralph visited him with one of his deacons. "Jack, you speak so openly about the brief life you have left.” Ralph said, “I wonder if you've prepared for your life after death?"

Jack stood up, livid with rage. "You—Christians. All you ever think about is what's going to happen to me after I die. If your God is so great, why doesn't he do something about the real problems of life?"  He told them he was leaving his wife penniless and his daughter without money for college. Then he ordered them out.

Later the deacon convinced his pastor to visit Ralph again.  “Jack, I know I offended you,” the deacon said. “I humbly apologize. But I've been working since then. Your first problem is where your family will live after you die. An estate agent in our church has agreed to sell your house and give your wife his commission.  And if you'll permit us, some other men and I will make the house payments until it's sold. Then, I've contacted the owner of an apartment down the street. He's offered your wife a three-bedroom apartment and a monthly salary in return for her collecting rents and supervising repairs. The income from your house should pay for your daughter's college. I just wanted you to know your family will be cared for."

Jack died shortly after, without accepting Christ. But he experienced God's love even while rejecting him. And his widow, touched by the caring Christians, responded to the gospel message.

I want to be that kind of Christian.  Not someone who gets bitter about life.  But someone who brings God’s grace to others.  I hope you do to.  Let us today make a commitment to God that we will be people of grace.  People who will show God’s kindness because we’re continually amazed by God’s kindness to us!

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