We used to sing a praise song for many years, “give thanks with a grateful heart.” I thought it was a scripture but found out it wasn’t. But it does have a lot of scriptural truth in it. It is not just enough to give thanks. We can become mechanical in our words of prayer, such as over a meal, or also in our praise life. We can end up just saying phrases we have uttered many times before without attaching any meaning to it. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that love should back every action we have from giving, offering our body as a sacrifice, or giving utterances in the Spirit in church services.
It should be the same with offering praises to God. We should do it each time with an attitude of gratefulness. In other words, what is more important than the words we offer is the attitude behind the words. The two together form a powerful bond.
A Bitter Heart
vs. 14 “But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth.”
vs. 15 “This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.”
vs. 16 “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.”
James tells us that bitterness in our hearts comes from a root of arrogance. Pride blinds us to the truth and causes us to lie to ourselves and to the truth of God’s Word. We end up bragging and attributing our anger to God, thus justifying our bitterness. Yet this type of thinking and reasoning comes from the world’s system, our own flesh, and ultimately demons.
Although this type of bitterness is in the soul, the analogy is taken from nature. The Greek word for bitterness, pikria, means “bitter in taste to the mouth.” It is used of bitter herbs and gall. Peter used this analogy with Simon the sorcerer when he said, “For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.“ (Acts 8:23)
The natural reaction of the body is to spit out what is bitter. The only time a person will keep something bitter in their mouth is when challenged and in competition with others. This is because pride is involved. The same is true of bitterness in the soul. Only a prideful person in competition with someone else will keep bitterness in their heart.
I am acquainted with a young man who went to college and lived in a dorm for the first time. His floor had a hot pepper eating contest and he decided he wanted to win, although he had never eaten a hot pepper in his life. He ignored the pain and ate hot peppers until he became numb. Although he won the contest, he paid the price for days. He told me he burned from his mouth to his rear end. It brought pain to swallow, walk, laugh or go to the bathroom. He felt as if someone was holding a blow torch to every part of his body. Under normal circumstances, no one would do that to their body. But when challenged, people will do harmful things to themselves to prove something. So, it is with bitterness.
People and circumstances of life often challenge us to accept bitterness. Under normal circumstances, we would never accept bitterness, but the challenge attacks our pride.
Remember, bitterness comes from a root of arrogance and a spirit of competition. Life is often not fair because we live in the devil’s world and he does not fight fair. So what else is new? God has never told us to fight the circumstances of life. We are to turn those battles and their cares over to the Lord (I Peter 5:7). When we accept the injustices of life and become bitter about them, we lower ourselves to the level of the circumstances themselves. When we let the Lord fight our battles, we will see them conquered from a higher level.
Causes of Bitterness
Bitterness is a choice. Circumstances present the opportunity, but we do not have to receive the bitterness they bring. Hanna was a woman who loved the Lord, but she was barren. This seemed unfair and she became bitter over it (I Samuel 1:10). Hanna lowered herself to the level of her circumstance and bitterness was the result.
Often it is not the lack of children, but the presence of them and their attitudes that causes bitterness. Proverbs 17:25 (NKJV) says “A foolish son is a grief to his father and bitterness to her who bore him.” If we do not keep a watch over our own attitudes, the challenge of raising a child can bring on bitterness.
Husbands, our wives are not the same as we are. They are built by God to look and react differently to life and its circumstances. Because they are more emotional and defy our logic, we often accept it as a threat. Colossians 3:19 warns us, “Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.” While trusting God for our own financial situation, we often see the financially carefree lives of others, especially sinners. If we do not keep our eyes on the Lord, bitterness can result in our soul. The prosperity of the wicked led Israel into bitterness against God. This led to their destruction and captivity. Instead of humbling themselves, the captivity led many to become even more bitter against God (Lamentations 1:4, Amos 8:10).
Results of Bitterness
The results of bitterness are self-induced. Just as we only have ourselves to blame for becoming bitter, we only have ourselves to blame for the results. Once we enter the road of bitterness, we can never expect it to lead to anything good, only evil. The destination of bitterness is hatred, cruelty, revenge, self-pity, hypocrisy, jealousy, competition, and confusion. Finally, a life of sin will not only be lived but justified. James says it so clearly again, “But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth” (James 3:14). Bitterness is a great tool of Satan for the destruction of the believer’s spiritual life and testimony.
It is amazing that everyone else can see the problem except the one who is bitter. Bitterness has blinded them to the truth. The only joy a bitter person has is to enlist others in their bitterness. Not only does a bitter person lose their friends, they can make no more (Proverbs 14:10). Bitterness leaves you standing alone.
Recovery from Bitterness
Success over bitterness comes from God. Help comes from the blood of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God. Therefore, three things must be recognized by the person desiring deliverance and freedom from bitterness:
1. Bitterness must be recognized as a sin.
Bitterness is a supernatural load which can only be supernaturally lifted. You must recognize bitterness as a sin and thus confess it to the Lord (I John 1:9).
vs 17 “Indeed, it was for my own peace that I had great bitterness: but You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back."
Once you have confessed the sin, realize that God has forgiven your bitterness. You must consign your sin to the blood of Jesus and forgive the people or circumstances which opened the door.
2. We must daily depend on the Holy Spirit.
Just as entering bitterness was a decision, freedom in the future depends on daily choices. Freedom and bondage, blessing and cursing, and life and death are decisions we face throughout the day. Nothing in life is a one-time choice. A successful life in the Lord involves the right decision at each moment. The Holy Spirit has been given to us to guide us in each decision. He is pleased when we depend on Him, resist sin, and forgive others. But He is grieved when we ignore Him.
vs. 30 “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. “
vs. 31 “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:”
vs. 32 “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
3. We must follow the Word
Over the long run, our strength to remain free from bitterness must come from the promises of God’s Word (Psalm 119:11). The Holy Spirit draws from our knowledge of the Word to help us make those daily decisions. Our spiritual vision becomes sharpened by each promise that He will help us to detect occasions of Satan to fall into bitterness again. One of the devil’s greatest devices is to stir up an old memory and tempt us into the same bitterness we were delivered from.
vs. 15 “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.”
Only the truth of God which makes us free can keep us free. By applying God’s Word, we can by liberated from bitterness and have the freedom to serve God, serve others, and enjoy life!