What does the Bible say about bitterness?
Bitterness creeps into your life almost without you knowing it. Unresolved anger or resentment leads to bitterness. Your bitterness becomes your lens of how you view life. So, how can you recognize bitterness and break free from it? Here is what the Bible says about bitterness and how to get rid of it.
Christian quotes about bitterness
“As we pour out our bitterness, God pours in his peace.” F.B. Meyer
“Bitterness arises in our hearts when we do not trust in the sovereign rule of God in our lives.” Jerry Bridges
“Forgiveness breaks the bitter chains of pride, self-pity and vengeance that lead to despair, alienation, broken relationships and loss of joy. ” John MacArthur
“Bitterness imprisons life; love releases it.” Harry Emerson Fosdick
Why is bitterness a sin?
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” (Ephesians 4:31 ESV)
God’s Word warns us that bitterness is a sin. When you’re bitter, you make a statement about God’s inability to care for you. Bitterness not only hurts you, it affects the people around you. When you’re bitter, you
- Blame others for things that happen to you
- Focus on negative things
- Can’t see the good in people or situations
- Become cynical
Bitterness is anger gone bad. Your unresolved bitterness is like a poison inside your heart and mind. This sin prevents you from worshipping God and loving others.
1. Ephesians 4:31 (NIV) “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”
2. Hebrews 12:15 (NASB) “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”
3. Acts 8:20-23 “Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
4. Romans 3:14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
5. James 3:14 “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.”
What causes bitterness according to the Bible?
Bitterness is often associated with suffering. Perhaps you struggle with a long-term illness or lost a spouse or child in a terrible accident. These situations are heartbreaking, and you may feel angry and disappointed. These are normal feelings. But if you allow your anger to fester, it will spiral down into bitterness toward God or the people around you. Bitterness gives you a hard heart. It blinds you to God’s grace. You may begin to believe wrong things about God, scripture, and others, such as
- God isn’t loving
- He doesn’t hear my prayers.
- He won’t punish the wrongdoers who hurt the person I love
- He doesn’t care about me, my life, or my situation
- No one understands me or what I’m going through
- They would feel like me if they went through what I’ve been through
In his sermon, John Piper said, “Your suffering is not meaningless, but designed for your good and your holiness.”
We read in Hebrews 12: 11, 16
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled….
The difficulties you’re experiencing don’t mean God is punishing you, but that he loves you. Jesus took your punishment when he died on the cross for your sins. Suffering makes you stronger. It’s for your good and helps you grow in holiness and trust in God. If bitterness clouds your view of God, you miss God’s grace in your suffering. God knows how you feel. You’re not alone. I encourage you to not just sit in the pain. Pray for help with your bitterness, unforgiveness, or even jealousy if you have to. Seek the Lord and rest in Him.
6. Ephesians 4:22 “to put off your former way of life, your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.”
7. Colossians 3:8 “But now you must put aside all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”
8. Ephesians 4:32 (ESV) “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – (Scriptures on forgiving others)
9. Ephesians 4:26-27 (KJV) “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: 27 Neither give place to the devil.”
10. Proverbs 14:30 “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.”
11. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” – (Popular love verses from the Bible)
12. Hebrews 12:15 (NKJV) “looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.”
Consequences of bitterness in the Bible
Even secular counselors acknowledge the negative consequences of bitterness in a person’s life. They say that bitterness has side effects similar to trauma. Consequences of bitterness include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Getting sick a lot
- Lack of libido
- Low self-confidence
- Loss of healthy relationships
Unresolved bitterness will cause you to struggle with sins you’ve never struggled with before, such as
13. Romans 3:14 (ESV) “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
14. Colossians 3:8 (NLT) “But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.”
15. Psalm 32:3-5 “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
16. 1 John 4:20-21 “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”
How do you get rid of bitterness in the Bible?
So, what’s the cure for bitterness? When you’re bitter, you think about others’ sins against you. You aren’t thinking about your sin against other people. The only cure for breaking free from bitterness is forgiveness. First, ask God to forgive you for your sin, and second, forgive others for their sin against you.
And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log from your own eye; then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5 (NLT)
It’s important to admit your own responsibility. Be willing to own your sin and ask forgiveness. Even in situations where others have hurt you though you may not have sinned, if you harbor anger and resentment, you can ask God to forgive you. Ask Him to help you forgive the one who sinned against you. It doesn’t mean God condones their actions, but forgiving them frees you so you can let go of bitterness and anger. You can rest assured that God knows the evil done to you.
17. John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
18. Romans 12:19 “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
19. Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
20. Psalms 119:133 “Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.”
21. Hebrews 4:16 “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
22. 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
23. Colossians 3:14 “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
24. Ephesians 5:2 “and walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant sacrificial offering to God.”
25. Psalm 37:8 “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.”
26. Ephesians 4:2 “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
27. James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” – (What does the Bible say about seeking wisdom?)
28. Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
What does Proverbs say about bitterness?
The writers of proverbs have a lot to say about anger and bitterness. Here are a few verses.
29. Proverbs 10:12 “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”
30. Proverbs 14:10 “The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.”
31. Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
32. Proverbs 15:18 “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.”
33. Proverbs 17:25″ (NLT) “Foolish children bring grief to their father and bitterness to the one who gave them birth.”
34. Proverbs 19:111 (NASB) “A person’s discretion makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook an offense.”
35. Proverbs 20:22″Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.”
Choose forgiveness over bitterness
When you’re bitter, you choose to hold on to unforgiveness. A deep hurt inflicts pain. It’s tempting not to want to forgive the one who hurt you. But scripture teaches us that we can forgive others because God has forgiven us so much.
It’s not easy to forgive someone who’s hurt you, but if you ask him, God can give you the strength to do it.
Corrie Ten Boom tells a great story about forgiving those who hurt you. Corrie was thrown into prison and later into a concentration camp because she helped hide Jews during Hilter’s occupation of Holland.
While Corrie was in the Ravensbruck concentration camp, she suffered beatings and other inhumane treatment at the hands of the guards. After the war, she traveled worldwide, telling of God’s grace and help for her during their imprisonment.
She told the story about how a man approached her one evening after she’d shared He told her that he’d been a guard at Ravenbruck. He explained how he’d become a Christian and experienced God’s forgiveness for his terrible actions.
Then he extended his hand and asked her to please forgive him.
In her book, The Hiding Place (1972), Corrie explains what happened.
And I stood there–whose sins had every day to be forgiven–and could not. Betsie had died in that place–could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it–I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion–I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
“Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”
Only God can give you the strength to forgive others. God’s forgiveness for you is the motivation and his grace empowers you to forgive others. When you extend the same forgiveness that God’s given you, your bitterness will fade away. It takes time and prayers to extend forgiveness, but keep your eyes on God and he’ll help you forgive.
36. James 4:7 “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
37. Colossians 3:13 “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
38. Proverbs 17:9 “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.”
39. Romans 12:2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
40. Philippians 3:13 “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.”
41. 2 Samuel 13:22 (KJV) “And Absalom spake unto his brother Amnon neither good nor bad: for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had forced his sister Tamar.”
42. Ephesians 4:31 (ESV) “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”
43. Proverbs 10:12 “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”
Examples of bitterness in the Bible
The people in the Bible struggle with the same sins we do. There are many examples of people who struggled with bitterness.
Cain and Abel
Harboring anger leads to bitterness. Cain is one of the Bible’s first people to show this type of anger. We read that Cain is so bitter towards his brother Abel that he kills him. It’s a classic warning about the dangers of anger and bitterness.
In the book of Ruth, we read about Naomi, a woman whose name means pleasant. She was the wife of Elimelech with two grown sons. Because of a famine in Bethlehem, Naomi and her family moved to Moab. While in Moab, her two adult sons married Ruth and Orpah. Shortly afterward, disaster struck. Her husband died, and two son’s suddenly died. Naomi and her two daughters-in-law were left alone. She returned to Bethlehem’s area to be with her extended family. She gave the two widows the option to stay in Moab. Ruth refused to leave her, but Orpah accepted the offer. When Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem, the entire town met them.
In Ruth 1:19-21 we read Naomi’s reaction, So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi;1 call me Mara, (which means bitter), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?
Naomi blamed God for her hardship. She was so upset she wanted to change her name from “pleasant” to “bitter.” We never understand why Naomi suffered or if she repented of her bitterness. Scripture says that Naomi’s daughter-in-law Ruth marries Boaz.
In Ruth 4: 17 we read, Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
44. Ruth 1:19-21 “So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?” 20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
45. Genesis 4:3-7 “In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. 6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
46. Job 23:1-4 “Then Job replied: 2 “Even today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. 3 If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! 4 I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments.”
47. Job 10:1 (NIV) “I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.”
48. 2 Samuel 2:26 “Abner called out to Joab, “Must the sword devour forever? Don’t you realize that this will end in bitterness? How long before you order your men to stop pursuing their fellow Israelites?”
49. Job 9:18 “He will not suffer me to take my breath, but filleth me with bitterness.”
50. Ezekiel 27:31 “They will shave themselves completely bald because of you, Gird themselves with sackcloth, And weep for you With bitterness of heart and bitter wailing.”
We’re all susceptible to bitterness. Whether someone grievously sins against you or you feel angry that you got overlooked for a promotion at work, bitterness can creep into without you realizing it. It’s like a poison that alters your view of your life, God, and others. Bitterness leads to physical and relational problems. God wants you free from bitterness. Remembering His forgiveness will motivate you to forgive others. If you ask Him, God gives you the strength to forgive and break the power of bitterness in your life.