One reason we gossip and slander others is because of bitterness. We are offended, either justly or unjustly, and rather than allowing God to deal with the offense, we take upon ourselves the crusade to recover the “territory” which has been taken from us, and just like many of the medieval crusaders, we swing our wordy swords in all directions, not discerning who the true enemy may be or even first considering whether our quest is a truly righteous one.
My friend sent me a lovely belated birthday gift, a book she saw on my wish list. It’s My Life for Yours by Doug Wilson, and I’m so grateful she gave me this 158-page paperback book so I could spend that $15 (well, a little more than that) when my husband took me to Barnes and Noble last night. The book uses the metaphor of our homes to give some practical applications for how we conduct ourselves as Christians in that environment. I find Pastor Wilson’s creative exhortations about our relationships within the family to be very helpful. He opens each chapter with a Bible passage as he enters each room of the biblical household and addresses the significance of it in a symbolic and literal way. For example, opening with the verses in Philippians 2:1-4 which remind us to esteem one another better than ourselves, he explores the living room. He addresses the need to be the same person at home as we are at church. He discusses what it means to live in your home, offering your life to your loved ones in the “living” room, the ways husbands and wives serve within that place, arranging the place where we live to make it conducive to meeting with one another rather than with the television, the importance of meeting together as a family on a regular basis rather than scattering to the various corners of the dwelling (but as a joyful time, not a mandatory and loveless ritual), and the need for humility as we live together there.
Other chapters talk about “unwanted guests.” One of these intruders which disrupts the peace of our lives is bitterness. I wish I could quote the whole chapter, but I will try not to push the boundaries of proper quoting and pick a couple of significant-to-our-subject passages for you:
When we sin by falling into bitterness, we are sinning against others. The fact that these “others” may have started it doesn’t keep us from sinning against them through bitterness. And when others sin against us, we often forget that God is behind it. As the Puritan Thomas Watson noted, we know all about the one who brought this trial to us and forget the one who sent it. When we stumble in this way, we are disobeying the Word of God to us. And how can we complain when others disobey the Word when we do the same thing?
He goes on to give two Bible passages which remind us of the prohibition against any bitterness and its various manifestations:
And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice. (Ephesians 4:30-31)
and the serious consequences of not heeding this admonition:
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: 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. (Hebrews 12:14-15)
Pastor Wilson adds:
Bitterness is a root, and roots seek out something to feed on. As they feed, they grow, and when this plant comes to the surface, many are defiled. If I do something wrong, whenever I think about it, what comes to mind is my wrong. But what if someone does something wrong to me and I become bitter? Whenever I think about it, what comes to mind is what was done to me and not my own bitterness. If I tell a lie, then of course I have to correct it. But if someone lies about me, and spreads it all over town, the strong temptation is to focus on their lie and not on my own resentment. But I can confess the sins of other people all day long, and my joy in the Lord is not restored.
He lists some signs to tell when you are bitter, including:
- Remembering all the details
- Resorting to anonymous critiques or attacks
- Conducting a conversation in the mind
- Inverting the moral order of things, calling good evil and evil good, often justifying something which earlier in life you would not have approved
He concludes with the words of James 3:11-14:
Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain yield salt water and fresh. Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.