“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...."
— Hebrews 12:15
Have you ever been bitter toward someone who wronged you or hurt your loved ones? Maybe you know how it feels to harbor resentment or to keep score. Your sense of justice cries out for the offender to be punished. You play the mental video of their transgression over and over again. It seems satisfying in the moment to hold the grudge. But over time it changes your heart and mind. It destroys your peace and steals your joy. The root of bitterness has sprung up in your heart, and it's made you miserable.
Christians walk in disobedience to the Lord when they nurse a grudge and have an unforgiving spirit. The instruction about this is clear: “If one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive“ (Colossians 3:13). Consider with
me today some unpleasant results (the bitter fruit, if you will) of living with an unforgiving spirit.
An unforgiving spirit traps you in the past. The pain of the offense lives on in your mind. The wound may have been inflicted long ago, but the pain remains fresh, like a sensitive open sore.
The man or woman who refuses to forgive lives with self-inflicted misery.
When we hold onto the bitter root of unforgiveness, the misery grows worse as time goes by. It festers and spreads like an infection. Harboring unforgiveness in our hearts distorts our outlook on life and makes us intolerant of others. It makes us want to take matters into our own hands and seek revenge, even though the Lord has forbidden it. "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"
As they say on the television commercials, “But wait, there's more.” Unforgiveness gives Satan an open door, a foothold, an opportunity to get into our minds and hearts. It is unwise to give an already formidable adversary easy access to our inner selves. Satan is well on his way to his goal of destroying us and ruining our lives when we refuse to forgive. Paul warned the Corinthians to forgive the penitent brother, "So that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs" (2 Corinthians 2:11). We are caught in his trap when we refuse to forgive.
When I refuse to forgive, I hinder my own relationship with God. I am a sinner, dependent on God's grace and forgiveness. When I withhold forgiveness from you, I cannot depend on that divine forgiveness from him. "But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:15).
When we won’t forgive others, we are like the servant described in Jesus' story in Matthew 18:23-35. He owed an impossible debt. So do we. He was freely forgiven because the Master had pity on him. So are we, through Christ. Our sin debt was nailed to his cross (Colossians 2:14). He had a fellow servant who was indebted to him. People around us have wronged us, too. He refused to forgive the debt the fellow servant owed, and wound up back before the Master. The Master was angry, and charged the impossible debt back to the servant because the servant who was shown mercy showed no mercy. Stop the comparison! We do not want to be like him there!
We cannot afford to be like him and bear the punishment of our own debt. Jesus concluded the story with this stern warning: "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart" (Matthew 18:35).
I'm not suggesting that you haven't been wronged. I'm not minimizing your pain or loss. But it simply costs too much to hold onto the grudge and refuse to forgive from your heart. I don't want any of these tragic consequences, and I trust you don't either. Don’t harbor the bitter root. You don’t want the bitter fruit. Let's forgive.
Mike McElroy is a regular faith columnist for The Tribune.