The truth about bitterness: A look at bitterness through scripture glasses; bitterness comes from the lie/sin, not the truth/correction. Is bitterness always the result of unforgiveness? The ploy of the false prophets…
Put on your scripture glasses.
Was the Apostle John committing the ‘sin of bitterness’ when he exposed the evil deeds of Diotrophes? Was he being too judgmental? “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. 10Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. 11Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God” (3 John 1:9-11). Diotrophes wanted to be first, just like Simon the sorcerer wanted power. Neither of them wanted to do God’s will or follow Christ, and the apostle Peter said that Simon was in the ‘gall of bitterness’. It appears that Diotrophes was in the ‘gall of bitterness’ as well.
What about the Apostle Paul? Was Paul committing the ‘sin of bitterness’ when he exposed the evil works of Alexander? “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works: 15Of whom be thou ware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words” (2 Timothy 4:13). Who was bitter? Paul or Alexander?
Was the Apostle Paul committing the ‘sin of bitterness’ when he confronted Peter? “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed” (Galatians 2:11). Who was bitter?
What about when Paul called the believers in Galatians ‘foolish’? Was that bitterness and sin? “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” (Galatians 3:1). Who was bitter? Paul or the Galatians? Who didn’t obey the Truth?
And Jesus? Was he committing the ‘sin of bitterness’ when he told the believing Jews, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (Romans 8:44)? Who was bitter? Jesus (teller of the Truth) or the believing Jews (tellers of lies/lusts)?
In all these cases, lies and evil (darkness, bitterness) were being confronted with truth and righteousness (light, purity). Sadly, in today’s evangelical culture, we hear ‘do not judge’, ‘put away the critical spirit’, and ‘put away all bitterness’ all too often when confronting evil in the church (Romans 14:14). However, did Jesus tell us not to judge or discern anything? It is amazing in scripture that Jesus never warned against righteous judgment (John 7:24; 1 Cor. 5:12; among other scriptures)! He warned of hypocritical judgment! “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye”. Then shalt thou see clearly!
What is bitterness?
Bitterness is a term that is thrown around an aweful lot these days. I notice many teachers say if we confront them we are unloving, unforgiving and experiencing the ‘sin of bitterness’ or a ‘critical spirit’. Many Christians have learned from pastors that bitterness is always the result of unforgiveness. Is there scriptural proof for this widespread idea promoted in many modern books today, and is bitterness always the result of unforgiveness? What exactly is the true, Scriptural definition of bitterness?
Many teachers say that bitterness always is the result of unforgiveness. This simply cannot be so, for God is unforgiving to the unrepentant! If unforgiveness always results in bitterness, then God is very bitter. Many today teach unilateral forgiveness, but can this be proven in scriptures?
To make the claim true that unforgiveness always turns to bitterness, God must be bitter. And, since God does not sin, this cannot be so (unless, of course, there is such a thing as ‘righteous bitterness’). The Prophet Isaiah said he was experienceing ‘bitterness of soul’ in Isaiah 38:15. Job said he had bitterness in Job 7:11, “My soul is weary of my life; I will leave my complaint upon myself; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul”. We do know that Job was righteous and the things that befell him were not the result of sin or wrongdoing. Job 1:1 says, “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil”. Perhaps not all bitterness is the result of sin, but the result of pain, hardship or being the victim of the devil, catastrophe or sin. This I would call righteous bitterness. God says do not be angry, yet at times He does experience righteous anger. God does have wrath! And, it is not sinful anger but anger toward sin. So, in this article I will be referring to the ‘unrighteous bitterness’ or ‘sinful bitterness’, as opposed to any other sort of bitterness. That is, the ‘sin of bitterness’ which is a term used so often today.
Since God cannot sin, unrighteous bitterness and unforgiveness are certainly not always linked. God does withhold forgiveness from some. To say otherwise would be to say He offers universal salvation to all regardless of repentance from sin, and that is not true. God does not offer unconditional forgiveness to the unrepentant, wicked and hypocrites. His forgiveness is conditional upon repentance. Otherwise, that would mean the path is broad and everyone is going to heaven. Jesus said the opposite, that narrow is the way that leads to life, and there will be few who find it (see Matthew 7). God is not sinfully bitter, but just and holy. So, we can conclude that ‘unrighteous or sinful bitterness’ and unforgiveness are not always linked or a result of each other, and certainly not the same concept at all. If this were so, the faithful person who obeyed Matthew 18:15-18 in its entirety would be ‘unrighteously bitter’ in the end. God would never tell us to do something that would make us sin in the end! Obeying the Truth does not lead to sin.
The term was apparently thrown around a lot in Isaiah’s day too. Isaiah also sensed that there was much confusion among the people. Isaiah expressed his disdain about the people who twisted what was bitter into something sweet, and vice versa: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20). So, there is nothing new under the sun! It is still a dilemma today – bitterness is often misunderstood. The false teachers and false brethren (2 Cor. 11:26) still twist concepts around today because of the hypocrisy and plank in the eye which has not been removed yet (Matthew 7:5).
In fact, many of the false teachers today even teach that anyone who would confront their heresy must be experiencing bitterness and unforgiveness or a serious mental problem! Because of the plank, they cannot see the situation in the light of the Truth of God’s word. This is their ploy – and they teach their followers that anyone who would confront or correct [their error] has a heart problem and is in the ‘gall of bitterness’. After Jesus said to remove the plank, He gave us this, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matthew 7:6). This is a 180 degree twist that we see happening today. Was the Apostle Paul bitter and unforgiving when he exposed the false teachers? What about the Apostle Peter? Was Peter bitter toward Simon the sorcerer when he exposed his sin, or was it the erring individual, Simon, who was in the gall of bitterness? Beware the misuse of the term ‘bitterness’.
The fact is, unrighteous bitterness in scripture is linked with the offenders, not the offended; the blind, not those who are trying to show the way; the liars and false prophets, not those led by the Spirit of Truth!
“Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: 15Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: 16(For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) 17Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. 18And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, 19Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. 20But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. 21Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. 22Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. 23For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. 24Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.”
What is the definition of bitterness? Strong’s Greek Translation (4088) is πικρία or ‘pikria'(pik-ree’-ah), meaning harshness, or an embittered (resentful) spirit.
The Apostle Peter told Simon that he was in the ‘gall of bitterness’. What is gall? Strong’s Greek Translation (5521) is cholēn χολὴν, meaning “gall” or bile, i.e. (by analogy) poison or an anodyne (wormwood, poppy, etc.).
What was Simon bitter towards? Simon was bitter towards the good and pure. Therefore, he was poisoned. Simon was not bitter towards the evil. In Romans 12:9, Paul says, “Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good”. People who are bitter towards evil are not showing they are poisoned, but pure.
Is being resentful toward evil a sin? Proverbs 8:13 and Amos 5:15 basically say that if we love the Lord, we are to “hate” evil.
If we are to be bitter toward anything, to have a resentful spirit toward anything, it is to be toward evil and sin! In that case, it would be called ‘righteous bitterness’, for God also hates what is evil. We are not to hate sinful people – but hate the evil and sin itself.
It would have been easy for Simon to call Peter sinfully bitter. In scripture, it appears that it is the person in sin who is in ‘unrighteous bitterness’ (Simon the Sorcerer), not the person exposing the sin or hating the evil or what God hates (the Apostle Peter).
Let’s take a look at some other scriptures.
“Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: 15Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: 16(For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) 17Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. 18And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, 19Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. 20But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. 21Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. 22Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. 23For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. 24Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.” (Acts 8:14-24)
Simon wanted power and wanted to buy the Holy Spirit to attain that power. He was a magician, not a Christian. He was a sorcerer, and he didn’t repent of this wickedness (sorcery is sin), but was in awe of the power the apostles had and wanted to purchase it with money. True repentance was not on his mind. In this case, bitterness and iniquity (idolatry, love of money and power) are linked.
“And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. 14Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: 15Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; 16Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. 17For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” (Hebrews 12:13-17)
In this case, bitterness is linked with a lack of holiness, fornication and profane people like Esau. Fornication is disobedience and idolatry. Again, unrighteous bitterness here is linked with iniquity and idolatry.
“Neither give place to the devil. 28Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. 29Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. 30And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. 31Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: 32And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:27-32)
Bitterness, here, is linked with iniquity again! Giving place to the devil, stealing, corrupt words (lies, not truth) and grieving the Holy Spirit of God. We know we grieve the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, by practicing sin and lying, not by telling the truth or correcting as the Apostle Peter did to Simon.
“What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; 10As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. 13Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: 14Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: 15Their feet are swift to shed blood: 16Destruction and misery are in their ways: 17And the way of peace have they not known: 18There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:9-18)
Here, unrighteous bitterness is linked with deceit (lies; not truth), unrighteousness, a lack of understanding, being unprofitable, doing bad not good, deceitful words, poisonous words (lies), cursing, shedding blood and murder. Again, bitterness here is not associated with telling the Truth or confronting iniquity in order to correct!
“But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. 10Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. 11Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? 12Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. 13Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. 14But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. 15This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. 16For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” (James 3:8-16)
Here, unrighteous bitterness is linked with envying and strife. The Apostle Peter was not causing strife when he corrected Simon, nor were the Apostle Paul or Jesus causing strife when they confronted the Pharisees and the false teachers! The strife comes from the originator of the error and unsound doctrine (Romans 16:17), that is, the one who puts out the ‘deadly poison’ from the mouth (the lies, not truth). Strife does not come from the truth, but from the lie. Sin cannot come from the truth.
“And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:75)
Here bitterness is linked with the fact that Peter denied Christ. Again, linked with disobedience and idolatry, not truth or faithfulness. But, perhaps this bitterness that Peter was experiencing was indeed a righteous bitterness (Godly sorrow).
“My son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow thine ear to my understanding: 2That thou mayest regard discretion, and that thy lips may keep knowledge. 3For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil: 4But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two edged sword. 5Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell.” (Proverbs 5:1-5)
Here, bitterness is linked with a lack of knowledge and discretion, smooth lies, and the wrong path! Again, nothing about forgiveness or relationships is mentioned.
“How many are mine iniquities and sins? make me to know my transgression and my sin. 24Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and holdest me for thine enemy? 25Wilt thou break a leaf driven to and fro? and wilt thou pursue the dry stubble? 26For thou writest bitter things against me, and makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth. 27Thou puttest my feet also in the stocks, and lookest narrowly unto all my paths; thou settest a print upon the heels of my feet. 28And he, as a rotten thing, consumeth, as a garment that is moth eaten.” (Job 13:26)
Here, bitterness is linked with iniquities.
Let’s take a look at Jeremiah 23:13-17
“And I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria; they prophesied in Baal, and caused my people Israel to err.
I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness: they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah.
Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts concerning the prophets; Behold, I will feed them with wormwood, and make them drink the water of gall: for from the prophets of Jerusalem is profaneness gone forth into all the land.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD.
They say still unto them that despise me, The LORD hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you.”
Here, gall and bitterness is linked with the profanity and lies of the false prophets! Not, of the true prophets.
We are either drinking the Truth of God’s Words or the Water of Gall and bitterness. Bitterness, in scripture, is linked with idolatry and iniquity (not holiness, truth or opposing sin). There are many teachers today who teach lies. The people drink it up like poison not realizing it is hurting not helping. This is nothing new. It’s just the same ol’ thing.
In Jeremiah’s day, this is what was happening. The false prophets walked in lies. This is the same thing that is happening today, with many well known pastors, authors, celebrities, talk show hosts, etc., walking in lies and teaching them. They claim to teach good things but it is poison disguised in a pretty package, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and so they cause people to err. They are in the gall of bitterness, like Simon the Sorcerer.
Those who correct them will be castigated as being unforgiving, unloving or bitter! Simply, not the case.
They strengthen the hands of evildoers and preach tolerance toward all evil and sin. If we listen to those who ‘walk in the truth’, and drink in God’s Words, the Bible, we are drinking pure water instead of the bitter poison of gall that is so prevalent and popular, which is often taught for money/personal gain and fame – the motive of which is rooted in the gall of bitterness as the Apostle Peter explained about Simon.
Unrighteous bitterness is linked with lies, idolatry, and sin – see Acts 8:23. Bitterness is not linked with unforgiveness always. Try to confront a lying or erring prophet or teacher who is in the gall of bitterness due to false teaching and a hunger for fame and power, and they will turn the tables (twist the scriptures; 2 Peter 3:16) and accuse you of being in the ‘gall of bitterness’.
When in fact, unrighteous bitterness in scripture is linked with the sin, iniquity, and idolatry itself – NOT holiness, righteousness or sound doctrinal teaching or correction of Jesus Christ and the Apostles. This is the trick of the modern day false teachers in order to deflect the attention off of themselves. Anyone who attempts to correct them will be castigated as unloving and bitter. When in fact, they twist the scriptures 180 degrees for their own gain, to justify their own lies.
Being unwilling to forgive a repentant person is called the ‘sin of unforgiveness’, not the ‘sin of bitterness’. It appears that bitterness and unforgiveness are not linked in scripture – bitterness has to do with sin, iniquity and idolatry. We don’t see in scripture the apostles saying that someone refused to forgive the unrepentant so he entered the ‘gall of bitterness’. It’s just not there! An unwillingness to forgive the repentant is a sin. An unwillingness to extend mercy is a sin. Is all unforgiveness sin? No! For, God withholds forgiveness from the unrepentant. If all unforgivness is sinful, then we are calling God a sinner and taking away his justice and holiness. God even told us how to deal with the sin of others and offenses. Automatic and immediate forgiveness to the unrepentant is unscriptural. Forgiveness to the repentant is scriptural. We are to forgive “as our heavenly Father forgives us” (see Colossians 3:13).
Jesus said we are not to “hate” our enemies, but to love and pray for them!
“Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). We are to forgive the repentant as our Father does. We are to be ready and willing to extend mercy and forgiveness and desire mercy.
If our teachers are telling us we are bitter and unloving for confronting and/or making righteous judgments or discernment, then they are likely a false prophet. Ironically, when the false prophets call the truth-teller servants of God ‘bitter’, they are actually proving that they cannot see straight and they themselves are in the ‘gall of bitterness’ for refusing to love the Truth [and love lies instead] so as to be saved (2 Thess. 2:10), and are themselves in bondage and bitterness as was Simon the Sorcerer and Diotrophes.
Lies and bitterness enslave, but the Truth and purity of God’s Word sets free! “I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:21). Again, we see here that unrighteous bitterness is linked with lies, not truth. There is no sin in the truth. There is only sin in lies. Unrighteous bitterness comes from the Spirit of Error, not the Spirit of Truth (1 John 4).
We are to have the attitude of mercy and forgiveness and be ready and willing to forgive our offenders. We should not have an attitude of hate or resentment. However, to say that all unforgiveness leads to bitterness, no matter what, in every situation, is erroneous. There are many people who want to forgive an offender’s sin, but the offender remains in the sin unrepentant. The attitude of mercy from the offended is there. With God, repentance comes before forgiveness. When we don’t forgive our debtors when they ask for it, like God has forgiven us, then that would be called the ‘sin of unforgiveness’. God does warn about that extensively in scripture. Since we see from scripture that sinful bitterness is rooted in sin and lies, then and only then can unforgiveness toward the repentant turn into a sin – and then to the sin of bitterness. Scripturally, all unforgiveness does not result in sinful bitterness, and God Himself withholds forgiveness from the unrepentant and from those who refuse His Son Jesus Christ. Remember, the goal of forgiveness is ultimately reconciliation.
I do foresee trouble with the ‘bitterness’ concept. It really is very important to know what the term means. The false prophets will condemn Christians for not following them and will in turn call them ‘bitter’ or ‘prideful’. I have even seen a modern day self-proclaimed prophet saying nonsense like: some Christians who ‘oppose the new revelation’ will need to be ‘removed like cancer’. I see trouble with calling those who are Bible-believing (‘old revelation’, if you will) Christians ‘cancer’. I believe Christians who oppose the coming false religious system will be called ‘bitter’ or ‘in bondage’ and will be persecuted for remaining faithful to sound doctrine. How important it is to know what bitterness is according to scripture and to be discerning!
For example, Lighthouse Trails Research says,
In a radio transcript titled “Blues and Grays,” Understand the Times states:
Christianity is about to be purified through a civil war, they say. Is this behavior indicative of a revival as some claim? Or is this exactly what occurred in the past when “enlightened Christians” became the “manifested sons of God”? [In] an article written by Rick Joyner called the Coming Civil War in the Church. . . . Joyner states he believes a civil war will soon be breaking out within the church. He states: “There is a huge portion of the church which is being held bondage to the same religious spirit that manifested itself to the Pharisees, and it will attack any new movement that arises in the church. The more anointed the new movement is, the more these traditionalists will be threatened by it, and the more vehemently they will attack it.” Joyner’s solution for removing the people who oppose this “anointed new move” sounds rather militant. Listen to what he says: “The longer we continue to compromise with such institutions which use manipulation or control for the sake of unity or for any reason the more it will ultimately cost us to remove the cancer from our midst.” Joyner then went on to describe how the conflict in the church will develop: “The coming spiritual civil war will be between the Blue’s and the Gray’s. In dreams and visions blue often represents heavenly-mindedness, and gray speaks of those who live by the power of their own minds – which is equivalent to the brain’s gray matter. This will be a conflict between those who may be genuine Christians, but who live mostly according to their natural minds and human wisdom, and those who follow the Holy Spirit.”