Forgiveness - Destroying a "Root of Bitterness"

Jesus tells us in Hebrews 12:14-15 “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 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”

Forgiving frees us from the burden of grudges, resentments, hatreds and the extreme danger of allowing a root of bitterness to start growing in us. That root of bitterness (held- onto anger, hatred, revenge, vengeance) can rob us of our salvation. It will grow infecting and permeating everything in our lives, making us miserable, angry, and bitter people. That “root of bitterness will also rob us of our loved ones and our friends. It will eat us alive. No one likes to be around someone who is bitter, complaining and never happy. The desire for revenge can dominate our lives until our only desire is to get even.

This unforgiving attitude will defile our relationship with God and it will defile our relationships with others. We can never allow any “root of bitterness” to gain a foothold on our lives. The ramifications of doing so are very grave. It can destroy our walk with God. Would God allow anyone with an unforgiving attitude in His kingdom?

The very first instance of the word “forgive” in the Holy Bible is found in Genesis Chapter 50 after Jacob dies.

Ge:50:14-17” And after he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, he and his brothers and all who went up with him to bury his father. When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him.” So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, “Before your father died he commanded, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: “I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you.”’ Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.”

Joseph’s brothers feared that since their father Jacob had died, that Joseph would now take vengeance on his brothers for selling him into slavery to the Egyptians when he was just a young man. My guess is that his brothers thought that as long as Jacob was still alive, they were safe from Joseph’s wrath and revenge.

But notice Joseph’s reaction. He cried.

Ge:50:18-21 “Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, “Behold, we are your servants. Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

What his brothers failed to realize is that Joseph had forgiven his brothers long ago. He realized that God had placed him in Egypt to save his family. He had been a spoiled son, favored by his father over his brothers. What his brothers had done to him was wrong, but his time in Egypt, being falsely accused and imprisoned had humbled him – had made him able to be worked with by God. Joseph didn’t want revenge – he wanted his family and the love of his family.

To Joseph, the thought that his brothers had lived in fear of his anger and revenge was so devastating that he cried. To think that his brothers did not know that he had forgiven them truly saddened him. All that time from when they had first been reconciled during the famine in Egypt until their father, Jacob, died, his brothers had lived thinking Joseph was only biding his time until Jacob died. How sad. What a waste!

Are we wasting our lives carrying grudges and being unforgiving? Have we truly forgiven the people in our lives that have hurt us? Are we carrying around a list of wrongs that we can drum up on command to justify our anger at those that have wronged us in some way?

I think if we are truly honest with ourselves, the natural tendency after being hurt by someone – especially someone we love – is to seek revenge. We give them the silent treatment, or blow up at them or someone else for something not even related to the situation that caused the hurt. (The technical term for this is “displacement”). We displace our anger for one thing over which we have no control, onto someone else. A good example is a boss or supervisor that made you mad. You can’t take your anger out on that person without losing your job, but you can displace that anger on your husband, wife, kids, dog, or some other non-threatening person that is getting on your nerves.) Or we plan on how to get even with them.

We can be so very glad that God does not treat us like that. He had and has every right to wipe us off the face of the earth for our sins. Instead, He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, Who volunteered to die a horrible death to save His enemies – mankind – you and me and everyone that has ever lived, now lives, or yet will live in time to come. He set the example for us.

Jesus volunteered to die for our sins. Jn 10:17-18 “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”

When we were still sinners, He died for us. Romans 5:7-8 “ For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus died not only for those who had already sinned and died, but also for those living who were still sinning, and even for those of us who had not even been born yet and who had not yet committed even a single sin.

Jesus died for the sins we would commit in our lives. His forgiveness is available to all. His forgiveness covers all our sins. His forgiveness enabled us to be reconciled to the Father and have a relationship with the Creator of the Universe. When we were still sinners, He died for us.

Again, Jesus set the example for us in His life. Jesus died for ALL mankind for ALL time! Jesus died for the Roman soldiers who nailed Him to the cross. Jesus died for the soldiers who whipped and scourged Him. Jesus died for His disciple Judas Iscariot who betrayed Him. Jesus died for the Pharisees and Sadducees who conspired to have him crucified. Jesus died for the Jews who rejected Him. Jesus died for Hitler. Jesus died for the Muslims. Jesus died for the terrorists that attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Jesus died for you and me. While He was hanging, nailed to the cross, He forgave those that put Him there.

Luke 23:33-34 ”And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do. And they divided His garments and cast lots.”

We could be the most wonderful, kind, loving person on earth, but none of that would wipe away a single sin. Jesus is the only way we can ever be reconciled to God. He set the pattern for us to follow. What a wonderful gift of forgiveness He has given us! It is so simple and yet so hard.

We want to think that we are “good”, but God sees none of us as “naturally good” – all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) -- but we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags (Isa. 64:6)

It is hard to admit that you need God’s forgiveness when you think that you don’t need God. Sometimes God has to bring us to the point where we admit we need Him – like He did with Joseph in Egypt. The Joseph in Egypt was a much humbler, not so arrogant a person than the Joseph with the Coat-of- Many Colors.

Just as Joseph did, we all need Jesus. We cannot have eternal life without Him. He has given us a great and wondrous gift – forgiveness. His example to us is one which we must emulate.

We must learn to forgive. We learn to forgive others and we learn to forgive ourselves. We learn that forgiving means we give up our right of revenge and vengeance and put it all of the circumstances, situations and people into God’s hands, letting Him deal with them.

We forgive because He forgave us. “We love because He first loved us” 1John 4:19 We pray “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” Matt 6:12

We are commanded to forgive. Matthew 6:14:15 "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

The parable of the man who owed a king a large sum of money illustrates this principle. Matthew 18:23-35 The man (call him Joe) fell on his face and promised to pay all that he owed because the king was going to throw him and his family into prison. The king was so touched by “Joe’s” sincerity that he forgave “Joe” the full amount of the debt. “Joe” was now free and owed nothing. Another man (call him Fred) owed “Joe” a much smaller amount of money. “Joe” took “Fred” and threw him in prison. “Joe” did not extend the forgiving attitude of the king to “Fred”. The king heard about it and took “Joe” and not only threw him in prison, but handed him over to the torturers until the full amount of the money “Joe” owed the king would be paid. The king reimposed the forgiven debt on “Joe” because of his unforgiving heart. Jesus tells us the same thing will happen to us if we do not forgive others.

Matthew 18:35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

Jesus tells us we will be forgiven by God the same way we forgive others. Think about that. In other words, if we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us. This is very serious. Jesus forgave us, now we are expected to forgive others. Jesus set the example for us.

How many times are we to forgive those that hurt us?

Matt 18:21-22 “Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

In other words, Jesus commands us to forgive an unlimited number of times. How many times does God forgive you when you ask him? Every time. Again, Jesus set the example for us to follow. We are to forgive every time.

He not only told us to forgive, but we are to do good things for those who hurt us. WHAT?? We are to be LOVING to our enemies?

Matthew 5:44-47 “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others?”

Jesus forgave His enemies and did GOOD to those who hated Him and persecuted Him. We are expected, as His brethren, as children of the Father, to do the same. It is hard. It was not easy for Him either – He was fully human, yet fully God. He hurt just like the rest of us – but He lived His whole life without ever committing a single sin.

We are to forgive others just as God forgave us. If we don’t, we are not forgiven either. This is part of God’s character that we are to pattern our lives on. It is a part of the command to love our neighbor as ourselves. We obey, we forgive, because we love Him – because He forgave us. It also becomes part of the command to love God. Forgiveness embodies both love of God and love of our neighbors, which includes all our enemies.

Forgive as you have been forgiven. Do not let a root of bitterness through unforgiveness rob you of the marvelous gift of a relationship with your Creator and Savior. Do not let it gain a foothold in your life and destroy the gift of eternal life that God has reserved for you. Forgive as you have been forgiven.

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