I saw a newspaper article that went something like this:
“A bitter Paul Donovan repeatedly vandalised the grave of a childhood friend. The reason? He claimed the friend stole £230 from him 56 years ago. The 69 year-old received a sentence of two years’ probation.”
An old proverb says, “Bitterness is the poison you drink while hoping someone else will die.” Makes no sense and kills you. People suffer from this delusion, as do groups, communities and even nations. Perhaps it is never a greater temptation than in roles of service. In those situations we are vulnerable to misunderstanding, questioned motives and the judgments of others based on partial evidence. What can we do to ride the unfair storms of accusation with dignity, and avoid heart-corroding bitterness?
Paul told Timothy: “…the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” (2 Timothy 2:24 NIV11) Let’s take three of the Apostle’s instructions to Timothy and apply them to ourselves as necessary:
- Distance(vv22-23). Tim is told to “flee” evil and have “nothing to do” with wasteful topics of conversation. So, no answering poisoned email until 24 hours have passed (if then). Create distance between you and the source of the deadly disturbance (whether physical or virtual). Jesus did not answer every accusation or accuser. Neither should we.
- Gentleness (v25). Instruction must always be gentle, even as it may be firm, direct and challenging where appropriate. What is gentleness? This is an attitude that carries, “freedom from malice and desire for revenge” (New linguistic and exegetical key to the Greek New Testament). When faced with the temptation to answer bile with bile, take a breath, ask Jesus to give you his heart, and reply with a different
attitude. He will help you, because he himself is “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29 NIV11). And he knows what it means to struggle since he, “has been tempted in every way, just as we are” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV11).
- Hope (vv25-26). There is hope for the person who may be mistreating you and to whom you feel tempted to be bitter. Jesus kept hope alive for Peter even though he denied him – and both Peter and we are grateful. Distance and gentleness give space for God to do His work. Thus, there is always hope “..the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:25–26 NIV11
Remember, our real enemy is never the person standing in front of us, or the sender of the email, but the devil. And we follow the one who has overcome him.
We don’t beat bitterness with bitterness squared. We beat it with distance, gentleness and hope.