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Watch 2022 online sermons » Craig Smith » Craig Smith - Bitterness

Craig Smith - Bitterness


Craig Smith - Bitterness
TOPICS: Potholes, Bitterness

Well, welcome to Mission Hills for our fifth and final week of the Potholes Series. If you’re just joining us, we are on a search for wisdom from the Book of Proverbs on how to avoid those potentially destructive potholes that we all encounter on the road of life occasionally. So far we dealt with anger, apathy, pride, and fear. Today we’re gonna deal with bitterness. So how many bitter people do we have in the house? And actually a lot more hands went up. I don’t know what you guys are saying online, but there were way more hands this time here at the Littleton Campus than I’ve seen anywhere else which is interesting.

Most people actually don’t think that, you know, they don’t think we have a problem with bitterness. I think bitterness is probably the sneakiest of the potholes in the sense that we don’t usually see it coming from 300 yards out. Sometimes we don’t even feel it when we just hit it but it’s still done its damage. I think part of the reason for that is we tend to…we disguise bitterness with other things, right? You know, we say, “I’m not bitter. I’ve just been hurt. And if you understood what had happened to me, you would understand why I’m hurting, why I’m struggling to get over that,” or maybe we say, “You know, I’m not bitter. I’m just mad,” all right? “I’m just angry. And again, if you knew what they did, you’d be mad for me. You’d be mad at them for me. That is totally what will happen,” right?

And what we don’t recognize is that bitterness might begin that way but there’s something really dark and unhealthy that happens when we kind of hold on to those things and that’s what we’re gonna deal with today. I want you to go and grab your Bible and start making your way to the Book of Proverbs Chapter 14. What we’re gonna deal with today is kinda how we identify bitterness, what kind of damage it can do and then how it is we go about dealing with it.

I was with a friend this past week and some stuff has happened in my family recently that I recognized from the position that I’m in and some of the experiences that I’ve had, I recognized, you know, this has the potential to cause bitterness in my life and so I need to get ahead of it and sort of deal with it. And I felt really good about that. I felt like I was doing that. I was like, yeah, I’ve got a handle on this thing.

And then I was talking to this friend about something entirely different and he kind of goes, “It sounds like you might have a bitterness issue over there.” And I’m like, “Shut up.” No, no, no. I got bitterness. Like I got a handle on it. It’s this thing of it’s not there. And I was like, “Aw man, yeah, it’s a sneaky, sneaky thing.” And a lot of times what we’re gonna find is that we’re struggling with it or had been struggling with it, and in some cases for a long time, without really having the right label on it. Proverbs 14:10 says this, “Each heart knows its own bitterness,” which I think is powerful all by itself.

He says, “There’s a certain amount of bitterness probably in every one of us, whether we call it that or not, or call it something else, it’s there. Each heart knows its own bitterness and no one else can share its joy.” And then we’re gonna jump down to verse 13, he says, “Even in laughter, the heart may ache and rejoicing may end in grief.”

Now it might seem a little strange that I’m doing verse 10 and 13 but I really believe that verses 10 and 13 were both written to be understood together. They’re both really about bitterness. And it might seem strange that there’s a couple of verses in between there if those verses were meant to be read together and that’s because we’re Westerners. We’re English speakers and in English, everything’s linear. We go A, B, C, D, we just kind of truck on forward.

But in Hebrew writing, they often had this way of kind of organizing their Proverbs and Psalms and so, well, they kind of circled back to similar ideas. Again, for those of you who are interested, it’s called a chiasm. Anybody? No, not at all. Okay, well don’t worry about that then. If you can work that in a conversation later today, you’ll sound good but otherwise don’t worry about it. Chiasm basically is they sort of go instead A, B, C, D, it’s A, B, C and then you kind of go back to B and then you end up back on A. So the first and the last thing are kind of connected together. And that’s what’s happening here. And so verses 10 and 13 they’re really part of a package of statements, of verses really about bitterness.

And when we understand that those two go together, we really see four things about bitterness here. The first one is just this, it’s that bitterness is the opposite of joy. Do you see that? He says, “Each heart knows its own bitterness and no one else can share its joy.” And that’s intended to be understood as a full spectrum of human emotion, right? On the one side we’ve got joy and way, way, way, way, way on the other side of the spectrum we have bitterness.

Bitterness is the opposite of joy which is interesting because I don’t think we always think about it that way. I think we tend to think that the opposite of joy is sadness, right? We think if you’re sad, then you’re not joyful. Those are opposites of each other but that’s not really true. Joy, biblically understood is it’s the ability to be at peace in spite of circumstances, okay? It’s not exactly the same thing has happened, it’s that they’re related. There’s an overlap there.

But joy is really the ability to be at peace in spite of circumstances. And if you understand that, that’s when you realize it’s entirely possible to be both joyful and sad at exactly the same time. You can be sad about the circumstances but you can still be joyful in spite of them. You can be at peace in spite of them. I spent some time just over the last couple of weeks with a good friend whose wife passed away a few weeks ago after a very long and prolonged battle with cancer. And as I’ve sat with him, I’ve seen both joy and I’ve seen sadness happening simultaneously.

He’s sad. He’s lost his wife. They were married for almost 47 years. And her absence from his life is painful. He’s deeply, deeply sad about that. At the same time, I also see him have these moments right there in the sadness where he is at peace. He’s joyful. He’s almost even happy that she’s not in pain anymore. It was a very painful last few months and he knows that that pain is gone. He’s experiencing joy because she’s in the presence of God. And what she previously believed by faith, she now sees by sight. She’s in the arms of Jesus and experiencing everything that her faith promised and now it’s all real for her and he is enjoying that truth.

And so I see both joy but also deep sadness at the same time. They’re not opposites of each other. What the proverb tells us is that the opposite of joy is bitterness. Bitterness is the opposite of joy. The second thing I think this proverb tells us is that bitterness is the opponent of joy. It’s not just the opposite of joy, it’s the opponent of joy. It’s not just sitting somewhere passively on the other side of the spectrum of our emotions, bitterness is an active enemy of joy. It actively undermines, undercuts, attacks, chokes out joy, making it impossible to experience joy.

He says, “Even in laughter, the heart may ache and rejoicing may end in grief.” Even when there’s joy going on, there’s always bitterness underneath going. I’m not gonna let this stand. We’re not gonna keep you there. It says rejoicing may end in grief. And I don’t think that’s a fatalistic statement that all good things come to an end, I think it’s a statement about the power of bitterness to bring all good things to an end.

It’s interesting, you know, if joy is the ability to be at peace in spite of circumstances, bitterness is the inability to experience peace in spite of circumstances. That even when good things are happening, even in the midst of good circumstances, bitterness gets a hold and says, we will bring that to an end. There will be no lasting joy. There’ll be no lasting peace. And so bitterness isn’t just the opposite of joy, it’s the opponent. It’s actively working to steal joy from us.

The third thing we see here is that bitterness is buried out of sight. It’s not on the surface emotion. It’s hidden deep underneath. He says, “The heart knows its own bitterness and no one else can share its joy.” And on some level that’s a statement that all of our emotions are basically ours alone, right? We can’t share in somebody else’s bitterness or their joy. And that’s true for all emotions but it’s especially true for bitterness. Not only can we not share in it completely but we can’t even recognize that it’s there and that’s true in others but it’s also true in ourselves.

I think it’s interesting he says that even in laughter, the heart may ache, right? Even in laughter. Even on the surface when it looks like everything’s fine and then there’s joy and there’s peace and there’s goodness, even in that laughter, bitterness is still underneath it and there’s still an ache going on. And it’s just a matter of time before it comes to an end because when bitterness is in the equation, joy can never be more than a temporary illusion.

The last thing this proverb teaches us about bitterness is that bitterness begins with a pain and it becomes a perspective. It begins with a pain and it becomes a perspective. It begins with something that’s done to us. It begins with a hurt. It begins with… You know, we talked over the last few weeks about the fact that anger is the frustration because there’s a gap between our expectation and our experience. We get frustrated about that gap. We expected this, we experienced this. And anger is the frustration we feel about that gap. Bitterness starts in that gap. It starts from this experience of hurt and pain. Maybe it makes us sad, maybe it makes us angry, but it starts there but it doesn’t stay there.

He says, “Even in laughter, the heart may ache.” And I think that “ache” word is really important because it says it begins with a pain. The problem is that it doesn’t stay there. It becomes the way we look at the world. It becomes the lens through which we view every relationship. It becomes the lens through which we view every scenario, every situation, every set of circumstance. So it starts with the hurt, right?

And that’s okay. There’s nothing we can do about that. We can’t avoid being hurt and we can’t avoid feeling hurt. We don’t have to tell ourselves, “Don’t feel bad. Don’t feel hurt. Don’t be angry.” We don’t have to do that because that’s natural. The problem is that, what happens is that we begin to sort of embrace that. We hold onto it tight. We almost begin to cherish it, right? We cherish that hurt. We cherish that pain.

The problem is that while we’re holding it, it begins to rot. And as it begins to rot, its toxins and its poisons begin to leak out of that thing into us. Bitterness is the choice to live in the gap. Do you hear me, church? We have the gap between expectations and experience. We can’t avoid that. The problem is that with bitterness, we choose to live in that gap. We choose to plant our feet in the poisoned soil of that gap and it begins to poison everything in us.

It’s not just what’s happened to us, it’s the way we see the world. It begins with the pain and it becomes a perspective. I think one of the clearest illustrations of this is actually a story from the Gospel of Luke. If you want to make your way to Luke 10. Luke 10, there’s a story. If you’ve spent much time in church, you may have heard this story before. It’s the story of two sisters, Mary and Martha.

And typically the way that we use this story is we use this story as a way to illustrate the danger of busyness. Because we go…we have these two sisters, one was the good sister and that was Mary by the way. Mary is the good sister because she just sat at Jesus’s feet. Martha is the bad sister. She’s the bad girl. And I know that in part because there was a book published over years ago called “Bad Girls of the Bible” and Martha’s in there. Okay?

And what everybody says about Martha is she had a problem. She was too busy. She was so busy that she couldn’t sit with Jesus. She was so busy, she missed on all these things. And so it’s often used as an illustration of the danger of busyness but I actually believe that’s wrong. I think this is intended to be an illustration of the danger of bitterness, and I’ll show you why as we go through it. Luke 10:38 says this, “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.” It’s Martha’s home. She owned the home. A little unusual in those days but she came from a wealthy family, she had her own home.

And she opened her home to Jesus and his disciples. And when you see the word “opened her home,” understand, it doesn’t mean she opened the door. It doesn’t mean she reluctantly allowed them to come in or rented them some space for a while. It means she took on the obligation of hospitality. That the word that Luke uses, actually, it’s a word that’s deeply connected to hospitality there. And hospitality in the ancient world was really a big deal. We don’t always see that because for us, we hear the word “hospitality” and we think, you know, Martha Stewart and centerpieces and, you know, place settings and potpourri and that kind of stuff, right?

But in the ancient world, hospitality meant that when you opened your home, when you brought somebody in, you took on the obligation of caring for them as though they were your own family. And to not care for them as though your own family was incredibly dishonoring, not only to them but to God who called us to be hospitable to people. And so Luke used a very particular word. He says, “Basically she took on the obligation of caring for them.” It’s gonna be important in a second.

Verse 39 says, “She had a sister called Mary who [also] sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” Now just a little bit of a technical thing, I threw in a bracket there. In the original Greek, there’s a word here that doesn’t always get translated and it usually doesn’t need to get translated. The word is chi. You don’t need to know that. Typically chi just kind of moves a sentence along. It can mean “and.” It can mean “also.” And often we don’t translate it because it doesn’t really add anything to the sentence.

There’s a chi at the beginning of this sentence by the way. And she had a sister called Mary. See, we don’t transmit it because it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just moving things along. What’s interesting though about where I’ve got the bracket there is that when we see chi in the second clause, it’s in a strange place. We expect to find it before the word “who.” That’s where you’d normally see it but it’s after the word “who.” And the most literal way to translate it, that would be she had a sister called Mary who also sat at the Lord’s feet.

And what’s intriguing about that is that if Mary is also sitting at the Lord’s feet, it kind of raises the question, who’s the other part of the “also.” And what this begins to suggest is that Martha was probably sitting at the Lord’s feet too, which is what we would expect. She was the owner of the home and it was expected that the owner of the home had the place next to the guest of honor. And so we would fully expect Martha to have been sitting at Jesus’s feet.

And now it looks that, and Mary, her sister, was also doing that. They were given this incredible privilege to sit at the feet of Jesus, which means basically to be treated as disciples, kind of as equals with the rest of the troop of disciples, and to learn from him is a powerful thing. But if Martha was also sitting there, it casts a slightly different light on what happens next because she couldn’t stay there. And the next verse is this, “But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.”

A perfectly good translation, but understand that there’s connotations to those English words that weren’t necessarily in the original one. For instance, that word “distractions.” I don’t know about you but I hear the word that she was distracted and I think she’s got a problem, right? Like what is she, ADD? She just she just has a focus issue, right? You know, she’s like, you know Jesus, place settings, Jesus, spread. Like she just doesn’t know where to focus because you just can’t stay… I mean that’s just not implied by the original. In fact, literally the Greek would be something like she was pulled away. The same verb is actually used to talk about donkeys dragging away a heavy cart.

The point is there’s some effort involved. It’s not that she’s just flighty. It’s that she’s been pulled away from where she was by the preparations. And that’s a perfectly good translation. The original Greek word is where we get the word “deacon” from. I don’t know if some of you may have grown up in churches where you had deacons. Maybe you even know the word “deacon” basically means servant. And so it’s literally as if she was kind of dragged away by what she had to do to serve her guests to honor them.

She was dragged away by her serving, which check this out, the preparations that had to be made. I mean right there in English that should be paid attention to and we typically skip over it. But if you…you might even underline that word “had.” Had to be, that had to be done, that she didn’t really have any choice. This was required. In the Greek, it’s even more powerful because the word literally means something like they were piling up over her or literally they were standing over her.

And then the sense is that, you know, this kind of happened over time until she really didn’t have any choice. I mean, as you imagine the scene, you know, Jesus has come in and his disciples are gathered around and Martha and Mary had this amazing privilege of listening to Jesus and Martha’s sitting there going, “This is unbelievable. He’s in my house. I’m definitely getting a plaque,” right? “Jesus was here,” right?

And not only is he in my home, he’s allowing me to sit as a disciple. Mary and I are right here. And gee, this is just an incredible thing. And as the day goes on, she’s just she’s caught in this moment and then she begins to hear things. The first thing she hears is something like [grumbling stomach noise]. And she looks over and Peter is going, “Sorry. Sorry.” And then John is doing it and she’s like, “Oh, they’re getting hungry.” They’re probably teenage boys, late teenage years at this point, so they’re always hungry, right?

And she kind of looks at her and she was like, “Yeah, the shadows are getting a little bit long. Yeah, time to do what I need to do to take care of my guests.” And so she, you know, she reluctantly but forced to. She gets up and she goes, “Yeah, Mary, so I’m gonna go. I’m gonna go. We’re gonna… She’s not looking at me. I know she saw me. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt, maybe she didn’t see me, maybe, maybe. I’ll just… Hey, hey Jesus, I’m gonna just go and you know, we’re gonna just… So yeah, so Mary we’re gonna… I… We… It’s gonna be I, huh? Yeah? I shouldn’t have. Ugh.”

And I don’t know how exactly how it plays out. Maybe she goes to the kitchen and she stews over it a little bit, right? And probably goes from, “What’s her problem?” to, “I don’t know why I’m surprised. She always does this. This is not the first time. This is just who she is.” And it begins to come to a boil and so she goes out, and here’s what happens. Check this out. “She came to him,” that’s Jesus, “She came to him and she asked.” By the way, the word “asked” there, I’m gonna put in parentheses because I don’t think this was a theological conversation.

I don’t think she was like, “Hey Jesus, I’ve got something I was wondering about and hoping you could maybe just shed some light on it.” No, she asked. Here’s what she asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?” That’s what she wants to know. “I thought you cared about me, Jesus. Is that a lie? Is that just all talk? Do you really care about me? Because I thought you did but if you really did, then I think you’d probably react to the fact that she’s not doing anything. Don’t you care? My sister’s left me to do all the work.” And then she goes, she says, “Tell her to help me.”

Like can we just stop for a moment and appreciate the boldness of this? Like she just chewed Jesus out, right? And that’s why I say there, there’s more going on here than a moment’s irritation, isn’t there? That there’s bitterness in place. That’s when you begin to see it, this is a powerful one. She’s yelling. She’s throwing up on Jesus basically. And she’s giving Jesus orders. “You’re not sure what to do? I’ll tell you what to do, Jesus. How about this? How about you stop teaching? You tell her to get off her butt, get in the kitchen and help me.”

And then probably there’s somewhere in the back of her head going, “Did I just say that to Jesus? What happened? What’s wrong with me?” There’s bitterness going on here. And here’s what you need to understand about bitterness. Bitterness poisons all our relationships. Bitterness does not stay isolated to the one person who hurt us. It doesn’t stay isolated to the one person who did this or that. It spills out into all of our relationships.

Now, I don’t know where Martha’s bitterness came from. Maybe, maybe Mary had a long history of not moving. Maybe they’d been dealing with this for a long time as sisters. Maybe, maybe Martha, she’s probably the oldest kid. Maybe Martha’s parents held her to such an impossible standard that she could never satisfy them and she always lived feeling like a failure. Maybe it’s that. Maybe Martha’s just built to serve. She’s just wired that way and yet she’s been taken advantage of and she hasn’t been appreciated. Maybe that’s what’s happening. I don’t know. I don’t know. But you can see it, right?

And bitterness spills out and it poisons all of our relationships. Here’s what bitterness does. Bitterness, it amplifies hurt, amplifies hurt. It spreads blame. And it steals joy. It amplifies hurt. What Mary has done at this point really is not that big a deal. It’s not her home. She doesn’t have the same obligation that Martha does, but Martha’s furious. Jesus hasn’t done anything at all and she’s mad about that. She’s got a list of things he should have done and didn’t. It amplifies hurt. It spreads blame, right? It’s Mary’s fault. It’s Jesus’s fault, right? It spreads blame and it steals joy.

I mean, think about this, friends, think about this, Jesus is in her house. She gets to cook for Jesus. How cool would that be? Think about it. If Jesus came to your house, what would you make for him? I’d make him pulled pork. And I know he’s Jewish. I know. But he declared all food is clean, Mark 7:19, okay? It’s in the Bible. He’s the one who made them so tasty. And I’m good at pulled pork. I’d love to serve something like… I mean, what would you make for him? I mean I have made for Jesus… Do you understand? Like there’s a possibility Jesus could leave you a Yelp review, right? How awesome would that be?

That you can get another plaque that says Jesus ate here and he loved it. What an amazing opportunity. And yet Martha’s enjoying none of it. Do you see that? There’s no peace in this. There’s no pleasure in this. There’s no happiness. There’s no joy in this opportunity because bitterness, it amplifies hurt, it spreads blame and it steals joy. It kills it. It takes it out at the knees. So Jesus looks at her. Verse 41 says, “Martha, Martha, the Lord answered, you’re worried and upset about many things but few things are needed or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is good and it will not be taken away from her. ”

Four things there, real quick. First, he says, “Martha, Martha.” And that’s such a powerful thing. It’s a tender moment. I grew up in a family and my parents were from the south. And so in my household growing up, if they used two of your names, it was a bad thing, right? If they used your first name and your middle name, you are in a lot of trouble, okay? That’s not what’s happening here. This is the same name twice. This isn’t anger. This isn’t frustration. This is tenderness, okay? He says, “Martha, Martha.” It’s a powerful moment.

And what you need to understand is Jesus isn’t frustrated with her, he’s concerned for her. He sees that what’s going on in her is killing her. He’s concerned about her. He says, “Martha, Martha, the Lord answered, you’re worried and upset about many things.” And that word “worried” is interesting. It’s the same word that Jesus uses consistently to talk about you’re so focused on this thing that you can’t experience joy in these other things.

It’s the same word that Jesus used to say, “Hey, you’re so worried about tomorrow that you can’t enjoy today. You’re so worried about what you’re gonna get and how you’re gonna get it tomorrow, you can’t have any peace or any joy that comes from all the things that God has put in your life right here, right now.” So that this word is about the inability to experience joy and what’s happening is that Jesus is recognizing her inability to experience joy. That’s why he’s worried about her and he’s pushing into that.

He says, “Martha, Martha, the Lord answered, you’re worried and upset about many things but few things are needed or indeed only one.” And I’m gonna be honest, I’m not 100% sure I know what that means, what the only one is. A lot of times what people do with the stories that I go, the only one thing she’s supposed to do, she just needed to slow up, sit down, chill out, that’s the only thing she needed to do. I don’t think that’s likely.

Luke’s made it clear that she has this obligation to care for her guests. She’s being pulled away by the serving that was piling up over her. I don’t think that what she was supposed to do was sit down but what’s interesting is that, you know, she was trying to make Mary do what she had to do, right? And maybe I think what’s happening is that is that Jesus is kind of going, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, you know, you’re, you’re all upset about Mary but you know, Mary really only has one thing to do and maybe the one thing is really about Mary than it is more about Martha.

Mary is free to sit. It’s not her house. It’s not her obligation. If she wants to get up, that’s great but it’s not what she’s called to. And I think what he’s ultimately doing is he’s telling, Martha, “Hey, you need to get your eyes off of what she’s not doing and maybe get your eyes off of the other ways that people haven’t done or all the other ways that people have done to you.” Maybe you need to get your eyes…maybe what you need to do, maybe the one thing is just maybe you just need to focus on whatever it is that God’s calling you to do right here at this moment. Maybe just focus on what God has placed before you right now.

The problem is that’s exactly what bitterness keeps us from doing. Bitterness makes it impossible for us to focus on the one thing God would have us do at this moment because bitterness insists on bringing the past into the present. We can’t focus on the one the thing because is bitterness to saying, yeah, but you remember all the things that she did before, and we’re looking at it through this lens. Do you remember all the things she didn’t do before? Do you remember all the ways he mistreated you? Do you remember all the ways they took advantage of you? Do you remember all the ways they didn’t appreciate you.

And it brings the past into the present. It changes the way we think about the present and ultimately it dictates the future because we move into the future in a particular way, driven by bitterness. And he says, “Martha, Martha, you’re worried and upset about many things but few things are needed or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is good.” And some English translations say “what is better” but the original Greek, there’s not a comparison. It just literally says she’s chosen right.

Not necessarily saying you’ve chosen wrong by getting up and doing these things, she’s chosen right to sit here and then he says something that’s so important, “and it will not be taken away from her.” Do you understand that what Jesus is doing is he’s protecting Mary from Martha’s bitterness. Do you see that? It’s not her house. It’s not her obligation. I’m not gonna let you take this away from her. I’m not gonna let it happen. It’s just not gonna happen, Martha. And really what’s happening is we’re being told that bitterness cannot be allowed to do its damage to others, right?

Because it doesn’t stay in us, it doesn’t just do its damage to us. It spills out of us and it does damage to everybody around us. And some of you are right here today and that’s where you are. You’ve got a bitterness whether you recognize it or not, and it’s spilling out and it’s affecting your marriage, it’s affecting your kids, it’s affecting relationship with your parents, it’s affecting your work relationships and work life, your relationship with your neighbors. It’s poisoning everything.

And you need to hear the voice of God speaking to you that says it’s got to stop. Something has to be done. Bitterness cannot be allowed to do its damage to others. What’s interesting is that, that’s the end of the story. The story just stops. We don’t really know what Martha did. We don’t know if Martha looked at Jesus and went, “Oh, really?” Probably not. But we didn’t know if she broke down. We don’t know.

Here’s what we do know. Martha keeps showing up in the Gospels. We keep seeing her showing up. And what’s interesting is every time we see Martha show up, guess what? She’s busy. Every single time she’s busy, she serving, she’s giving, she’s doing. She served the meal before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We don’t know but it’s entirely possible that she served at the Last Supper itself. She’s always busy still, but there’s no more rebuke for it, there’s no more challenge, which suggests that she somehow got free of the bitterness.

You go, well, how did she do that? How did she manage it? What happened and why doesn’t Luke tell us? And I think the answer is because Luke has already been telling us. All the way throughout the Gospel of Luke up to this point, and continuing on, there’s this…a theme that Luke continually comes back to, there’s a drum that he keeps beating and building a rhythm for that I think we’re meant to understand took place here and that theme is forgiveness.

Jesus taught us the very famous, maybe you know the famous, the Lord’s Prayer, right? Which has that line that says, “Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” Jesus said forgive and you will be forgiven. Jesus hung on the cross and he said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”

This theme that Luke has been building to this point, I believe we’re meant to understand now’s the moment that we get the chance to see whether or not we practiced and whether or not it will do its work. And I think it did, and that’s why we continue to see you’re busy but not bitter. This is about forgiveness. Listen to me, forgiveness is the antidote to bitterness. Forgiveness is the antidote to bitterness. So that’s all you got to do.

Take all the hurt and all the pain and the betrayal, all those things, just forgive them. Take a deep breath, we’re done. It’s harder than that obviously, but listen to me, church, we have to fight our way to forgiveness. We have to fight our way to forgiveness because forgiveness is the antidote to bitterness. Forgiveness is what digs it up out of the soil in that gap, sends it packing and it begins to set us free of its poison. How do we do that? Four things. Number one, identify the person.

Forgiveness is not conceptual, it’s not philosophical. You cannot forgive a circumstance. You cannot forgive a situation. You can only forgive a person who has harmed you. So identify the person. Sometimes that’s easy. Some of you are going, I know exactly who it is. Some of you may see the signs of bitterness. Maybe God is doing something in your heart right now and you’re realizing, yeah, I do see some warning signs of it. There is a perspective, it’s affecting my relationships, and it’s not entirely clear to you where it stems from but you’ve got to do the soul work and you’ve got to figure it out.

Ask God and the Holy Spirit and you will begin to bring that to the surface. Okay? But you have to identify the person. That’s key. The second thing you have to do is you have to detail the debt. What I mean by that is you need to write down, I mean I really suggest actually writing it down. At the very least, you’ve got to go through it in your mind, you know, yes, this is what was done to me, this is what is owed to me.

And you might go, well, that doesn’t seem healthy. And I’m gonna disagree. I think it is healthy because two things happen when we do that. Number one, some of the things we go, yeah, they did this, so they owe me this. Sometimes when we actually verbalize them and articulate, we realize they’re actually not to blame for that. I’ve been holding them to account for something that honestly wasn’t under their control, it’s not their fault and that they don’t owe me anything for that one. And that is when we can begin to let that go and that’s important.

The second thing know some of those things you’d go, no, they actually do owe me that. And I think the reason it’s important to list it, to detail that debt is because that stuff is already doing its work in you. It’s there. It is forming the lens that’s affecting not only your relationship with that person but your relationship with all people. Writing it down doesn’t change anything. It just brings it out in the open so you can address it. Stuff that’s unidentified goes unaddressed. So we’ve got identify it. Detail the debt. This is what they owe me.

Then this is where it gets hard, we’re gonna balance the books. We’re gonna look at each one of those things and what is owed and we’re gonna say, I forgive that debt. I forgive it. You say it to God. If God calls you, maybe you have that conversation with him, but at the very least, between you and God, you’ve got to look at each one of those lines on the ledger and you’re gonna go, I forgive that. We’re gonna bring that to zero. And you’re gonna do that for every entry. You’re balancing the books.

And the last thing you’re gonna do, and this is probably the hardest, you’re gonna close the book. You’re gonna close the account. You’re gonna go, it’s done. It’s over. It’s finished. There’s no more debt owed. And so the account’s… You know, if you pay off your mortgage which I understand is possible, like I’ve heard that that happens, but when you pay off the mortgage, when they close the account, you don’t still have an account with them because it’s all done. It’s over. It’s gone. I mean, you could open a new account at some point but that account’s closed and that’s what we’re called to do.

If I’m paying off what’s owed there, we’re done. It’s finished. We’re done. A couple of quick things. That’s our steps to fighting for forgiveness, identify the person, detail the debt, balance the books, close the account. One of the reasons that’s often hard for people is they won’t ask this question of, do I have to forgive somebody even if they haven’t repented or asked for it? It depends. How comfortable are you with bitterness? Like if you’re okay with being bitter, if you’re okay with allowing it to poison your own soul in every other relationship then maybe you’re good. Maybe you don’t have to forgive, maybe. But then there’s that whole pesky Jesus business, right?

What does the Bible say? The Bible says that while we were yet sinners, while we were still sinning against God, while we were still doing wrong, before we repented, before we came back to him, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He paid the price for our forgiveness in his… Well, he did everything necessary to pile up forgiveness. He was ready to go, So that the moment we repented, we could experience it, but it had already been provided. And so yeah, I would argue if we’re gonna become like Jesus and join him on the mission, it’s what we’re all about here in Mission Hills, then yeah, we have to become the kind of people who go, I’m gonna do the hard work of forgiveness in my own soul whether they ask for it or not.

The second thing that might is this, forgiveness is not trust. Do you hear me? So then as we struggle to forgive because we feel like, well, if I forgive, then I have to give people who’ve done incredible damage in my life and are unrepentant, I have to give them the same access to continue doing that? No, that’s not the same thing at all. Forgiveness is not trust. I mean, if I default on my mortgage and the bank is an incredibly gracious bank and they say and go, “You know what? We are gonna forgive your mortgage. We’re gonna cancel the debt and close the account.” And then I go back and I say, “Hey, could I have another mortgage?” They don’t have to say yes. Forgiveness is not the same thing as trust.

Now understand God may call you to that. And sometimes that is a hard thing that the Lord calls us to, to reenter a relationship and to begin to extend trust even when that’s hard. But that’s a separate thing and you need to understand that and you need to deal with it separately. Don’t let this mistaken idea that forgiving somebody and trusting them are exactly the same way. Don’t let that misunderstanding keep you from forgiving and ultimately keep you from experiencing the freedom from bitterness that comes from forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the antidote to bitterness. We have to fight our way to forgiveness. Two questions. Number one, what pain in my life has become a perspective? What pain in my life has become the way I’m looking at things, stealing my joy and poisoning my relationships? Identify it. Question number two, what steps do I need to take to fight my way to forgiveness? Would you pray with me?

God, we thank you for the example that you’ve set for us, and being willing to forgive even before we repented. We thank you that we’re not forced to earn it, we’re not forced to try to work our way into it and recognize that we could never deserve it and yet you provided it. We thank you for the sacrifice of your Son, Jesus. Thank You for being willing to go through that on our behalf. And though we confess that we have not always followed your example, that many of us right now are struggling in this moment of recognizing that we have allowed a hurt, we’ve allowed a pain to become a perspective, we are continuing to look at the world through a lens that is distorted by bitterness, we’ve been unwilling to forgive and so we have been the ones harmed and it’s become in us something that’s harming our other relationships, it’s doing damage to our families, it’s taking us off the mission with you and we ask for your forgiveness and we ask for the strength through your Holy Spirit to fight our way to forgiveness and so to be free from the poison of bitterness.


If you’re a follower of Jesus, would you just take a moment right now, begin praying for the people around you, the people watching all over the world online because I believe there’s some people listening to this message right now that don’t have that relationship, they haven’t received that forgiveness that we’re talking about, that God offered even before you knew it was available, even before you knew it was there, you don’t have that experience of forgiveness with God. I want you to understand you can have it right here, right now. You don’t have to earn your way into it. You can’t earn your way into it.

God has already done the hard work. He loves you so much. He sent Jesus. He lived the perfect life. He died on the cross to purchase your forgiveness, to pay for your sin, to wipe out every wrong thing you’ve ever done. All by itself, that’s an amazing, amazing thing. But three days later, Jesus rose from the dead. That’s a fact of history. And it’s the proof that he has forgiveness to offer you. And that right here, right now, please hear this, right here, right now, wherever you are, God is offering you a new start. He’s offering you forgiveness. He’s not angry at you. He’s not bitter with you. He has already done the work to forgive you.

And if you will simply trust him, if you put your faith in him, you can receive that forgiveness, you can be adopted into the family of God, you can begin a relationship with God that goes on now and goes on forever. You’ll receive the power of the Holy Spirit to give you the strength to forgive others and to be free of this poison of bitterness. And if you don’t have that relationship, but you’re ready to begin it right now, would you just raise your hand briefly? That’s awesome. If you’re watching online, just click the button right below me, and wherever you are, have this conversation with God. Say:

God, I’ve done wrong. I admit it and I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for dying for me before I realized I needed it. Jesus, I believe you rose from the dead and I understand that you’re offering me forgiveness. You’re not angry. You’re not bitter. You’re excited to give me this forgiveness that you’ve purchased for me. Jesus, I receive it. Jesus, I’m saying yes to you. I’m saying yes to a relationship with you, to faith in you. Jesus, come into my life. I am yours for now and forever. Amen.

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