Paul Tautges

Uprooting Bitterness, Part 3 of 3

While putting away bitterness and all its sinful relatives, we must also put on Christlike virtues like kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness. Forgiveness is the golden key to uprooting bitterness in your relationships. Forgiveness is letting go. “Let go” or “put away” is what the word forgive means. Therefore, to forgive someone is to actively let go of the wrongs your heart is tempted to grip tightly.

Two posts ago, we began thinking about what the Bible teaches about bitterness. Namely, that Scripture presents bitterness first as an experience and then as a response—first as something that happens to us, and then something that arises within us. Biblically speaking, the word bitter means to be angry, chafed, and discontent. We also learned that Scripture reveals two major categories of bitterness. The first explains the bitterness of hard life experiences, which impact the way we view ourselves and God. The second exposes bitter responses to these hard life experiences and the wrongs committed against us.
Today, our focus is on the second category of bitterness; that is, the response of bitterness which comes from within our hearts. The heart is the always-active, ever-worshiping, always-wanting-something control center of our lives. Therefore, when something or someone gets in the way of our desires, we are tempted to respond in anger. If this anger lingers—if it simmers in the crock pot long enough—then we become bitter. To confront this second category of bitterness, we will set up camp in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Here the Spirit of God warns us against bitter responses, but also provides us with the remedy.
Pay Attention to Biblical Warnings
If you are in Christ, then you are a new person; you have a new life. In Christ, you are dead to sin and alive unto God because the Spirit of God has caused you to be born again by the power of the life-giving gospel. Therefore, you must put off your sinful ways and walk in the righteousness of Christ (Eph. 4:1-24). Then, in verses 26-27, the apostle warns us about anger in two important ways.
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.
Eph. 4:26-27
Righteous anger quickly becomes unrighteous when you linger there. You might say, “I didn’t know there was such a thing as righteous anger.” But Scripture commands us to be angry, and the Gospel accounts inform us that Jesus, the sinless Son of God, was angry at times. So, yes, it is possible to have righteous anger. However, the line between righteous and unrighteous anger is extremely thin—it is easy, even natural for us to quickly cross over. So, even when our anger is righteous, we must not linger there: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Deal with it immediately. Work through interpersonal conflicts as soon as possible.
Lingering anger gives the devil the advantage and opportunity to destroy. When we don’t get what we want, we often become angry and bitter (see James 4:1-10). The devil then exploits our unmet desires, tempting us to remain angry and discontent. If we linger there, we give Satan ownership of some of the real estate of our hearts, and we become easy prey for him to gobble up. This was certainly true of Esau, whose bitterness produced the desire to murder his brother, and corrupted his heart further (see Heb. 12:14-17). Bitterness will turn you into a murderer too. Maybe not by taking a person’s physical life, but by destroying their spirit with your words or your silence.
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Uprooting Bitterness, Part 2 of 3

Life is filled with bitter tasting experiences, but pain and loss don’t have to define us or turn our hearts bitter. We don’t have to respond like Naomi, who resisted God because his plan differed from hers—because her life turned out differently than she expected. Instead, like Ruth, we can respond in humble, childlike faith and rely on him to provide and show us the way. Our response to life’s turnarounds will make us bitter or it will make us better. The choice is ours.

Life in this fallen, broken world can be very hard, even dangerous at times. Therefore, we all face various kinds of bitter tasting experiences. That’s what we began thinking about in the last post. Today, I draw your attention to two more levels of biblical awareness that will help you to uproot bitterness in your heart.
Be Aware of the Reality of Bitter Tasting Affliction
In the Old Testament, we meet a woman who experiences a great deal of pain and loss. Her birth name is Naomi, but later in life she asks people to call her Mara, which means bitter. Why is that? What bitter tasting affliction brought such pain into her life? How did she get to this point? Before we rush to harsh judgment, let’s try to put ourselves in her shoes.
The affliction begins when famine prompts a man to move his wife and two sons fifty miles east, from Bethlehem to Moab—from the land of promise to the land of pagans. While in Moab, all three men die (Ruth 1:3-4). But before his sons die, they marry Moabite women. The Moabites were descendants of one of the incestuous unions of Abraham’s nephew Lot (Genesis 19:37) who then became the enemies of Israel and corrupted them with their abominations (2 Kings 23:13). Therefore, God’s law forbade their entrance to God’s assembly (Deuteronomy 23:3). The marrying of Moabite women was unwise due to the tendency of unbelieving wives to lead men of Israel into idolatry, the most obvious example being King Solomon (1 Kings 11:1-3). Knowing this, we may conclude that the family’s move to Moab was not a good one. But, as always, the Lord has a bigger purpose and plan in mind. Something beautiful is happening behind the scenes which no one in this family can see. —a plan that will bring redemption out of brokenness, and beauty out of ashes.
With all three men dead, Naomi reverses the direction that she and her husband had taken ten years earlier. She turns her back on the graves of her loved ones and heads home, making a clean break from the tragedy that had befallen them in Moab. On the way, she tells her daughters-in-law to return to their people, for the “hand of the Lord has gone out against me,” and pronounces a blessing of God’s kindness upon them (Ruth 1:8). Though Naomi’s faith struggled, she still knew that God was kind. And even though he had dealt bitterly with her, she ensures her daughters-in-law that he will be kind to them.
Though Naomi’s faith in the goodness and kindness of God toward herself waned, she understood the bedrock truth of God’s sovereignty in her times of trial. She was then able to tell others. However, knowing this is true and resting in it don’t always coincide equally. During bitter experiences, we may still doubt the Lord.
Be Aware of How Bitterness Operates in Your Heart
Naomi’s response to her afflictions reveal three ways bitterness operates inside us.

Bitterness skews your view of yourself. “Is this Naomi?” the women in town ask the one who now wears a bitter countenance (Ruth 1:20a).

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The Wisdom of the Cross is Infinitely Superior to the Wisdom of Psychology, Part Two

Christian psychology is flawed because it reveals a loyalty to man’s wisdom as opposed to a pure, childlike trust in the Word of God. It is nothing short of a subtle strategy of Satan to keep the gospel of Christ hidden from men by cloaking it within the arrogance of human wisdom. When human wisdom is blended with the pure truth of Christ, the result is only confusion and the supplanting of faith in the sufficiency of Scripture with trust in man.

The wisdom of man is foolishness to God, and the wisdom of God is foolishness to the unregenerate man. This means that the more man tries to find God or true wholeness through his own wisdom, the more he worships the creature rather than the Creator. Subsequently, the more the church seeks solutions to soul care needs by integrating theology with psychology, the farther we drift from the God of truth and undermine the work of the Spirit, who is committed to working through the Word.
Psychology Is Antagonistic to the Cross of Christ
The revelation of God in Christ is radically distinct from anything the world of psychological counseling can offer. By its very nature, worldly psychology is antagonistic to the cross since it exalts man’s wisdom and diminishes Jesus, the very source of truth (John 14:6). David Powlison testifies,
After years in the psychotherapeutic world, I found that Christ turned my life upside down. Then I started to see that he turned the whole world upside down: everything was God-centered, not man-centered. That meant that counseling needed a fundamental realignment to inhabit the real world, not the world fabricated by unbelief.”[1]
To attempt to integrate biblical theology with psychology is, therefore, utterly foolish and will only lead to the exaltation of man, which in turn will ultimately lead to the spiritual ruin of others.
In our day, as in Paul’s, those who elevate worldly psychology to be equal to or above God’s Word consider themselves to be the enlightened ones, and we who stand solely on the Scriptures are the archaic, unenlightened ones. Looking to secular psychology for new insight, rather than doing the more laborious work of mining wisdom from Scripture, produces the elitism which bubbles up from pride. Though the theories of worldly psychology are constantly changing, the wisdom of God in the gospel is inflexible and superior because it is rooted in Jesus Christ, who is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
The integration of psychology and theology is nothing less than a silent admission of a lack of confidence in the sufficiency of the Word of God, both living and written. For this reason, biblical counselors must be faithful to engage in active combat with every form of human wisdom “raised up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:5). Regardless of the subtlety of Christian psychology’s assault or the sincerity of its advocates, it is an attack on the sufficiency of Christ, nonetheless.
Integrationism is Flawed on Two Basic Levels
The integration of psychology and Christian theology is flawed on at least two basic levels.
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In Christ, We Have Direct Access to God

Jesus alone is the “one mediator between God and men” (1 Tim. 2:5), who “always lives to make intercession” for us (Heb. 7:25). Now, all who come to Christ by faith can approach God with confidence because they do so through the Son’s merit alone. Therefore, it is consistent for the Bible to compel us to draw near to God provided it is “in full assurance of faith.” Faith has no power or value unless its object is perfect.

…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…
Hebrews 10:22
Is it inconsistent for the Bible to teach us that God “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Tim. 6:16), while at the same time exhort us to draw near to him? If God dwells in the white-hot light of his holiness, how can sinners like you and me ever hope to take even one baby step toward him? If God is so pure, so completely undefiled, so sharply separate from sin, how can we approach him? Indeed, it seems, he is unapproachable.
Yet the author of Hebrews strongly encourages believers to not only approach God, but to do so with “full assurance.” How can this be? Is it not contradictory? It would be if it were not for one word, used twice, “since.” Read the following verse in its context; that is, considering its surroundings.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
(Heb. 10:19-22, emphasis added)
There are two reasons you can enter God’s presence directly.
Jesus Paved the Way to God
The first reason you can approach the unapproachable God is because Jesus paved the way to God with his blood. As a result, “we have confidence to enter the holy places.” Jesus paved a “new and living way” into God’s presence. How did he do this? “Through the curtain, that is, his flesh.”
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On Name-Dropping and Being a Servant of God

James acknowledges that he no longer belongs to himself. He is owned by God; he is now the property of Jesus Christ, his new master. But this was not always the case. Even though James and his brothers daily witnessed the sinlessness of Jesus, as well as his miracles (such as turning water into wine, John 2:12), they did not believe in him as Messiah. It appears that none of them did until after Jesus was crucified, buried, and risen.

Name-dropping is a popular way to impress others—even among Christians. To casually mention our association or loose acquaintance with a prominent person may immediately enlarge our perceived worth or influence in the eyes of those whose respect we crave. But James, the half-brother of Jesus himself, doesn’t succumb to that temptation. Instead, he calls himself “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
James 1:1
Scripture informs us that James was one of at least six half-siblings of Jesus, the biological children of Joseph and Mary (Matt. 13:54-56). Though a half-brother, James was a blood relative of Jesus Christ just the same. Yet, never does James drop his half-brother’s name but instead introduces himself merely as “a servant of God.” He does not endorse himself as “James, the blood brother of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah; chief leader and spokesperson of the church in Jerusalem; defender of the gospel of grace; called an apostle by Paul himself” even though all of that is true (Acts 15:13, 19; Gal. 1:19; 2:9). On the contrary, James works hard not to draw attention to himself.
The term servant is best translated “slave,” which is the literal meaning of the Greek word doulos and “indicates full subjection to the authority of another.”[1] By referring to himself as such, James acknowledges that he no longer belongs to himself.
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God’s Anger Can Open the Door to Experiencing His Mercy

God’s anger “marks the end of indifference.” It marks the end of His patience with sinners, and ironically, it also signals the opening of the door to experiencing His mercy. This is the discipleship of Jeremiah—who spoke with compassion yet clarity and realism and counseled his people toward a relentless pursuit of the Lord through their pain.

God is love. He would never intentionally bring pain and suffering into my life. Therefore, the grief that I experience is from some impersonal force—like fate— something random and out of control. It certainly cannot be from God. He is too good to let me suffer.
Many professing Christians reason this way.
But the Bible clearly teaches that God is both infinitely good and in control of all creation—even the evil in the world. Though He is not the author of evil, He is Ruler over it, as the book of Job illustrates. And because God is in control of all things, we can have hope and turn to Him for mercy and grace in the face of overwhelming circumstances.
In Lamentations 2:1-22, Jeremiah did not stop with simply recognizing that the Lord was the One who was behind Judah’s horrifying circumstances. To simply say, “God did this,” and then stop would leave God’s people to dangle over the precipice of bitterness and despair. It would inevitably lead to hardness of heart and hopelessness. Instead, as pastor-poet, Jeremiah moved on to shepherd the severely disciplined nation and thus minister a measure of comfort and hope to them.
We, like Jeremiah, must live with the temporal consequences of sin in a fallen world.
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You Can Approach the Unapproachable God Because of the Finished Work of Christ

Jesus is greater than all human priests. The author calls Him a “great” priest because He did not bring a foreign sacrifice to God, but instead offered Himself. “Once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb 9:26). Only absolute purity would do. Only sinless flesh could satisfy God’s justice and mediate for sinners. As High Priest, Christ entered the holy place not made with hands to offer one sacrifice, one time, for all people. As a result, 

He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords; who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see (1 Tim. 6:15-16). 
Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:22).
Is it inconsistent for the Bible to teach that God dwells in “unapproachable light” while at the same time exhort us to approach Him? If God dwells in the white-hot light of His holiness, how can sinners like you and I ever hope to take even one baby step toward Him? If God is so pure, so completely undefiled, so sharply separate from sin, how can we approach Him? Indeed, He is unapproachable.
Yet, the author of Hebrews strongly encourages us to not only approach God, but to do so with confidence. How can this be? Is this not contradictory? It would be if it were not for two words, “since” and “since.”
Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh (Heb 10:19-20).
The first reason why it is possible to approach the unapproachable God is because Jesus paved the way to God with His blood. He tiled a “newly slain way” into God’s presence. How did He do this? “Through the veil, that is, His flesh.” Through suffering and death, Jesus opened the door to God.
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Our Suffering Profits Us and Benefits Others

There is no power in our strength, but there is much power in our weakness—God’s power—made infinitely more visible and glorious against the backdrop of our frail humanity. I am convinced that the more trials we endure, the more opportunities God will give us to comfort those who will have to walk where we have limped so that we may dispense the same grace that we received along the way.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake…
Colossians 1:24
The apostle Paul rejoiced in his sufferings because he knew that God was using them to produce growth in his own life through the experience of receiving divine comfort, which would then touch the lives of those whom he served. Writing to the Corinthians, he says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3–4). Suffering enhances ministry because it produces a common ground on which to relate to others who are in the midst of the same types of trials that we have already experienced and endured.
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