BITTERNESS* (By Janine Mick Wills)

Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Ephesians 4:31, 32

Bitterness occurs when we feel we have been treated unfairly. This unfairness can be real or imagined. But the person’s bitterness is always real and will continue to destroy if she does not forgive those with whom she is bitter.

Authoritative figures, especially parents, are the main targets of bitterness (A child believes her parents should have known what was best and taken care of her), followed by husbands or wives and brothers or sisters. There are men, who have bitterness and hatred against women (misogynists). That hatred can be directed at their wives, daughters, and/or other women.

negative emotions bitterness
Bitterness is intertwined with other negative emotions.

Bitterness is a continual angry response coupled with an unforgiving spirit. It is resentment based upon discontentment of violated rights. Bitterness leads to prolonged anger and a desire to get revenge. It does not seek reconciliation.

Bitterness comes from the Greek word pikria-; acridity (especially poison), literally or figuratively:–bitterness. It is symbolical of affliction, misery, and servitude (Exodus 1:14; Ruth 1:20; Jeremiah 9:15).

Bitterness is sin.  Acts 8:23 For I (Peter) perceive that thou (Simon) art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. James 3:14,15 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.

Bitterness is sin.

A bitter person lacks self-control. She exposes her vulnerability and gives place for the devil to wreak havoc (Proverbs 25:28 He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls).

Bitterness must be dealt with immediately (Ephesians 4: 26, 27 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil).

Bitterness becomes worse if not dealt with in an expedient manner (Hebrews 12:15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled).

One does not see the root of a plant. The same is true of bitterness before it springs up and makes itself known (Proverbs 17:14 The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention before it be meddled with).

overgrown roots
Roots of bitterness

Bitterness affects the person who bears it and those around her. And many can be affected by a person’s bitterness (Hebrews 12:15 “… lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled).


  1. Overly sensitive to a verbal remark; action, or lack of action
  2. Hurt feelings (i.e. “It’s not fair.”)
  3. Repulsive feelings at the thought or sight of a person (Wishing retribution or judgment upon that person)
  4. Retention of wounds and frequently talking about them
  5. Alienation of a person
  6. Verbal slander against the person
  7. Lack of obedience (Matthew 5:44, 45)
  8. Becoming like the despised person
  9. Physical maladies such as headaches, ulcers, chronic fatigue (et. al.)
sad lady cartoon
The signs of s bitter person


  1. She cares little for the person of whom she is bitter.
  2. She is touchy and easily offended.
  3. She can be ungrateful (Not thankful to God and others).
  4. She gives empty flattery and harsh criticism.
  5. She holds grudges and finds it difficult to forgive.
  6. She displays stubbornness or a sulky attitude.
  7. She helps no one or complains when asked to help.
  8. She experiences mood extremes—highs and lows.

Bitterness, like all sin, must be confessed and forsaken because Christ has forgiven and can forgive (1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness).

FORGIVENESS – To excuse an offense or pass over a fault without demanding punishment

  • Saying, “I forgive but won’t forget” means, “I won’t forgive.”
  • Forgiveness demands a price for it bears the penalty of another’s sin.
  • Forgiveness initiates action of the will. We cannot wait for a feeling before we forgive.
  • Forgiveness surrenders the right to hurt someone because they hurt you.
  • Forgiveness is quiet and does not make itself known (Proverbs 25:9).
  • Forgiveness does not bring up the past (Isaiah 43:25; Psalm 103:12).

You must forgive the person of whom you are bitter (Luke 6:28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you).

You cannot be right with God unless you forgive (Matthew 6:14, 15 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses).

You are to keep forgiving if necessary (Luke 17:3 And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him).

You must take responsibility for reconciliation (Matthew 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother).

show love
Because God loves, we should love.

God is a God of love and those born of His Spirit are to exhibit His love (1 John 4:16 And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and  he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him).

Since bitterness is the opposite of love, a bitter person must first make sure she is saved (I John 4:8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love)**. If her salvation is secure, she must confess and ask forgiveness for her bitterness. From there she can seek restitution and restored fellowship with both God and with whom she was bitter.

*The following has been modified from a counseling project I completed while attending Ambassador Baptist College. I pray it will help those struggling with the root of or with a full-blown case of bitterness.

**If you are not sure of your salvation, click here “How to Know You Have Eternal Life”.


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