Biblical Answers for Bitterness

 The name Girgashite means literally “dwelling on a clayey soil” or “one who turns back.”  I believe this is equivalent to “being stuck in the mud.”  In many cases, it is our dominating emotions that hold us back from going on or forward in life.  In this Chapter, I will deal with the emotional problems that result in the bitterness that is frequently caused by hurts, emotional wounds, and psychological scars.  Although this problem is a common one, when it results in deep feelings of bitterness, it can become a complex problem that pervades the client’s entire life.  If clients do not overcome the bitterness in their lives, it can scar them permanently.  It can significantly destroy the quality of their lives and the lives of everyone around them.  To a bitter person, nothing in life, except possibly revenge, tastes sweet. 


Probably the greatest impact on our feelings of love and attachment are caused by the negative experiences of our lives and the hurts, wounds, and scars that remain from our interpersonal experiences.  For those of us who have accepted the world’s system of evaluating our worth by how others view us, these hurts, wounds  and scars can also have a significant effect on how we view our self-worth.  When we take offenses personally and apply them to our self-worth, they become wounds; and if we fail to deal with them correctly, they become scars that continue to affect us for the rest of our lives.  Correctly perceiving the events of our lives from God’s point of view, and processing them through forgiveness and reconciliation can bring healing.  


The Model of John Mark on Hurts, Wounds, and Scars (from the book Transformation)

In order to understand these concepts in a clearer way, let us examine this process in the lives of John Mark and the Apostle Paul.  Most of us would agree that, with the exception of Jesus Himself, the Apostle Paul probably suffered more for the Gospel and experienced more hurts, wounds, and scars at the hands of other people than anyone else in the Bible.  This story provides us with a clear illustration of how we are to deal with our inevitable hurts so that they do not become wounds or scars.  It will hopefully provide insight so that our negative experiences will not become an emotional table of contents for our future.  In the Greek, John means, “Jehovah is a gracious giver," and Mark is interpreted “a defense.”  We have to choose what we will believe about the events of our lives.  Is God a gracious giver who will meet all of our needs in spite of what others do to us, or is the world a dangerous place where we have to look out for and defend ourselves? 


Even a great man like the Apostle Paul can struggle with issues of self-worth and offenses in his life.  In this story, we can see how taking things personally can affect our lives in negative ways.  This is especially true if we allow what happens to us to affect our self-image.  Correctly interpreting what happens to us from God’s point of view is the key to handling the offenses of life.  We should understand that initially even the Apostle Paul took the events of his life as a personal affront; but later was able, by changing his perspective, to see them from God’s point of view and restore his relationship with John Mark.


            1.  John Mark came from a good family and had even experienced miracles.  He seemed like the perfect person for the Apostle Paul to disciple as a future missionary.  Paul at this time went by the name of Saul that means “asked or desired.”  This may suggest that all he wanted was to do whatever God asked or desired of him. 


Ac 12:12  And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.  17  But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.  25  And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark. 


            2.  John Mark was asked to be an assistant to a great missionary venture.  God had called Barnabas, his uncle, and Saul to lead the first missionary trip of the early church.  Barnabas asked John to go along as an assistant.  Things seemed to be going his way. 


Ac 13:2  As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.  3  And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.  4  So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.  5  And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister


            3.  At Paphos something seems to have happened that changed the overall character of the missionary trip.  God used Saul to confront and blind the sorcerer Barjesus when he attempted to resist the gospel.  This experience appears to have changed Saul’s self-image and the overall character of the missionary trip itself.  After this time, Saul began to refer to himself as Paul.  Paul means “little.”  Possibly, when God used him to do a miracle, he took it to heart, and in order to deal with his pride, began referring to himself as Paul.  Later Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” is related to his struggle with pride (2nd Corinthians 12:7).  It also appears that he supplanted Mark’s uncle Barnabas as leader of the missionary trip.  This is clear when we compare verse 7 which reads “Barnabus and Saul” with verse 13 which reads “Paul and his company.”  This significant change in order of Paul and Barnabas’s names continues throughout remainder of the references to this missionary trip.  Historically this trip it is now known as “Paul’s first missionary trip.” 


Ac 13:6  And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus (son of Jesus or Joshua): 7  Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius (earth borne, wonderer) Paulus (small or little), a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God. 8  But Elymas (a wise man) the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith. 9  Then Saul, (who also is called Paul), filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, 10  And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?  11  And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.  12  Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord. 


            4.  John Mark left the missionary venture in Pamphylia and returned to Jerusalem. Possibly he may have taken the change of leadership and Paul’s new attitude personally, was offended, and returned to Jerusalem (his home town; it means “peace”).  It also appears that Paul became very sick at Pamphylia.  Pamphylia was known for a particularly virulent form of recurring malarial fever which caused excruciating headaches described like “a red-hot bar thrust through the forehead.” (Barklay, 1976, Vol. 7, p. 102.)  The fact that he was sick is clear from his later comment to the Galatians, their next stop on the trip.  John Mark may have feared the next part of the journey which required traveling on one of the most difficult and dangerous roads in the world.  (P. 101)  Whatever the reason, John Mark deserted his post at a most inopportune time without much notice. 


Ac 13:13  Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.

Ga 4:13  Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.  14  And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.  15  Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me. 


            5.  Paul seems to have taken John Mark’s desertion, when he was needed most, personally and refused to take him on the next missionary trip.  Barnabas whose name means “son of consolation” clearly forgave and reconciled with his cousin Mark.  Paul did not, and it led to such a conflict that Paul and Barnabas parted company.  People struggling with low self-worth and pride are prone to taking everything personally, and this is part of their downfall.  When we perceive others as personally offending us, it is easy to see this as additional evidence that we must be inadequate in some way or that it is not safe to attach with or depend on them.    


Ac 15:36  And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.  37  And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark.  38  But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.  39  And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;  40  And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.


Overcoming Hurts, Wounds, and Scars 

As Paul continued to struggled with his self-worth and his conflict with John Mark, he was finally able to achieve victory over them.  Through his letters and actions he provides us with the principles for overcoming these problems in our own lives.  When our perceptions about others and ourselves change, so do our emotions and our willingness to reconcile our relationships. 


            1.  We must believe that God works everything for our good—even our mistakes, others offenses, and the attacks of Satan.  God has a plan for our lives that includes being conformed to the image of His son Jesus.  It is our job simply to submit to His plan and believe that everything will eventually work out for good.  Therefore, it is clear that the events of our life have nothing to do with our worth as a person. 


Ro 8:28  And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.  29  For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.  30  Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.


            2.  We must believe that God is for us and that He will not condemn us for our failures.  Consequently, we should not condemn ourselves or apply negative, or even positive, experiences to our worth as a person.  

Ro 8:31  What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?  32  He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?  33  Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.  34  Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.


            3.  We are to interpret even the most negative experiences as simply challenges to beovercome and opportunities for God to demonstrate His power through us.


Ro 8:35  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  36  As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.  37  Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.


             4.  Our worth is to be based on God’s unconditional and unending love for us, which can not be affected in any way by the circumstances, enemies, or events of our lives.


Ro 8:38  For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,  39  Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


             5.  We must deal with our pride as the Apostle Paul did, so that God will get the glory, not us.


2 Co 12:5  Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.  6  For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.  7  And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.  8  For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.  9  And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  10  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. 


            6. We need to see other people and the events of life from an eternal perspective.  Other people are just like us.  We are all of equal value to God even though we all have problems and make mistakes.  We all have a specific race to run and are not in competition with each other.  We all need to focus on Jesus as our great example and pattern for life. 


Heb 12:1  Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2  Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.  3  For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.  4  Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. 


            7.  We need to see our problems as stepping stones to the development of our character, not threats to our self-worth. 


Ro 5:3  And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;  4  And patience, experience; and experience, hope:  5  And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.


            8.  Sometimes negative events in our lives are for our correction so that we do not fail in our character or in fulfilling our ministry.


Heb 12:5  And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:  6  For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.   7  If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?  8  But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.  9  Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?  10  For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.  11  Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.  12  Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;  13  And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.  14  Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:


             9. We must both accept God’s grace and give it to others to avoid bitterness. Our emotions are simply thermometers reflecting how we perceive our world.  Once Paul began to see that even the failures of others and the attacks of Satan were used by God for his good, his feelings about the situation with John Mark began to change.  Here, he warned against developing a root of bitterness and suggested that it was God that would comfort us no matter what the circumstances were.  When we see the hand of God working in our lives in spite of everything that may happen, we begin to feel more confident, especially concerning our value to God. 


Heb 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;

2 Co 1:4  Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.


             10.  We need to expect that God will work even the negative events of our lives for our good.  Paul had replaced John Mark with Timothy.  If John Mark had not deserted Paul, Timothy would probably not have had the opportunity to be discipled by Paul.  Timothy became one of the greatest pastors of the early church.  Silas, who was recruited to replace Barnabas on the second missionary trip, also became a great man of God. 


Ac 16:1  Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek: 2  Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium (little image).  3  Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek.  4  And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.  5  And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily. 


            11.  We must forgive and do our part to resolve any offenses.  It is not enough to change how we perceive the events of our lives and to emotionally understand our value to God; we need to begin to act according to our new outlook.  Paul finally reached the conclusion that John Mark was useful to him in his ministry and asked Luke to bring Mark to him so that he could be restored to the ministry.  It appears that Paul had already forgiven John Mark and that John Mark had already proven himself after he had been given a second chance.  Paul wrote numerous verses on the subject of forgiveness.  He believed that God is the only one that is to judge the actions of others, and that we are to trust in Him to vindicate us. 


2 Ti 4:11  Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.

Mt 6:14  For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:  15  But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 


             12. We need to refocus on the things that really count—the kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul makes it very clear that the negative events of life are to be put behind us and not allowed to affect our self-worth so that we can fully focus on what God has called us to do.  We are not to base our worth on our own acts of righteousness but on our faith in God’s love for us.  We should expect to experience suffering and always be careful not to think that we have become somebody by our own effort. 


Php 3:7  But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.  8  Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,  9  And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:  10  That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; 11  If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.  12  Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.  13  Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,  14  I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. 


Steps for Overcoming Hurts, Wounds, and Scars of Bitterness

1.  Events and offenses will happen, but they do not have to turn into hurts, wounds, and scars. 


2.  If we make the mistake of taking what happens to us personally, it hurts us.  If we apply it to our worth as a person, it becomes a wound;  if we handle our wounds incorrectly, they can become a scar.


3.  We handle our wounds incorrectly if we bury our emotions, blame others, or let them affect how we perceive ourselves.  This can result in a future hindered by the past, angry outbursts, unhealthy relationships, emotional turmoil, and sickness.


4.   We must believe that even if others meant it for evil, God will always work everything, even our mistakes, for our good.


5.   We must forgive others since they have problems just like us, refuse to judge others, pray for them and not take offenses personally.


6.  We should take responsibility for our part, do what we can to resolve the problem, give what we cannot fix to God, and grieve our losses.


7.  We are to release the past, admit our mistakes and weaknesses, refuse to accept condemnation, refocus on God’s high calling for our lives, and rely on God to accomplish His will through us.   


Books on Dealing with Emotions

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