Excerpted from ‘Overcoming Bitterness’ (Baker Books)
By Stephen Viars
Bitter words and actions are not like wax fruit we paste on the outside of our existence. If that were the case, we could simply address issues like bitterness behaviorally and keep right on moving. God’s Word paints a much more comprehensive picture of how human life works. Our behavior, including bitterness, flows out of a fully functioning heart or inner person. Jesus explained it like this:
“That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” —Mark 7:20–23
The word “heart” is used over 700 times in the Bible. It isn’t simply the seat of our emotions or the physical organ in our body. In God’s Word, “heart” encompasses every aspect of our inner person. It is our control center and includes everything about us that is not material. It is so important that King Solomon tells us, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23).
A Core Passage
Solomon also made the important observation that “the heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not share its joy” (Prov. 14:10). This is why it’s crucial for us to consider the core beliefs, habitual desires and characteristic thought patterns that underlie bitter words and actions. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit stands ready to help us do just that. His Word is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from his sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:12–13).
Good News and Bad News?
Bitterness begins in the heart. I suppose we could look at this principle either positively or negatively. On the plus side, God has designed life so that we have the time and opportunity to address what is happening inside before those around us can see or are impacted by our outward behavior. I’ve always considered that a marvelous gift. I don’t want to know everything that others think about me, and I certainly don’t want others to know everything I think about them. We can also rejoice that as we apply gospel-saturated principles to what is happening inside, we can put a stop to what displeases God before negatively impacting others.
On the negative side, some of us are not as motivated to deal with our heart as we ought to be, because we have no external motivation to do so. Since no one else knows, there are no immediate consequences. Wise is the person who gives careful attention to the heart of bitterness and then addresses such issues before they grow into external behavioral choices.
Excerpted from Overcoming Bitterness by Stephen Viars. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2021. Used by permission.