16 So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, “Before your father died he commanded, saying, 17 ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: “I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you.” ‘ Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him (Genesis 50:16–17, NKJV).
There are few more poignant scenes of merciful forgiveness in the Bible than Joseph toward his brothers. They had hated and envied him (Gen. 37:3-11). Some of them wanted to kill him before agreeing to sell him to traders (who sold him into slavery in Egypt). Then, they lied about his death to their father and silently watched him grieve (Gen. 37:12-36). Now their father was dead, and they feared retribution (Gen. 50:15). In contrition, they fell before Joseph, entirely at his mercy (Gen. 50:18). Joseph forgave their sins against him with humble faith in God (Gen. 50:19-20). Instead of responding with bitter, resentful retaliation, Joseph comforted their fears with kindness and promised to provide for them and their children (Gen. 50:21). Oh, that we may forgive others this way! Surely, in Christ, this is how God forgives our sins against Him (Luke 15:17-24; Eph. 2:4-7; 4:31-32). Remember, God will not forgive us if we do not forgive each other from the heart (Matt. 18:35; 6:14-15).
16 At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. 17 But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. 18 And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen (2 Timothy 4:16–18, NKJV)!
Paul could have been bitter as he surveyed his situation. He was now aged, and life was nearing its end (Philem. 9; 2 Tim. 4:6). Demas had forsaken him for this present evil age (2 Tim. 4:10). Alexander, the coppersmith, had done him much harm and resisted the gospel Paul taught (2 Tim. 4:14-15). No one stood with him when he defended himself before the Roman authorities (v. 16). But Paul was not weakened in faith. The Lord rescued Paul from inevitable demise (the lion’s mouth). The Lord would certainly deliver him even though death was near. His faith was in the Lord, not people (v. 17). Paul fixed his faith on the everlasting, heavenly kingdom and deliverance from the evils of this world (v. 18; 2 Tim. 4:7-8). Do not become embittered when people let you down, hurt you, and forsake you. The Lord will not fail you (Heb. 13:5-6). Wouldn’t it have been tragic if Paul had become a bitter, cynical old man at the end of his life? His example of steadfast faith continues to strengthen aged ones whose faith is in the Lord.
103 How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! 104 Through Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way. (Psalm 119:103–104, NKJV)
God’s word is pleasant to the taste of those who meditate on it continually, who rest their understanding in it, and who follow it to avoid evil and do good (Psa. 119:97-102). Possessing a knowledge of truth and an aversion to error equally describe the lover of God’s word. The real test comes when God’s word reproves us and rebukes us. Does God’s word become bitter to us when it exposes our sin and error? It ought to remain just as sweet as when it approves us, for its reproofs identify where we need to correct ourselves and grow in the Lord. Does God’s word become bitter to us when it rebukes our sin? It ought to remain just as sweet as when it approves us, for in its rebukes are pleas to repent and be renewed. Solomon wrote, “The ear that hears the rebukes of life will abide among the wise. He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding” (Prov. 15:31-32). Preaching the word of God includes reproof and rebuke – not to become a judge over others – but to proclaim God’s word of warning and salvation to the lost (2 Tim. 4:2). Whatever message God’s word contains, it will always be pleasant and refreshing to those who accept its wisdom and obey its precepts.
31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31–32, NKJV)
Bitterness is like acid eating through one’s heart. There is no room for compassion, kindness and merciful forgiveness in the bitter heart. The companions of bitterness are angry, resentful responses, evil words and ill will. Christians must put away all these things from their hearts. This can be done by recalling the kindness of God toward us in Christ. God could have been bitter toward us because of our sins against Him. But, His kind love forgives us in Jesus. There can be no room in our hearts for bitter resentment. Be kind. Be merciful. Forgive. That’s how God has treated you in His Son, Jesus Christ.
14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; 16 lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. (Hebrews 12:14–16, NKJV)
God did not promise peace to His people in this life. Indeed, Jesus said, “in the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jno. 16:33). God’s grace in Christ gives us sure hope, even as sorrow and pain tempt us to abandon the very grace that sustains us as we walk this vale of tears. And so, we are warned not let life’s sorrows and trials turn to bitterness. Once bitterness takes root in the heart it is a dreadful enemy to peace and holiness. The bitter heart has lost faith, and so falls short of the grace of God. Esau serves to illustrate the base values that led him down the path of bitterness. When life does not turn out like you wanted or expected, do not become bitter. Strive for peace and walk in holiness; resist the temptation to become bitter. Bitterness of heart prevents pursuing peace and holiness, and finally, it prevents a person from seeing the Lord throughout all eternity.
31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)
Bitterness is like acid eating through one’s heart. Gone is empathy, kindness and merciful forgiveness toward one who sins against the bitter of heart. The companions of bitterness are angry, resentful responses, evil words and ill will. Christians must put away all these things from their hearts. This is done by recalling the kindness of God toward us in Christ. God could have been bitter toward us because of our sins against Him. But His kind love forgives us in Jesus. There is no room in our hearts for bitter resentment. Be kind. Be merciful. Forgive. That’s how God has treated you in His Son.