Several years ago I was dating a really great woman, Sarah (let’s call her that). I met her through a friend of mine who knew her from his Bible study. When we met, we immediately clicked. There was familiarity of faith, where she grew up, church and a myriad of other things. Like many relationships, it started out with plenty of promise and great expectations but it eventually faded away.
The primary reason for this was me. During the months we dated, we enjoyed good quality time with friends and family, but as time went on I found it difficult to focus on our relationship. I found myself being temperamental, impatient and angry. The problem was not with her, the problem was with me; my feelings, and thoughts from a past relationship.
Sarah correctly sensed an attachment in my past relationship that kept me from moving forward with her, but it wasn’t what she thought. She thought my attachment was a sign I wanted to return to that past relationship.
She could not have been more wrong. My past relationship was very hurtful to me. I had been betrayed, disrespected and dishonored, and all these things made me really mad. I could not think of any redeeming quality of the past relationship. I thought, if I was in this wonderful relationship now with Sarah, the past shouldn’t matter, right?
The problem was that my heart was infected with bitterness. You see, against the wisdom of God’s Word I allowed bitterness to take root in my heart. Hebrews 12:15 specifically states “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”
You know, it may surprise you to know that the woman from my past relationship, my former girlfriend, actually did come to me wanting to ask for forgiveness, but I refused to see her.
The thing to remember about bitterness is exactly what the writer of the letter to the Hebrews states: “by it many become defiled.” Bitterness doesn’t just stay inside one person; it overflows and infects … it poisons other people and relationships.
Bitterness seeks to build alliances. We talk about the hurt done to us, we seek to prove the other person is “wrong,” or worse, “evil.” We recruit others to affirm our pain. If they disagree with us, we may no longer even bother calling them friends or trusted ones.
The sad thing is that the problem was caused because I refused to forgive her. It almost seemed too easy to let her off the hook; that would have been like affirming that everything that she did to me was right. I was proud and arrogant, and I thought I deserved more. I felt that she had to jump through a great many hoops to earn my forgiveness.
Eventually I learned to forgive her, but that great relationship that I had with Sarah? It was gone. She moved on to someone better …
Choosing not to forgive has consequences.
Unforgiveness produces bitterness in our hearts.
As was clearly demonstrated in my own life, choosing not to forgive produces a bitterness that ruins all relationships in our lives. This bitterness comes out in an attitude toward those who hurt us; it is displayed in our speech, which can be cutting, sarcastic and often slanderous. I have seen bitterness destroy what were once deep and lively relationships.
Unforgiveness keeps us trapped in the past.
When we choose not to forgive, it holds us captive to the things we actually want to break free from. Everything I saw and experienced was filtered through the grip of my unforgiving heart from the past. Sadly, I know people who, when spoken to, speak as if their hurt was from yesterday, but in reality it happened many years ago, sometimes decades ago.
Unforgiveness hinders fellowship with God.
I believe that when we choose not to forgive, something spiritual happens, and it’s not good. When we choose not to forgive, it’s almost as if we forget the greatest thing that God did for us—He forgave! Matthew 6:14-15 warns us clearly, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” In Matthew 18:21-35, we find the sobering parable about a man who was forgiven greatly. However, he would not forgive others, and tragic consequences followed.
Unforgiveness gives Satan an opportunity in our lives.
Sadly, much of the ground gained by Satan in a believer’s life is through an unforgiving spirit. I have read and experienced sad stories of people who cannot grow at all in their spiritual walk because of their inability to forgive. This leads to real spiritual warfare in their lives, and the sad reality is that they seem not to understand the great debt the Lord has forgiven them for.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:10-11: “Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.” Get that? To forgive is to outwit Satan. Forgiveness thwarts Satan!
If you are holding on to something that needs to be forgiven, I implore you … FORGIVE; it will change your life!
Read the first part in the series “Choosing to Forgive” by Pastor BK Smith.