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Choosing Forgiveness Over Bitterness

See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.
–Hebrews 12:15

While I was a pastor in a previous church, I had a weekly newspaper column in our local newspaper called “Ask the Doctor.” People would write in various questions about the Bible, theology, and the Christian life. One of the most frequently asked questions was this one: “What is the worst sin a person can commit?” People were always surprised by my answer. They expected that I would mention one of the big three: murder, adultery, or homosexuality. They thought surely one of those would be the worst sin. But that wasn’t the sin I would mention.

Now we know that God doesn’t grade sin. All sin is sin in God’s eyes, and any sin is enough to disqualify us from God’s kingdom. James 2:10 tells us the smallest infraction of God’s law is equated with breaking all God’s laws: “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” In fact, God makes no distinction between sins of the mind and sins of the flesh. Jesus made it clear that if we hate someone in our hearts, it is tantamount to murder; if a man lusts after a woman in his heart, it is tantamount to adultery.

But the fact is, there are some sins that have greater consequences in this life than other sins. That is why I chose the sin of bitterness as the worst sin that somebody can commit. Bitterness–refusing to let go of hurts in your life, refusing to forgive the offenses of others–has devastating results not only in our lives but also in the lives of those around us. In Hebrews 12:15, the writer said, “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.” We usually don’t get to change the circumstances in our lives, but we can choose how we respond to the circumstances of life.

One common circumstance every one of us has experienced is this: at some point in your life, you are going to be hurt deeply by another person. Have you discovered that you can’t control what other people do to you? Somebody is going to hurt you deeply. It may be a friend who betrays you, a mate who deserts you, a parent who abuses you, or a business associate who cheats you, but the fact is, we are all going to be hurt. That is a common experience.

We can’t control whether we get hurt, but we do have control over how we respond to those hurts in life. We can choose to hold on to our hurt until that bitterness metastasizes and destroys our lives and those around us. The other choice we have is to forgive those offenses. The word “forgive” literally means “to let go of.” Forgiveness is the attitude choice that honestly acknowledges an offense and then releases it on the basis of God’s forgiveness of us. This week, we will look at why we ought to choose forgiveness over bitterness.


Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Choosing Forgiveness Over Bitterness” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2019.

Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.


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