PASTOR'S PEN: Free your soul; R.E.L.E.A.S.E. your enemies

By Rev. Stephen Tschannen

Irons Union Church

We instinctively know bitterness is a self imposed assault on our own soul. Harboring bitterness is giving our offender permission to continue their attack. We also know God demands we forgive others just as we have been forgiven by God. Holding onto a grudge is simply not a healthy or humble option for Christians.

The problem is, emotionally, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. We have intense emotional motivation toward maintaining bitterness. We need practical wisdom in order to gain victory over this often excruciatingly difficult spiritual battle.

The Bible offers practical wisdom. When diligently applied with consistent self discipline, that wisdom will free your soul. Use the acronym R.E.L.E.A.S.E. as a reminder of God’s wisdom that helps remove bitterness from the soul.

R.E.L.E.A.S.E

RELINQUISH your right to revenge. People are bitter because, right or mistaken, they feel they have been victimized and they want to hurt the person who hurt them. Because we feel victimized, we feel justified in desiring vengeance. In Matthew chapter 18, Jesus speaks a parable on forgiveness. In verse 27 Jesus illustrates ‘Forgiving’ as a ‘Releasing,’ and bitterness as similar to choking someone. With bitterness, we psychologically ‘choke’ our offender. We pin them in front of us by continually, mentally rehashing the offence and imagine carrying out vengeance. But we have to ‘let them go’ by emotionally ‘Releasing’ our right to revenge. This requires a decision point we must make in our soul. Remember, God unconditionally loves you, and relinquished His right of vengeance by forgiving your sins against Him. He expects us to do the same for our enemies.

ENTER His courts with thanksgiving in your heart. We are commanded by God to be thankful. A thankful soul rejoices even in the midst of suffering and soul anguish. Accomplish this by remembering how much you have been forgiven. Jesus implied this principle in verse 33. This mental discipline will nurture a spirit of thankfulness by encouraging you to put your own wrongs in perspective. Also, when we worship the Lord, when we praise Him in song among God’s people, we will feel emotionally empowered to let go of bitterness and forgive. Moreover, in the presence of God’s people we will be challenged by our fellow Christians to forgive. A true friend will speak truth in love even if it is painful to hear.

LOVE your enemies. Bless those who curse you. The apostle Paul taught a practical step to freedom. He wrote, ‘Bless, do not curse. Never take your own revenge; Do not be overcome by evil, (or bitterness) but overcome evil (or bitterness) with good” (Romans 12). Blessing could be as simple as praying for the person every time they come to mind. We can only hold on to bitterness by reflecting on the wound, so we have to stop thinking about the event. Unfortunately, we cannot simply ‘banish’ a thought from the mind; the trick is to replace a negative thought with a positive thought. When the image of vengeance and hate comes to the forefront of your mind, literally pray to God, requesting some kind of a blessing on that person.

ELEVATE your enemies. Jesus humbled Himself and washed the feet of the disciples, among whom was Judas, the Lord’s betrayer. Change your heart by changing your actions. Engage in positive acts towards the offender. When we decide to humble ourselves, as Jesus humbled Himself, then God will strengthen and free your heart from vengeance and spite. Careful! I am not challenging you to give permission to an abuser to further victimize you. Safety boundaries are Biblical. Jesus allowed for Christians to defend themselves. He said, ‘if they persecute you in one city … flee.’ However, I am suggesting you humble yourself as Jesus demonstrated. Be creative!

APOLOGIZE. In harboring unforgiveness we sin against God. Jesus plainly said, ‘if you will not forgive, neither will you be forgiven’ (Matt. 6:15). We also sin against our enemies by harboring hatred for them. Jesus equated hatred with murder. We need God’s forgiveness. If you are serious about finding freedom from the spiritual curse of bitterness, then you need God’s help. However, God will often withhold help as He patiently awaits our repentance. Jesus implied this in Matthew 18 when He said the bitter soul would be ‘imprisoned’ ‘until he pays every penny he owes’ (18:34). God longs to grant us freedom from our self-imposed prisons. The prison of bitterness is our own soul, and ironically, sometimes repentance is the key.

SEE the unseen. Recognize the influence of bitterness; Stop pretending. Also, Recognize the torturous influence of demons on a bitter soul. Again, in His parable on forgiveness, Jesus speaks of the demonically destructive power of bitterness. In 18:34 Jesus uses the word, ‘Torturer.’ In Greek, the word Jesus used means a ‘touchstone,’ which was a dark stone used in testing metals by striking one stone against another. This carries the frightening idea of examination by torture. What kind of torture? Bitterness assaults your relationships. Bitterness imprisons your heart. Bitterness prevents you from giving or receiving love. Friends, family and others will be grieved, hurt, and offended by your bitterness, eventually isolating you. Stop minimizing the corrosive influence of bitterness on your entire existence; your emotions, relationships, and spiritual wellbeing.

ENLIST the help of the Holy Spirit. Replacing darkness by inviting light into your soul is a critical step. Replace bitterness with compassion. We need to feel compassion for our enemies in order to forgive them. In His parable on forgiveness, Jesus taught that, “the lord of a slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him” (Matthew 18:27). The key here is found in purposefully nurturing compassion for our enemies. Compassion deeply stirs the soul with empathy that compels us to action. Compassion causes us to feel emotionally gracious, rather than emotionally choking or hating our enemies.

The Bible teaches that the emotion, ‘Compassion,’ is felt in the bowels. Interestingly, this is the same place the Holy Spirit is said to dwell within us. In John 7:38-39, Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit saying, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” The Holy Spirit provides supernatural, internal transformation by filling us with compassion, replacing bitterness in the soul. If you need help with this, simply ask the Holy Spirit. As the Apostle James said, ‘You have not, because you ask not.’

Those who have been grievously wounded will have to work hard at becoming completely emotionally free. Forgiveness takes time when the wounds are deep. If you are willing to fight the good fight, diligently applying these principles in a self-controlled exercise of spiritual discipline, God will give you the grace to find freedom. Banish those bitter deceiving demons with the redeeming power of God’s unconditional love; the same unconditional love with which God reconciled Himself to you, while still in your sin and yet His enemy.