“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 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” (Hebrews 12:14-15 Hebrews 12:14-15 14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:
15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;
American King James Version×).
Bitterness is not good. In this verse it is associated with falling short of God’s grace, not seeing God, and “defiling,” or infecting, many other people. The New Living Translation even calls it a “poisonous” root of bitterness, further emphasizing the infectious and debilitating nature of this problem. Bitterness for others can arise from a variety of circumstances, but often it only begins as something small: a grudge.
A grudge is an angry gap between us and another person, but it is also a gap between us and God.
A grudge seems innocuous enough. Usually it comes from a situation where you feel justified in holding some matter against a person. “ ‘Forgive,’ but never forget,” as they say. However, over time, this unresolved anger stirs and festers. A form of partiality creeps in where you treat the person you have a grudge against differently than those you are “clean” with. It becomes infuriating to even see this person. Is that a way to live? Is that the way God wants you to live?
A proclamation God made over 3,400 years ago still stands today: “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18 Leviticus 19:18You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
American King James Version×). God does not want us to hold grudges. To bear grudges is to disregard the Golden Rule and forsake the heart of God’s law in our lives (Matthew 7:12 Matthew 7:12Therefore all things whatever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
American King James Version×). If we are to love each other as ourselves, we must put this damaging form of resentment behind us.
A grudge is an angry gap between us and another person, but it is also a gap between us and God. By stoking this fire, we give Satan the chance to enter this gap and pry us away from others and from God (Ephesians 4:26-27 Ephesians 4:26-27 26 Be you angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down on your wrath:
27 Neither give place to the devil.
American King James Version×). Grudges are destructive to the relationships we should hold dear, including the one we have with the Lord above. A grudge is just as much a spiritual condition as it is a social one.
In addition, carrying a grudge is a devastating and very personal form of revenge. We cannot grow to be like God and sustain an acerbic, vengeful attitude. This wrath and resentment is incapable of producing the fruits God wants to see from us (James 1:20 James 1:20For the wrath of man works not the righteousness of God.
American King James Version×). God’s verdict on revenge is crystal-clear in the Bible: it’s not for you and me. “ ‘Vengeance is Mine , I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19 Romans 12:19Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place to wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, said the Lord.
American King James Version×; emphasis added). As Christians it is not in our authority. We have no power or privilege to confer “justice” as we see fit. In doing so we elevate ourselves to a realm only God should inhabit. So what does God want us to do?
God’s direction for us is to not wish for, hope for, or talk about, but pursue peace! This is an active endeavor! It is echoed in the beatitudes, spoken by Jesus Christ: “Blessed are the peace makers , for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9 Matthew 5:9Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
American King James Version×; emphasis added).
Notice again that we are called to make peace, not sit around and wait for peace to come. “Make” is a common word with many synonyms that can be helpful in doing self-evaluation. Are you designing peace? Are you creating peace? Are you preparing peace? Are you assembling peace? Are you producing peace?
God further directs us to forgive those we have resentment towards and fully resolve our conflicts with them (Romans 12:17-21 Romans 12:17-21 17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
18 If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men.
19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place to wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, said the Lord.
20 Therefore if your enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing you shall heap coals of fire on his head.
21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
American King James Version×). Often, this requires us to both ask for and receive forgiveness from the individuals involved. The Bible instructs us to forgive others when we have a grudge against them, but also to approach others who may have a grudge against us and be reconciled to them (Mark 11:25 Mark 11:25And when you stand praying, forgive, if you have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
American King James Version×, Matthew 5:23-24 Matthew 5:23-24 23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has ought against you; 24 Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
American King James Version×).
Jesus states in Matthew 5:23-24 Matthew 5:23-24 23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has ought against you;
24 Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
American King James Version×to first be reconciled to the other person and then offer gifts up to Him. God wants to see us reconciled with others before we go to worship Him. God desires unity in His Church, not grudges and acrimony. If we subvert this order, we are not doing what God wants us to do.
Christians are told to be liberal with forgiveness and mercy, even if we have been wronged many times (Matthew 18:21-22 Matthew 18:21-22 21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
22 Jesus said to him, I say not to you, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
American King James Version×). Interestingly, our own willingness to forgive is correlated with the forgiveness God extends to us (Matthew 18:35 Matthew 18:35So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also to you, if you from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
American King James Version×). Christ taught His disciples to include forgiveness in their prayers: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 Matthew 6:12And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
American King James Version×). How can we pray this prayer truthfully if we are not extending forgiveness and reconciliation to those we interact with in life? Carrying a grudge is diametrically opposed to this forgiving and peaceful nature.
To conclude, you and I are called to imitate God’s perfect, complete character. God’s character is merciful and gracious; He is slow to anger and full of love (Psalms 103:9 Psalms 103:9He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.
American King James Version×). But notice also that God does not carry a grudge against us or stoke an angry fire against us forever. “He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities” (Psalms 103:9-10 Psalms 103:9-10 9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. 10 He has not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
American King James Version×). Instead, what has God chosen to do?
“For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalms 103:11-12 Psalms 103:11-12 11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.
12 As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
American King James Version×). God has put our faults against Him so unimaginably far away. We too ought to forgive others, pursue peace and never give root to any grudge.