"Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and slander and malice be put away from you." Ephesians 4:31
We can carry around a lot of heavy emotional and spiritual burdens, and Paul listed some of them in this verse. While a word study would be helpful let's summarize these four emotions/actions under the banner of "resentment."
I heard someone recently say that every slight, insult, or angry word aimed at us is like a stone. Most people take the stones and put them in a backpack, carrying them around day after day. The backpack gets heavier and heavier, and we don't realize the burden we're carrying. Sound accurate?
To show you the problem I have in this area, my first reaction on hearing this analogy was to think that I could hunt down the offender, throw all the rocks back at him or her, and walk away lighter. The Bible has a better way, and I obviously have some work to do.
We first must agree with Paul that we have resentments. Assuming that every resentment is permanently dealt with and put away is hazardous. They can linger for years and darken our days. They are like a forest fire. You can put out the flames, but the fire still smolders in the roots. I’ve heard that the fire can slowly burn for some distance and erupt in another place, sometimes after quite a while.
You can’t fully put away something you’ve simply ignored. Ask God ‘s help in discerning the smoldering resentments in your life. This is a vital step in moving forward, free from the burden you’ve carried around for so long.
Second, you must acknowledge your part in the resentment. This sounds offensive at first, but unless the situation is extreme we have a role in most of our resentments. Sometimes our role may be simply holding onto it for years instead of letting God help us walk freely. You’ve pronounced the verdict and are unwilling to review the judgment.
A simple illustration may help you see how this one-sided condemnation occurs. Suppose that to have a real resentment, the involvement of both the parties must add up to 10. Let’s say Bob has offended me, and the offense is clear. On reflection, I have to admit that I had a role in the problem. So Bob’s part in the offense amounts to a 7. My part amounts to a 3. Now let’s watch what happens.
I wake up the next day, and I get my resentment thinking going. As I self-righteously review the events I decide that Bob’s role was more like an 8. Mine was only a 2. In succeeding days I keep stewing on it, and talking to anyone who agrees with me that Bob is a jerk. Pretty soon his part is a 9. Mine is 1. Before too long, and a practicing “resenter” can get there pretty quickly, my verdict is “I was standing there minding my own business, and Bob came along and did this thing to me!” I have absolved myself, and completely condemned Bob.
You don’t think this happens? Be honest. The word resentment comes from two words , re which means again, and sentir which means to feel. A resentment is an offense you feel again and again, and each time you feel it, the truth can get a little bit more distorted.
The way to be free of the resentment is to honestly accept your part, even though it may have been minor. A legalist has a hard time getting close to a God of grace. To get past the resentment you will need grace. Seeing your part is vital.
The final step must be handled carefully. In prayer ask for God’s direction and help. Forgiving the offender is necessary. The New Testament teaching on this is abundant, and there is no shortcut. You need to forgive. This may mean acknowledging to the offender your part, and apologizing without any expectation of their response. You are the one trying to relieve the burden you have been carrying. You can’t expect them to respond by forgiving you, though that often happens.
You will also find that praying for the offender will help you find relief. Pray for God to bless them. At first you may not mean it. Pray anyway. Soon the resentment will cool, and forgiveness will follow. And on a purely practical level, if you really want to mess with your enemies, forgive them.
Putting away anything is a process, and that is especially true of resentments. It won’t happen overnight, but it needs to happen in your life. You will walk lighter.
Dr. Terry Ellis
May 18, 2014