Bitterness is resentful cynicism that results in an intense antagonism or hostility toward others. The Bible teaches us to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” It then goes on to tell us how to deal with such bitterness and its fruits by being “kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
As an adjective, the word bitter means “sharp like an arrow or pungent to the taste, disagreeable; venomous.” The idea is that of the poisonous water given to the women who were suspected of committing adultery in Numbers 5:18: “The bitter water that brings a curse.” In its figurative sense, bitterness refers to a mental or emotional state that corrodes or “eats away at.” Bitterness can affect one experiencing profound grief or anything that acts on the mind in the way poison acts on the body. Bitterness is that state of mind that willfully holds on to angry feelings, ready to take offense, able to break out in anger at any moment.
The foremost danger in succumbing to bitterness and allowing it to rule our hearts is that it is a spirit that refuses reconciliation. As a result, bitterness leads to wrath, which is the explosion on the outside of the feelings on the inside. Such unbridled wrath and anger often leads to “brawling,” which is the brash self-absorption of an angry person who needs to make everyone hear his grievances. Another evil brought on by bitterness is slander. As used in Ephesians 4, it is not referring to blasphemy against God or merely slander against men, but to any speech springing from anger and designed to wound or injure others.
All this then leads to a spirit of malice, which signifies evil-mindedness or feelings of intense hatred. This kind of attitude is sensual and devilish in its influences. Malice is a deliberate attempt to harm another person. Therefore, “every form of malice” must be done away with (Ephesians 4:31).
The person who is bitter is often resentful, cynical, harsh, cold, relentless, and unpleasant to be around. Any expression of these characteristics is sin against God; they are of the flesh, not of His Spirit (Galatians 5:19-21). Hebrews 12:15 warns us to “see to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” We must always be wary of allowing “bitter roots” to grow in our hearts; such roots will cause us to fall short of the grace of God. God wills that His people live in love, joy, peace, and holiness—not in bitterness. Therefore, the believer must always watch diligently, being on guard against the dangers of bitterness.
A rumor is an unconfirmed, widely spread story or statement. Rumors may or may not contain elements of truth, but their veracity is anyone’s guess—rumors carry no factual certainty. Rumors are also known as gossip, and the Bible has a lot to say about that.
Scripture warns against spreading rumors and those who engage in gossip. Proverbs 20:19 says, “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much.” Words are powerful. They can build up or destroy (Proverbs 18:21). James 3:2–12 instructs us to control our words, stating in verse 5: “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” Spreading “harmless” rumors, then, can cause great destruction. God desires that we use our words to praise Him (Psalm 34:1), to speak wisdom (Proverbs 10:13), and to encourage and edify each other (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Ephesians 4:29).
The Bible often includes gossip in lists of specific evils (e.g., 2 Corinthians 12:20; Romans 1:29). Spreading rumors is so repulsive in the Lord’s sight that He made a prohibition against it in the Law He gave to the Israelites (Leviticus 19:16). First Timothy 5:13 sternly warns against using idle time to spread slander. And Proverbs 17:4 implies that those who eagerly listen to gossip have low character.
So why do we enjoy the rumor mill? Proverbs 26:22 gives one reason: “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.” There is a delicious thrill in hearing scandalous information about someone we know or wish we knew. Jealousy is often the root of spreading rumors. When we learn “the real reason” someone did something, we can alter our opinion of him or her and make ourselves feel better by comparison. We rarely hear rumors that exalt someone’s reputation. We don’t hear rumors that someone’s son worked hard to make the honor roll again, a friend’s spouse is kind and devoted, or that the Joneses saved for ten years to take that luxury cruise. That kind of information is not a “choice morsel.” Instead, we perk up when we hear that someone’s son cheated his way onto the honor roll, that a friend’s spouse only pretends to be kind and devoted because he is having an affair, or that the Joneses blew their retirement to take that luxury cruise. Those kinds of tidbits let us compare ourselves favorably with the ones gossiped about, and we feel more satisfied with our own lives.
In Christian circles, spreading rumors has an ally in the guise of the “prayer chain.” Prayer chains are ways that local churches inform other members of prayer needs within that body. They can be useful if the information shared is general knowledge and those informed will truly pray. However, many times prayer chains become excuses for speculation and rumor as the story grows with each telling. A prayer chain can become a real-life example of the party game “Telephone,” with the last person on the prayer chain receiving information that bears little resemblance to the original request. When this happens, it is nothing more than spreading rumors and can be destructive to individuals and churches.
Proverbs 26:20 gives us the antidote for spreading rumors: “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” We cannot stop all rumors, but we can refuse to participate in them. We can break the “telephone” chain and refuse to pass it on. When we hear slanderous news, we should go to the source and check it out. If we are not part of the solution, and the person we are telling is not part of the solution, then the news is not ours to propagate. Our sinful natures enjoy possessing a juicy morsel of information that would gain us attention in the telling. But when we are willing to recognize the selfishness of that desire, we can repent of it and dedicate our mouths to the glory of God (Psalm 19:14).
A god is what we run to when we need validation, help, or encouragement because we believe it has the power to give us what we need. Self is a compelling god because it arises from our deepest desires and impulses. The god of self is manifest in willfulness, pride, disobedience, ostentation, defiance, intemperance, and generally wanting one’s own way.
When the serpent tempted Eve to disobey God’s direct command about eating the forbidden fruit, he appealed to the god of self. He used feigned incredulity to tempt her to consider God’s command unfair: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1). The god of self began to awaken as it questioned God’s motives. Eve’s response: “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die’” (Genesis 3:2) She added the words you must not touch it, which God had never said. A competing god was asserting itself by suggesting that the Lord’s instruction was too restrictive and therefore should be challenged.
The god of self arises in us when we think we know better than God. We disagree with His Word and elevate our own opinion above His. Paul challenged the god of self in 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God.” Speculations and lofty things are footprints left by the god of self as it tramples down absolutes to erect its own throne in our hearts. We think or say things like, “If I were God, I certainly wouldn’t act that way” or “I don’t see why God would do this or that.” Wrestling with difficult truths about God is healthy as we learn more about Him, but exalting ourselves and our human opinions over God’s infinite wisdom is giving place to the god of self.
The god of self is very much active within the church today. Self-help, self-esteem, self-love, and self-fulfillment are topics once left to secular psychologists. Now they are regular themes in mainline Christianity. The awesome, holy God described in Scripture as a “consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29) and who will “smite the nations with the sword of His mouth” (Revelation 19:15) is considered important only inasmuch as He validates our worth or makes us feel good about ourselves. The god of self will gladly worship a God of love but resists learning about His other qualities because those will dethrone self.
The god of self is a hero in cultural Christianity. Self is the major theme of the prosperity gospel. Wrapping the god of self in Bible verses does nothing to dilute its deceptive power. Satan himself knows Scripture better than we do and even tried using it to tempt the Lord (Luke 4:1–13). Worshipers of the god of self want just enough Jesus to feel better about themselves but not enough to pick up a cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23).
We know we are worshiping the god of self when we approach God’s Word reservedly. The Bible may say one thing, but the self will want something else, and we must make the choice: self or Jesus (see John 6:66; Matthew 6:24). We all struggle with the flesh at times. Romans 7 was written to help us know we are not alone in that struggle. But when following self is a lifestyle, we have a false god (1 John 3:3–9), even if we verbally profess to love Jesus (see Matthew 15:8).
It is wise to check our hearts for this intruder so that we are not deceived (2 Corinthians 13:5). The god of self can slip in unnoticed and erect a competing throne that is so like the one where God belongs that we are unaware of the switch. Because this god of self can cloak itself in Christian-looking activities, it lives undetected in the hearts of many who profess to follow Christ. It is to such unsuspecting people that Jesus spoke these chilling words: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21–23)
We can examine the thrones of our own hearts by considering some questions:
1. Do I love God’s Word and welcome His instruction? (Psalm 119:165) 2. When I read a convicting passage in Scripture, do I eagerly put it into practice or resist it? (James 1:22) 3. Who has the final authority over my life decisions? (Luke 6:46) 4. Which topic do I enjoy reading about more: being a better me or knowing God better? 5. Can I only “get into” worship if the music is my style and the band is top-notch? 6. What delights me most? 7. Are my closest friends those who love the Lord? 8. Do I consider “worship” as a weekly, hour-long service, or is it part of my daily life? 9. Does my Sunday-morning self change on Monday morning? 10. Do I make excuses for sin in my life rather than resisting sin and repenting of it?
The god of self does not need a physical temple or an altar. It is content to dwell in our hearts and get its own way. Paul described the cure for ridding ourselves of this imposter: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Self will not cooperate with truth that requires its submission, so self must die (Romans 6:6–7). God will not share His throne, and we are fooling ourselves if we think He does not notice our service to the god of self. We may shun the external vices and never bend the knee to a graven image, but if Jesus is not Lord over every part of our lives, we are most likely worshipers of the god of self.
The child who exhibits a rebellious streak may be doing so for a variety of reasons. Harsh, unloving, and critical parenting will nearly always result in rebellion of some sort. Even the most compliant child will rebel—inwardly or outwardly—against such treatment. Naturally, this type of parenting is to be avoided. But no matter what style of parenting a family embraces, a child might rebel.
Assuming that the rebellious child naturally possesses a strong-willed personality, he will be characterized by an inclination to test limits, an overriding desire for control, and a commitment to resisting all authority. In other words, rebellion is his middle name. In addition, these strong-willed, rebellious children are often very intelligent and can “figure out” situations with amazing speed, finding ways to take control of the circumstances and people around them. These kids can be, for their parents, an extremely trying and exhausting challenge.
Fortunately, it is also true that God has made children who and what they are. He loves them, and He has not left parents without resources to meet the challenge. There are biblical principles that address dealing with the rebellious, strong-willed child with grace. First, Proverbs 22:6 tells us to “train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not turn from it.” For all children, the way they should go is toward God. Teaching children in God’s Word is crucial for all children, who must understand who God is and how to best serve Him. With the strong-willed child, understanding what motivates him—the desire for control—will go a long way to helping him find his “way.” The rebellious child is one who must understand that he is not in charge of the world—God is—and that he simply must do things God’s way. This requires parents to be absolutely convinced of this truth and to live accordingly. A parent who is himself in rebellion against God will not be able to convince his child to be submissive.
Once it has been established that God is the One making the rules, parents must establish in the child’s mind that they are God’s instruments and will do anything and everything necessary to carry out God’s plan for their families. A rebellious child must be taught that God’s plan is for the parents to lead and the child to follow. There can be no weakness on this point. The strong-willed child can spot indecisiveness a mile away and will jump at the opportunity to fill the leadership vacuum and take control. The principle of submitting to authority is crucial for the strong-willed child. If submission is not learned in childhood, the future will be characterized by conflicts with all authority, including employers, police, law courts, and military leaders. Romans 13:1-5 is clear that the authorities over us are established by God, and we are to submit to them.
Also, a strong-willed child will only willingly comply with rules or laws when they make sense to him. Give him a solid reason for a rule, constantly reiterating the truth that we do things the way God wants them done and that the fact is not negotiable. Explain that God has given parents the responsibility to love and discipline their children and that to fail to do so would mean the parents are disobeying Him. Whenever possible, however, give the child opportunities to help make decisions so that he does not feel completely powerless. For example, going to church is not negotiable because God commands us to gather together with other believers (Hebrews 10:25), but children can have a say (within reason) in what they wear, where the family sits, etc. Give them projects in which they can give input like planning the family vacation.
Further, parenting must be done with consistency and patience. Parents must try not to raise their voices or raise their hands in anger or lose their tempers. This will give the strong-willed child the sense of control he/she longs for, and he/she will quickly figure out how to control you by frustrating you to the point of making you react emotionally. Physical discipline often fails with these kids because they enjoy pushing parents to the breaking point so much that they feel a little pain is a worthwhile price to pay. Parents of strong-willed kids often report the kid laughs at them while they are being spanked, so spanking might not be the best method of discipline with them. Perhaps nowhere in life are the Christian fruits of the Spirit of patience and self-control (Galatians 5:23) more needed than with the strong-willed/rebellious child.
No matter how exasperating parenting these children can be, parents can take comfort in God’s promise not to test us beyond our ability to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13). If God gives them a strong-willed child, parents can be sure He has not made a mistake and will provide the guidance and resources they need to do the job. Perhaps nowhere in the life of a parent do the words “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) have more meaning than with the strong-willed youngster. Parents of these children have to spend lots of their time on their knees before the Lord asking for wisdom, which He has promised to provide (James 1:5). Finally, there is comfort in the knowledge that strong-willed children who are trained well often grow up to be high-achieving, successful adults. Many rebellious children have turned into bold, committed Christians who use their considerable talents to serve the Lord they have come to love and respect through the efforts of their patient and diligent parents.
Solomon’s advice to parents is to “train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Raising and training a child within the context of this proverb means that it begins with the Bible, as “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training…” (2 Timothy 3:16). Teaching children the truths of Scripture will make them wise for salvation (2 Timothy 3:15); thoroughly equip them to do good works (2 Timothy 3:17); prepare them to give an answer to everyone who asks them the reason for their hope (1 Peter 3:15); and prepare them to withstand the onslaught of cultures bent on indoctrinating young people with secular values.
The Bible tells us that children are a reward from God (Psalm 127:3). It would certainly seem fitting, then, that we heed Solomon’s wise counsel to train them appropriately. In fact, the value that God placed on teaching our children the truth is clearly addressed by Moses who stressed to his people the importance of teaching their children about the Lord and His commands and laws: “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:7-9). Moses’ thoroughness underscores his deep concern that successive generations maintain obedience to God’s laws to ensure they would “live safely in the land” (Leviticus 25:18), that all would “go well” with them (Deuteronomy 12:28), and that He would bless them in the land (Deuteronomy 30:16).
Clearly Scripture teaches that training children to know and obey God is the basis for pleasing Him and living victoriously in His grace. Knowing God and His truths begins with the child’s understanding of sin and his need for a Savior. Even very young children understand that they are not perfect and can grasp at an early age the need for forgiveness. Loving parents model a loving God who not only forgives, but provides the perfect sacrifice for sin in Jesus Christ. Training up children in the way they should go means, first and foremost, directing them to the Savior.
Discipline is an integral part of raising godly children, for we know that the “LORD disciplines those He loves” (Proverbs 3:12). Thus, we should neither take discipline lightly nor become disheartened by it as the Lord “punishes everyone He accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:5-6). And we know that God disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in His holiness (Hebrews 12:10). Likewise, when we discipline our children, they receive wisdom (Proverbs 29:15) and they will bring us peace (Proverbs 29:17) and respect (Hebrews 12:9). In fact, even at a tender age children are able to discern that discipline is rooted in love. That is why children who grow up in homes without discipline often feel unloved and are more likely to disobey authority as they grow older. Now, the discipline administered should be commensurate with the offense and physical discipline, such as spanking (rightly motivated), is certainly condoned by the Bible (Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13-14). Indeed discipline, though it may seem unpleasant when received, will produce a “harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
Parents should have the same zeal for teaching their children that Moses did. Parents have been given the privilege of being stewards of their children’s lives for a very short time, but the teaching and training they provide is eternal. According to the promise of Proverbs, a child who is diligently trained in the “way he should go” will remain true to that way in this life and reap its rewards in the next.