Avoiding Bitterness

“So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard.” (Genesis 4:3-5)

Unfortunately for Cain, the LORD did not have regard for his offering.   We can probably all appreciate to some extent how that must have felt. No one enjoys the feeling of not being good enough. No one likes to put sweat and tears into some effort only to come up short. We want to receive praise for our efforts and our accomplishments so that we can feel proud of what we have achieved. We want to feel good about ourselves. When things do not go our way, and our efforts come up short, it can be quite frustrating.

Of course, this is what happened with Cain:

“So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.” (Genesis 4:5)

When we get really upset, it is written all across our faces. This was apparently the case with Cain, and his disappointment at falling short and being revealed as insufficient turned to anger inside him. Is this not a temptation that we all face? When we do not get what we want, or when we do our best and no one takes notice, or when those around us seem to tell us by our actions that we are not good enough, are we not tempted to become bitter? When someone else’s life seems to be falling into place while ours seems to be floundering, are we not tempted to become jealous?

In this context, God responds to Cain:

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’” (Genesis 4:6-7)

Discouragement, Cynicism, Anger, Bitterness, and Jealousy were no the only options Cain had in response to his personal failures and disappointments. And we all have personal failures and disappointments. When they arise, we can respond in a destructive way that hands the reins over to our negative feelings, or we can take the alternative that God offers. We can rise up in the strength God offers and be master over the sin. We can take the high road. We can resist the bitterness and instead start where we are and resolve to do our best moving forward.

“Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.” (Genesis 4:8)

Something to consider about Cain’s actions is that they certainly did not make his life better. Yes, he was angry. Yes, he may have been jealous of Abel. Maybe he thought that if he could not be happy, he was not going to allow Abel to be happy either. And maybe for a brief moment Cain felt some kind of personal power or satisfaction is lashing out and doing things his own way. But ultimately, the outcome was worse, not better, that what Cain could have expected if he had simply picked himself up and dedicated himself to bringing an acceptable offering to God in the future.

Some have said that my generation was never taught how to deal with disappointment. I think to some extent they may be right. And to some extent this is a problem that all generations face. Things will not go our way. We will be shown to be inadequate when we most want to feel sufficient. Our natural human reaction will be cynicism and bitterness and endless blame. But what we can do, if we accept God’s offer, is pick ourselves up and keep following Him in a way that can make things better, not worse.

Advertisements

Scriptures and Thoughts on Grief

What instances of grief are recorded in scripture and what can we learn from them?

(John 11:21-38)
Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22“Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”
28When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him.
30Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus wept. 36So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”
38So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

“deeply moved in spirit” – I snort (with the notion of coercion springing out of displeasure, anger, indignation, antagonism), express indignant displeasure with some one; I charge sternly.

“and was troubled” – literally “and troubled himself” – I disturb, agitate, stir up, trouble.

(1 Samuel 22:18-22)
Then the king said to Doeg, “You turn around and attack the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned around and attacked the priests, and he killed that day eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. 19And he struck Nob the city of the priests with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and infants; also oxen, donkeys, and sheep he struck with the edge of the sword.
20But one son of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David. 21Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the priests of the LORD. 22Then David said to Abiathar, “I knew on that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have brought about the death of every person in your father’s household.

(2 Samuel 12:19-23)
But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; so David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” And they said, “He is dead.” 20So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he came to his own house, and when he requested, they set food before him and he ate. 21Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” 22He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ 23“But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

(2 Samuel 18:31-33) And behold, the Cushite came, and the Cushite said, “Good news for my lord the king! For the Lord has delivered you this day from the hand of all who rose up against you.” 32 The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” And the Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up against you for evil be like that young man.” 33  And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

(2 Samuel 1: 11-12, 17-27) 11 Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and so did all the men who were with him. 12 And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword…
17 And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son, 18 and he said it should be taught to the people of Judah; behold, it is written in the Book of Jashar.He said:
19 “Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
20 Tell it not in Gath,
publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult.
21 “You mountains of Gilboa,
let there be no dew or rain upon you,
nor fields of offerings!
For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.
22 “From the blood of the slain,
from the fat of the mighty,
the bow of Jonathan turned not back,
and the sword of Saul returned not empty.
23 “Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
In life and in death they were not divided;
they were swifter than eagles;
they were stronger than lions.
24 “You daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
who clothed you luxuriously in scarlet,
who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
25 “How the mighty have fallen
in the midst of the battle!
“Jonathan lies slain on your high places.
26     I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
very pleasant have you been to me;
your love to me was extraordinary,
surpassing the love of women.
27 “How the mighty have fallen,
and the weapons of war perished!”

(2 Samuel 3:31-39)
31Then David said to Joab and to all the people who were with him, “Tear your clothes and gird on sackcloth and lament before Abner.” And King David walked behind the bier. 32Thus they buried Abner in Hebron; and the king lifted up his voice and wept at the grave of Abner, and all the people wept.
33The king chanted a lament for Abner and said,
“Should Abner die as a fool dies?
34“Your hands were not bound, nor your feet put in fetters;
As one falls before the wicked, you have fallen.”
And all the people wept again over him.
35Then all the people came to persuade David to eat bread while it was still day; but David vowed, saying, “May God do so to me, and more also, if I taste bread or anything else before the sun goes down.” 36Now all the people took note of it, and it pleased them, just as everything the king did pleased all the people. 37So all the people and all Israel understood that day that it had not been the will of the king to put Abner the son of Ner to death. 38Then the king said to his servants, “Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel? 39“I am weak today, though anointed king; and these men the sons of Zeruiah are too difficult for me. May the LORD repay the evildoer according to his evil.”

Does grief apply to more than just the loss of a loved one?

(Luke 22:56-62)
Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58 And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” 59 And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.

(John 21:17)
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.

(Romans 8:18-23) 18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

What does God’s word have to say to those who are grieving?

(Matthew 5:4) “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

(Psalm 34:18) The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.

(Exodus 34:6) Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;

(John 11:35) Jesus wept.

 (Revelation 21:3-5)
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

(1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, 18) 1
3
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus…18Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

(Isaiah 43:1-3)
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

(Psalm 46:1-3)
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Selah.

How would scripture teach us to comfort or interact with those who are grieving?

 (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

(Job 16:1-5)
1Then Job answered,
2“I have heard many such things;
Sorry comforters are you all.
3“Is there no limit to windy words?
Or what plagues you that you answer?
4“I too could speak like you,
If I were in your place.
I could compose words against you
And shake my head at you.
5“I could strengthen you with my mouth,
And the solace of my lips could lessen your pain.

What scriptures have comforted you in times of grief?

Talk vs. Action

Things probably did not go as planned for Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus.

  • He probably did not intend on having to try and explain to his friends and family why his fiancée was pregnant even though they had not slept together.
  • He probably did not plan on marrying her anyway, but having to put off the honeymoon for a few months.
  • He probably did not plan to pick up his new family and move them to a foreign country for an unknown period of time.
  • He probably did not intend to move to Galilee upon his return from Egypt instead of going back to his old home in Judea.

Yet through all of this, there is no record of Joseph ever complaining. And while he might have had a reason to brag after going through all of those things on behalf of the baby Jesus, there is no record of him bragging either.

Actually, there is no record of Joseph saying anything. At all. Apparently Joseph was a man who demonstrated his faith and his righteousness primarily through actions instead of just words.

These days we have a saying that someone is “all bark and no bite,” or “all talk and no action.” But for Joseph, a better description would have been “all action and no talk.” His words appear to have been few, but his behavior was honorable in every way.

How do we respond when we encounter various unplanned or difficult scenarios? Do we spend our efforts complaining, or do we let our actions do the talking by behaving in a way that is honorable despite the difficulty of the situation?

Consider this passage from James 1:

“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”

Joseph was a prime example of one who was quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. He was also a prompt doer of God’s will as opposed to someone who likes to talk a lot about how things ought to be without actually living how he ought to live.

Whether or not anyone notices, and whether or not the situation is exactly how you have always wanted it to be, will you be a doer of righteousness simply because it is the right thing to do?

Scriptures and Thoughts on “Self-Control”

What is a Biblical definition of self-control? What is the nature of this virtue?
The English term “self-control” did not appear until the 18th century. Prior to that, words like “temperance” and “sober” were used.

Hebrew:
Matsar – restraint or control

Greek:
Egkrateia – in the sphere of dominion or mastery; self-mastery, self-restraint
Sophosunei – soundness of mind, sanity, sobriety
Nepho – calm, vigilant, sober, free from illustion

(1 Timothy 4:8) compares physical training and spiritual self-control.
(1 Corinthians 9:25) attributes self-control to athletes.
In these cases, we see self-control as submission to a certain code of conduct in order to cultivate a desired outcome.

Jesus, in going to the cross, was the ultimate example of self control:
(1 Peter 2:23) “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.”
(Acts 8:32) “Like a lamb before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.”
(Matthew 26:53) He could have called 12 legions of angels.
(John 10:18) He lay His own life down willingly.

Would it not be better to be controlled by God, rather than by my “self?”
(Galatians 5:22-26) shows us that self-control is actually a fruit of God’s Spirit, and that we have it when we “keep in step with the Spirit.” So having self-control does not negate God’s leadership in our lives.

(2 Corinthians 5:14-15) “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” God does control us, but there is no denying that on some level we have a choice in the matter and must choose “to live no longer for ourselves.”

(1 Corinthians 15:10) “…but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”

(Romans 1:20) we are “without excuse” because we are accountable as free moral agents.(Proverbs 16:32) refers positively to “he who rules his [own] spirit.” In this sense, we need self-control to submit ourselves to God’s standard.

What role does willpower play in self-control? Is increasing my willpower an appropriate or effective way to grow in self-control?
(Galatians 5:16) “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”
(Ephesians 5:18) “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.”

In both cases, the text does not say “try harder,” but focuses on the Spirit. Why is that and what does it mean?

(1 Corinthians 1:25) “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
(Proverbs 3:5-7) “lean not on your own understanding.”
(1 Peter 2:23) Jesus was “entrusting Himself” to the Father. What role does trust in God play in self-control as compared or opposed to willpower?

What should I do in a situation in which I obviously do not have self-control?
Do something, you are in danger!
(Proverbs 25:28) “Like a city that is broken into and without walls Is a man who has no control over his spirit.”

 If possible, avoid the situation! “I am not stronger than Sampson, mightier than David, or wiser than Solomon, so I am not immune to sexual temptation.” Recognize and seek to avoid dangerous situations.

(James 5:16) Confess your sins one to another and pray for each other.
(Matthew 5:29) Make necessary sacrifices to protect yourself.
(Galatians 5, Ephesians 5) Give serious thought to what it means to walk in the Spirit.

(Hebrews 12:5-11) We discipline our children to help them learn ultimately how to control themselves. When the Lord disciplines us, we should be wise and learn from it.

 How can I grow in self-control?
(Galatians 5:17) The Spirit and the flesh are at war in each other, “so that you may not do the things that you please.” In a battle, the stronger one side becomes, the more control it has. This implies that persistence in the fight of the Spirit to control the flesh can help us grow over time.

Think of the illustration of an elephant and a rider. The elephant, like our passions, is very powerful, but unless it is governed by a strong rider who can control it, it will be a force to evil rather than for good.

(Titus 2:11-12) “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” God’s grace can help us to continue to get back up and keep learning.

(1 Peter 1:5-9) lists self control as a virtue, and suggests that if we do not have it, it is a result of us forgetting our purification from our former sins.
(1 Thessalonians 4:3) suggests a lack of sexual self-control comes from a lack of the knowledge of God.

Is there a key to self-control? If so, what is it?
It is clear from the connection to the Spirit (Galatians 5, Ephesians 5) and reliance on God (Proverbs 3, 1 Corinthians 1) that self-control must be a result of our relationship with God.

Beyond this perhaps obvious but important fundamental truth, what would you say is the key to self-control? Trust in God? Submission to His will?

 What areas of life are notable for requiring self-control?
Anger
(Proverbs 29:11) “A fool always loses his temper, But a wise man holds it back.”
Revenge
(Romans 12:19)
Sexual immorality
(1 Thessalonians 4:3) Paul wishes “that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God”
Alcohol
(Ephesians 5:16)

Food!

What other areas of life can be difficult in regards to self-control?

Scriptures and Thoughts on “Wrath”

Why is God so wrathful about sin, especially when He knows we are only human?
Psalm 30:5 – 10 – “His anger is for a moment”
Romans 1:18-20 – 11- “Wrath of God… those who suppress… they are without excuse.”
Romans 2:14-16 – 12 – gentiles by instinct keep the law
Proverbs 24:12 – 13 – It is fair for him to render according to our deeds
Romans 2:6 – 14 – we are repaid according to our deeds
Galatians 6:7 – 15 – we reap what we sow
Psalm 51:4 – 16 – God is blameless in His judgments
Romans 6:23 – 17 – the wages of sin is death

Does God create people in order to be wrathful towards them?
Romans 9:17-25 – 18 – seems to sound that way
Exodus 4:21; 7:3, 13-14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 12, 34-35; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4-5, 8, 17 – starts at slide 19 – the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and Pharaoh hardened his own heart… can both be true?  What does this mean?
2 Peter 3:9 – 23 – God wants all to come to repentance

 What is wrath? – 24
Hebrew
‘ap – anger
hēmâ, qāsap – hot displeasure, indignation

Greek
Orgē – strong indignation directed at wrongdoing, with focus on retribution
Thumos – a state of intense displeasure, anger, wrath, rage, indignation

Psalm 7:11 – 34 – God feels indignation every day

 Did God direct His wrath at Jesus on the cross?
2 Corinthians 5:21 – 25 – He was made to be sin on our behalf
Romans 5:9 – 26 – We are saved from God’s wrath by Him
Romans 3:25 – 27 – Displayed as a public propitiation
Matthew 27:46 – 28 – was Jesus really forsaken by God?
Isaiah 53 – 29  – He took our punishment
These verses speak a lot of Jesus suffering, or even of bearing our punishments, but not of God being angry with Him in the sense that we tend to think of anger…

 Does punishment for sins arise out of God’s wrath?  If so, is it appropriate for parents to punish in wrath?
Nahum 1:2-6 – 30 – God’s punishments for sin is certainly sometimes associated with His wrath
Revelation 16 – refers to seven bowls full of God’s wrath being poured out in punishment.
Romans 12:19 – 31 – God tells us not to take vengeance, but to leave that to Him, indicating that certain actions are appropriate to arise from His wrath, but not from ours
Ephesians 6:4 – 32 – Do not provoke children to wrath through discipline
Colossians 3:21 – 33 – whatever the emotional state of the parent, exasperating the child is NOT a positive outcome

 Do we see God’s wrath on display today?  If so, how?
Romans 1:18 – 11 – God’s wrath is revealed, even now, it would seem, from the verb tense
Romans 1 – 35 – much of this chapter shows God giving people over to a situation in which their sins become their punishers and their slave drivers.

 Is hell the eternal experience of God’s wrath?
Hebrews 10:26-31 – 41 – God will punish His adversaries with fury
2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 – 42 – flaming fire and retribution

 It is ever a sin simply to be angry?
James 1:20 – 7 – what does this verse mean?
Ephesians 4:26-27 – 36 – Be angry and do NOT sin
Matthew 5:22 – 37 – why does KJV say “without a cause?”
Ephesians 4:31 – 38 – put aside wrath anger and clamor
Colossians 3:8 – put away anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech

 When does anger become sinful/produce sin?
Romans 12:19 – 31 – when we take unauthorized vengeance
Ephesians 4:31 – 38 – when it results in clamor
Colossians 3:8 – 39 – when it results in malice, slander, abusive speech
When we become angry quickly – James 1:19 – 40

Was Jesus angry when he cleansed the temple?  If so, is it appropriate for us to imitate His example?
John 2:13-17 – 43 – it may depend on how we define anger.  It appears that Jesus was “consumed with zeal,” but did He have ill will for these money-changers, or did He ultimately hope for their reform?
Ephesians 4:26-27 – 36 – If there is a kind of anger that in not automatically sin, then actions motivated by it might not be either, provided they are not malicious but aimed at reform.