Oct 25 - Poisoned By Hard Feelings

Poisoned By Hard Feelings

October 25, 2015

Romans 12:15-18



October 25th, 2015

Romans 12:15-18


Beethoven died in March 1827, 188 years ago, at age 56, after being sick for almost a year.  Yes, as his autopsy showed, his liver was absolutely shot due to his excessive wine consumption, but that should not have caused his death.  So what made him so sick the last year of his life and eventually killed him was a mystery. 


Over the last 20 years, hair and bone analysis have shown that it was likely that what killed Beethoven was lead poisoning.  Either it was due to using lead utensils, drinking from lead containers or lead pipes, or, just as likely, from being dosed with medications that contained lead by his own physician. 


Whichever way he ingested the lead, it was not something that killed him overnight.  Instead, he ingested on little bit of poison at a time … over time. 


That is how bitterness destroys a relationship.  It stores itself in the soul and slowly poisons the one who carries it.  While bitterness is meant to be turned against another, it actually turns against its owner. 


It has been said that the quality of our lives is only as good as the quality of our relationships – particularly our relationships with our family members. 


If our relationships are flourishing, by and large, we feel pretty good about life in general.  We may still be facing some pretty daunting challenges, but at least we have others who love us, back us up, and encourage us.


However, if our relationships are in trouble, by and large, we do not feel good about life.  We may do well at work, our health may be good, but the discord or disharmony that is part of our family life, places a shadow over the whole of life.  It robs us of our sense of peace.


When I was 13 years old, I experienced a time when my closest friends, who had been my school chums for the previous 3 years, all shunned me from one day to the next – and I had no idea what had happened or what I had done to be the recipient of their hatred since all of them refused to talk to me except to tell me to get lost. 


It wasn’t until weeks later that anyone would tell me what I had done … and, looking back on it, it was something that was not worth getting so upset over. 


Similarly, there have been situations between my half-siblings and myself, particularly since my dad passed away three years ago, where previous harmonious relationships have become extremely strained, and I am still working at improving those relationships again.   


Have you ever had a good relationship turn bad in the blink of an eye?  Do you remember how hurtful and unpleasant that was? 


So on the one hand, there is the potential for most any relationship to deteriorate.  On the flip side, I think there is the potential for improvement in the vast majority of relationships we have. 


So what is necessary for us to have harmonious relationships?  Well, I think there are three things:  We need to get to the point where we are at peace with ourselves, with others, and with God.  Today I want to focus in particular on the second aspect, being at peace with others, but I do want to touch briefly on the other two aspects as well.


Being at peace with myself, means feeling OK about who I am.  It’s having come to terms, at least to some degree, about what happened in the past, about who I was and who I am becoming, about the journey I’m on. 


Those who are not at peace with themselves are usually struggling with unresolved issues … in particular, if they have not come to grips with parents who struggled with mental illness and/or addictions, or with parents who were abusive, domineering, self-absorbed and not available. 


In fact, even those of us who had great parents, may have been in a home where those parents didn’t get along with each other, and so were exposed to a lot of conflict growing up. 


Insecurities, self-esteem issues, anger, bitterness, and the like are the result.  In other words, a hurting person is usually the one that is most hurtful toward others and least able to be at peace with others. 


If we have unresolved issues, inner anger, loathing … if we carry some deep inner wounds with us … we can try to cover it up.  In fact, some people are sugary sweet until you inadvertently step on some hidden landmine.  Then the bile just wells up and overflows in lies, accusations, anger, shouting, name-calling, and the like.


Maybe you’re here this morning and you feel like there is little hope left for your marriage relationship.  You may be so full of bitterness that you've convinced yourself that your marriage could never be healed. 


I want to let you know that there is hope, but that the healing in that relationship begins with the healing that has to take place within yourself.


So I believe that for us to have harmonious relationships with others, we first of all need to be at peace with ourselves.  Secondly, for us to have harmonious relationships with others, we need to be at peace with God.


Peace with God is the result of knowing and feeling that we are OK with God.  We are at peace with God when we know that nothing stands in the way of our relationship with him – he isn’t upset with us and we aren’t upset with him. 


The whole message of the NT is really about how we can be at peace with God, but part of that journey is knowing that whatever we may have done wrong are dealt with, that, as fallible as we are, we have been forgiven … and God has now become a big part of our lives, including our decision making process.


This ties in directly with being at peace with ourselves.  I’m Ok with who I am, in part because I know I’m OK with God. 


Thirdly, to be in harmony in our relationships we need to be at peace with others.


Just as there is an interrelationship between being at peace with ourselves and being at peace with God, there likewise is between being at peace with others and being at peace with God. 


For example, Jesus said that our love for others demonstrates our love for God and vice versa.  He told his disciples that they should not worship God in the temple until they’ve made things right among each other (Matt 5:23-24).  


In other words, there is an interrelationship between all three areas of our lives.


Getting back to what it takes to be at peace with other believers, we’ll take a look at a short passage in the book of Romans.


In his letter to the believers at Rome, the apostle Paul begins a practical section (after his teaching section – first 11 chapters).  We already had hints in Romans that there was a bit of discord between the Jewish and non-Jewish Christians.  Paul wrote them to help them to experience the unity and joy that are supposed to be the hallmarks of Christians.  Here’s just some of what he wrote:


Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 

Think of each other as equals, treat people of greater or lesser social standing the same, and do not think of yourselves as especially smart.

Never pay back evil with evil, instead conscientiously do good toward all people.

If possible, as far as it depends on you, seek to be at peace with all people.                          Romans 12:15-18


Paul is telling the Christians at Rome that a number of things will bring about the unity and joy and peace that is to be the hallmark of Christian relationships.  So what were these?  


Empathy – feeling with another person


Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.


Sympathy is when we commiserate with another person.  We feel for them and have compassion for what is happening to them.


Empathy goes a little beyond sympathy in that it has to do with the ability to actually place oneself in the shoes of the other person. 


It has to do with our ability to identify WITH another person … to the point that we sorrow with them when they sorrow or laugh with them when they are happy.  With empathy, there is an emotional connection beyond simply feeling sorry for a person. 


While sympathy causes us to feel FOR another person, empathy causes us to feel WITH another person.  We can sympathize with a person who has cancer, but it is easier for us to empathize with them when we’ve struggled with cancer ourselves.


When Jesus told his followers to treat others the way they themselves would want to be treated, it takes the ability to empathize with another person in order to actually live that out.


Empathy is really living out the kind of radical love to which Jesus called us.


Many people do not allow themselves to be either sympathetic or empathetic.  They don’t want to feel for others since it may mean that they would have to do something about the suffering of others, or become much more considerate in how they treat others.   


I also think that some people are emotionally stunted and they need to experience inner healing before they stop being so self-centered that they can actually think of others.


In difficult relationships, empathy can be the key to beginning a conversation that leads to restoration and peace. When you empathize with someone, even someone you’re in conflict with, you see things you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.  You feel for them.  Anger can turn to compassion. Hurt can begin to heal.


The apostle Paul wrote that when we carry each other’s burdens, we are fulfilling the Law of Christ (Gal 6:2). 

Carrying each other’s burdens is not the same as enabling laziness or inactivity in others.  People have to experience the consequences of their actions.


What it is speaking about is the desire to help another person out who is struggling – possibly because of no fault of their own.


We need empathy in order for us to be at peace with others.  And then we need to have …


Equality – seeing others as equally valuable


Think of each other as equals, treat people of greater or lesser social standing the same, and do not think of yourselves as especially smart.


Equality comes from the honestly embracing all people as equally valuable to God, and therefore of equal value, period.


If we somehow think of other as less … less worthy, less competent, less intelligent, or less successful, we will treat them as less worthy of our time, respect, or attention … which means that we won’t be at peace with them or they won’t be at peace with us.


If we discriminate and making value judgements based on appearance, social convention, or our own perceptions, … possibly because it makes us feel better about ourselves … as James writes, then we have made ourselves judges with evil motives (Jam 2:4).


In a marriage relationship where one partner thinks of himself or herself as better, more attractive, or of higher standing or intellect than their spouse, it never bodes well, because underneath all that comparison lies the devious thought that they should have done better.


Thinking of and treating another person as an equal means treating them with the respect and dignity that they deserve.  It means letting go of even the slightest hint at contempt.  It means never using derisive remarks, calling names, putting down, or any such thing during conflict. 


We need empathy and equality to be at peace with each other.  And then we need …


Grace – treating others with love even when they treat me badly


Never pay back evil with evil, instead conscientiously do good toward all people.


Have you ever heard the saying, “Don’t get mad, get even”?  This saying reflects our natural impulse when we get hurt: the impulse to retaliate.  If someone hurts me, I want to hurt them back.  I want to lash out, get defensive, get nasty, pay back, get even. 


When someone close to you wrongs you, how do you tend to react?  If you try to get even, hit back, retaliate, what does that do for your relationships?  Does it solve anything?  Does it improve anything? 


Paul’s comment that being at peace with others includes demonstrating grace toward them, is really a direct reflection of Jesus’ teaching about doing good to one’s enemy. 


Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless (pronounce a blessing on, wish something good to happen to) those who curse you, pray on behalf of those who abuse you.                                        Luke 6:27-28


Even in Proverbs the Israelites are told to give their traditional enemies something to eat and to drink should they experience draught or famine in their land (Proverbs 25:21-22; quoted by Paul in Romans 12:20). 


This whole issue of being kind and doing good to people who have hurt us, is one that truly is divine.  But think of how necessary this actually is when it comes to our closest relationships, when we ourselves have said something unkind or done something to hurt another person.


Don’t we count on their forgiveness and hope that they don’t treat us as we deserve?  If grace is not extended by everyone, at least to a certain degree, all that is possible is a downward spiral of hurt and retaliation. 


Paul writes in the very next verse after our passage that the believers in Rome should leave revenge up to God (Rom 12:19).  It had been said that when we choose not to take revenge, we are inviting God into a relationship. 


Who do you have to stop resenting?  Who do you have to stop hating?  Who do you have to let go in order to overcome your bitterness?  Who do you need to set free from his or her debt to you?  This doesn’t mean that we forget what happened, or that we trivialize it, or that we allow it to happen again … 


I’ve heard it said that forgiveness doesn’t excuse the crime, it just means you’re no longer willing to be the victim.


It is just that we let go and will no longer allow that person’s action to poison us or our ongoing relationships.


Here is a true story.  A wife has real problems with her husband and her anger with him seems justified to her and to her friends to whom she complains. 


What keeps her heart from healing is not only the problems he still has to overcome, but also the proud bitterness she harbours in her heart.


Little by little, day by day, she has allowed this bitterness to poison her.  Her husband will disappoint her, but instead of telling him, she silently holds it against him.  He continues in his behaviour and her resentment continues to grow and grow. 


This pattern goes on for years.  Now the love she once felt for her husband has gone numb.  Her heart has grown cold.  She walks out on the marriage wearing a list of her grievances against her husband as a badge of honour and justification.  Reflecting back on his behaviour, she keeps assuring herself that their marriage was a mistake to begin with.


The reality is that in every marriage a husband and wife will do things that hurt the other.  It’s bound to happen because none of us are perfect.  And yes, a spouse may be in the habit of doing something hurtful and won’t stop even after being confronted with it.  Most of the time these are things such as the ongoing misuse of finances, speaking harshly, being condescending or sarcastic, unwillingness to help out. 


At times, the grievances are nothing more than unfulfilled expectations.  I know of one wife who was disappointed with her husband because her father brought her mother flowers every day when he came home from work.  Every day.  She was mad at her husband every day because he told her they couldn’t afford to buy cut flowers every day.


Sometimes the offenses are so bad that a spouse is best to separate until there is a change. 


Bitterness then comes in when we hold on to the hurt and refuse to feel any empathy or extend any grace toward the person who is hurting us.  Each offense takes up residence in our heart and, at some point, there simply is no more room left.  And we explode, or attack, or leave.


It's so easy to justify our attitude when we've been hurt, but the Bible teaches that bitterness is a sin.


Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to live holy lives, since without holiness no one will see the Lord.  Make sure that no one misses out on the grace of God – and that no “root of bitterness” springs up to cause trouble and defile many.               Hebrews 12:14-15


In other words, bitterness is one way of missing out on living a holy life and taking hold of God’s grace. 


Have you ever seen a piece of moldy bread? It appears that there is only one small ruined area on the surface, but if you were to look at the bread through a microscope, you would see long roots spreading throughout the slice. What appears on the surface doesn't reflect what's really happening below.


In the end it’s bitterness, not hurt, that will chain us to the past and negatively impact our present and future relationships.  We need to let go of the bitterness if we are to move forward.  Otherwise we are still being punished by what another person did to us


If all we find ourselves doing, is becoming defensive and retaliatory every time we feel hurt … we will not experience peace in our relationships. 


And then a fourth thing is needed for peace in our relationships.


Determination – persevering through adversity


If possible, as far as it depends on you, seek to be at peace with all people.


One way of being at peace with others, is to take the initiative.  We don’t wait for the other person to apologize, we apologize first, for whatever our part was in the conflict … regardless.  We are the bigger person.  We are the more mature.


Of course I’ve heard people say, “Why should I always have to be the one who is mature?  It sure would be nice if the other person apologized first once in a while!”


If we are determined to have harmonious relationships, we will take the initiative when it comes to apologizing to someone else and asking for forgiveness. 


What constantly amazes me when it comes to relationship counseling, is that both parties are often completely self-justified in their behaviour … it is always the other person’s fault, all the time, all the way. 


Rarely is there the acknowledgement of one’s own contribution to the mess.  I mean, if two people in conflict are willing to say sorry to each other … and they are sincere in doing so … a lot of conflict can be avoided, and hurts can be healed. 


As Jesus put it, we tend to see the speck in the other person’s eye while completely ignorant of the piece of wood in our own (Matt 7:3).   


All of us have made choices in our relationships that have hurt others and need to be mended.  As it is, the tendency is to point fingers and to use language that distorts or exaggerates the reality:  You ALWAYS do this or that.  You NEVER do this or that. 


I think that terms like “always” and “never” should not be part our vocabulary as couples when we have one of our “discussions,” just as name-calling should be an absolute no-go zone.


Which takes us to the second way that we need to persevere in our attempt to be at peace with others.  And that is the realization, that the only person we should worry about changing for the better is ourselves. 


That is not to say that we can never admonish or discipline our children,

or that we cannot encourage others to bring about positive change in themselves by empowering them, encouraging them, lifting them up,

or that we cannot set healthy boundaries with those who otherwise would continue to hurt us.


But the reality is, that we cannot change others for the better.  They have to decide to change.  However, what we can control, are our own actions and attitudes. 


So maybe the person will never change, never apologize.  We cannot control that.  All we can control is our actions toward him or her.  Who knows, miracles do still happen.  What soothes the savage beast? 


Another way of being determined to be at peace with others is to be willing to address the issue with them. If we aren’t willing to do this, it won’t resolve anything, but it avoids the messiness of having to deal with the other person repeatedly.


It doesn’t make the conflict go away, but it avoids the relational mess of having to deal with the other person.


Jesus calls his followers to a higher standard. He says that if we have a problem with another person, we should go and have a conversation with him or her.


If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.           Matthew 18:15


How do you feel about confronting someone who has wronged you?  Most of us do not want to tell others that they have hurt us is because we make ourselves vulnerable, and/or we are afraid of their reaction, especially if they aren’t “safe” people. 


The reality is that if we do not practice this, we may rob the other person of the opportunity of apologizing, of saying that they are sorry, or of improving the way they act in the future.  It is also possible that we may misunderstood and it gives a way of them explaining themselves to us. 


By the way, holding someone accountable is not even close to being the same as dredging up the past.  I honestly don’t think that a person has to keep confronting another person with what happened years ago.


I personally think wives are particularly prone to this – but could be mistaken, either because they just haven’t processed the past, or because they are looking for ammo in the present to blast their husbands again.  For those of you prone to do this, just let it go already. 


So, if you are married, it may be OK to make a list of hurts.  Pray about which things are trivial and not worth mentioning, which things you can let go and move beyond, and which hurts need to be resolved further. 


Ask God to give you the strength to talk about these issues.  Let your spouse know that you want to set aside some uninterrupted time to address these. 


Start by confessing your own sins, your own way of making the relationship bad, or the hurts that you have inflicted. 


Talk about your hurts without venting, being irritable, accusatory, or critical.  In other words, try to remain calm, logical, loving, rational and gentle.  The object of such a discussion is to expose wounds and find resolution, not to accuse or condemn the other person.  And yes, I realize just how difficulty that is to do.


There is a world of difference between saying, “I feel betrayed and humiliated when you make fun of me in front of our friends” and saying,

“You always make fun of me in front of our friends, you insensitive jerk.” 


So if you can’t confront calmly and in love, be aware that it’s likely going to go really bad.


If speaking to your spouse alone is too difficult, if he or she only becomes irritable and defensive, you may want a counselor or pastor or mentor to join you for that talk – if your spouse agrees of course. 


And by the way, if you hold others accountable, don’t become defensive if someone tells you of how you’ve hurt them.  In fact, expect it!


Is there ever a time when a believer should walk away from a relationship?  Personally, I believe there is.  But for that to be the case, the other person has to truly be toxic and unwilling to change his or her behaviour (see Matt 18:17).  I simply do not think that this is as common as people might think. 






Think about a difficult relationship in your life. What can you do this week to view the problem from the other person’s perspective and take a step toward him or her?


If there’s someone you need to forgive, what is one thing you can do this week to take a step toward forgiveness?  Perhaps you need to talk to them about how they are hurting you.


Is there someone from whom you need to ask forgiveness?  Where you need to take responsibility, without trying to justify yourself or telling the other person they’re also to blame.  And where you are willing to make a change in the way that you act or speak?







May these be ours in increasing measure.  Amen