Bitterness — with Steve Viars

Janet Aucoin January 27, 2023

Everyone experiences moments of anger, and when left unchecked, it can easily turn into bitterness—a resentful anger dwelling in one’s heart. How can God’s Word help us to defeat bitterness in our counselee’s or our own heart?

In this episode, Janet and Jocelyn interview special guest Steve Viars, Senior Pastor of Faith Church in Lafayette, IN. They discuss Pastor Viars’ book called “Overcoming Bitterness,” and share biblical principles to guide us as we consider this important heart issue.

Visit the Joyful Journey website to sign up for our newsletter, view a transcript, and search previous episodes.

Emails us with questions or comments at

Facebook, Instagram

Donate to Joyful Journey Podcast

Joyful Journey Podcast is a ministry of Faith Bible Seminary. All proceeds go to offset costs of this podcast and toward scholarships for women to receive their MABC through Faith Bible Seminary.


Episode Transcript



Overcoming Bitterness - Steve Viars

Dark Clouds Deep Mercy - Mark Vroegop


Bitterness Lectures - Steve Viars


BCiA Podcast


Jocelyn: I don't just need to feel better. I need the truth. And ultimately that will make me better.

Janet: I just want to make it as totally simple as possible for ladies to see that the Bible is really applicable to their everyday life.

Jocelyn: When they understand theology, the application flows out of it quickly with joy.

Janet: It is a journey, but even the journey itself is joyful when I'm doing it, holding the hand of my savior and trusting him all along the way. This is the joyful journey podcast, a podcast to inspire and equip women to passionately pursue beautiful biblical truth on their journey as women of God. When you choose truth, you're choosing joy.

Janet: Today, Jocelyn and I are joined by our senior pastor, Steve Viars. There are so many topics that we could talk to him about, but I know most recently, I've had the opportunity to read his book on overcoming bitterness, and I know Jocelyn, in addition, you've also listened to some sessions he's done on that were very helpful to us. So we've asked him to come and share with us today on the topic of bitterness, which we can all relate to, but we all wish we couldn't. So maybe if you can just get us started. Tell us a little bit about who you are, your family, and what your main ministries are.

Steve: Well, and I just wanna say Janet and Jocelyn, both of you. I'm so glad for what the Lord is doing through this podcast and what the Lord is doing through your ministries, and we have so many Godly women in our church and counseling ministry who the Lord is just blessing in all sorts of ways, and I could not be more excited about it. So thanks for allowing me to be part of the podcast.

Janet: Thank you.

Steve: So, my wife and I, Kris, have been married nearly 40 years now.

Janet: Wow.

Jocelyn: Wow.

Steve: And I'm very, very thankful for that pending anniversary here in about a month. Also finishing up 35 years at Faith Church. And you know, I think back to Bible college where there were two burning questions in my heart when I was in college. Is there a church on the face of the earth that would be willing to hire me? And is there a woman on the face of the earth that would be willing to marry me?

Jocelyn: Look at what you got! Both of them.

Steve: Absolutely. And for that long and honestly that's just those milestones are a demonstration of the grace of God for sure. The Lord's blessed us with three children. So our daughter, Bethany and their family with two of our grandsons live up in Minnesota. Then our daughter, Caris and her husband and three grandchildren now, two grandsons and Little Lucy Grace live here in town. And then our son Andrew, who has special needs who's 29 years old now, and who lives with Kris and me and will until we're unable to care for him any longer. And so the Lord's given us a delightful family and these are days, as the Pslamist said, where my lines have fallen in pleasant places, and I'm very, very thankful.

Jocelyn: Cool. So today we're talking about bitterness and you've written a book called, Overcoming Bitterness, which we're gonna refer to in our show notes. We encourage you to get that and read it, but we're interested to know what caused you or encouraged you to study this topic and then to write about it.

Steve: Well, I think there's several reasons. One is just personally, you know, I, as what I just said a moment ago, is very true. I am very, very thankful to serve as the pastor of Faith Church. I very much am living my dream. And so I have a hundred reasons to be thankful for every reason I don't, but I do have the reasons I don't . And whenever you stay at the same place for a long, long time, there are some distasteful aspects of it. And, you know, I can hardly go to the grocery store. Hardly go to, in fact, this actually happened to me at the post office today where you run into a former member of the church who left because he or she was disgruntled, or somebody who's upset at you about whatever. And it is possible for even, I'm ashamed to say it, but it is the truth. I can focus on negative and I can become a bitter pastor. And those are words that really should not be used in the same sentence. A bitter pastor. I don't wanna be a bitter pastor. I do not wanna be a sinfully bitter pastor. That's not worthy of my calling. It's not worthy of my Lord. It's not worthy of our church. And so honestly, like a lot of things I do, it starts with Steve, you better figure out what the word of God has to say about this, and you better work very, very hard in the power of the Holy Spirit of applying it to your own heart and life. Then secondly, I have seen it as a theme in counseling cases and not that a person says on their personal data inventory, the sheet that they fill on.

Jocelyn: I'm a bitter woman.

Steve: Exactly.

Janet: Please help me.

Steve: I'm here because I'm bitter and I really want you to help me with that. But as you start working on what we in counseling refer to as the presentation problem, what it is that brought them in the room, it's often apparent as you get to know that person that, you know, there's bitterness as part of this story, and sometimes you have to push the pause button on whatever it was that you were dealing with in order to address bitterness or that almost becomes like a log jam. You're not gonna get much else done in the sanctification process until this is addressed. And praise God for the sufficient scripture. There's so much to learn there that oftentimes that does become the log jam that is broken up again by the power of God's word. And that facilitates growth in other areas as well. So those are the reasons. I needed it, my counselees need it, and God has spoken very clearly and hopefully on it.

Jocelyn: Wow. We're glad it's written.

Janet: Well, I'm pretty sure we need it and our listeners need it as well.

Jocelyn: Very much.

Janet: But I do think it's important for you to help us understand what bitterness is because I think we can use that word and we might be talking about different things. So what would you even say are some common misperceptions, but what is bitterness?

Steve: Yeah. You know, this is one of the things I love about the word of God is that the word groups that are translated with the English words bitter, they're just so picturesque and God loves us in so many different ways, but one of them is to use terminology that grabs our attention. And so that's true both of the Hebrew word group, marah, the Greek Word group, and the New Testament, pikría, a term that literally means, one Old Testament Bible dictionary defines the word group as the putrid, poisonous bile from the gallbladder and.

Jocelyn: Picturesque. Wow.

Steve: Yeah. If that doesn't get your attention right, I don't know what might.

Janet: It certainly makes me not want to be bitter.

Steve: Absolutely. You don't want any of that in your soul.

Jocelyn: Yeah. Gross.

Steve: And, you know, one of the definitions I used in the book, just an English definition, feeling angry, hurt, or resentful because of one's bad experiences or a sense of unjust treatment, perhaps that gets at it as well. I've often thought of it just as fermented anger.

Jocelyn: Oh, that's interesting.

Janet: Yeah.

Steve: God gives us anger as a emotion intended to help us solve problems biblically and intended to help us solve problems today. Well, if I don't use it in a timely fashion, it's highly likely that it's gonna turn into bitterness. And so, you know, we're here in Indiana in the late summer, it's about time for the apple crop to come on, and many of us in this part of the country, we love going to the apple orchard. We love getting fresh squeezed apple cider. I absolutely love it. And I realize that many of your listeners are, ladies, I probably shouldn't acknowledge this, but I really do believe on a hot summer day when you've been working hard outside and you're about to die of thirst. Okay, we're seconds from death that it's perfectly appropriate, and biblically correct to reach into the refrigerator after you've checked to be sure your wife is not present and just grab that jug.

Jocelyn: Oh, gross.

Steve: And pick it up, right? I tip it up. I see, Jocelyn, you said gross.

Jocelyn: I wondered where this was going

Steve: Well, it's gross because if you and your family come to dinner at our house later, I would serve it. I would serve you outta the same container.

Jocelyn: I would feel loved.

Steve: But anyway, it's great unless you've had that apple cider in the back of your fridge for about a month or six weeks. And not, I'm not gonna acknowledge whether or not I know this by experience, but if you do what I just described and you get fermented apple cider, where now it's putrid. I mean, you're spitting vinegar stuff out gross. And that's really what we're talking about here. And that's, and again, God loves us so much that He chose a word group that grabs your attention like that. That's what bitterness is. It's fermented anger.

Jocelyn: So how can we understand the difference between bitter circumstances and becoming a bitter person?

Steve: Well, and that's a big part of what God's word reveals about all of this, and that's why we're not behaviorists as biblical counselors or as biblical Christians. So the answer from scripture is not, hey, stop being bitter. Now, on the one hand, the Bible does talk about bitter behavior. No question about that. I think that's the focus and a seminal passage like Ephesians 4: 31 & 32, "Let all anger and wrath and bitterness and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, along with all malice." I do believe that's talking about bitter behavior. The book of James talks about bitter speech. The book of James also talks about bitterness and envy. So, there's no question about the fact that we have to, and we're commanded to avoid bitter behavior, but that is not the first thing that the Bible says about this. I think the first thing scripture says is that there's such a thing as bitter circumstances and so if anybody is saying, I just don't have any bitterness in my life. I don't think that's true.

Jocelyn: Yeah.

Steve: Because if scripture says that there's such a thing as bitter circumstances in this sin cursed world in which we live, we're all gonna face bitter circumstances.

Jocelyn: Right.

Steve: And so you think about, Hannah, you know Samuel's mother who is struggling with infertility. And I realize even when I would raise that topic on a podcast like this, I'm sure there will be ladies who will eventually listen to this, they know that personally and can relate to Hannah. And so she's crying out to the Lord. And what the Bible tells us about that is that her rival Peninnah, would tease her about being infertile and would do it in a bitter fashion. And so as a result, Hannah would weep bitterly. Well, obviously that's not something that Hannah did, that was a condition that Hannah faced, and I love the fact that the Bible is very clear in using the same word group, marah, to describe the circumstances that she faced. Another example is with the children of Israel when the Egyptians wanted to even intensify their enslavement. What scripture says about that is that they treated them bitterly. Well, I can imagine people listening to this podcast and they're in work situations right now where the way their boss talks with them or the way a coworker treats them, it's bitter. Day after day after day, it's like having a bitter food in your mouth and scripture teaches us that we all face bitter circumstances. Well, then the question becomes, well, if on the one hand a sovereign God is allowing me to face circumstances that are bitter, it's mistreatment. Yet, on the other hand, I'm commanded not to be a bitter person in my behavior. Then what's the linkage? What's the segue? And that's where I think we find the third category of bitterness and one of the most important issues. That's in Proverbs 14:10, which says, the heart knows its own bitterness. That's the playing field on where this battle is going to be waged is how am I responding to bitter circumstances that we all have in my heart. And if I take one particular approach, I can actually find joy. I can actually find even in the midst of bitter circumstances, greater opportunities to become more like Jesus Christ. There is growth in bitter circumstances, and if that's not true, then our sovereign God who allows them is being unjust and unkind. So there is growth, there's positive sanctification that can happen there. But if I don't choose to relate to bitter circumstances in my heart, in a biblical, godly way, that will produce bitter behavior and I will eventually become a bitter person. And there are people that we all know. Bitterness is their name.

Janet: Right.

Steve: Bitterness is a word that defines them. And what happened is, and I feel badly because, you know, I've spent my life, my ministry with individuals many times who are suffering. And I don't want to in any way minimize the significance of their suffering, but they did not respond to that suffering in a way that was best for them or most honoring to God. And here's the other piece of that can change.

Janet: Yeah.

Jocelyn: That's good.

Steve: So even the person who would say bitterness is my name. You don't have to stay there. You don't have to end there. That's the hope in this conversation.

Janet: What I think is also so hopeful because I think for many of us, we can get those two things confused. I have bitter circumstances, and then my goal is I need to get out of those. Therefore then I won't feel so bitter. If I can just get out of 'em, and what I'm hearing you say is, and certainly if we can get out of bitter circumstances in ways that are righteous, why wouldn't we?

Jocelyn: Why wouldn't we? Yeah.

Janet: But I can be in a bitter circumstance and that's not sinful that I'm in that on me. I'm not sinning.

Jocelyn: That was so freeing.

Janet: Yeah.

Jocelyn: The first time I realized that just because I'm in bitter circumstances does not mean I am sinfully being bitter.

Janet: Yeah.

Jocelyn: It was very freeing to be able to say, just acknowledge the reality, the situation. This is a very bitter situation that we're in. It's very difficult.

Janet: Yeah.

Jocelyn: And to acknowledge God's doing big things in the middle of it, but they're very uncomfortable.

Janet: And now my responsibility is what's gonna happen in my heart. I don't need to make it my first goal to get out of them.

Steve: Yeah. I think that's where the topic of lament comes into this conversation.

Janet: Yeah.

Steve: You know, I love Mark Vroegop's book, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy. It's a book on biblical lament.

Jocelyn: Yes.

Steve: It was very, very instructive and helpful to me. And Mark's a friend of mine, he pastors about an hour from here down in Indianapolis and I asked for his permission to quote extensively from his book and one of my chapters and then to recommend it. And you know, one of the things that Mark observes is that a full one third of our Psalms are Lament Psalms.

Janet: Yeah.

Steve: It's pretty amazing when you're thinking Psalms, those are, that's our worship hymnal.

Janet: Right.

Steve: That was the worship hymnal for the children of Israel, and yet a third of them are written in the minor key. And so what that must mean is it's possible to process bitter circumstances authentically. I don't have to run from the Lord when I'm thinking about bitterness. I can actually run to Him, and when you read some of those Psalms of Lament, if it's not complaining, it's awful close.

Janet: Yeah.

Steve: And yet they don't end there.

Jocelyn: Right.

Steve: They end in quiet trust. But it's a process. It's just like one of my favorite Psalms. Psalms 61: 1 &2, "Hear my cry, oh God. Attendant to my prayer. When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I am." Well, I can't know and experience God as my rock without the vulnerability, without the authenticity of saying to the Lord, I am having to cry out to you. My heart is overwhelmed here. And that's what we read in the Psalms of Lament. And so what you just said, Janet, is right. If I'm in a situation that's bitter and there's a biblical way for me to respond to that, in the sense of seeking some level of relief, absolutely. And that might include biblical confrontation.

Janet: Sure.

Steve: It could include all sorts of things. However, if our message is the only way to not be a bitter person is to extract yourself from all bitter circumstances. Do you realize how hopeless that is for many people?

Janet: Exactly.

Jocelyn: Yeah.

Steve: You know, you think about my son that I mentioned earlier, 29 years old, he is in a body that doesn't see and if that means he has to be a bitter person, unless he can get out of his bitter circumstances.

Janet: It's hopeless.

Steve: You have just set him up for hopelessness.

Jocelyn: A lifetime of hopelessness.

Steve: For life, and yet when when I leave this podcast, my next appointment is to take him on a chair run. We do that many, many afternoons in our life and I love it. He has a jogging stroller. He jumps in it, I push him around and I promise you the sound that will be coming out of that jogging stroller is uproarious laugh.

Janet: No bitterness there.

Steve: Oh, no bitterness. Now there's gonna be bitterness for me because he is generally making a joke about how I ought to be going fast or I ought to be doing, who knows what he's gonna come up with today. But I love the fact that I have a joyful son, who is in bitter circumstances that are not gonna change in this life.

Jocelyn: And I think that's incredibly hopeful. I mean, it can sound, I know you said this can be hard to hear, but in reality many of us are in circumstances that there's not a legitimate end in sight.

Steve: Yep.

Janet: And then to know I don't have to become bitter just because of that.

Steve: That's right.

Jocelyn: And all of us can expect that under the curse of sin on the earth, we're gonna have hard stuff. It's gonna be a challenging life in some degree.

Steve: And I think what gives us hope there is none of that is outside of God's sovereign control.

Janet: Yeah.

Steve: And the more that I believe, like I mentioned earlier, running into someone who left our church, no, wait a minute, at some level, our sovereign God allowed that to happen.

Janet: Yes.

Steve: And if I view that circumstance as a gift from Him, then what in the world am I doing, being bitter about it? Because He has a purpose. He has a purpose in our church's life. He has a purpose in my life. And so I ought not to be bitter about the fact that that happened, and the more I acknowledge His, not just sovereignty, but His fatherly love for me in the way He exercises His sovereignty, the more I'm gonna look for the growth opportunities and the less I'm going to let that anger ferment into the putrid, poisonous bile from the gallbladder

Janet: I love that idea, and it sometimes I think our bitter circumstances are the means of making me go vertical and think about God. Otherwise, I'm not.

Jocelyn: Yeah.

Steve: Yeah.

Janet: But I'm in that circumstance and now I do have to make a choice. I'm either gonna see the goodness of God and see the growth opportunity, or I'm gonna get bitter. There's no just slacking on that, you know, so I think those are a gift from God and it makes me think about then what would you say because I'm hearing you already talk about suffering. How is bitterness then related to suffering? And if we thought more biblically about suffering, would that help prevent us from being bitter?

Steve: Yeah. I think that's what fits into this category of a bitter heart. So the segue between bitter circumstances and a bitter life is how I'm processing it at the level of the heart. So Proverbs 14:10, again, "The heart knows its own bitterness." I really believe everything that we're trying to say and teach and learn about suffering fits into that category and everything that we can pack into that. How do I process this episode of bitter circumstances in my heart? My heart that's been transformed by the gospel. My heart that has access to the power of the Holy Spirit. So it's not a human thing here. It's very much of a divine interaction.

Janet: Yes.

Steve: But everything we're learning about suffering. And I think that's one of the beautiful things about the biblical counseling movement. By God's grace, we're learning more and more about suffering. We're teaching more and more about suffering. But the Bible's a big book. And so this is an ongoing quest to mine everything that we can from the word of God about suffering, but it does fit right into this category of a bitter heart or not.

Jocelyn: I've been reflecting a lot on Philippians 3: 8-11 lately, and how everything is a loss compared to the value of knowing and loving Jesus and being one with Him. And I'm telling you the things that have made me know Jesus are the things that are hard and so if we believe the scripture in Philippians 3 were saying, even hard circumstances and things that are bitter circumstances, if we see them rightly, they'll help us to know Jesus better.

Janet: Yeah.

Jocelyn: And to love Him more and to be more united with Him and not the opposite, which would be being angry at everything that He's allowing and upset that our life has gotten more difficult. So, it helps me to see this is about knowing Jesus more.

Janet: Yeah.

Steve: Well, and what's interesting about that particular text is, you know, Paul's been talking about all of the reasons he had to brag. And so that if there's any of our listeners who are saying, well, look, I don't have any bitters, man, things are going great. This is going good, this is going good, this is going good. Well, that might be setting you up for a lack of sanctification as well. And so we have to count all things as loss. Whether I'm talking about the good things I'm bringing to the table, whether I'm talking about the bad things I'm bringing to the table, my righteousness is in him. That's the beauty of that passage. I wanna be found in Him and in His righteousness alone, and then He can help me continue to pursue Christ's likeness. Whether it's a bitter circumstance or it's a joyful circumstance that I might be tempted to become proud about in and of my own strength.

Jocelyn: Great point. So how does understanding the grace of God help in our fight against bitterness?

Steve: Well, I think every minute I spend being bitter is an affront to the grace of God because what I'm saying is, God, your grace is not sufficient. And so that's where, you know, a passage like 2 Corinthians 12 is so very, very helpful because Paul's being vulnerable when he is talking about his thorn in the flesh. Which by the way, would be a great example of another bitter circumstance.

Janet: For sure.

Jocelyn: Right.

Steve: It is interesting in that passage that we're never told what the thorn in the flesh is. And I wonder if by just the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that was purposely designed for that passage so that it could be applied to a multitude of circumstances. So we don't know what Paul's thorn in the flesh was. We know, it's interesting too, it's a messenger of Satan, that text says, but there's no exorcism. Right. If there was ever gonna be an exorcism in the life of the Apostle Paul, that would've been it.

Jocelyn: That would've been it.

Steve: And no exorcist. So it's interesting that the thorn doesn't get the attention. We don't even know what it is. The role of Satan just gets a quick mention and he's off the scene and what Paul says, he says, I asked the Lord three times to remove it. That's vulnerability.

Janet: Right.

Steve: That's vulnerability. And there's absolutely, that goes back to the whole issue of the Psalms of Lament. That was a lament for him to do that. However, Jesus' answer was not I'm going to remove the thorn. Jesus' answer is I have something better than removing the thorn. My grace is sufficient for you. My grace is sufficient for you. My grace is sufficient for you. So every minute I spend in bitterness about anything is an expression of my heart that God's grace is not sufficient for me. So that's why it's a battleground. My heart is a battleground for whether or not God's grace is gonna be sufficient for me in this moment. And if the answer to that is yes, then I have no reason to stew in my crock pot of bitter thinking, bitter words, bitter worries, bitter, whatever.

Janet: So those bitter circumstances, and then what may be coming out in my bitter heart, again, it's a mercy from God to see parts of my heart, I didn't even know were there.

Steve: Yep.

Janet: And then those circumstances reveal them so that then I realize I thought I was living because I just was so grateful for the grace of God, but apparently there's something else going on as well because I'm not responding well right now.

Jocelyn: Yeah.

Steve: Well, and, and you know, we might ask, well, you know, why would God allow those bitter circumstances then to continue? And the answer is that He is making every provision possible for our sanctification.

Janet: Yes.

Steve: And He cares more about our sanctification, our holiness, than He does about our immediate happiness today. That's how He's different than Santa Claus. And praise the Lord that He is.

Janet: Yes.

Jocelyn: Yeah.

Steve: And so, I should embrace the belief that His grace is going to be sufficient for me. And that's a bedrock of this entire conversation.

Jocelyn: I think you really have to remind yourself of that often when you're in bitter circumstances or you'll quickly forget.

Janet: Right.

Jocelyn: God's grace is sufficient for this moment right now.

Janet: Which is part of the beauty of the body of Christ that we get to remind each other because when the circumstances are screaming, sometimes I don't remember things that I should, and for someone to say the fatherly love of God is behind this, even if you can't see it right now.

Steve: So well, and also too, that should give hope to any of us who are really struggling with bitterness right now. So if there's somebody listening to this and who would say, I am a bitter person. My words are bitter words, my life is a bitter life and people recognize me. If they were going to choose five words to describe me, bitter would be one of them. The fact that God loves us enough to continue to allow the difficulty, that's proof that we don't have to stay in the bitterness forever. God hasn't given up on us, and if He's not given up on us then we should remember that I can change. I do not have to be a bitter person forever, and not just, I can change a little bit, I can change dramatically.

Janet: I appreciated that from your book. That at the end thinking about, I know we don't have time to get into the whole book, but you go through Ruth and Naomi who said, call me bitter, please.

Steve: Yeah.

Janet: And but then to see in her bitterness, God continued to provide for her, just His love for her, even while she was bitter and what that did as she began to see Him for who he really was.

Steve: Yeah,you know, I love...

Janet: It changed her. That was such hope.

Steve: I love the Book of Ruth and I really loved writing those last four chapters on the Book of Ruth because you have Naomi and Naomi's story was hard.

Janet: Yes.

Steve: You know, her husband leads her and their two sons away from Bethlehem, which the Bible's silent on whether that was a right decision or not, but it is interesting. Bethlehem literally means the house of bread and they leave Bethlehem and they go to Moab and it's during a time of a famine.

Janet: Yeah.

Steve: You know, I don't know a whole lot about a famine. I don't know a whole lot about missing a meal, but that's, so I don't wanna minimize what they faced. And then the sons marry Moabite women, and then Naomi's husband dies and her two sons die. And there she is at the end of chapter one, and she is a widow with two widowed daughter-in-laws. And then she says to them, go back to your people and to their gods. That's the key issue in Ruth Chapter One because you have the Jewish mother-in-law would've been the one that had the greatest access to biblical truth, and yet she says to her, Moabite daughters-in-law go back to your people, and to their gods because my God has let me down.

Jocelyn: Yeah.

Steve: Jehovah has, the God of Israel has let me down. And what's fascinating is one daughter-in-law takes her up on that. But Ruth says no. And she says no, where you go I'm gonna go, where you lodge, I'm gonna lodge. Your people will be my people. And most importantly, your God will be my God.

Janet: Which is truly amazing.

Steve: Absolutely is amazing that the person that had the least access to biblical truth, and this is, should be an encouragement to anybody listening to this, who is a young believer. The person who had the least access to the truth, the person who had believed in Jehovah the shortest amount of time, still made an expression of faith. And so, they went back to Bethlehem. And it's interesting, the ladies of the city that when they saw Naomi, they said, hey, aren't you, Naomi? So they didn't recognize her or they weren't sure, and I do believe that bitterness over time changes your appearance.

Janet: I've seen it.

Jocelyn: Absolutely.

Steve: I really do believe that. And what's really something is that Naomi said, don't call me Naomi anymore. Call me Mara, the Hebrew word for bitter. Call me bitter. And then she said, because God led me away full and He brought me back empty. Now there's something else about bitterness. It will make a liar out of us every time.

Jocelyn: Because Ruth was right there.

Steve: What led you away full?

Jocelyn: Yeah.

Steve: It was a famine.

Janet: Not all that full.

Steve: And brought you back empty. Yet, who is it? Who's standing right by your side is sweet Ruth. Sweet Ruth. And the fact that that book has more than one chapter. Is a demonstration of the grace of God.

Janet: Yes.

Steve: And it ought to bring incredible hope to us anytime we would say, call me Mara. I'm struggling with bitterness and there's no way out of this. There's more chapters and you read the rest of that book and you watch the way God provides for Naomi through sweet Ruth, and I mean the book's clear. Naomi sure didn't deserve that.

Janet: Right.

Steve: Right, but thank the Lord. He doesn't always give us what we deserve, and those ladies are swimming in barley. By the time you get to the end of Chapter Two, there is barley stacked up all over the place. And remember, during a time of famine, you know, for us it's like a stack of barley, who cares? If you had been starving for a long, long period of time, all these big bags of barley, you'd care a whole lot about it. But then there's the provision of the kinsman redeemer, and what I love about that book is at the end, a baby is born to Ruth and Boaz, but who's holding the baby? Naomi's holding the baby.

Janet: Yeah.

Steve: In fact, the ladies of the city wanted to know what Naomi was gonna name the baby. It's like, what? Why? Why does Naomi get the name the baby ? And of course, we all know that that baby was not just any baby. That baby was in the line of Christ. That entire book is pointing, it's just a laser beam, to the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the great Provision. And praise God for that.

Janet: Yeah.

Steve: Praise God for that. And you just have to picture in Chapter Four, you got this grandma bouncing this little baby boy on her lap, having a high, let's go have some more barley, and joyful. Right. Joy. That's the thing. And that's another way of thinking about the Book of Ruth. The ice is melting throughout that that ice of bitterness is melting throughout that book. And praise God for His provision and His patience with her, but praise God for His provision and His patience with me.

Jocelyn: Yeah.

Steve: You don't have to be bitter in your behavior.

Jocelyn: And it can go backwards. Just like you said, the ice can melt.

Janet: Yeah.

Jocelyn: That's so encouraging.

Janet: And I think, you know, we talked about being in bitter circumstances. Ruth was obviously in bitter circumstances, but responded very differently. And I think for those of us, and I appreciate that about the book, looking at both of them. For some, we are the one battling bitterness. For others, we're having to walk next to someone battling bitterness and we're so tempted to get bitter ourselves because it's just not fun. And yet, how the Lord used Ruth's unwillingness to give into bitterness and her tenacity to trust God and what that ended up even doing for Naomi. Just a beautiful picture.

Steve: Yeah. The last thing the Book of Ruth needs is two Naomi's and you could imagine yourself as a young Ruth just being pulled down by that bitterness day after day after day, and it very well could have ended up with two bitter women. But it's not, it's not, and it's amazing the one who led the other one. It just, it's absolutely fascinating, and nothing other than a story of God's amazing grace working in and through Ruth's life. And if He could do it for her and remember something else that was during the time of the Judges. Right, so that's the period of time when there's no king in Israel and everybody is doing that which is right in his own eyes, and what Naomi was as an individual is Israel was as a nation.

Janet: For sure.

Steve: And praise God that He could work through Ruth in a way that had a positive impact on Naomi. So if someone listening to this says, I'm like Ruth, but I'll tell you, my husband is bitter or my teenager is bitter, or my mother-in-law is bitter. The answer from scripture is, don't give up. Don't give up and don't fall into the trap of their bitterness. Continue to be a faithful person. Continue to be a joyful person, and you just never know. You absolutely never know what the Lord might do, but your faithfulness could have a dramatic impact on somebody else's life who's bitter.

Janet: Yeah, and in the meantime, what you said earlier, we'll be growing ourselves.

Steve: Absolutely.

Janet: So it's not like it's a waste unless they change.

Steve: Yep.

Janet: Like in the meantime, God's not wasting any of that in the person's life, who's walking next to the bitter person. They're being refined through it.

Steve: Yeah. You think about Ruth has said in Chapter One that your God will be my God. You even have to wonder what she even meant or even understood by that. But in the next chapter, she's gleaning, she asked Naomi if she could go glean, which evidences her faith in the Old Testament principle of gleaning.

Janet: Yes.

Steve: And so there she is gleaning and who is it, the owner of the field, but Boaz. Who treats her with such incredible grace. And you just, you have to picture Ruth in that moment saying, The God of Israel, Jehovah, He is able to bless me and provide for me in ways I would've never. You just have to believe she had a smile on her face. And part of what I love about that story, that part of the story is you remember she kept part of the lunch. She didn't eat it all, and and who did she take the leftovers home to? Isn't that amazing? I would've eaten every last bit of that. In fact, when I got home, I would've said in Naomi, we didn't have anything for lunch. Told her about it. Sorry, and yet she, that tells you something about her. She wanted not only to see the blessing of God in her heart and life, she wanted to demonstrate that by sharing to bitter Naomi. Ole Mara is sitting there sharing her lunch and that tells you a lot about what God did and through her.

Janet: Absolutely.

Jocelyn: How is bitterness tied to unbelief? So we have an example of Ruth believing in the word. How is it tied to unbelief?

Steve: Well, you know, that's the other poster child for bitterness, regrettably is Esau.

Janet: Yeah.

Steve: And Hebrews 12 is such an important passage, which is the New Testament commentary on Esau. And what it says about him is that he was a profane man. And when you look at Esau's life, he had the opportunity to sell his birthright or not. And he sold it, which said he didn't care about his place and God's covenant plan. He didn't care about his role in God's overall plan and purpose. He was an unbelieving, profane man who gave into his lust. Right. He comes in from hunting and he's famished. What good is my birthright? A typical man. Typical man, right? I'm gonna die right now. What good is this birthright? And you know, we could say that his brother tricked him and all that. There's a lot of dynamics in that story for sure. But when you get to Hebrews 12, the writer of Hebrews does not cut Esau any slack at all.

Janet: Yeah.

Steve: And so when I'm in the midst of a hard time and I refuse to focus on my role in God's plan and my heart and life right now. Instead, when I give into my lust, my immediate gratification, I must have this red stuff. So I'm gonna become sinfully angry, or I'm gonna run to one of my addictions or whatever it might be. Justifying my bitterness in the moment, that's unbelief and that's why the writer of Hebrew says, see to it. The Greek word episkopoi, from which we get the word overseer. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God, no root of bitterness springs up causing trouble and defiling many. That is a passage that ought to burn in every follower of Jesus's hearts. See to it. We're commanded to do that. And if we don't, it's gonna cause trouble. Bitterness never served any of us well. It's gonna cause trouble, and it's gonna defile many. So for those of us who are raising kids or grandkids, if we choose to be bitter, we might end up with bitter kids.

Jocelyn: Yeah.

Steve: We might end up with bitter grandkids and, you know, I'm just thinking our grands are coming into town here in about 10 days. I'll have a lot of grandpa time. Well, am I gonna be a joyful, faithful man regardless of what the little ones bring into my life? Or am I gonna be a bitter man?

Janet: Yeah.

Steve: Defiling many that that's what's at stake here. I can either be a joyful man with my wife or I can make it easier for her to be bitter. I mean it's incredible. Think about it as a pastor, right? You realize some pastors are bitter pastors, which is why they're church members are comprising of bitter church.

Janet: Right.

Steve: I mean, it's just amazing how this can spread and it's an offense to God.

Jocelyn: Grumpiness is just so contagious. You know, just think of people who are bitterly grumpy all the time.

Steve: Yep.

Jocelyn: It just spreads all the, and you know what? I think not many of us, like you said, this is serious. Not many of us would say I'm laser-focused on making sure I don't let bitterness grow.

Janet: Yeah.

Jocelyn: I think we are kind of light on bitterness personally. Like I remember...

Janet: It's understandable.

Jocelyn: Yeah. Like totally.

Janet: I'd be bitter too if you were them.

Jocelyn: Yeah, exactly. Like I remember one time having a meeting with someone that I really loved. That was like, Jocelyn, I think you're kind of bitter. I was like, yeah, I have every right to be. And it was like, like it's a totally understandable sin that we're just gonna be kind of smoothing over.

Steve: Right. Right. And the sad thing is that it's like a root. Right? So I can either deal with it, when it's at the root stage or it's gonna get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. And my wife is a master gardener. Our neighbor was a master gardener too so they went to those classes together and you could come see the landscaping at our house right now. And it looks beautiful and it has nothing to do with me, but you'll see my wife around dusk, just going around to our different flower beds and pulling those little weeds.

Janet: While they're little.

Steve: And it doesn't take her that long when she does it regularly and when she does it when they're little, but she's just forever going around, getting the little weeds, getting the little weeds. By the way, don't ask me why I don't do that. I'm praying for her, I'm sure and reading my Bible. But anyway or caring for my son.

Jocelyn: You're getting cider and watching her.

Steve: That's when I go for the cider in the refrigerator. But that's what scripture says about our bitterness. Don't let it become a large root. Don't let it become a big plant. Don't let it cause trouble. Don't let it to defile others. So it can't be the acceptable sin of the church. It has to be something that we take very seriously.

Janet: So given that, I would imagine others are thinking, and I know I am too, okay, I see areas where I'm either becoming bitter or I'm tempted to be, or I already am, what now? What are some ways we can overcome bitterness so that where's the hope?

Steve: Yeah. Well, the battle is always gonna be played out at the level of the heart, and so I have to evaluate the patterns of thinking that are leading to that bitterness. And as I said before, a lot of times there just lies.

Janet: Yeah.

Steve: And I have to be willing to look myself in the mirror and say, you're telling yourself lies. You remember I mentioned Esau a minute ago. You remember the way he spun the whole story?

Janet: Yes.

Steve: Right? My brother stole my birth right.

Janet: And no, he didn't.

Steve: But what are you talking about? And by the way, I really believe that when Esau said that to his father, he believed it.

Janet: Yes.

Jocelyn: Yeah.

Steve: By that time, I believe he had told himself that lie so many times that he believed it himself. That's why we need the word of God. That's why we need other people to help, and then we need to understand in the power of the Holy Spirit, I'm gonna crucify lies and I'm gonna replace them with biblical truth about my situation, as hard as that might be. Same is true with desires. Because remember Esau was a profane man because he lusted. He had to have his red stuff. He had to have that meal. He had to have it right now. Well, we lust after all sorts of things.

Janet: Absolutely.

Steve: And so we have to acknowledge the desires of the heart that are going unfulfilled and resulting in bitterness, and we have to crucify them. If they are idols in our hearts, we have to put them to death, and we have to replace them with seeking to desire after our Lord and seeking to desire after His will. So a lot of it is just simply dealing with wrong thoughts and wrong desires that are producing this kind of behavior, and then also being willing to deal with the behavior itself. If I'm a person who's speaking bitter words, I need to knock it off. In the power of the Holy Spirit, I need to stop speaking that.

Janet: Yeah.

Steve: And I need to speak in a way that honors Him. It's interesting too, that bitterness is often connected to envy in the Bible. Well, if I'm being envious, I want something that somebody else has, or I'm mad because I don't have what they have. That's gonna produce bitter. So, I've gotta knock off that envy. So I have to deal with this at the level of the heart. I have to deal with it at the level of the tongue. I have to deal with it at the level of behavior. But the beauty of it is everything that you put in the place of that is gonna be so much sweeter. It's gonna be so much sweeter. And that's what you saw happening in Naomi's life. That's why the book has four chapters, and that's where our hope is found as well.

Janet: I love that you mentioned that, which is actually sobering and scary to me, that by the time Esau was saying what he was, he believed it.

Steve: Oh, absolutely.

Janet: And I think part of when I think about in my life overcoming bitterness, part of it is the humility to realize I may not see something that's there and allowing other people to tell me.

Jocelyn: Yeah.

Janet: You know, I have a sweet friend that just recently contacted me and wanted to get together and then said, so I know something's not right and I knew that if I just talked to you about what's going on in my life and you asked me questions, you'd help me see it. And I think, boy, that level of humility to even say, I don't, and she even said, and I wanna argue back that that's not true.

Steve: Yep.

Janet: But I know you're right.

Steve: Yep.

Janet: And so what a privilege and am I allowing people to do that in my life? Because it's sobering to me that I could get to the point if I don't deal with it quickly where I believe it so much that it's even harder to repent.

Steve: Yeah, and one of the worst things that a bitter person can do is to surround themselves with bitter people who will just agree with everything they say.

Janet: Yes.

Steve: You know, your bitterness is justified. Now tell me all the reasons my bitterness is justified and it just is downward spiral of lies.

Jocelyn: What a mess.

Steve: That's what it is. And so that's the beauty of the church in part if we're functioning biblically, is speaking the truth in love. And sometimes that involves confrontation, which is exactly what I need if I'm not seeing something truthfully.

Janet: Yeah.

Jocelyn: How does Jesus' life and example help us to fight becoming bitter people?

Steve: Well, you know, we've alluded to Hebrews Chapter 12 a couple of times. It is interesting that that passage begins with a conversation about Jesus, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is now set down at the right hand of God in Christ Jesus. And so, you know, you have, when you think about Hebrews, you think you have the Faith Hall of Fame, all of the marvelous stories of men and women who were so faithful in Chapter 11. Then you have the beginning in Chapter 12 because we have this great cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside the sin that so easily besets us, and then we're looking unto Jesus. If there was ever a human being ever on the face of the earth who had a reason to be bitter, it was him.

Jocelyn: Right.

Janet: Absolutely.

Steve: And yet He chose not to be bitter. And so every time, you or me, anybody listening chooses to trust, chooses to grow, chooses to try to be what God wants us to be, in the spite of our bitter circumstances, we're also choosing to be like Jesus Christ. And I'm hoping we're also crying out to Him for the strength in order to make that choice well.

Janet: Yeah.

Jocelyn: And one of the amazing things later in Hebrews 12 is how that passage talks about God disciplining us to become more like Him.

Steve: Yeah. Well, and that's a topic that doesn't receive a lot of attention, I don't think in evangelicalism is the issue of God's loving, fatherly discipline in our life. And that is the connection point between what the writer says about Jesus in Hebrews 12:3 and what we eventually get to in the middle of the chapter, Chapter 15 about bitterness, the intervening verses are all about God's loving, fatherly, discipline. And what's important to understand is that's not in a punitive sense because if we just talked about Christ, it couldn't be in a punitive sense.

Jocelyn: Right.

Steve: I think one way to define God's fatherly discipline in that particular passage is it's everything that our sovereign God is allowing into our life to help conform us to the image of Christ, even though it may be painful at the time. And that's why the writer says, and it's one of the understated passages in the Bible. No discipline for the moment seems joyful.

Janet: No kidding.

Jocelyn: Clearly.

Steve: Okay. I'll get my hand in the air on that one. But afterwards, it yields the peace, peaceful fruit of righteousness. And so if I respond to God's fatherly, loving discipline in my life in a way that moves me toward Him instead of moves me into bitterness, I can have, and it's interesting, the peaceful fruit of righteousness and that tells us something else about bitterness, it's generally anything but peaceful. Right? It ends up creating arguments with people and fights with people and disagreements and distance from people. It's anything but peace. But when I respond to God's fatherly, discipline properly, that can result in a peacefulness with me and with others.

Jocelyn: As I've meditated on that passage in Hebrews 12 about the discipline of the Father, it's helped me to go into hard situations, hopefully, more humbly to say, what is God trying to do right now? How can I participate with Him? How can I become more like Jesus willingly instead of being squished into that in a painful way? So it's given me a lot of hope, as I've just said, that's my biggest desire is to be like Christ.

Janet: Yeah.

Jocelyn: So if this is the context that God is choosing it, then I'm gonna walk with Jesus in this process and not fight against it so much.

Janet: And it is so interesting that that's the context of then the passage on bitterness all right in that same area.

Steve: Absolutely.

Janet: Because who doesn't want the peaceful fruit of righteousness? And who wants the putrid? I don't even remember exactly how you put it. Putrid is all that's in my head and it's disgusting, and I'm like, and yet, how often do I think the discipline is going to end in something worse for me. And if I can vent my bitterness and get people to agree with me, that's where the peace is. Like, I'm so twisted and wrong in that. And so I love that that's all in the same passage that I want the peaceful fruit of righteousness and the Lord knows the best way and what's best for my soul. And apparently right now it's whatever is the discipline that He's allowed. And I know that because I know his Heart. And so I think all of this assumes that we're growing and understanding, as you said earlier, His fatherly love. That that's the heart behind whatever He's allowed.

Steve: Yeah. The challenge is, and it's what's encapsulated Isaiah 55: 8 & 9. His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways.

Janet: Yeah.

Steve: And we just need to face the fact that that's not a compliment. And that's why He goes on to say, my thoughts are higher than your thoughts. My ways are higher than your ways. And so that's why I don't want to be sovereign for 60 seconds. Because if I were sitting here, I had the keys of sovereignty for 60 seconds, I promise you everybody at this table would be a whole lot wealthier. You'd never have a health problem. I mean, right. It would be, you'd have a yacht. I mean, it was 60 seconds and I could load us up for sure. And I'm also pretty sure that five years from now, every one of us would be less like Jesus Christ.

Jocelyn: Absolutely.

Janet: Yes.

Steve: That's why I don't wanna be sovereign. It would be good. It would be one really great Christmas morning, I promise you that, and it would ruin us spiritually.

Janet: And do we believe that? So back to the belief, you know, do I believe that? Because it's so true to the degree I believe that I'm not going to resist the circumstances and the discipline that He is putting in my life. Because He wants to produce that peacefulness.

Jocelyn: I was justing the same thing, like how deceived we are into thinking that what we believe outside of the scriptures is what will actually make us happy. We're so quick to not believe that God's word is true.

Janet: Yeah.

Jocelyn: So for somebody who really wants to work out of this, they wanna grow out of bitterness. Are there any Bible characters that they could study that would help them to think about this more deeply? Or even resources that you think would be great to share with our listeners?

Steve: Yeah, I think the two that come to mind are the ones that we've at least alluded to quickly, but to do a study on Ruth and Naomi in The Book of Ruth. It's a short book, but it's just so power-packed for sure. And then also to do a study on Esau. Both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. And I think what I said in the book I wrote was he's the poster boy for bitterness. And I really do believe that it's a sad tale, but we need to study that book.

Janet: Yeah.

Steve: Or we need to study that story and just ask ourselves, is there any vestiges of Esau in my heart and life? And then also what I mentioned earlier that book that Mark Vroegop wrote on, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, there's also now a study companion guide that goes along with that. And I just cannot say enough about the impact that that book has had on my heart and life. I don't think I knew enough, nearly enough about lamenting, hadn't thought about it much, and my own heart and life hadn't preached on it much. I'm so glad that God worked in Mark's life. And as you read the book, you find some of the personal reasons, things that were going on for he and his wife. Which certainly bitter circumstances that were the context in which he wrote that book, but I just, I recommend it in counseling all the time.

Janet: Yes.

Jocelyn: We both love that book.

Steve: And so I would strongly urge your readers to pick that one up.

Janet: So we will link that and certainly your book, Steve, on Overcoming Bitterness because it was, if you enjoyed this conversation at all listeners, a lot of that and a whole lot more is in the book. So we do recommend that. We'll also link, you've done some lectures at our biblical counseling training conference that you can buy audio for. So we'll link those as well cause those have been very helpful.

Jocelyn: And we're also gonna link the podcast that you provide, Biblical Counseling in Action, for those who might wanna learn more about biblical counseling as it applies to life in the local church.

Steve: That is wonderful. Thank you very much.

Janet: Well, thank you, Steve. I, again, this is a topic we can all relate to more than we wish, but it's also a topic where there's a lot of hope, and so I appreciate you bringing us to that point and giving us hope that we really can overcome it. So, listener, thanks for being with us and we hope you'll come back with us for our next episode on this journey.

To keep from missing any future episodes, please sign up for our newsletter on our webpage From there you can also subscribe to this podcast on Apple, Google, or Spotify. You can also visit us on our Facebook page or Instagram at Joyful Journey Podcast. If you have questions or comments for us, you can email us at Joyful Journey Podcast is a ministry of Faith Bible Seminary. All proceeds go to offset costs of this podcast and toward scholarships for women to receive their MABC through Faith Bible Seminary.

Host Janet and her husband, Brent, also speak at a variety of conferences as a way to raise money for the seminary. If you want to look at what they offer or book them for a conference, go to their website.

Janet Aucoin


Janet is the Director of Women's Ministry at Faith Church (Lafayette, IN); Host of the Joyful Journey Podcast (helping women learn that when you choose truth you choose joy); ACBC certified; teacher in Faith Community Institute; Coordinator of FBS seminary wives fellowship, retreat and conference speaker; B.S. Human Resources, University of South Florida.