Sisters in Christ, as we seek to grow in godliness and conform ourselves to the image of Christ, it can be easy to fall into habits of spitefulness, bitterness, and resentment. These attitudes are ultimately destructive, both to ourselves and to others. So what does God’s Word instruct about relating to others, even difficult people, with grace and love? Let’s explore some key principles.
- Spitefulness stems from bitterness and resentment, which Scripture warns against
- We are called to extend grace and forgiveness, leaving judgment to God
- Prayer and repentance are key to overcoming spiteful attitudes
- Jesus set the example of returning good for evil
- God can redeem hurtful relationships and make us agents of change
The Heart Issue
At its core, a habit of spiteful words or actions indicates a heart problem. When our hearts are filled with pride, anger, resentment, or bitterness, it inevitably spills out toward others (Matthew 12:34). Scripture clearly warns against allowing these attitudes to take root:
“Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:15).
“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31).
Bitterness chokes out the work of God’s grace in our hearts. So the first step in overcoming spitefulness is honest prayerful examination of our hearts. What pain, offenses, or unmet expectations are we harboring that lead us to lash out at others? Confess these areas to the Lord, asking Him to uproot the bitterness and replace it with love and forgiveness.
Judgment Belongs to God
When others have genuinely hurt or offended us, it can feel justified to return hurt for hurt. However, the Bible cautions extensively against taking judgment into our own hands. God alone sees all circumstances and the hearts of all people, and He promises to settle all scores justly in due time (Romans 12:19). When we assume the role of judge and jury toward those who’ve wronged us, we overstep our bounds and limit how God can work both in our lives and in the lives of others.
Instead, Jesus calls us to break cycles of offense through radical grace, mercy and forgiveness:
“Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).
Of course, this does not mean staying in abusive or dangerous relationships. But it does mean we relinquish bitterness and desire for revenge, entrusting justice to God. We can set healthy boundaries without passing sentence on others’ souls. As Romans 12:21 instructs, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” God may yet have a redemptive purpose, even for our enemies (Proverbs 16:7).
Overcoming Evil with Good
Jesus set the ultimate example of this principle when He prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Though murdered unjustly, Jesus determined to return good for evil. This should be our model in relating to those who wrong us. As 1 Peter 3:9 advises, “not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”
What might it look like to practically bless someone we’re tempted to resent or spitefully judge? Here are some suggestions:
- Pray blessing over them – Bring their name before God in prayer, asking Him to meet their needs and reveal His lovingkindness
- Speak words of life – Find ways to sincerely encourage them or speak favor into their life
- Meet a need – Look for practical ways to serve them or meet a physical need they may have
- Extend hospitality – Invite them into your home for a meal or coffee; get to know their story
This may seem extremely difficult, if not impossible, depending on the situation. But when we live out this kind of supernatural love, we allow God’s redemptive power to overcome evil. We might be the very catalyst He uses to bring change and healing into broken relationships.
Of course, implementing these principles first requires searching our own hearts. Jesus said we must remove the log from our own eye before addressing the speck in someone else’s (Matthew 7:3-5).
Ask God to reveal any ways you might be harboring bitterness, resentment, pride or hypocrisy. 1 Corinthians 13:5 says love “is not provoked” and “thinks no evil.” Do you tend to put the worst possible interpretation on others’ motives and words? Ask the Holy Spirit to develop His fruit of love, patience, kindness and self-control in your life (Galatians 5:22-23). The more we grow in grace ourselves, the more grace we’ll be able to extend to others.
Walk in Wisdom
This is not to say we must tolerate genuine mistreatment or abuse. Scripture allows for establishing wise boundaries against harm (Proverbs 27:12). But we must do so without sinning in response or compromising Christlike love (Romans 12:18).
If you have a habitually divisive, toxic or deceitful person in your life, seek the Lord for wisdom. Steer clear of revenge or retaliation, but you may need to limit contact or remove yourself from the relationship entirely. This should only be done in counsel with other believers and with the goal of restoration. We guard our own hearts while sincerely praying God grants repentance and redemption.
Speak the Truth in Love
When someone persists in sinful habits or attitudes that harm themselves or others, it can become necessary to lovingly confront them. Scripture offers guidelines for doing this in a redemptive rather than resentful way.
First, reflect on your own conduct to be sure you aren’t guilty of similar offenses (Matthew 7:1-5). Then prayerfully discern if this is an issue serious enough to necessitate confrontation (Proverbs 19:11). If so, go directly to them, just the two of you, speaking the truth in gentleness and love (Ephesians 4:15). Make clear that your desire is to build them up, not put them down (Ephesians 4:29). Offer specific scriptural insights. Aim to elicit repentance and reconciliation, not resentment.
Though difficult, this process holds potential for great blessing and growth for you both. But guard your tongue against global condemnation or judgmental gossip with others (Romans 1:29-30). Maintain an attitude of humility, restoration, and loyalty to the relationship (Galatians 6:1).
Trust God with Relationships
Ultimately, we must pray and leave room for God to work, while doing our part to live at peace with all people (Romans 12:18). Refuse the temptation to usurp His rightful place as judge. As Christ’s ambassadors, we guard our own integrity while extending mercy and sacrificial love. This is often the very means God uses to bring about change in the lives of others.
So sisters, press on in grace! Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the perfect model of forgiving love. None of us are without fault, so we must freely give the grace we’ve received (Luke 6:37-38). When spiteful words or thoughts arise, take them captive and make them obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Remind yourself constantly of God’s mercy toward us. As our hearts are transformed by encountering His love, we’ll become more like Him – channels of life and blessing to all.