Productive Bitterness: Resentment Is Never Idle
When we’re angry, it’s because somebody hurt us.
When we’re bitter, it’s because we haven’t addressed our anger.
When we’re cynical, jealous and self-serving, it’s because we’re bitter.
Or at least that’s the lesson we learn from Simon the Samaritan Sorcerer in Acts 8. The writer of Acts says, “Simon had been a sorcerer there for many years, amazing the people of Samaria and claiming to be someone great” (Acts 8:9). Here are the first two descriptors we have for Simon:
1) He can manifest supernatural power. And it truly impresses the people around him. But because he hasn’t surrendered his life to Christ, he is accessing that power through dark channels.
2) He claims to be someone great. When must declare our own greatness, or remind others of our achievements, we reveal our own deep insecurity. Simon claims to be great because he desperately needs the applause of others for his emotional survival.
People who firmly anchor their identity in Christ know where they are great and where they’re not. But they aren’t compelled to trumpet their achievements, talents or resources to others.
So, Simon, a legitimate, but emotionally stunted, master of the dark arts is perplexed when the apostle Peter comes to town and performs miracles in Jesus’s name. One of these manifestations is praying for people and seeing them receive the Holy Spirit.
Given Simon’s spiritual immaturity, his reaction shouldn’t surprise us.
“When Simon saw that the Spirit was given when the apostles laid their hands on people, he offered them money to buy this power” (Acts 8:18). Simon doesn’t ask for the Holy Spirit, he just wants to purchase whatever “trick” Peter is using to see the Spirit fall on these new Christ-followers. Why? Because for Simon, God is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It’s the means to power, not the aim of worship.
Peter responds with the same brutal candor Jesus used with Peter when he said “Get behind me Satan.” He says, “You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin” (Acts 8:21-23).
Peter knows Simon’s heart isn’t right. What’s at the root of his character defect? Bitterness.
His bitterness is what’s fueling his need for status, for fame, for strokes, for power.
His bitterness is breeding the hardness of heart that prevents him from appreciating what God is doing in the moment. Bitterness causes him to view people as objects for his agenda, not precious children of God.
To be fair, Simon was doing just fine with his bitterness. He built a successful business, had a city-wide reputation for performing supernatural stunts and amazed his friends on a regular basis. But he knew it wasn’t enough. When he saw something truly incredible, he knew he lacked the capacity to pull it off. Money couldn’t buy it. Education couldn’t unlock the secret. There was only one way to get what he truly wanted: to beg God for forgiveness and start over.
Bitterness is a productive emotion. It’s always generating something. The problem is that the fruit of bitterness is toxic and it keeps us from being the people we want to be.