Teaching series from 1 Corinthians

Overcoming Obstacles to Love Relationship: Resentfulness

1 Corinthians 13

Teaching t22452


We are considering how to build genuine Christian community by developing Christ-centered friendships in a home group context. We went into detail on what casual and close CCF’s look like. As we seek build these CCF’s, we will bump into obstacles—not them, but within ourselves! One of the most common obstacles is resentfulness—retributive anger toward people who sin against us. Make no mistake about it: If you commit to build CCF’s (including marriage and parenting), you will be sinned against, disappointed, offended, hurt, annoyed, frustrated, etc. Unless you learn how to forgive, you will become resentful, and this will prevent and/or destroy CCF’s.

This is Paul’s point in Eph.4:31-5:2. The subject is walking in love (5:2). The obstacle is various forms of resentfulness (4:31). The solution is Christian forgiveness (4:32; Col.3:13). I want to take a closer look at these last two, but first we need to consider how resentfulness undermines love relationships...

How resentfulness undermines love relationships

Obviously, resentfulness is extremely damaging to your relationship with the person toward whom you are resentful:

Active outbursts of anger (verbal as well as physical – see Prov.12:18) can do great damage to the relationship.

Passive-aggressive behavior and/or avoidance (silent treatment) can also seriously damage a relationship. It is also easier to rationalize than active outbursts, so it usually goes on longer and without apology.

Resentful relating also makes a reciprocal response more likely. This retributive linkage can become the default of the relationship, which spoils and/or slowly kills it.

You may be thinking: “Yes, my resentfulness has injured/ruined that relationship. But it won’t affect my other relationships.” But resentfulness is like a root that spreads underground springing up to affect many other relationships (Heb.12:15).

Gossip and slander (talking destructively about vs. talking constructively to) about that person can do terrible damage to others’ relationship with him/her.

Unresolved resentment toward one person can attach itself to others who (sometimes subconsciously) remind you of that person (“floating bitterness”).

Over time, a resentful disposition can create a bitter countenance that repels others, and a cynical attitude about friendships (“Why try? People always screw you over.”).

Not only the above, but resentfulness deprives us of the joy, and God of the glory that comes from walking in forgiveness!

How can we overcome our resentments and replace them with kindness, compassion, and forgiveness? This is hard work, but God’s Word shows us the steps we need to take, Christ will personally help us as we choose to walk down this path! Let’s take the first step...

Admit that you are resentful

You can’t overcome resentment until you admit to yourself, to God, and (sometimes) to others that you are resentful! Some of you know you are resentful toward someone (“Yes, I hate his guts!”). You can skip this step, or listen so you can help those of us who tend to deny our resentfulness. Those of us who are more passive/introverted in personality can deny our resentfulness because it doesn’t act outrageously. Older Christians often deny their resentfulness because they know that it is wrong (“God says it is wrong to hate. Therefore, I do not hate.”). So it’s good to check by considering these internal symptoms of resentment:

Aversion to being around the person, especially in situations that are one-on-one or personal. Spouses avoid personal time, distance or write off offending friends, etc. When I’m not resentful, I look forward to being with them.

Rehearsing their offense and its negative consequences for you. This comes up unbidden, and I can even get perverse delight in this. When I’m not resentful, I remember that the situation was unpleasant, but tend to forget the details.

Focusing on the negative aspects of the person. These rise up and overshadow his strengths and positive features. He becomes “the antithesis.” When I’m not resentful, my perspective is “He has a few irritating idiosyncrasies, but he is basically a great guy.”

Mentally imagining revenge. Maybe telling him off, or even doing him harm. This may be about specific hurts received, or about other unrelated issues. When I’m not resentful, my imagination will be engaged on how I might build him up.

Being irked when he has good fortune, succeeds or is honored, and being (secretly) glad when he has bad fortune, fails, or is criticized. When I’m not resentful, this is exactly the opposite.

Inordinate desire to criticize the offender to others. When his name comes up in conversation, I feel a desire to throw in something negative. If the talk is already negative, I make it more so. If it is positive, I “bring people back to reality” by reminding them of his faults. When I’m not resentful, I want to praise/defend him to others.

Attraction to those who are critical of the same person. There is a perverted but exquisite delight in commiserating with another like-minded hater over the wickedness of a common offender. When I’m not resentful, I sense these people and avoid/warn them.

OK, so you do harbor resentfulness toward someone. Now what? What do you do about it? How do you change your heart to let go of the resentment and forgive? You cannot by your own moral will power stop thinking resentful thoughts and/or have them bubble up in resentful words and actions. It takes God’s supernatural power to get liberated from resentment and genuinely forgive. In order to access His power to forgive, you have to take your resentmentsinto God’s presence ...

Take your resentments into God’s presence

Asaph says that his bitterness toward the prosperous wicked was because he was like a beast before God—until he came into God’s sanctuary (Ps.73:21,22,16,17a). In other words, his resentment was a “spell” brought on by a (biblically) ignorant perspective, and broken only by having God speak His word to Him about this matter. Resentfulness thrives on a “horizontal” perspective, in which you think only about the other person and what he has done to you. But if you are willing to go into God’s presence and listen to what He says about your resentments, God can break the power of your resentment so that you can then choose to forgive.

First of all, God says: “I alone have the right to pay your offender back.” Resentfulness thrives on a skewed sense of justice: “He needs to pay for what he did to me, and I have the right to make him pay back.” It’s not the sense of justice that is wrong. Sin is a moral crime, and it must be paid back. The lie here is: “I have the right to make him pay back.” God says that He alone has this right (read Rom.12:19). Therefore, forgiveness is not forgetting justice—it is transferring the case to a higher court. He knows how and when to do this best. Usurping God’s role may be even more serious offense than the offense committed against me! This brings us to the next key truth...

Secondly, God says: “You deserve to be paid back for your many sins against me—but Jesus paid for you.” Resentfulness is also fed by self-righteousness. When you are resentful, the other person’s offenses look huge and your offenses look small. And maybe they are small by comparison. But God says that your offenses against Him are infinitely more numerous and heinous than the other person’s offenses against you—yet Jesus has paid your debt through His death on the Cross (see Jesus’ parable in Matt.18:21-35). This is the key point. If you let God bring this home to you, you will be convicted of your need to forgive. In light of this fact, your refusal to forgive your offender means either that you have never received Jesus’ forgiveness, or that your hypocrisy is worse than what they did to you.

Thirdly, God says: “I can heal and bring good out of your offender’s sins against you.” Resentfulness also thrives when we believe that the other person’s sins have the power to ruin our lives. Viewed from a horizontal perspective only, this is a “logical” conclusion. But God says that He can redeem the life of everyone who trusts Him—and that He can even work through their offenses to advance His work in our lives (see Joseph’s life and conclusion in Gen.50:20). Choosing to believe God on this helps us greatly to forgive. Many, many people have proven this truth (e.g., CORRIE TEN BOOM; etc.). The sad/ironic truth is that what will ruin our lives is never their sin against me; it is my wrong response to their sins—my resentment and refusal to forgive.

This is what God says to you about your resentful attitude toward your offender. How will you respond to Him? If you will reject what you have believed and embrace what He says, He will break the hold of your resentfulness so that you can choose to obey Him by cancelling your offender’s debt. Conversely, if you cling to the validity of your horizontal perspective, your resentments will deepen their hold on you. Which will it be?

Choose before God to cancel your offender’s debt

Now, on the above basis, God calls on you to forgive your offender in His sight, as an act of obedience to Him (see Col.3:13).

Has God put someone on your heart during this teaching—someone you need to forgive? Has He exposed the lies that have fueled your resentfulness toward him/her? Will you tell God now that with His help you choose to forgive this person? Will you tell Him this right now (10 SECOND SILENT PRAYER)? If you have done this, I highly recommend going through Phil Franck’s worksheet, (maybe) asking a Christian friend to help you go through this. It will walk you through the above steps.

What forgiveness is - & isn’t

If you have chosen to walk down this path, you may yet get tripped up if you have serious misconceptions about what it means to forgive your offender. Therefore, I want to briefly contrast the most common misconceptions with aspects of biblical forgiveness. Take special note of the misconceptions that may be getting in your way.

It is not dismissing the offender’s moral responsibility. It is laying down the right to pay back (aphiemi) and assuming the responsibility to love (charizomai).

It is not a feeling. It is a choice based on truth (see above) that eventually leads to changed feelings. This choice can be relatively easy for minor offenses, or require much effort for major offenses.

It is not forgetting the offense. It is deciding to not remember it against the person—to (with God’s help) reject pondering the offense and ways to pay back.

It is (often) not a once-for-all event. It is a decision which (often) must be re-affirmed as memories or consequences of the offence arise.

It is not passively tolerating future abuse. It is a commitment to practice discipline with redemptive intent.

It is not agreeing to trust an untrustworthy person. It is being willing (when appropriate) to allow the offender to rebuild responsible trust.

It is not the same as reconciliation. It is (when appropriate) being willing to work toward reconciliation.


NEXT WEEK: We will cover an obstacle that is related to resentfulness—a judgmental spirit. Removing this obstacle can help you preempt resentfulness and/or nip it in the bud.

This is a complicated subject, so there are probably questions and need for clarification. I am also interested in hearing from those who have experienced the freedom that comes from choosing to forgive.

“Bitterness” (pikria) – hostility because of personal resentment; “wrath” (thumos) – rage; anger boiling up and soon subsiding; “anger” (orge) – anger exhibited in retributive punishment; “clamor” (krauge) – harsh words; verbal brawling; “slander” (blasphemia) – speech injurious to another’s good name; “malice” (kakia) – ill-will; desire to injure; wickedness that is not ashamed to break moral laws.