Dr. Bob Wood serves as Executive Vice President Emeritus of Bob Jones University. He came to BJU in 1977 after 16 years in the transportation industry. An ordained minister, he previously served as the pastor of Killian Hill Baptist Church in Lilburn, Georgia. In addition to his duties at the University, Dr. Wood serves on the boards of several Christian organizations. He preaches frequently at churches and for other Christian ministries throughout the country.


His life verse is Acts 20:28. He is particularly burdened for young preachers to have a proper view of the ministry, to be motivated to study and rightly divide the Word of Truth, to have a genuine love for the flock over which the Holy Spirit has called them to shepherd, and to be able to deliver aptly the Word of God with conviction, power, and honesty.



“BITTERNESS – The Poison that Guarantees Spiritual Death”


by:  Dr. Bob M. Wood


Acts 8:9-24

v. 22-23- “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee, For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.”


I remember well in my high school days when my parents informed me that I would take typing. I argued passionately that typing was for girls and not for boys, but as usual, I didn’t have much success changing their minds. I remember going to typing class that first day thinking that it would just be me and 25 girls, but I found some other boys whose parents were just as forceful as mine! In that first class, the teacher explained to us the importance of “the home keys,” and after that first week of typing, I was very tired of hearing about them. But she said we had to be so totally familiar with the home keys that the rest of the keyboard became familiar as well.


In my Christian life, there are certain “home keys” in the Bible that keep me stable and where my soul is fed. The eighth chapter of Acts is one those passages to me. The story of Simon reveals a sad character in many ways. Some writers think he was a man who had visions of being the Messiah. He used magic (and from the content of the language, he may have even used drugs) to bewitch people. He was spoken of as one who had a source of some unknown power, and the people of his city mistakenly thought it was from God.


Even before the conversion of Paul, Philip the evangelist came to Simon’s city in Samaria and preached the truth of the Gospel. Simon heard that truth, and according to this passage, he believed and was baptized. He went with Philip and then with Peter and John as they traveled throughout the region. He heard them preach and teach and saw them baptize people who believed their doctrine. (There is a mystery here to many of us regarding his receiving the Holy Ghost. You can read five commentaries and get five different views, but the gist of it seems to be that the Holy Spirit sealed these new converts by the laying on of the hands of the Apostles during this transition age, before the New Testament was completed).


As Simon saw these things, he decided there must also be some sort of magic in what they do, and he wanted these gifts. He wanted to be able to empower men with the Holy Spirit. Of course, this power did not come from the Apostles, it came through the Apostles. But day by day as Simon traveled with these men, he continued to think about this gift, and his lack of it seems to have obsessed him. After a while, he came and asked for it and even wanted to pay money to have this unique gift. Peter makes an impassion-ed response in verses 22-23: “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee, For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.”


How many times I have meditated on those two little verses! How many times I have been rebuked by the Holy Spirit by these words and realized my need to ask God to forgive me for the thought of my heart before my actions become wicked. Peter said to this man, “I perceive” — That is the same word Paul used in Acts 27 when he “perceived” their voyage would be with much hurt and damage. He told Simon, “I have an under-standing of what is going to happen to you, Simon, if you don’t straighten out your thinking! You are poisoned by bitterness and therefore chained to iniquity.”


Bitterness is indeed the poison that guarantees spiritual death.


To be bitter means to be harsh and disagreeable. The root word means to be in great pain. It literally means “to crowd oneself.” In a technical description, it’s like a bearing in a wheel in an automobile running without oil. As that bearing runs without oil, it begins to get hot, and the hotter it gets the more it is malformed until eventually it seizes up and can no longer perform its function. Oil in the Scripture is a type of the Holy Spirit. Many Christians today are running without the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and many of them are “running hot.” Some of them are seized by bitterness. In the book of Deuteronomy, bitterness is mentioned with wormwood as a poison, the “gall of bitterness.” When you allow bitterness to poison you, you are literally chained to sin. You are bound by it and you constantly find yourself falling into sin.


The Cause of Bitterness


There are three main sources. The first is People.


Verse 18 “When Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money.” They could do something he couldn’t do, and he had been known as a great man back in Samaria. Does it ever irritate you if people have gifts and talents you don’t have? I hear people singing, and I am so thrilled by their songs and voices, but I might lose the joy it brings because I am thinking, “God, why didn’t you give me a voice so that I can sing?”


Personality conflicts can bring about bitterness. Some people do things that just irritate us. They talk too much, or they talk too little. People we don’t even know can irritate us. We are constantly in contact with other people, and if we allow their inconsistencies or even their gifts and talents or personalities to grate on us, we can become angry and hostile people. God does not intend for that to happen. We are to love one another. Love is an evidence of salvation, and the ability to put up with the weaknesses and inconsistencies of others is something we must train ourselves to do every day.


Second, there are Personal sources of bitterness — physical defects or weaknesses. We are told that men who are short in stature are sometimes angry people. I remember when one of my sons was suddenly three inches taller than I! It’s too late for me to grow any taller. These physical and personal traits should send me straight to Psalm 139 where I am assured that God made me just like He wanted me. All of us have certain limitations mentally or emotionally, and physically. There are some things we can do and some things we cannot do. Yet God, according to Psalm 139, created you with the potential to do whatever it is that He has called you to do in life. He certainly wouldn’t call you be a great basketball star if you are 4 ft. 11 inches tall! But we become angry and think we haven’t been treated fairly when it comes to those personal things.


Third, consider the Place where we are – verse 10 says, “To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.” But that was in Samaria, and now Simon is not in Samaria any more. He’s travelling with the Apostles. He’s in a different place but would rather be back home where they recognize him. He chafes at being just be another guy in the crowd. He craves the attention and recognition they are getting. All throughout our lives, we will find ourselves in places that are uncomfortable. We want to be somewhere else. Search through the Scriptures, and over and over again you find men in prisons, in caves, in poverty, men in the wilderness, or shipwrecked. God trains us by putting us in places we would not choose, and if we spend our lives running from an environment that is uncomfortable, we will never grow in the grace of God. If you spend all your life determined to be somewhere where you can get all the recognition you ought to get and where you can be as happy as you ought to be, you will be prone to failure.


Inconveniences irritate us. Years ago, I had a professor who said, “If you ever meet a family of six people or more who live in a house with one bathroom, you will find irritable people!” Our society spends much money and energy to make things convenient, but throughout the Bible you find that things were rarely “convenient” for God’s people.


People and their personalities can cause us to become hostile and irritable and to crowd ourselves into a corner of anger and bitterness. Personal weakness can bother us and can be used of Satan to rob us of the joy that comes from finding the will of God and doing it, yet God has given each of us those gifts and abilities that will allow us to fulfill His will. And the Places where He sends us may not be our choice, but they are there to teach us and to allow us to be used to bring benefit and glory to God.


There also are Three Main Snares in bitterness.


Simon reveals that Unwise Desires are a snare. Whatever this gift was of laying on of hands, he should not have it. God would have granted it if He wanted him to have it. It was an unwise desire, and he allowed his mind to dwell on something that was not his. He began to want it and after a while this desire perverted his actions and his thinking, and soon he was trying to bribe the men of God. Every day unwise desires cross our minds. There are things we want but things God doesn’t want us to have. Things we want that we should not have. When we allow unwise desires to take root in our minds, we become more and more irritable and harsh and bitter over the fact that we do not have them.


Second, Unfulfilled Desires. Simon did not get what he wanted. How often did you go to your birthday party but didn’t get what you wanted? How often as a child did you get up on Christmas morning and the one specific thing you asked for was not there!


We come across people every day who have not had their unwise desires fulfilled, and they become angry and hostile. There are pastors who didn’t get the church they wanted. There are evangelists who didn’t get invited to the place they wanted to preach. We see students in the University who can’t get the classes they want at the time they want.


Third, Uncontrolled Desires. Simon offered them money. He thought he could bribe God! He had made much money in Samaria. He was a wealthy man there, and he apparently thought money was the answer to all problems. He decided that he needed that gift and he had waited long enough, so he wanted to buy it. You are foolish if you think money will solve all your problems. You are wrong if you allow your desires to run rampant and you think, “If I just had enough money, I’d never have another problem.” Many Christians believe that money is the answer. Many Christians have become angry and hostile because they think they don’t have enough of the world’s goods and that God has been unfair to them. Many Christians have been poisoned by this hostile, seething mood of bitterness, and it costs them their joy in serving God and their place of service, because their attitude becomes so warped that God cannot use them.


The Course of Bitterness


Bitterness Breeds Sin. Simon wants to go back to the old life – back to being a magician. Back to manipulating people. As bitterness grows in us, we literally have bred the source of sin. We say things we shouldn’t say, although we have thought them in our hearts and never said them before. As we harbor this harsh, angry, disagreeable attitude in our spirit, sin is bred and thrives in that atmosphere.


Bitterness Brings Suffering. Peter confronted Simon and said, “You don’t belong with us if this is your way of thinking.” Look at Simon’s plight. He’s given up his trade of bewitching and beguiling people. He has openly left his city following the Apostles, and he can’t go back to practicing his witchcraft. There are lots of theories about what happened to Simon, but we don’t know for sure. But you can be certain that he was a miserable man. He was so out of sorts with those he was following and now he is not comfortable anywhere. There are miserable Christians all over the world today who can’t get along with people at church because of jealousies and inconsistencies and hostilities and anger; but they can’t go back to the world either. The Holy Spirit pricks their consciences; they are miserable and unhappy. The most unhappy people in this world are those who have bred bitterness in their lives. It truly is a sin that brings suffering and great pain.


Jesus Christ looked down from the cross, and to be sure He would harbor no bitterness toward those who had cursed Him and spat upon Him, He said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Never has a man been more ill-treated than Jesus Christ, and yet in His heart was a spirit of forgiveness, a spirit of compassion for those who were torturing Him. What a marvelous trait we find in our Saviour and what an example we have in His forgiveness of those who crucified Him! Yet there is an even more compelling trait in Him – He is still willing to forgive us of our sins of bitterness and jealousness and hostility. Those who physically nailed Christ to the cross, and those who cursed Him and spat upon Him are less guilty than Christians of today who turn their back on that grace and continue to add sin to sin and continue to crucify Jesus Christ through their wrong attitudes and actions.


The Consequences of Bitterness


Spiritual Consequences – In the spiritual realm, first there is a Loss of Ability to Love God. A person can’t be hostile and bitter and really love God. I John 4:20-21 – “If a man says, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother, whom he has seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.” If there is a person you hate, a person toward whom you are angry and hostile, someone who has offended you, or a set of circumstances or an environment that has angered you, if you find that physical personal defects have caused you to be seething and angry toward God, you cannot love God as you should, until you take care of that.


Second, there is a Lack of Spiritual Growth. Paul spoke to the Church at Corinth in I Corinthians 3 — “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. (v.3) For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” If we are bitter, angry, hostile people, there can be no spiritual growth in us. We can never understand the peace that passes understanding, or have the joy that comes from serving God, or understand many truths of Scripture. We have cost ourselves the ability to love our God as we should and we lack the ability to digest the food that causes spiritual growth.


Third, there are Lingering Doubts Regarding Salvation. As I have studied this passage many times over the years and read a number of commentaries on it, it is clear that there is a raging battle among the writers regarding whether Simon the Sorcerer was saved. There are strong arguments on both sides. The Scripture simply says “he believed.” It is the same Greek word as that used in John 3:16. It’s context is with three other salvation experiences (Cornelius, Paul, the Ethiopian eunuch), but there still may be some argument that he was not saved. Even the theological complexity which can bog down our minds in this Bible study is an illustration of how a harsh and angry man feels about his own salvation: “Am I saved? Why do I think like this? I have a desire to follow God and do these things, but I have a desire for these things of the world, and I am jealous of other people, and they make me angry!” And then there is constant doubt about salvation and mental anguish! What a horrible spiritual consequence – to continually doubt your salvation because of your own hostile and bitter spirit.


Emotional Consequences – Psychologists tell us that emotionally and physically there are problems with this thing of bitterness. First, Depresssion. People who let everything bother them are depressed all the time. They can’t seem to get things in life the way they want it. Exhaustion. Medical commentaries describe what stress and depression and anger and hostility do to us. We just get tired. This sort of person can go to bed and sleep 14 hours and get up and say, “I’m so tired. I don’t have enough energy to go do anything. I have no physical strength.” Physical strength can certainly be drained by emotional distress. You can have ulcers and all kinds of problems. There is Detestation – a person comes to the point of hating himself, hating life and everything about it. I hate who I am and what I am and what I am doing! Why? Because hostile, bitter, angry people always have a tendency to concentrate on the weaknesses and failures of others, and what you concentrate on you will become like! Those traits in your parents that you dislike the most are most likely seen in your life. We concentrate on the wrong things, we emphasize the wrong areas, and in so doing, we suddenly feel this self hate and don’t know why.


The Cure for Bitterness


I am so glad there is a cure for this disease! If there were no cure, we would be without hope. Verse 24- “Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.” Simon said to Peter, “I don’t want to be like this!” The first thing to do is recognize that you are like that, and then to pray about it. Many people never conquer this problem of bitterness because they will never admit to the problem. With a baseball bat in hand and a grimace on their face, they protest that they are loving and kind!


Confession – Ephesians 4:32 – “And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Read Matthew 18. If you are holding in your heart a grudge or bitterness against any person, even someone who has wronged you, that is the poison which chains you to sin. It is the poison which keeps you from getting victory in your Christian life. There must be a Confession for this sin of bitterness.


Concentration on God – Hebrews 12:2 -“Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Don’t concentrate on the weaknesses and inconsistencies of others! Concentrate on the Lord Jesus Christ. Look at Him! Jesus – for the joy set before him – endured the cross. He knew what was going to happen to Him, and He also knew that His pain and suffering would bring about victory over sin and death. He endured that awful pain without hostility or bitterness.


Confirmity to Christ – II Cor. 3:18 -“But we all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Imagine that! We can undergo a complete change if we will concentrate on God and reflect the attitude of the Lord Jesus Christ when He was faced with personal pain and suffering. We are changed! We are changed from the wicked corrupt people that we are unto glory – “into the same image.” God has taken it upon Himself to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ. “For whom he did foreknow he did predestinate to be conformed into the image of His Son.” – Romans 8:29


Yes, sometimes there is pain and pressure and discomfort; and many times we don’t get what we want out of life, but some day when we see Him, we shall be as He is. God is in the process of working that out for us now. How joyous it would be if we could learn that in this life and experience this joy now, because that is the way He means for us to live. He wants us to walk in the steps of the Lord Jesus.


Let me conclude with a great warning from Hebrews 12:14-15 – “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God (unless any man fall away from grace); lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” Notice the word “many” – the majority of God’s people are defiled and destroyed by this attitude of hostility and bitterness and anger because we don’t get what we want, or because other people bother us so badly, or because our plans so often fail. Beware! A little “root” of bitterness will spring forth in the lives of God’s people and grow into a giant tree of bitterness, and the fruit of that tree in all seasons will destroy the joy of serving God.


Bitterness is indeed the poison that guarantees spiritual death. Maybe you are carrying some physical defects that have made you angry or hostile; maybe you have been hurt very deeply by someone; maybe you don’t like where God has put you; maybe you don’t like the family God has put you in — but I promise you that God can deliver you from your bitterness.


If you will confess it and look to Jesus and His example of enduring the cross and forgiving those who hated him, He will deliver your soul and break the chain that binds you to the sin of bitterness.


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