Husbands, Be Not Bitter
The Term: πικρός
1. It originally meant (in extra biblical writings): “pointed,” “sharp,” e.g., arrows or a knife, then more generally of what is “sharp” or “penetrating” to the senses, a pervasive smell “shrill” of a noise, “painful” to the feelings, “bitter,” “sharp” to the taste.
2. The term was often used in various ways in secular writings in New Testament times.
3. Men can be called πικρός (noun form) when they are “strict,” “severe,” “rigid,” “hostile,” or “cruel”. (Polybius, of Megalopolis – a historian of the rise of the Roman world used the word this way.)
a. Piercing in the way they used their position of strength or power.
b. This comes close to the way Paul used the word in Col. 3:19.
4. But in the New Testament, (other than here) the verb form is used exclusively of a bitter taste –
a. The other occurrences are all found in Revelation – bitter water, etc… or bitter stomach.
b. The harsh, sharp, bitter taste is used in a figurative sense to illustrate harshness and sharpness in other realms.
c. Obviously Paul uses the term in Col. 3:19 NOT of a bitter taste. He is not forbidding men to eat bitter things… to have a bitter taste in their mouth or belly.
d. Paul uses the bitter taste in a figurative sense.
e. There is a parallel between what a bitter herb does to the mouth… and what a husband often does to his wife.
a. James uses the term twice:
• James 3:11 – it is the opposite of a sweet taste.
» Here the term is used as an adjective.
» It is used in a literal sense of taste… opposite of sweet.
• James 3:14 – bitter envying and strife.
» Again it is used as an adjective to describe envying and strife
» Here he uses it in the figurative sense.
» Strife is described as bitter… there is something about fighting and arguing that likened it to the awful, bitter, pungent, piercing taste of a dandelion root.
b. Heb. 12:15 – the result of a lack of the grace of God—bitterness arises and causes trouble.
c. As an adjective, it is used to describe a harsh taste to water, harsh strife, bitter, intense grief, bitter harsh words.
d. The term is used of a harsh strength… potency… pungency… ferocity, pointed, piercing, cutting, sharp—whether applied to taste, noise, or emotions.
e. Paul uses this term to describe the emotional effect that a husband can have towards his wife.
A. The Preposition
1. The preposition dictates what is being commanded. Is he saying to the husbands:
a. Don’t become embittered inwardly BY of your wife…
b. Don’t show bitterness outwardly TOWARDS your wife…
c. Don’t be bitter (resentful) AGAINST your wife…
2. πρὸς: With the accusative (as is the case here) marking the object toward or to which something moves or is directed.
a. It marks the wife as the one towards which the bitterness is directed.
b. Thus, the bitterness of which Paul speaks is in some way unleashed or poured out by the husband in the direction of the wife.
3. Summary of definition: Bitterness speaks of that which is sharp, piercing, pointed—directed toward the senses. (taste, noise, emotions). It is the lack of grace, the opposite of sweet, and associated with envying and strife.
a. This sharp, piercing, pointed, harshness (that seems to come so easily for men) is NOT to be directed towards the wife.
b. That seems to the essence of the command.
c. The command is not: don’t BE bitter.
d. The command is: don’t DIRECT any bitter harshness TOWARDS her.
e. One is inward feelings; the other outward action.
f. It is the outward action towards the wife that is forbidden here.
g. The command is not “Don’t BE bitter” but “Don’t BEHAVE bitterly… sharply… harshly…
h. Don’t vent! Don’t be harsh, course, or rough towards your wife!
4. Most often we read this passage as if God were commanding husbands not to BE bitter inwardly. (embittered)
a. And we often think of this bitterness as a bitter feeling in the gut…
b. It is not a good idea to BE bitter or to feel bitter, but that is not the thrust of this command.
c. Feelings are not easily controlled… and they cannot be instantly changed.
d. The command is not for the husband to control his feelings, but for the husband to control his ACTIONS: his words and his deeds.
e. Repentance can change our actions, but not necessarily change our feelings… at least not immediately.
f. The first part of the verse (love) is not telling husbands what to FEEL but what to DO.
g. The second part is the same. It does not tell the husband what not to FEEL, but what not to DO.
h. God doesn’t often tell us what to FEEL. But He does tell us what to do and what to think.
i. If we are serious with God, we can change our actions and our thoughts instantly upon repentance.
j. But feelings don’t change nearly so easily… not after a long period of hostility.
k. The command does not have to do with the inner feelings of the husband… a bitter feeling in his gut. (Resentment, anger, frustration, rage, turmoil; etc.)
l. We are expected to OBEY this command even if we still FEEL bitterness in our gut!
5. The command is not to demonstrate that bitter harshness in the direction of your wife!
a. You may FEEL bitter inside. The feeling may seem overwhelming. You may feel trapped or enslaved to those feelings… without any way to release them.
b. And it might feel really good to vent it… and let it all pour out over your wife.
c. Especially if she is the reason you FEEL that way! You may feel justified in venting all this bitterness out on her.
d. But God says DON’T.
6. This IMPLIES that this bitterness is IN the heart of man.
a. Matt. 15:18-19 – this is not an exhaustive list.
b. Bitterness can also reside in the heart.
c. And God knows that some times the wife is the CAUSE of the bitterness in the husband’s heart.
• She might be a nag… a constant irritation…
• She might constantly be pushing your buttons…
• She might put you down… compare you to other men… insult, and humiliate you.
• She may show no respect and may not submit.
• In other words, she might STIR UP this bitterness IN YOU… she might be the outward cause of the bitterness in your heart.
d. Sometimes a husband can be frustrated and bitter just because of life in general. But sometimes it is caused by his wife.
e. The command in Col. 3:19 is that if there IS bitterness in your heart, DON’T POUR IT OUT on her!
• Even if she is the cause of the bitterness, don’t retaliate. Turn the other cheek. Suffer yourself to be defrauded. Be like Christ who was reviled but He reviled not again… when He suffered, he threatened not.
• Deal with the bitterness in your own heart and don’t express it in words or deeds towards your wife.
• If there are evil thoughts, resentment, anger, frustration, bitterness, etc, in the heart, then see it as a HEART issue.
• Confess it as sin. These sins defile a man.
• Keep your heart with ALL diligence.
• It doesn’t really matter HOW it got there. If it IS there, take it to the Lord in prayer! Cast your burden upon the Lord for HE careth for you.
f. II Cor. 5:10 – Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.
g. Deal with that resentment and bitterness while it is still in the thought stage. Keep a SHORT account with sin.
h. Don’t give it time to develop and brew and fester into the word stage or the action stage.
i. Bitterness is a toxic, spiritual poison in your heart.
j. Get rid of it the RIGHT WAY… through confession… by yielding to God and being filled with the Spirit.
k. Don’t get rid of it the WRONG way… by pouring it out all over your wife… and contaminating your whole household!
7. The command in Col. 3:19 is, “Don’t pour that bitter poison in the direction of your wife!”
a. Psychologists often teach that one should not suppress such feelings, but rather VENT those inner passions or they will damage your emotional makeup.
b. That is NOT what God says. God says, don’t vent them, confess them as sin, and they are GONE!
c. They are not suppressed: they are removed as far as the east is from the west… and are replaced with a peace the psychologists are unable to explain.
d. Phil. 4:6-7 – Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.? ?And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
e. God can remove that inner bitterness… and replace it with Himself… and the joy of salvation.
f. But even if those feelings stick around for a while—don’t vent them… and especially not on your wife.
g. When you think of the one flesh concept it certainly doesn’t make a lot of sense to pour bitter poison on your wife… you are ONE flesh.
8. Bitterness poured out against one’s wife.
a. There are two possible ways to understand the term “bitter” in Col. 3:19: inwardly bitter OR outwardly harsh.
b. And since the command is AGAINST pouring that bitterness out on your wife… the EFFECT is exactly the same.
c. Harshness is not to be poured out against one’s wife.
d. And if a man has an inwardly bitter spirit, when that is vented against his wife, it comes upon her as harshness.
e. While the meaning might be slightly different, the effect on the wife is the same.
f. For that reason, some translators have translated this verse differently than the KJV.
• Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. (English Standard Version, International Standard Version, New International Version and Good News Bible)
• Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. (New Revised Standard Version)
• Husbands, love your wives and be gentle with them. (New Century Version)
The Nature of Men
1. This command was not given to women or children, but to men.
a. Evidently God believed that men need to hear this.
b. We men tend to develop bitter, harsh, frustrated, angry, cruel feelings.
c. And we tend to unleash them at times… especially against one’s wife.
d. Hence, the need for the command!
e. This is not to say that a wife cannot do the same, but God sees this as primarily a problem of us males, and thus addresses men… husbands.
f. God addresses us right where we NEED to be addressed.
2. Present Imperative in the Negative
a. This verb construction could be translated, “STOP being bitter against them.”
b. It is a prohibition against an action already in progress.
c. In other words, it is as Paul ASSUMES that husbands in Colossae WERE already bitter against their wives.
d. He tells them to stop pouring out harshness in their direction.
e. This does not seem to be written this way because Paul heard of a particular case. Rather, it was because Paul understood human nature.
3. Eph. 5:23 – God created the husband to be head of his wife.
a. The kind of headship God designed is normal, natural, and GOOD for any husband/wife relationship.
b. It is a headship characterized by love… sacrificing self for her good… a husband who is willing to give himself, his all, for his wife…
c. It is a headship that is to reflect the manner in which Christ heads His Body, the church… His Bride…
d. It is a position of authority over the wife… as Christ has authority over the church.
e. The authority was given for the protection and care of the wife…
f. Loving headship was a wonderful thing in the Garden of Eden before the fall. But sin has changed everything.
4. Headship often goes to the head of a man… even a Christian!
a. Some men have abused their authority and behave more like a rigid drill sergeant than a husband.
b. Some men see themselves as head of the household in the same way Saddam Hussein saw himself as the head of Iraq… a brutal dictator.
c. I have cringed at the way some Christian men treat their wives.
d. Some men use their authority as an excuse to do whatever they want… to please themselves… at the expense of their wife and family. They have twisted the concept of headship to mean a master/slave relationship.
e. Raw authority without love can be extremely ugly… totalitarian… cruel.
f. Headship needs to be mitigated by love or the husband can turn into an oppressive tyrant, someone who is almost impossible to live with. I’ve seen that happen.
g. It is an awful perversion of the meaning of headship… an almost blasphemous picture of the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the church.
h. It is human nature to ABUSE authority and power.
i. A husband who is stronger and is given authority by God over his wife… can use that strength and authority to love and care for her… or as a vicious weapon against her.
j. The command in Col. 3:19 is: DON’T let your authority go to your head and start spewing out harsh words or deeds towards your wife.
k. An abuse of authority easily turns into insensitive, critical, treatment… bitter, unfeeling, severe, cruel, words… as well as a controlling, demanding, harsh, authoritarian attitude towards one’s wife.
l. This is human nature. It is what often happens when a husband is controlled by the flesh rather than the Spirit. (The fruit of the Spirit is love… gentleness… meekness…)
m. Paul gives this command to us men because he knew all too well human nature: He knows all too well what we men are capable of! O wretched man that I am!
n. There is nothing good in human nature. It is completely corrupted by sin. In my flesh dwells no good thing!
o. It is IN us to pour out all that inner bitterness and harshness on our wives. That is the fallen nature of a man.
The Nature of Women
1. Harshness can cause a woman to WITHER.
a. Ex: It can wither like a hothouse plant… they cannot handle a hostile or harsh environment. A woman, like a hot house plant, needs protection and care.
b. Ex: A harsh chemical can destroy a delicate veneer on a piece of furniture. The veneer shrivels up and is ruined.
c. The point is that something harsh can ruin or destroy… something that is delicate.
d. A harsh wind can destroy a city.
e. Harsh, impure waters can ruin metal pipes… or wear away stone.
f. A harsh dictator can terrorize a country.
g. Unmitigated harshness can do a LOT of damage.
h. Harsh, bitter words poured out against your wife can destroy, terrorize, and cause her to wither on the inside, emotionally.
• And the husband may not be able to SEE the effects of his harshness… the damage that he caused is inward… but God gives the command because the effects (though invisible) are real.
2. They are the weaker vessel. (I Pet. 3:7)
a. Venting anger and bitterness out on your wife is like confronting the fine china with the cast iron pot.
b. What happens if the iron pan treats the china with bitter harshness? What happens when these two items collide?
c. It might not hurt you, but it DOES hurt her.
d. When you yell at a man repeatedly, what emotions are evoked? Usually anger!
e. When you yell at a woman repeatedly, what emotions are evoked? Maybe anger at first, but she wears out more easily, and eventually withers up and shrivels—she crumbles emotionally.
f. When the two collide, the woman is more likely to get hurt.
g. Hence, this command.
h. This is part of the KNOWLEDGE that Peter wants husbands to know and to dictate their treatment of their wives.
i. They are different from men. Men are stronger physically and emotionally.
j. A husband may never lift a finger to hit his wife because he realizes he is stronger physically and it would not be fair or right.
k. But that same husband may engage in very bitter arguments with his wife… but that is just as wrong.
• It is wrong because he is also built differently emotionally.
• Even though she may be mean spirited and vicious in her words towards you… a man is able to handle them better because he is stronger emotionally.
• If that husband fires back with equally vicious words, his words can do MORE damage to her because she is the weaker vessel.
• Think of it as fighting fire with fire.
• The cast iron frying pan can handle the fire.
• But the dainty china cannot. It will break or melt.
• Men and women are not the same physically or emotionally.
• You KNOW that it is not a fair fight physically, so you don’t hit her.
• God wants us to KNOW that it is not a fair fight emotionally either.
• The husband is stronger and is responsible to take the lead in ENDING an argument… letting the wife have the last word… responding with a soft answer…
l. It is not a matter of superiority—any more than the iron pan is superior to the china.
m. But men and women are different… and were designed differently—for different purposes!
n. God commands us to dwell with them according to KNOWLEDGE… realizing your physical and emotional strength… and using that strength responsibly.
3. God provides PROTECTION for the weaker vessel by means of the stronger vessel. (Eph. 5:25-29)
a. Vs. 26 – Christ cares for the church by protecting us from dirt and infection. He cleanses us to keep us pure.
b. The husband is to protect his wife spiritually—to provide a safe spiritual environment for her… that she might be pure.
c. Vs. 27 – the husband is to use his strength to provide a wall of protection for his wife from anything that would hurt her or defile her spiritually.
d. The iron pan provides a wall of protection for the fine china.
e. Vs. 28-29 – the husband is to provide the same level of care and concern for his wife that he demonstrates towards himself… towards his own body.
f. The strong vessel is to care for and protect the weak vessel. That’s God’s design… God’s plan.
g. The man’s physical and emotional strength is given to him to provide care and protection AGAINST anything that would harm the wife…
h. A man’s strength was given to him to be poured out against anything that would harm his wife… FOR the good of his wife….
i. It is NOT to be vented against the wife!
j. When SIN controls our hearts, the very strength God gave to man for the GOOD of his wife is used to HARM the wife!
k. Thus, the delicate nature of a woman required the command of Col. 3:19… for the stronger vessel not to collide harshly with the weaker vessel.
l. That command is an expression of God’s love, care, and protection for the weaker vessel that He created.
m. The command wasn’t needed in Eden before sin entered the world. Adam would never have poured out bitter harshness on his wife. She was precious to him.
n. But it IS needed today. Adam’s sons are not so sensitive.
Be Not Bitter Against Them
1. Consider a likely scenario:
a. A wife is not submissive and begins nagging.
b. She learns how to irritate him… she learns all the buttons to press…
c. She’s never going to win in a fist fight, so she learns how to hurt him in other ways.
d. This is not the affectionate woman he married and he gradually becomes more and more irritated.
e. The husband develops bitterness on the inside.
f. So in anger and frustration he spills out all that bitterness on her… which causes her to wilt.
g. He’s striking back at her…
h. She in turn strikes back at him…
i. Poison has entered the relationship… and it destroys BOTH of them! They are one flesh.
j. She fills him with a bitter poison which is in turn poured out on her. They are both ruined… and on and on it goes.
k. It is a vicious circle that will go on forever until one person decides to go to the cross…
l. Col. 3:19 commands the husband to STOP that vicious cycle by NOT retaliating… by NOT spewing forth the bitterness in his heart all over his wife.
m. This command requires the MAN to take the stand and end the cycle… the strong one has a responsibility to bear the infirmity of the weak…
n. Even if she is the one who fills you with bitterness, don’t spew it back… don’t retaliate…
o. If she’s dishing it out, then take it like a man… and deal with it in your heart before the Lord.
2. A lesson from the Old Testament (Ex. 15:22-26)
a. Vs. 22 – The children of Israel have just experienced physical redemption from bondage in Egypt.
b. The very next thing we read is that Moses brought them from the Red Sea experience into the wilderness… to learn to trust God.
c. They traveled 3 days into the wilderness and found no water.
d. Vs. 23 – Then they came to a place called Marah and finally found water, but it was bitter… undrinkable.
e. Vs. 24 – They murmured and complained to Moses about the bitter experience he led them into.
f. Vs. 25 – Moses in turned cried out to the Lord.
• The Lord showed Moses a special tree and told him to cast the tree into the bitter waters.
• When he did, the bitter waters were made sweet.
g. What a glorious picture for us of what the CROSS of Christ can do in bitter experiences in our lives!
• Maybe a lot of bitterness has arisen in YOUR household.
• Perhaps your wife has refused to submit and has given you cause to become bitter.
• Perhaps your husband has not been obeying Col. 3:19 and has been spewing out harsh bitterness in your direction.
• And maybe, like the children of Israel, you’re beginning to think that God has brought you into this wilderness to die… there is nothing but bitterness there… and you can’t handle it any more.
• God’s answer is the CROSS… applying the TREE upon which Christ died to the bitter experiences in your life can make even those bitter experiences sweet.
• The cross: an end of self… an end of living for self… an end of trying to please and satisfy self… a new and abundant life dedicated to serving others…
• That’s what’s needed in your household and mine! Believers who BELIEVE what Christ said—that if we are to follow Him, we are to pick up a cross… and live the CRUCIFIED life…
• This is the life God has called BOTH the husband and the wife to live…
• But the husband is to take the LEAD.
• It is HE who is called of God to deal with the bitterness and harshness in the relationship… and put it away… by keeping his old self life on the cross by faith.
• Once we get public enemy number one (ME!) out of the way… those bitter waters will become sweet…
• And that relationship that had been nothing but harsh, cruel, bitterness will once again become sweet… and the sweet fragrance of Christ will once again fill that house…
h. Vs. 25c – It was the LORD who led them to Marah, not Moses.
• God allowed them to experience this bitterness to TEST them… to demonstrate to them what their hearts were like… that they might learn NOT to trust in themselves but to cast themselves upon the Lord!
• He tested them to see if they would love the Lord and obey Him…
• Vs. 26 – FOR I am the Lord! God tested them to demonstrate to them whether they love and obeyed God for what He GAVE them (sweet water—a pleasant life)… OR if they loved and obeyed Him because of who HE IS… the Lord!
• They failed the test. But God did not forsake them. He provided a way back.
• And they way back was by “applying the tree to their bitterness”… the way of the cross…
• They needed to learn that there is no bitterness that the Lord cannot sweeten!
• Vs. 27 – Elim!
• God led them to the place of bitterness to test them… not to harm them.
• They complained when they got to Marah…
• They assumed that they would have nothing but bitterness the rest of their days… but this was only a test from the Lord.
• What they DIDN’T KNOW was that right around the corner from Marah was another place called ELIM.
• And there were 12 wells of sweet water there… water of life… and 70 palm trees to provide shade… an oasis in the midst of the wilderness!
• God knew this all along… God wasn’t lost. God didn’t really want them to experience bitterness the rest of their days.
• God wanted all along to bring to Elim… but the way to Elim was THROUGH Marah.
• O how often believers come to bitter experiences and are ready to quit… to throw in the towel… to run to a divorce court… to forsake the ways of the Lord because they think they can’t handle the bitterness any more… so we run away into the wilderness on our own rather than following the pathway God set before us.
• How much better is it to run to the cross of Calvary! To by faith reckon our old man dead… crucified with Christ… and enter into the sweetness of the selfless and joyous resurrected life…
• What a pity to quit at Marah – when Elim is right around the corner!
• The cross is right there to turn the bitterness in YOUR relationship into sweetness…
• Are you willing to come to the cross?
» Without applying the tree they would have been stuck perpetually at Marah… with nothing but bitter water to drink.
» Applying the tree was the only way they would ever make it to Elim!
» Applying the cross to our relationship is the only way we’ll ever make to Elim too… to the place of sweet waters…
» The cross can transform a cruel bitter home into an oasis. COME to the cross… to an end of self today.
» And if you are NOT SAVED… come to the cross!