When it comes to grudges, the Bible is clear that Christians are to forgive as they have been forgiven, show love, and live at peace with others as far as possible.
What do we mean by a “grudge?”
Webster’s dictionary describes a grudge as cherished malice. To cherish something is to hold it close, defend it, and never part from it. Malice is wishing harm and harboring resentment and hatred towards another person. To cherish malice against another person is a big deal!
Sadly we live in a world that glamorizes grudges. It’s “cool” to get even! Successful businesses have been founded on man’s tendency to cherish malice. Yes, you can even pay to have a shriveled-up flower arrangement or rotten fruit bowl delivered to someone who has offended you!
We know that conflict is inevitable in a fallen world but what does the Bible say about holding grudges? Let’s dig a little deeper.
Does the Bible Talk About Unforgiveness and Holding Grudges?
While cultures and traditions have changed over the centuries, it seems that the temptation to hold a grudge is timeless. Since The Fall, God has been addressing man’s unforgiveness and directly speaking against grudges and resentment.
From this we know two things. First, that unforgiveness and resentment are very real struggles that God’s people face. Second, God feels very strongly that His people should work hard to forgive and live at peace with one another.
God, in His mercy, highlights grudges and forgiveness all throughout His Word. Let’s take a closer look now.
What Does the Bible Say About Holding Grudges in the Old Testament?
Leviticus 19:18 ESV You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
This is a direct instruction from the mouth of God. This verse is the most quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament. Why? It is the second greatest commandment. In the first part of the verse, God makes it clear that it is a sin to take vengeance or bear a grudge.
In the second part of the verse lies the antidote to vengeance (malice in action) and bearing a grudge (cherishing malice in our hearts) – love. One cannot cherish malice and love at the same time. As believers, we are called to love, and to love selflessly. In doing so, we are obeying God.
Proverbs 19:11 ESV Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
It is wise and sensible to be slow to anger. It is a credit to the individual to move past an offense without holding onto bitterness. On the contrary, it would bring shame upon a person to bear a grudge.
What Does the Bible Say About Holding Grudges in the New Testament?
Ephesians 4:31-32 ESV Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
This New Testament passage leaves no room for bearing grudges. Bitterness, wrath, and anger indicate inward feelings. Clamor and slander are outward actions that result from harboring resentment. We are to imitate Christ in kindness, inwardly from the heart to the outward action of forgiving the way He forgave. His perfect example is to be our guide.
Romans 12:17-21 ESV Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The LORD will make it right! He sees the wrongs committed against His children and He promises to repay. To seek vengeance is therefore an act of unbelief. We can trust God. If we hold onto this truth, it becomes possible to follow his instructions to show kindness to those who hurt us. They aren’t getting away with anything, it simply isn’t up to us to punish them – that is a task much better suited to the only Righteous Judge.
Luke 17:3-4 ESV Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
Recognizing our own sins and lovingly pointing out our brothers’ sins is part of the cycle of repentance and forgiveness. Our forgiveness should know no bounds. Like God’s forgiveness, we are to forgive over and over again. Since we are sinners and we are surrounded by sinners (even redeemed ones) we need to be forgiven and offer forgiveness on a daily basis.
Matthew 6:14-15 ESV For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Mark 11:25 ESV And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
Forgiving others is a natural response when we live in light of the forgiveness we received at the cross. If God forgave us while we were his enemies, surely we must forgive others. If we find ourselves unable to forgive, we need to run to the cross and be reminded of what God did for us.
How to Let Go of Your Grudge and Forgive Freely
Colossians 3:13 ESV bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Romans 8:28 ESV And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
1John 5:14 ESV And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.
2 Cor 4:17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory
- Look to Jesus as our example. Reflect on the cross and the precious gift of salvation and forgiveness. It is easier to forgive when we remember the weight of sin that was removed from us at the cross.
- Trust God to right the wrongs, and that His plan for you is for your good and His glory, including times when others sin against you.
- Pray. It isn’t always easy to forgive. But God promises to hear us when we pray according to His Will. And His Word has made it clear that His Will for us is to forgive.
- Rejoice in the hope of eternity in God’s presence. In light of that day, the momentary afflictions of this world lose their hold on us. In light of that day, we can overlook offenses both big and small.
Get Free from Grudge’s Grip
To hold a grudge is to disobey God’s second greatest commandment to love our neighbor. It isn’t always easy to forgive but remembering the forgiveness we have received from God makes it possible. Forgiveness is an act of faith. Faith that God will make things right, that God has a plan and that God is good. We can trust Him.