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Is it possible to hold a grudge against someone and still make it into God’s Kingdom?

It is a good question and one that we need to take very seriously. As we approach the Passover each year, we go through a period of introspection and any grudges that we hold must be eliminated. But our self-examination must continue, and it is especially a good occasion now as we are approaching the Day of Pentecost this weekend.

What is a grudge? We instinctively know what it is but, put simply, it is a feeling of resentment or ill-will. It is part and parcel of the way that the world behaves and reacts— it seems that if you don’t hold grudges or feel resentment towards others that you are not normal—but the way that the world views things is not our yardstick. It is what God says on this matter that really counts.

Leviticus 19:18 tells us:

“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”

We see in this passage that taking vengeance and bearing a grudge are related, and they are contrary to loving our neighbor. Bearing a grudge means to guard and to cherish it. The Pulpit Commentary states that Leviticus 19:18 prohibits malice and revenge. The Matthew Poole Commentary adds that it prohibits carrying malice in our heart.

A grudge is a heavy thing to carry. But, it may be that a lot of heavy things are being carried today by some of the people of God. For some, that might mean harboring a grudge over many years.  Some people have very long memories and can find it very difficult to forgive (even though they may say, I have forgiven that person and do not hold a grudge, but this might be self-deception).

We read in Galatians 6:7: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked. For whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.”

Of course, it can be difficult to ignore the vicious, the mischief-makers, the provocateurs and those who may hold a grudge, but it is a requirement as part of our calling. However, this is a strategy that pays handsome dividends. If people hold grudges against us, let us pray for them that they are willing to change. Jesus Christ said: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). There is no better teacher than the Savior, and we should do well to heed His words.

We were called to the narrow way (see Matthew 7:13-14), which means that we are to be different from the world where grudges are a part of the way of man. Bearing a grudge often doesn’t take into account anything other than personal revenge of one sort or another and wanting to get even.  However, God says that we should not avenge ourselves, but give place to God’s wrath and His vengeance who will take care of matters in His due time (Romans 12:19).

In the book of Esther is the story of Haman and Mordecai. Haman was furious at the refusal of Mordecai to bow down to him and his anger caused him to plan the destruction not only of Mordecai but of all the Jews throughout the kingdom. The vengeance of Haman was not satisfied by the destruction of one person; he sought to destroy the entire Jewish nation. You might say that he had a grudge—a real grudge. He wanted to kill Mordecai. But this grudge led to his death. In Esther 7:9-10 we read: “Now Harbonah, one of the eunuchs, said to the king, ‘Look! The gallows, fifty cubits high, which Haman made for Mordecai, who spoke good on the king’s behalf, is standing at the house of Haman.’ Then the king said, ‘Hang him on it!’ So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the king’s wrath subsided.” We can see that Haman’s grudge was an extremely costly one.

In Matthew 6:12, Jesus said in the model prayer that we were to pray: “And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.” Here we have the requirements of a true Christian. The request for forgiveness of sin is to be made by the true Christian. For continued spiritual growth we must acknowledge our sins in particular. Notice that we seek forgiveness as we forgive. We are to seek forgiveness in the same manner as we forgive others. God forgives us when we repent, and so we must forgive others when they are sorry for what they have done to us. But even without the manifestation of their repentance towards us, we must always have a willing attitude to forgive, and holding a grudge will prevent us from forgiving others when they repent. When we forgive others, there cannot be any sign whatsoever of a grudge. The two are incompatible.

We will be celebrating the Day of Pentecost on 31st May this year, and it is interesting to realise that just 50 days (counted inclusively) after the wave-sheaf offering on Sunday during the Days of Unleavened Bread is in fact the Day of Pentecost. In John 16:7-14, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, would be sent to them, as indeed it was on the Day of Pentecost as we read in Acts 2:1-4. Had they not been keeping this annual Holy Day, on the correct day, they would not have received the Holy Spirit at that time. The Holy Spirit enables us to remove grudges and ill feelings through the use of this power from God which was, for the first recorded time, given to mankind after repentance and baptism (see Acts 2:38).

There is a passage of Scripture about not grieving the Holy Spirit and, again, it gives us clear guidance on how we should behave: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by [which] you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4: 30-32).

Grudges—a feeling of resentment or ill will and the desire to avenge ourselves—can lead, in extremes, to death. If it doesn’t go to that extreme, there can still be serious consequences.

And, interestingly, we can “grudge” in giving, and that admonition is especially relevant now, in preparation for the Day of Pentecost, as, following God’s instruction, we will be taking up an offering on God’s annual Holy Day, as we do on all seven annual Holy Days. The apostle Paul writes: “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). There is to be a willing heart and a sincere desire on the part of the one giving in order to participate. Paul is not so much interested in their money, nor is God, for that matter. But there are those who can give—but do so grudgingly—in a miserly fashion.  It is another area where we have to exercise great care.

So how should true Christians behave? The Bible shows us the way, of course! In Matthew 5:21-24, we are told how we should behave: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

Jesus gave clear instructions when He said: “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:25-26).

The request for forgiveness, besides needing faith as with other petitions, requires a willingness to forgive others. We must never forget that if we hold grudges against others and have therefore not forgiven them, God will not forgive us our sins.

This means that a true Christian is willing to pardon the offending party instead of wanting to avenge him or herself.  Let us make sure that holding or bearing grudges are not part of our Christian life—if it is, then we have a serious spiritual problem. Is it possible to hold a grudge against someone and still make it into God’s Kingdom? If we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, and if we subsequently lose it again because of a conscientious willful and hateful attitude to hold grudges, then we will not make it into the Kingdom of God. As with any sin which we maliciously refuse to repent of, the same applies to our irrevocable decision of not wanting to forgive another person upon his or her repentance, but of bearing grudges against him or her instead. If we hold grudges against anyone and refuse to forgive them, then we will not be forgiven for our sins and that will clearly mean that we won’t be in God’s Kingdom.

It is just that serious!

Lead Writers: Brian Gale (United Kingdom) and Norbert Link