By Blair Parke, Crosswalk.com
Raise your hand if you have ever been accused of holding a grudge. If you didn’t raise your hand, we all could take a lesson from you on forgiving and forgetting.
A grudge is defined as “being unwilling to give or admit: a feeling of deep-seated resentment or ill will.” It is something probably everyone has experienced at some point, either being the victim of a grudge or being the person holding a grudge.
Grudges can go from being minor (sibling rivalry, healthy competition) to borderline dangerous (thoughts of harming someone or seeing their demise in some way). When we hold a grudge, we justify having the grudge because that person wronged us in some way or just irritates us with all their blessings and/or behavior.
However, the Bible shows that holding a grudge is not what we are called to do as followers of Jesus. We are called to forgive people for the wrong they have done for us and to love them as God loves them. “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12).
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What Does the Bible Say about Holding a Grudge?
There are several examples of grudges being held in the Bible, as well as God’s words on what to do when we are in the midst of a grudge.
Perhaps one of the most recognized grudges in the Bible would be Joseph and his brothers in the book of Genesis. Joseph, the youngest and favorite of his father Jacob’s children, boasted about dreams where his older brothers would bow down to him in worship. As brothers tend to be, they didn’t like Joseph’s behavior and held a dangerous grudge that led to them selling him off to a caravan of Ishmaelites.
But their story is one of forgiveness, as Joseph, now an adult and member of Pharaoh's appointed leaders, forgave his brothers for their actions and reunited with not only them but the father who thought he was dead. “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Gen. 50:20).
King David speaks of grudges in the book of Psalms, particularly in verse 55:3, saying, “Because of the voice of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked; for they bring down trouble upon me, and in wrath they hate me.” He might be recalling a very personal grudge held against him by King Saul. We read about this in 1 Samuel 18:7-9, when David’s achievements were held over Saul’s own, and the man King Saul considered almost a son was now an enemy.
It is apparent that King David and Joseph found the hateful grudges against them disconcerting and unwarranted, much to what many feel toward grudges, especially when they don’t know what the grudge is even about. But both men are examples of choosing forgiveness and the higher road, especially when the ones who held grudges against them were humbled in different ways.
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Is Holding a Grudge Sinful?
In view of the Bible, holding a grudge is not what God wants to happen among His children. There are several times in the Bible about confronting a person you have an issue with instead of holding a grudge against them.
God instructs us through Moses about what to do instead of having a grudge: “You shall not take vengeance, nor hear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:18). As God stated that vengeance is His, holding a grudge would go against what God says, thus being sinful.
A grudge that stems from an offense or minor problem with someone will only continue to grow in sin as the person finds more at fault with the person they are frustrated with. It will consume them to where they have no interest to see the person prosper or even to be freed from what this person did to them, because the grudge is all they can think about. They will only hope for the demise of the person, even hoping they die or that they never have any blessings from God ever again.
God shares through Moses again, in the book of Deuteronomy, that “you shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand” (Deut. 15:10). By giving the situation to God, and the issues you had with the person, you are giving the power to God to solve the situation and bring blessings, not sin, from it.
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What Is the Difference between Holding a Grudge and Holding Someone Accountable?
So, what should you do if you are in the midst of a grudge against someone? If someone has done something that has hurt you, Jesus wants you to confront that person in love and explain to them the harm that was done, as He says in Matthew 18:15-17:
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and tax collector.”
Jesus shows here that if you have an issue with someone, you need to hold them, and yourself, accountable for what caused the issue and then try to work it out.
The apostle Peter also adds to this mindset from the book of Colossians: “bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Col. 3:13).
The hope is that you and the other person can reconcile and end the grudge forever, but if that doesn’t happen, as Jesus suggests, then you at least know you did your part to end the disagreement, and can move forward having forgiven the person and removed yourself from the situation.
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A Prayer for Softened Hearts
This world will bring grudges in our paths at one point or another, so when we have been wronged by someone or find ourselves embroiled in a heated grudge, it is time to pray and ask God for wisdom to move forward.
We come to You with sad and humbled hearts in knowing that someone has wronged us and that it is hard to forgive them. We worry that by forgiving the person, we will say it is okay that they did what they did and can do it again. But You say in Your Word that when we forgive, we remove ourselves from the situation and place it in Your hands. We ask that You guide us in ending this grudge through forgiveness and healthy confrontation. If that doesn’t work, we ask that You give us peace in the matter to move on and continue praying on the situation and for the person involved.
In Jesus’s name,
Steps towards Forgiveness
We all have experienced grudges in our lives at one time or another, whether we were sucked into it in some way, or it was something we started with another person. Either way, as followers of Christ, we know that holding a grudge isn���t healthy or helpful in any way and needs to be stopped through confronting that person in a peaceful way.
Just as Joseph was able to forgive his brothers and the apostle Paul tells us to forgive as Christ forgave us, we have must take the difficult but important first steps toward settling the grudge in order to restore peace between us and those we are at odds with.
If anything, at least we won’t be holding up our hand when asked if we are holding a grudge with anyone.
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