Cutting Away the Root of Bitterness

There was a time in my life when I thought I wasn’t a bitter person. When I deluded myself into believing I wasn’t angry. Wasn’t hurt. Wasn’t unforgiving. I convinced my heart that I was over certain things and that I had fully dealt with the full gamut of feelings.

Yet I refused to see that I had developed a filter through which I took in everything directed at me. Off the cuff comments were intentional barbs designed to hurt me. People were leaving me out. I was messing everything up. Or I was getting everything right and why couldn’t people see that I was RIGHT?

It was a cycle of sin and grossness that swished around in my soul like a garbage martini. Pride was the base, arrogance was the chaser. And self-pity was the olive garnish.

This summer was a summer of rebuke and chastening from Jesus. He is all about us cleansing our hearts. About repentance. About renewal. He expects His people to abide in the truth of His word and to know it in order to be set free.

Discipline from the hand of the Father is never fun. In fact, the writer of Hebrews tells us we don’t enjoy the chastening that comes. But that we should expect it if we claim to be the children of God, because He chastens and scourges (KJV word, but it gives you the accurate picture) every child He receives. It’s not a one-time thing and it’s not every single day, but something that happens over the course of our lives.

In the midst of discipline and dealing with some of the secret things in my heart, I read Hebrews 12. This is a rich chapter. The writer succinctly tells us what we can expect if we surrender to the fatherly discipline of the Lord:

  • We will yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness
  • We will be trained by His discipline
  • We will be able to lift our feeble hands and weak knees
  • What is lame and out of joint in us will be healed (spiritually)

All of this is followed up by a command to strive for peace and the holiness of the Lord – an essential to salvation. Then the writer says this:

“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;” Hebrews 12:15

This seems pretty straight forward. Encourage those around you to obtain the grace of God so that they don’t become bitter. But see what the writer connects bitterness with? Causing trouble and by that root of bitterness, becoming defiled. I was curious what this phrase really meant, so I did a word study. What I found shocked and convicted me.

Here’s a breakdown of phrases in the Greek:

  • root: of a person disposed to apostatize and induce others to commit the same offense
  • bitternessa bitter root, and so producing bitter fruit
  • causes trouble: absolutely of the growth of a poisonous plant, figuratively representing the man who corrupts the faith, piety, character, of the Christian church
  • defiled: absolutely, to defile with sin

So essentially, what the writer of Hebrews is telling us is that we must seek the grace of God and encourage others to do so, to ensure that a person disposed to apostatize from the Gospel is not only discerned but not allowed to induce others to commit the same offense. If we allow it to happen, a bitter root will produce bitter fruit and will corrupt the faith, piety, and character of the Christian church, to the point where we are defiled with sin.

It’s a staggering warning for the church. But it is even more so when I look at myself in light of these words. Life is full of hard things. Disappointments. Frustrations. Hurt. Often, I find I bottle those things away, harboring them and holding them against others who’ve hurt me – whether they know it or not. And as bitterness grows, it doesn’t hurt me in the moment. It comforts me. It whispers silent, lying assurances that my self-defense is the only way I’ll make it in this harsh world.

However, it’s my choice to let it happen. I can choose bitterness. I can choose hardness. I can allow myself to grow as a shield between me and those that I love, including the Lord. If I let it go long enough, without repentance, without welcoming the discipline of the Lord, then what the writer of Hebrews shares will come to pass. I will not have only infected myself, but I will potentially poison others around me.

But thank the Lord there is a better way. There is a way that calls me to lose myself in Him. That requires the crucifixion of this woman who is so determined keep her soul, not caring that she might lose it in the next life. Thanks to Jesus, there is a way that the rock of my heart can be removed and replaced with a soft heart for Him.

Through Him, in Him, and by Him and His word, I can be transformed into His image. If I am willing to do this, then I won’t infect others with bitterness, malice, jealousy, coveting and a million other things that my flesh desires above the Lord.

Instead, I will desire Him above all others. I will set my heart, mind, body, and soul to love the Lord my God with all of those things and more. I will build my brothers and sisters up in love. I will seek the glory of God on this earth. I will preach the gospel, be instant in season and out of season.

The works of our flesh create death. But as I walk through this Christmas season and into a new year, I so desperately desire that those works be put to death, not only in me but in the body of Jesus. I pray we would be the living embodiment of what Jesus came to earth to do: preach the Gospel and do the will of the Father out of love for Him so that we can truly love others and be free from sin’s dominion. That is the true spirit of Christmas.

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

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