We lived for a while in a lovely house that had a big yard in both the front and back. My husband and I loved that house…except for one thing: There were many places in those two yards where underground tree roots had worked their way to the surface of the ground to varying degrees. As you can imagine, this became most frustrating when you were trying to mow the grass. You had to try to work around them without ruining your mower. It was not fun. Ask my husband.
Few things match the resilience of a sturdy root. Once it gets a good start, it’s well nigh indestructible. No wonder God chose to use it to exemplify bitterness, the sin that slips so easily into the soil of our souls and takes hold before we’re conscious of its infestation. We may consider it only a nagging uneasiness that is only natural under the circumstances. And more often than not that “circumstance” is a past hurt or (real or perceived) injustice. In fact, I think I can say bitterness is harboring a hurt, the memory of which can be watered over and over with new material to bolster the validity of the original offense. I have come to believe there is a “forgiveness” that still hangs on to the hurt, always expecting the worst. And mark it down: There will always be something or someone to make that old hurt “spring up,” no matter how deeply we may think it’s buried.
Psalm 14:10 says, “The heart knoweth his own bitterness,” and I can think one man in Scripture who was willing to admit it. The beleaguered Job says three times “I will complain in the bitterness of my soul” (7:11); “He…filleth me with bitterness” (9:18); and “I will speak in the bitterness of my soul”(10:1). He even accused God of being the cause of his bitterness (9:18). Nor could his friends, such as they were, cause him to look inward. It took God to do that.
The rest of this verse in Hebrews tells us what’s at stake when we refuse to deal with this insidious disease of the soul. First, it’s a sure sign we’ve failed in our stewardship of the grace of God measured out freely to us by Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:7). Paul was able to say that the grace bestowed upon him “was not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:10). Can you and I say that when it comes to bitterness? Second, it will cause us trouble all of our lives until it is rooted out. And third, it will be a source of defilement to everyone with whom we come in contact. This is why the discerning Christian will spend very little time with another believer who is nursing a past hurt or disappointment. They poison the very air.
How shall we rid ourselves then of this blight? Once we’ve allowed God to point out our bitterness, I think a good place to start is Ephesians five.
ROOT IT OUT: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.” (v. 31)
REPLACE IT: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (v. 32)
I was struck by this danger in my own life recently, and had to deal with it accordingly. I always think of D. L. Moody’s advice to “keep short accounts with God.” Now I have taken the liberty of passing it on to you. Will you accept it in the spirit in which it was given? God help us all to be on constant alert against this bitter, bitter root.
“When the root is bitterness, imagine what the fruit will be.” – Woodrow Kroll