There are many plants that build a network of roots below the surface so that when you feel you have killed the pesky plant it finds a way of coming back, often in new places. If left alone these plants will take over a garden, and eventually the yard and beyond. The only way to slow the growth of these plants is to dig out any sign of growth and destroy the roots.
In like manner, we are all plagued by the sin of bitterness. It seems we are conditioned to be discontent and bitter people. We know that the Bible teaches us that children come forth from the womb speaking lies, in other words cry they as if their life is ending because they are not getting what they want. On it goes through life being surrounded by murmuring, expressions of discontentment, and even bitterness and anger. Put this together with the sin nature that even lingers in remnant form after we have come to Christ for salvation, and we often see the sin of bitterness pop up its head to which we are instructed to be diligent to dig out the roots, which can only be done by the grace of God.
Hebrews 12:15 (ESV) — 15 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;
Bitterness is a common characteristic of people of the world who have never experienced the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. But too often we see bitterness pop up in our lives despite having a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. What happened? We let our guard down and have not treated common bitter feelings and expressions as they are – evidence of the root thriving within. What can we do?
Like any sin that so easily besets us, we are to seek to lay it aside, or in this case be aware of how the root of bitterness grows under the surface and beware of the tendency to turn a blind eye to small evidence of the bitter plant taking over the garden of our hearts.
Ephesians 4:31–32 (ESV) — 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Beware of any bitter expressions, fits of anger, hurtful words about others, along with prolonged ill feelings toward those around us. The only way to do that is by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit applying kindness and tenderheartedness toward others, seeking to forgive them as God in Christ has forgiven you. If you turn to the scripture passage known as the Lord’s prayer you will find instruction in forgiveness in the words, “forgive us our debts AS we forgive our debtors.” In case you missed the significance of that in the model prayer, consider the words of Jesus which follow the model prayer:
Matthew 6:14–15 (ESV) — 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
There’s a never-ending thread of bitterness that takes place when we refuse to forgive others, even though legally we are forgiven of our sins because of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. Practically, when we hold on to bitterness and refuse to forgive others, we lose the joy of the forgiveness of God because sin breaks our fellowship with God which can only be restored through confession and repentance. When we do not sense forgiveness from God, we cannot forgive others which leads to additional sin because when we fail to forgive this deepens the riff between us and God. And on it goes!
This is a wakeup call! Get off the merry-go-round and confess your lack of forgiveness and your bitterness to God as you seek His help in forgiving those who have done you wrong.
1 John 1:7–10 (ESV) — 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
This is important to digging down at the root of bitterness which is a lack of forgiveness and by God’s grace confession is made, repentance is given, restoration with God is restored and bitterness for the moment is thwarted. But watch out! The roots will show up again in another way, particularly in the words that come out of your mouth.
Romans 3:14 (ESV) — 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
Matthew 15:11 (ESV) — 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
We understand that the people of the world who do not know or care anything about God are characterized by their speech. Jesus made it clear that concern about the things which are said are more important than concern about the things which we eat. Therefore, since we are influenced in the way we speak by what our ears are hearing and our minds are processing, then if we want to dig out the root of bitterness in our speech, we need to be filling our ears and our minds with wholesome words that honor God. Notice how the psalmist put it as a prayer:
Psalm 19:14 (ESV) — 14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Psalm 141:3 (ESV) — 3 Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!
Is it important to dig out the roots of bitterness and to be ever aware of how it pops up in our lives, thereby running ramped and taking over so that we become a bitter person? Oh yes, because notice the outcome of bitterness – missing out on God’s flow of grace. Therein lies the answer why people are so unhappy, even Christians. Where there is bitterness, which is sin, there is a lack of grace. Thank the Lord it doesn’t have to be that way because a recognition, admission, confession, and repentance leads to forgiveness, cleansing and restoration. May God, by His grace, use these words to find such blessing from Him.
Bob Brubaker, Pastor
Christ Community Presbyterian Church