Bitterness is Destructive

In the last two articles, we defined bitterness as the anger and hatred that we direct at other people because of our own selfish ambition and pride.  We also looked at two examples of bitterness.  The first was Simon the Magician's bitterness against other people.  Simon's ambition drove him to be poisoned with bitterness against the apostles.  We also examined the life of Job and his bitterness against God.  This has been, in many ways, preparatory for this final installment-the destructive nature of bitterness.  It is imperative that we realize that bitterness is an incredibly dangerous vice to toy with, and it must be rooted from our lives.Let's be completely honest for a minute.  What's the big deal about bitterness?  No one's really going to get hurt, are they?  No one even knows that I am bitter and angry-I'm keeping it to myself.  As long as I am careful, who is really going to know?  After all, they really hurt me-I have a right to be angry with them, don't I?  The answer to these questions is found in Hebrews 12:15.  The writer of Hebrews is giving a barrage of final admonitions and warnings to his readers.   He has just encouraged us to "strive for peace" with everyone.  The next admonition seems to explain a major part of our striving for peace with other believers:

Hebrews 12:15  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;

He admonishes us to strive for peace with everyone by getting rid of any "roots" of bitterness that might be springing up in our lives.  This is probably a reference to the "root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit" in Deuteronomy 29:18.  This would have been a slow growing plant whose fruit was bitter to the taste, harmful to the eater, and potentially fatal.  It doesn't sound like something you want to sauté in butter and serve for dinner.  Yet, we willingly harbor and even cultivate such dangerous thoughts without giving them much thought.

Let's ponder a few thoughts from this passage:

  • You cannot hide bitterness. This is a myth that Satan would have you believe about your bitterness.  We willingly accept the lie that we can keep our bitterness locked up in our innermost thoughts and never let it out.  Bitterness destroys other people, but it won't destroy us-we can control it, or so we tell ourselves.  This passage makes it perfectly clear that roots of bitterness may start off small, but they spread.  Where I grew up in the upstate of South Carolina, we have a plant called kudzu.  It is an amazing plant.  It was originally introduced in the United States from Japan as an ornamental plant.  What was unknown at the time was that the Southeast of the US provides nearly ideal growing conditions for the plant.  In many places it has grown to cover entire forests.  The only way to remove it is to dig out and destroy the entire root system.   It is a nearly impossible task.  When I think of bitterness, I think of kudzu.  It begins as a small ornamental plant that we can control and enjoy.  But before we even realize what is happening, it has grown to dominate our entire lives.  Bitterness must be eradicated fully.
  • Bitterness will destroy you. The writer to the Hebrews says that bitterness "causes trouble."  We think we can control its effects on our lives, but the simple truth is that we can't.  We may try to keep it under control, but eventually the truth will be made known about our hearts.  We will not be able to control our tongue from revealing what is in our hearts (Matthew12:34).  The startling fact is that bitterness is not content to stop there.
  • Bitterness destroys others. Even if we were content to allow bitterness to overcome and dominate our lives, few would desire the deleterious impact that bitterness has on others.  The passage says that if we allow bitterness to go unchecked in our lives it will destroy many people.  It will start with those closest to us, our family and friends, and spread to destroy all those we touch.  If the roots of bitterness are not rooted out of our hearts, they will eventually spread to the entire body causing divisions and strife to grow.  You cannot control the collateral damage that comes with a bitter heart.

So the question remains, "how do we get rid of bitterness?"  The plain answer is that the only cure for bitterness is a heart that is saturated with the gospel.  Ephesians 4:31-32 says, "Let all bitterness ... be put away from you [and] be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:31-32).  We eradicate bitterness from our lives by showing to others the kindness and forgiveness that Christ showed to us on the cross.  How did Christ show love and forgiveness?  Christ did not deserve to die.  He was accused falsely, brutally beaten to the point of total disfigurement, and cruelly murdered in the most inhumane way imaginable.  Yet as one of his final acts before dying He offered forgiveness to his murderers.

One of the most common excuses for bitterness is the argument that we have truly been wronged and therefore we are completely justified in our anger and bitterness.  If anyone ever had a right to say that they had suffered wrong unjustly, Christ has that right.  Yet he offers forgiveness to the very ones whose sins nailed him to the cross.  When we ponder the tremendous love and forgiveness offered to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the trivial piques that we endure seem to vanish away.  The only hope that we have for removing bitterness from our lives is to bathe our minds in the love and forgiveness shown to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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