Scripture: Hebrews 12:14-15
This past week, as most if not everyone here knows, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling attempting to redefine marriage. It was based on a desire to place the perceptions of a fallen society above the principles of God’s unchanging word. In response, many proponents of the idea threw celebrations, and even the White House was illuminated with a rainbow of colored light to commemorate the event. Many other believers were hurt and angry that their government had failed them in such a severe fashion. They are fully aware of the persecution that is likely to come in the near future if they continue to share Biblical truth and marry only heterosexual couples. Through charges of hate speech and discrimination, their obedience to God could very easily be penalized by the authorities. So the temptation for many believers is now to become bitter and lash out at others who don’t see things as they do. Bitterness however, is no way to win converts. Bitterness is no way to allow the light and the truth of Jesus to shine through you.
All of you here this morning have been affected by bitterness, whether through the events of the past week or through something else. It’s a dangerous emotion that can consume individuals, marriages, families and churches.
Some people will be bitter towards God, blaming Him for something painful that happened.
Some people will be bitter towards an authority figure such as a boss or a teacher.
Some people will be bitter towards a parent, deeply resenting time never spent, love never shown, needs never met.
Some people get bitter towards a church because of bad experiences they have had or because someone hurt their feelings or because things did not go exactly the way they needed to go to please them.
Bitterness arises when someone has wronged you in some way. One pastor defined bitterness as “harbored hurt hidden in the heart.” Bitterness is like a malignant tumor that will turn healthy bodies and relationships into cold corpses if it is not removed. The sooner you can be rid of it, the better. If you remain bitter, if you cling to it, there are certain things you need to know.
First of all, staying bitter has a deep root. Verse 15 of the passage says, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Bitterness is described here as a root. A root is something that is beneath the surface, invisible to the eye, but real nonetheless. Even though its not far from the surface, it reaches deep into the soil of a person’s heart. This root takes very little soil, needs very little cultivation, is very quick to grow, but is very difficult to remove. Its easy to plant a seed of bitterness, but very hard to kill it. You can get bitter for one of three reasons.
First, you can get bitter because of what’s done to you.
Second, you can get bitter because of what’s said about you.
Third, you can get bitter because of what’s taken from you.
Jesus dealt with all three of these situations in his Sermon on Mount in Matthew 5-7. Concerning what is said about you, Jesus says in Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” If someone had said something wrong about you, something malicious towards you, something hurtful to you, you are in great company – the prophets received the same treatment. Jesus received it as well. When you stand for Jesus and commit yourself to following Him, it will happen to you also. 1 Timothy 3:12 says, “…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” Then concerning the wrong done to you, Jesus says in Matthew 5:38-39, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. The point Jesus is making here is that what is important is not so much what happens to you, but how you respond to it that really counts with God. Then concerning what is taken from you, Jesus says in Matthew 5:40, “And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” The point here is that it is better to better to be wronged than it is to do wrong. When someone does you wrong, and it will happen sooner or later, you have one of two choices – you can get bitter and stay bitter, or you can get better. Those choices are the only two you have, and you’ll choose one or the other.
The second thing you need to know is that staying bitter has a destructive fruit.
Verse 15 says, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” A bitter root always produces bitter fruit – there are no exceptions. This bitter fruit saturates your mind. It will consume you and your mind will absorb it like a sponge. Your mind will be drawn again and again to the object of your bitterness. Years ago a brilliant doctor named S.I. McMillen wrote a book entitled “None of These Diseases.”
In that book he describes how destructive emotions, such as bitterness, can consume a man physically and mentally. He writes regarding bitterness,
“The moment I start hating a man I become his slave. I can’t enjoy my work anymore because he even controls my thoughts. My resentment produces too many stress hormones in my body and I become fatigued after only a few hours work….The man I hate hounds me wherever I go. I can’t escape his tyrannical grasp on my mind…
“the man I hate may be many miles from my bedroom, but more cruel than any slave driver he whips my thoughts into such a frenzy that my innerspring mattress becomes a rack of torture. The lowliest of the serfs can sleep, but not I. I really must acknowledge the fact that I am a slave to every man on whom I pour the viles of my wrath.”
This bitter fruit also saddens the spirit. Bitterness and depression go hand-in-hand. I’ve never met a bitter person who is happy. Bitterness will depress you so much that you can’t even function properly. Edwin Markham was a great poet who having reached the age of retirement, discovered that his banker had defrauded him of a great amount of money. Instead of being able to retire comfortably, he was penniless and broke. He became so bitter he could no longer write poetry. The candle of joy in his heart had been consumed by a blaze of bitterness. He became obsessed with wanting to do this banker harm – he always thought about it, and plotted ways to get even. One day in a depressed funk, he was sitting at his desk doodling, drawing circles on his paper and thinking about the banker. The Holy Spirit spoke to him and said,
“Markham, if you do not deal with this thing, it is going to ruin you. You cannot afford the price you are paying. You must forgive that man.” The great poet said, “Lord, I forgive him, and I do freely forgive him.” At that very moment Markham said he felt something in his heart change. Joy returned to him, his mind was freed, and he was able to write poetry once again. He sat down and wrote one of his most popular poems. It says,
“He drew a circle that shut me out – heretic, rebel, a thing to flout;
But love and I had the wit to win; we drew a circle that took him in.”
Bitterness will bankrupt your spirit of joy – forgiveness, experiencing the grace of God, is your only option. Forgiveness and grace are the only antidotes for bitterness. This bitter fruit also makes your body sick. Bitterness can cause all kinds of physical problems, from ulcers to high blood pressure. Now not every bitter person is sick, and not every person who is sick is bitter. Every bitter person however, who stays bitter will ultimately suffer physical consequences.
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale was preaching one Sunday in a church in New Jersey. After the service a younger woman came to see him who was well-dressed and attractive. She said, “I always itch. I have an itch I can’t get rid of, and it itches the worst when I go to church. Can you help me?” He talked with her, learned her physician’s name, and called him. The doctor said he could find nothing medically wrong with the woman and had just written it off as some kind of obsession. Then the doctor told Dr. Peale that he knew this woman and her only sister had a falling out years ago, and that there was a lot of bitterness in her life, and perhaps that might be the source of the problem. Dr. Peale confronted the woman about her sister, and she broke down and admitted they had a falling out years ago over the distribution of their deceased father’s estate. A minor disagreement blew up into a major argument, and the woman had determined she would never speak to her sister again. It was at that moment that the itching started. Dr. Peale had her to confess her sin of bitterness to God, and to ask God to take all the bitterness and the hate away. Then he had her to phone her sister and ask her sister to forgive her. When she hung up the phone the lady looked at Dr. Peale and said, “That is amazing. I don’t itch any longer.” She never itched again. There is one very important principle to learn about bitterness – the person it hurts most is you. Bitterness will poison your worship, paralyze your work, and pollute your witness. Bitterness does a great deal more damage to the vessel in which it is stored than to the object on which it is poured.
One writer has said,
“…To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back — in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
The third thing you need to know is that staying bitter has a defeating pursuit. If you don’t rid yourself of it, it will defeat you and destroy you. The passage says, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Every day your body cleanses itself of harmful toxins through eliminating them. If these toxins were allowed to accumulate, they would cause you to become sick and would eventually kill you. If you want to remain mentally healthy and emotionally healthy and spiritually healthy, you must get rid of the toxin of bitterness. How do you get rid of it?
First, you let it go.
Ephesians 4:31 says,
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” The phrase “get rid of” doesn’t really convey what the Greek is saying here. A better way of wording it would be “stop it” or “let it go.” “Let go of all bitterness, rage and anger….”Bury whatever it is that is making you bitter in an unmarked grave. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Doing an injury puts you below your enemy; revenging one makes you even with him; forgetting it sets you above him.”
If you don’t forgive, you fall short of God’s grace. Do you think that the offense that has been committed against you is any greater than the offenses you have committed against God? How does God respond to you? Listen to Ephesians 4:31 and 32, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” It doesn’t matter how dirty you have been done, no one has been done dirtier than Jesus. If you can’t find it in your heart to forgive, look at the cross. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Let us go to Calvary to learn how we may be forgiven, and then let us linger there to learn how to forgive.” We forgive completely and we forgive finally. We don’t forgive half way and we don’t forgive then dig up the matter up again later.
Third, get rid of bitterness by forsaking the practice.
It’s not just enough to forgive and forget. You’re called to make it a lifestyle. v. 14 says, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men….” The phrase “make every effort” here could be literally translated, “give chase to it, relentlessly pursue it.” It’s not a feeble, half-hearted attempt to be at peace but something that is deep in your heart and soul. You take the initiative in making peace — you don’t wait for others to make the first step. If you no longer have joy, happiness, peace, contentment and satisfaction after something someone has done to you, it is not because they took those things from you – you gave them away. I cannot control what happens to me, but I can control what happens in me. I can control how I react towards others.
The very first step in getting better, and leaving bitterness behind you, is having a relationship with Jesus Christ. You may need to accept the relationship today that is offered to you by God. You may need to return to that relationship. You may need relationships with other people who are following Jesus, and become a part of a local body of believers. That’s what church membership is.
Obey God this morning – don’t stay bitter, get better.