“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.”- Hebrews 12:15-17
“so that there will not be among you a man or woman, or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations; that there will not be among you a root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood. It shall be when he hears the words of this curse, that he will boast, saying, ‘I have peace though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart in order to destroy the watered land with the dry.’ The Lord shall never be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and His jealousy will burn against that man, and every curse which is written in this book will rest on him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven.”- Deuteronomy 29:18-20
Bamboo is often called the fastest growing plant in the world. I have read that it can grow 4 feet in less than 24 hours. With a moniker like this, you would think that when you plant it, you would be expecting tall plants very soon. But actually, it often takes three years or more for you to see the plant shoot out of the ground and towards the skies. You should not, however, assume no growth has been happening for those three years. Rather, below the dirt, bamboo has been developing an extensive system of roots that are often called a colony. One plant under the ground becomes many and then they shoot up. One of the frustrations some growers have is that the colony can really take off and then you have bamboo popping up everywhere growing 4 feet in a night. What was now hidden comes out and can be unmanageable.
The scriptures passages above speak about a bitter root that springs up causing trouble (Hebrews) and produces poisonous fruit (Deuteronomy). It is something that starts off small under the surface often unseen by others and then finally after having dug deep into the soil it springs forth in such a way that it does really danger to both those whom the root has grown in and the many around them. The book of Hebrews speaks of this root as bitterness. It is connected with a lack of faith in the New Testament. The Old Testament passage connects it to idolatry. The idea is some sin that is allowed to fester and grow unchecked in one’s heart which competes for affection for the Lord. It is some area where one fails to yield to the grace of God. And just like a bamboo root it grows under the surface before sprouting up and doing major damage, revealing that one has come up short of the grace of God. This is manifested in a rejection of the birthright, the turning away from the Lord, the rejection of the faith, and failure to attain the reward of Christ. In other words, the bitter root grows the fruit of apostasy.
Apostasy is not the losing of one’s salvation but rather it is one who though they have shared in someway the blessings of the covenant, having heard the gospel and on some level tasted its goodness, turning from it and revealing that they never were truly saved. It is a sad and terrifying thought. Over the last few years, we have seen this root burst forth from the ground and bear fruit in several “celebrity” or well-known professors of faith. In every case, you can trace it to some root that was allowed to grow unchecked. Both the old and new testaments warn us to dig up the roots before they are grown and do their work. We must constantly dig up these roots and get them far away from us by the word of truth, turning from idolatry and turning to Christ. We need constant reliance upon the gospel and trust in Christ.
We need to be on guard of sins that we allow to flourish. We need to expose those roots to the sunlight of God’s grace. Let me focus in on one root that can grow into this kind of plant and warn you to flee it. The root I am talking about is bitterness and resentment. It might seem obvious to talk about bitterness when dealing with a passage that talks about a bitter root and that is fine because this is often a root that people water and fertilize rather than dig up and cut out.
Ephesians 4:31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
You can see from this passage that bitterness is connected to anger, fighting, bad-talking, and malice. Bitterness is often the source or root if you will of these other sins. Bitterness is resentful cynicism that often results in ungodly anger that will speak badly about others. It will fight against others or worse God. It is part of a heart headed to malice, wicked hatred. You can easily see how resentment allowed to take root in the heart can sprout up causing trouble and many to be defiled.
Bitterness often starts when one feels that they have been slighted or done some kind of injury. Now whether there was a real injustice done or not, often is besides the point. One can be a victim and yet be sinfully bitter. They can have been sinned against and yet have grown resentful. Ressentir is an old French word, literally meaning "intense feeling.” It is where we get the word resentful. S. Michael Houdmann had this to say about resentment “Resentment is the cheapest and least legitimate form of anger. It is all emotion and no strength.” And yet while there is truth to this statement, it is not complete because as resentment is allowed to fester its roots grow like the colony of bamboo. When it is allowed to fester, it hardens the heart causing much trouble.
Let me reiterate, that resentment and bitterness can be aimed at real injustices that have been done to one. But this is not always the case, often resentment and bitterness come because one has had something they do not like happen. It can be because one was not given control and had to do something other than what they would have liked. It often comes because one is so focused on self that any opposition to their own desires is perceived to be unfair. Sadly, there have been mothers who have resented their own husband and even worse their own children because having children meant that some of their own desires, wants, and comforts had to be set aside to fulfill their duties. This resentment is especially wicked because it short circuits the love that a mother should have for her children. Her children whom the Lord calls blessings and gifts, the mother because of selfishness and idolatry, now sees as burdens.
But whether bitterness and resentment are a response to real injustices or things that stand in the way of one’s own desires, resentment ultimately stems from a love of the things of the world and a lack of faith in God and His plan. Bitterness in one’s heart against a neighbor, a family member, a church member, and God is a sin to be repented of, not something to make an excuse for and allow to continue. It is dangerous to hold on to. It is dangerous to your own soul and dangerous to those around you.
Again, the Apostle Paul says let bitterness be put away from you. Get it away from you. Tear it out at its roots. Get the gardening shovel and go to town hacking it out. And you do that with the gospel. Remind yourself that you are a sinner and deserve nothing good from the hand of God. Then remind yourself of his great love for you that while you were a sinner Christ died for you. If you are in Christ Jesus, you were forgiven a debt you never could have ever paid. Bitterness towards others fails to rightly see oneself both as a wicked sinner and as a redeemed saint. It is forgetting how much you have been forgiven. It fails to have faith that all things will work together for your good.
GotQuestions.com give this helpful exhortation “Resentment is a passive, weak emotion that has no place in the Christian life. If there is injustice, we should deal with it through prayer and godly action. If there is insult, we should concentrate on who we are in Christ and not place too much value on the cruel words of others. If we face injustice in the course of our work for God, we should accept it as to be expected. And if God allows us to be dishonored for the sake of sanctification, the best, least painful response is to repent and allow Him to work in us.”
Friends, bitterness must not be allowed to fester in your heart. You must repent of it. Whether you are a mom who has grown resentful of struggling with the children all day, a man who is bitter that God has allowed him to be laid off from work without any job on the horizon, a young couple who had been hurt by careless church members, a young man who was taken for a ride by his ex-wife through the courts or young women who has been the victim of abuse and thus resents fatherhood, you must put off bitterness. You have to repent of it and recognize that bitterness is a sin to be killed not just a feeling to hide.
And in putting off resentment, the Apostle Paul says Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Cut out the roots of that poisonous plant and replace it with the seeds of the gospel that produce life-giving fruit.