“Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.”
Bitterness is a blight upon God’s husbandry, a plague on the household of faith, and a cancer in the very heart of many who are counted as true believers. Because of bitterness, many have fallen who should have stood. The acrid fumes of a bitter heart have sent more than one hapless soul away from what should have been his haven — out into the blackness of the night of sin, with only the memory of harsh, sharp rhetoric where the pleasant tones of grace were expected. Let your speech be always with grace, admonished the Apostle. Where the grace of God is not constantly cultivated, the roots of bitterness are certain to spring up.
Just as grace is God’s gift (charis) to mankind, bitterness is the gift of Satan. And while grace is a flower that will produce fragrant blossoms and nurturing fruit, bitterness is a noxious weed that will choke the very life out of the garden of your heart and attempt to poison all with whom you associate. Grace brings salvation; bitterness defiles, and thus deprives of salvation.
Bitterness, we have observed, may remain hidden, underground and undetected for a great while; yet, it has a way of springing up all at once, as though waiting for the right moment of weakness. The only true antidote for bitterness is to remain steadfast in the grace of God — looking diligently lest any should fail of (or, fall from) the grace of God.
Bitterness is the very antithesis of holiness. Is it any wonder that our text occurs immediately after one of the most celebrated and widely known holiness texts in the Bible? “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14 It is a sad commentary indeed when the very people who should possess the most grace sometimes exhibit it the least. How easy it is to forget that we have been forgiven the most!
“Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? … But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth….”
Bitterness is the last thing people expect to find in the life of a Christian. Ironically, it is sometimes the primary emotion of some who claim to be Apostolics. We who have believed on Jesus Christ and received the Spirit of Christ ought to have fountains of living (sweet) water flowing out of our hearts. God’s plan, simply put, is to provide the unbeliever with an opportunity to obtain salvation every time contact is made with a believer.
When a sinner is converted, what had previously been a source of spiritual death becomes a “fountain of living water” — a source of spiritual life. Yet, it is often the case that we allow life’s experiences to pollute the reservoirs of our minds, thus thwarting the purposes of God for our lives. Just as a little leaven ruins the whole batch, so, too, does a tinge of bitterness render foul the stream of influence that flows from our lives.
God has fixed certain things in nature to illustrate principles in the realm of the Spirit. Light and darkness cannot dwell together; the presence of light destroys darkness. Truth and error cannot coexist; part truth is no truth. So it is with water: no fountain can yield both salt water and fresh water. (James 3:12) The very presence of salt (bitter) water in the fountain precludes the possibility of obtaining fresh water therefrom.
Even so it is with the fountain of our lives. If we are not constantly filtered and refreshed by the Holy Presence of Almighty God, we begin to have bitter envying and strife in our hearts; we begin to glory in the strengths and abilities of man rather than God; and we begin to lie against the truth. Our wisdom becomes earthly, fleshly — yea, even demoniacal! The confused works of the flesh abound in this environment, and what was designed to be an instrument of life becomes the very harbinger of death!
“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”
Truly ours is an untoward generation. It is not enough to simply “learn not the way of the heathen,” however; we must actively cultivate our hearts in the right ways of the Lord. Tragically, there have been many who were in the position of dispensing the goodness of God to the unsaved that miserably failed in the discharge of their duties.
Jesus Christ did not entrust the preaching of His Gospel to bitter men, but to gentle men. The witnesses of Jesus Christ are produced by the indwelling presence of the Holy Ghost, the fruit of which is characterized by gentleness, among other things.
Nothing is more certain to evoke the wrath of Almighty God than for His subjects to substitute their will for His. If this precious Truth is not spoken in love, we have no business speaking it. If our witness is not motivated by a sincere compassion for the lost souls of our generation, it would be best if we held our peace. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory, admonished the Apostle. And again, The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
It is not our purpose to put others in their place, or call fire down from Heaven because they follow not us. Notice carefully the verse that succeeds our text: Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight.
It may well be that Truth is a bitter pill for men to swallow, but we must not be bitter about the Truth. Truly, he that winneth souls must be wise, walking in wisdom toward them that are without.
Our zeal for God must be according to knowledge if our efforts are to be rewarded with success. For, zeal whose flames have not been fanned by the winds of Divine Inspiration destroys what it should build, and builds what it should destroy. We would be well advised to follow the axiom — Keep your words sweet; you may have to eat them some day.
“For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are the branches.”
The nature of the root is revealed by the branches, according to the Apostle. Thus, it is reasonable to expect the off-shoots of bitterness to be destroyed when the root of bitterness has been eradicated from the heart of an individual. Let the heart be purged of bitterness, and its words and deeds will likewise be cleansed.
It is important to recognize the symptoms (branches) of bitterness if we are to effect a remedy for it. And while bitterness is apt to manifest itself in any number of ways, what follows is a list of some of its primary symptoms.
Usually, when someone resents another person, it is the result of a bitter heart. It is not natural to resent someone you love as yourself. Those who resent authority have allowed some event from their past to fester to the point that their entire emotional state is heated by the fever of bitterness. Children resent other children, for example, because a lack of mature sensibility prevents them from recognizing and dealing with bitter feelings of rivalry and inferiority. Unrestrained and uncorrected resentment is invariably accompanied by jealousy.
Along with resentment, spiteful behavior is a symptom of bitterness. Where bitterness dwells, spite is certain to crop up. Sometimes it is a word that is said; other times it is a word not said. Sometimes it is a deed that is done; other times it is a deed not done. How painful the bitter words of spite! Out of the abundance of the heart a man speaketh.
Perhaps the most sure sign of a bitter heart is the desire to get even. It is only a heart that has been thoroughly washed from bitterness that does not seek to avenge itself and render evil for evil. When we love our enemies, we pray for their salvation, not their destruction.
If the root is holy, the branches will be holy. But if the root is bitter, the branches will be bitter — along with the fruit.
Rev. Tim D. Cormier
(Written in 1995)
Reprinted from the March, 2000 issue of the Apostolic Standard.