Monday, January 4, 2016

Avoid the Tempting Root of Bitterness

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 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 (Hebrews 12:14-15).

As we enter this new calendar year, I'd like to challenge both myself and my blog readers to fight against bitterness. In particular, let's actively battle against the tempting tendency to be bitter about the state of the church in the West.

Due to its institutional shackles, the church in both the United States and Europe is largely stagnant and ineffective. We know what the problems are. As followers of Christ, we desire to see a vibrant, active, joyful, growing, serving church. Because most of us do not see this (at least for the most part), it is extremely easy to become bitter about the whole situation. I'm guilty of this.

The author of the book of Hebrews warns believers about allowing a root of bitterness to spring up and cause trouble. We must pay attention to this exhortation. We Christians have the responsibility to guard the church against the danger of bitterness. We need to start with ourselves before looking at others.

In Hebrews 12:15 we see the phrase "root of bitterness" in quotes. This is because the author is pointing back to Deuteronomy chapter 29:

Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, 19 one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike. 20 The Lord will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven. 21 And the Lord will single him out from all the tribes of Israel for calamity, in accordance with all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law. (Deut. 29:18-21, emphasis mine)

Clearly, God takes bitterness seriously. Not only does it damage the bitter person, but also those around him. The Deuteronomy passage even suggests a relationship between bitterness and turning to other gods. This is no insignificant matter.

I don't generally care for New Year's resolutions. They make people feel good about themselves, but are largely forgotten by the end of January. In this post I'm not offering or hinting at some sort of New Year's resolution. Rather, I'm pointing to something significant that we must war against: the root of bitterness.

Especially for those of us who want and hope to see something drastic change within the body of Christ, we must not fall prey to anger, resentment, and bitterness. We can and should point out problems within the church; a problem cannot be solved without first having a correct diagnosis. It is how we do this that is key. Let's point to a better way for the church, offering both suggestions and solutions.

The root of bitterness will only destroy us. We must avoid it at all costs.

I'll conclude with an appropriate quote from puritan John Owen, "Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you."

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