“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;” Heb. 12:15

There is nothing sweeter to eat than a chocolate chip cookie baked by your five year old daughter on her birthday alongside a cold glass of milk. No greater truth has ever been spoken, if you ask me! Now, before you go rushing off to the fridge, let me add something to that: there is also no sweeter feeling in the heart than to have peace with family and friends and with mankind at large, isn’t there? Peace with oneself and knowing that there is nothing between yourself and others is most wonderful if you can reach it, but bitterness held in the heart is the polar opposite of that wonderful sweetness. Bitterness, allowed to hold place in the heart, can wreck your day, your life, your everything. What if your baker forgot to put the sweetener in the dough before baking that cookie? Or, what if the sugar was replaced with salt? Those two ingredients look so much alike, the confused confectioner would not be the first to mix them up and the look on the face would tell all, either way!

If I may have a couple of minutes of your reading time, I would like to point to the Bible about what bitterness actually means. What is it? What are the consequences of entertaining it and not dealing with it immediately? How does God, who knows us best, want us to deal with this potential poison? You could walk away at this point to say, well, that’s simple, but is it really? Any one of us could fall into bitterness and find the outcome is terrible. This is more than just having a good attitude or not staying angry. When it comes to bitterness, the Bible gives the solution to steer us from certain peril.

What is bitterness?

Looking at the Bible , we find the word, “bitter” from the very beginning after Jacob and his mom had bilked his brother, Esau, out of his father’s blessing and “wept bitterly” about it. In another example, the Israelite’s lives were made bitter from the hard bondage in Egypt. There is also the context of bitter-tasting water. And, Naomi, who had lost her husband, in Ruth 1:20 said unto her people, call me no longer Naomi (sweetness), but call me, Mara (bitterness). A barren woman named Hannah was found in bitterness of soul in 1 Sam 1:10. As well, Job, after being attacked by Satan himself, after losing almost everything he cared for in this world, spoke of the bitterness of his soul.

“My soul is weary of my life; I will leave my complaint upon myself; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.” Job 10:1

Bitterness is the root cause of sighing and crying, pain and anguish. According to the Webster’s 1828 dictionary , the definition includes: a bitter taste; extreme enmity, grudge, or hatred; sharpness; biting sarcasm; and keen sorrow; or, the state of extreme impiety against God. So, we could sum it up to say, bitterness is a desperate state of the heart and mind. But how does it effect ourselves and those around us?

Defiled, Corrupted, Ruined.

We would not have to search long in the news to find a root cause of some of the most heinous of crimes. There is much bitterness in the world today, bitterness that has not been dealt with and always comes out to one degree or another. Sometimes, we find only the bitter person is affected. By the way, know this: bitterness can cause serious health risks as well if held onto too long. But, many times, retribution causes the worst consequence and those consequences can absolutely destroy your world. We must count the cost. It could lead to estrangement of the family and those closest to us. You may have heard the story of the son who suffered great regret, because he refused to speak to his father until it was too late. His father passed away before he realized his own bitterness was the culprit. The guilt can even become debilitating. Or, even worse, harbouring bitterness can lead to hate and hate, to murder. God said,

“Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” I John 3:15

The question is, is it really worth it to wallow in this? You may say, well, you don’t know what they did. Ask yourself this: what did your sin cost God? Our sin cost Him His only begotten Son. But, God gave His Son willingly, loving you so much, knowing it was the only way, leaving you with only one choice – to accept Him. You may say, and what if I do not turn from my bitterness? Our text verse says what will happen, not only to you, but to many around you, “…thereby many be defiled”. Defiled. In other words, tainted, corrupted, tarnished. It is like putting poison in the well. Everyone who drinks of it is affected.

How to make the bitter batter, better.

How can we avoid this poison? With sweetness. Only when we obey the scriptures are we equipped to deal with bitterness. Herein lies the answer; the scriptures has the resolution to this problem of bitterness. In our text verse, we find some information:

“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;” Heb. 12:15

Those allowing bitterness in, “fail of the grace of God”. Avoid this major fail! Actually, if we were to look at the earlier verse in Hebrews 12:12, you get the sense that God is telling you to stop feeling sorry for yourself. Get up and dust yourself off! If you do not, there is a danger of you to stumble and that is where the bitterness begins to take root. Too much of an inward view can cause trouble. Our verse says to look diligently. Watch out! Look out in case you fall from grace. I get the picture of someone walking too closely to the edge of a really high cliff. They would need to watch out in case they made a wrong step and fell off! My friend: if we do not acknowledge and accept God’s grace for our various hurts, no matter how great or small, we automatically will tend to look inwardly, relying on ourselves for the solution. So, it is either look at God or look at yourself for the solution. We ought to look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Author of what? The Bible! It has the answers. So, now that we are focussed on the right target, what do we do? After you have dusted yourself off, particularly in the case where someone has done you harm, Jesus says to “do good” to them! This is God’s sweetness coming out of you instead of your own selfish bitterness.

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” Matt. 5:44

Sweetness is the way to soften the heart. Sweetness defeats bitterness. When Jesus says to do good, He means to be sweet to them. It is that peaceable fruit of the Spirit, even though you do not feel like doing it. As soon as you exercise your sweetness, your resolve will strengthen to you to continue in that direction; pray for God’s grace and He will provide. And, when you are dealing with people, be sure to say the words in truth and in love, in sweetness.

“A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” Prov. 15:1

“Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” Prov. 16:24

Remember one of the definitions: bitterness is, “sharpness, and biting sarcasm”. Set those kind of words aside! That is not sweetness. That is selfishness! Yes, this will require you to put yourself aside and esteem the other above yourself, but you can do it with God’s help, with God’s grace! Do good. Do pray. Do bless!

So, remember what we learned from the Bible about bitterness. Whether the result of a life circumstance or a personal slight, steer clear of bitterness! Bitterness is a terrible poison that infects those around us and is to be avoided at all costs. It stings and bites and corrupts! So, what is the best way to beat bitterness? With sweetness. First, get your focus right. Do not look inwardly or selfishly or you will be sure to be swept away with your feelings. Instead, do good! Look to the grace of God and He will provide all you need to succeed! It is your choice: bitter or sweet. ~R.


© Remi Fernhout 2016

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