August in my hometown is usually extremely hot with a relatively high humidity. Trying to do anything outside produces copious amounts of sweat. But our community has always been a High School Football community. Like so many of the boys who wanted to be jocks, I went out for the football team. My top weight during that time about 125 pounds. I was one of the smallest guys on the Junior High Team. My coach called me “The Monster Man.”–Even I knew he was mocking me! Football practices began in mid-August. We would go through all kinds of conditioning exercises, and then practice various drills and scrimmages as we perfected the plays necessary to becoming a winning football team. And as the practice time drew to a close and we were dehydrated and exhausted, the coach would say, “Okay, guys, Three laps around the field and then to the showers.” Often we would have guys pass out from the heat and exhaustion. I never passed out, but those three laps were pure torture. And, no, I never was the first to finish—I was usually pretty close to the back of the pack!
So when I read Hebrews 12:1 and especially these words, “…And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…,” my mind goes back to those days so many years ago when we were required to run those laps—one step at a time. The goal wasn’t so much to win as it was just to make it to the finish line. And in our spiritual life there may be times when we feel exhausted and wonder how we can possibly keep on. In times like that we need to focus on one step at a time, staying true to God, doing what is right and pleasing to Him, and hanging on. And the reality is, if we don’t give up, we will find that God will give us strength and refresh our spirits so that we are able to go in His power.
The Writer of Hebrews goes on to remind us that the difficulties we face in life help to strengthen us and teaches us how to lean on Jesus and mature in our relationship.
Then we reach Hebrews 12:14-15. I call verse 14 “The Nazarene Verse,” because it is a reminder that we are to always pursue Holiness. I was at a taping of the Kevin Shorey Show this week and Kevin asked me how would I define “Holiness.” My one word answer is simple: “Christ-likeness.” We want to become more and more like Jesus in our spiritual walk.
“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy, without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
But then we read verse 15: “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” And God gives us a heads up to a very real danger—a threat to the life of holiness as well as a threat to living peaceably with others.
Let’s take this short time we have this morning to examine this threat of bitterness.
I. BITTERNESS: WHAT IS IT?
a. The dictionary gives these definitions: “having or being a peculiarly acrid, astringent, or disagreeable taste…distasteful or distressing to the mind: Galling…Marked by intensity or severity…accompanied by severe pain or suffering…being relentlessly determined: Vehement…exhibiting intense animosity…harshly reproachful…marked by cynicism and rancor contempt…intensely unpleasant, especially in coldness or rawness.”
b. In the Bible a particular plant called “Wormwood” became a continuing symbol of “Bitterness.” Wormwood is a European plant that yields a bitter slightly aromatic dark green oil used in making a certain type of flavored alcoholic beverage, the continued use of which leads to mental deterioration and even death. (see Pictorial Bible Dictionary by Zondervan).
c. In the context of our scripture, the bitterness being warned of is
i. Detrimental to Spiritual Vitality;
ii. Is in opposition to a life of Holiness and Purity;
iii. May be referring to Heresy and false teaching that poisons the body of believers and/or an attitude that poisons the disposition of a Christian pursuing Holiness.
The Hebrews called any poison “bitter.”
II. WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF BITTERNESS?
a. Multiplied thousands of things can cause bitterness. Just as it has been discovered that some people have a tendency to have cancer and that many, many factors can trigger this tendency, so it is that while some people seem to be more prone to becoming bitter than others, it is hard to pinpoint. The exact agent that activates a “Root of Bitterness” and the temptation must be guarded against by all.
b. I have tried to draw up a list of things that cause bitterness. It is impossible to have a totally comprehensive list, but here’s some major things that are on my list:
i. To be MISUNDERSTOOD.
ii. To be UNAPPRECIATED.
iii. To be PERSECUTED.
iiii. To be LIED TO.
v. To be STOLEN FROM.
vi. To be SPOKEN HARSHLY TO.
vii. To be IGNORED.
viii. To be SLIGHTED.
ix. To be GOSSIPPED ABOUT.
x. To FEEL CHEATED.
xi. To be MISTREATED.
xii. To be taken advantage of or exploited.
c. I’ve known people whose lives were marred by bitterness because:
i. They were punished for something they did not do.
ii. They were unfavorably compared with a brother or sister when growing up.
iii. They could never win the approval of their Mom or Dad.
iiii. I’ve known others who grew bitter because: someone failed to say ‘THANK YOU” for an act of kindness or a gift.
v. I’ve see others grow bitter because someone did not agree with their point of view or support their plan of action.
vi. I have seen bitterness revealed in the words spoken by a person who was upset because someone painted the church bathroom walls differently than what they thought they should have been.
vii. Many people become bitter because they were passed over for a promotion at their job.
viii. One lady I knew grew bitter because her husband was mean to her and in her bitterness she blamed God.
ix. How many have lost loved ones—a spouse, a child, a close friend—and have allowed bitterness to creep in between them and God!
d. SO WHAT CAUSES BITTERNESS TO SPRING UP AND DEFILE A PERSON? ANYTHING THAT ROBS THE CHRISTIAN OF PEACE OR JOY OR A LOVING, COMPASSIONATE, FORGIVING OUTLOOK ON LIFE!
III. WHO MAY HAVE A PROBLEM WITH BITTERNESS?
a. SINNERS—The unredeemed, unconverted of the world—may have a problem with bitterness. After all, they don’t know the love of God and have not experienced the peace and joy that comes from being forgiven and accepted by God through Jesus Christ! In Romans we are given one of the most graphic pictures in the entire Bible of unredeemed, depraved Humanity. In Romans 3, verses 10-18 we read: “As it is written, There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
i. The Sinner is faced with bitterness when he searches for fulfillment without God…whether it be in riches, popularity or power, or anything else…and He finds only meaninglessness and emptiness. ILLUSTRATION: In the early 20th century there was man named Howard Hughes who was highly successful in many different enterprises from Hollywood to Aviation. He became exceedingly wealthy. Encyclopedia Britannica gives this paragraph on the end of his life: “In His final years Hughes abruptly moved his residence from one place to another (The Bahamas, Nicaragua, Canada, England, Las Vegas, Mexico). As was the case with the Desert Inn, he took elaborate precautions to ensure absolute privacy in a luxury hotel and was rarely seen by anyone except a few male aides. Often working for days without sleep in a black-curtained room, he became emaciated and deranged from the effects of a meager diet and an excess of drugs. In 1976 he died on a flight from Acapulco, Mexico, to Houston, Texas, to seek medical treatment.”
Wealth and fame without God left him a bitter, deranged individual in the end!
ii. When a person thinks he can find pleasure in sin and finds out that pleasure is short-lived without God and quickly changes into Pain, Or when He thinks he can find pleasure in Happiness, only to find Sorrow… Bitterness creeps in!
iii. BITTERNESS IS THE REWARD OF A LIFE WITHOUT GOD!
b. Not only does the Godless and unredeemed have problems with bitterness—THE BACKSLIDDER ALSO DRINKS FROM A BITTER CUP.
i. Ephesians 4:30-32 says, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption, Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
ii. We all probably could think of people who once were bubbling over, joyous Victorious Christians, who, for some reason or the other are now Prune-faced, defeated, empty shells of persons whose present spiritual condition can be summed up in one word: BITTER!
C. We would expect the unsaved or the backslider to have a problem with bitterness. But I’ve got a surprise for you: from the context of our Scripture, Hebrews 12:15—The Saved, Sanctified, Spirit-filled, Heart cleansed Christian also can have a problem with bitterness. Thus the warning (KJV) “Looking diligently, lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any ROOT OF BITTERNSS springing up trouble you and thereby many be defiled.”
a. I have seen Pastors whose ministry became severely handicapped because in working with people they were disappointed and hurt many times—and bitterness crept in in the form of a Negative, critical, untrusting spirit.
i. I once knew a pastor who is no longer in the ministry because he gave of himself for his people, sacrificing time from himself and his family, spending long hours counseling, caring for his flock, only to have a woman suggest that he had made an improper advance at her, and then the whole church jumped to a conclusion and “crucified him” in the community, so that, even though the woman admitted she was lying and legally he was cleared, he became bitter and could no long trust anyone. And he had to leave the ministry because he could no longer be effective. He told me that often times he would have nightmares about what had happened and would wake up in the night, his heart pounding, his clothes and bed soaked from a cold sweat.
ii. BITTERNESS—ONE OF THE DEVIL’S MOST EFFECTIVE WEAPONS FOR DESTROYING A CHRISTIAN.
iii. I knew of another couple—laymen—who were very active in a local church, who truly loved God and others. They were falsely accused and ridiculed by other so-called Christians, and, consequently, were having a real struggle with bitterness.
iiii. THE DEVIL SOWS THE SEEDS OF BITTERNESS. He will come into your prayer closet (after all, in Job he came into the very presence of the sons of God to accuse Job to God!). He will point out all the bad, the ugly…He will remind you of words spoken to you that had a sour ring or a sharp edge…He will point an accusing finger at the faults of others and lay blame for seemingly spiritual failures or slackness…and whisper, “If others would only pray like I do, or read the Bible like I do, or visit others like I do…” THOUGHTS THAT COME TO YOU EVEN AT PRAYER TIME ARE NOT NECESSARILY OF GOD—AND SO, WE MUST “Try the Spirits to see if they are of God!”
v. THE DERAILMENT OF HOLINESS IN HEBREWS 12:14 IS THE ROOT OF BITTERNESS IN 12:15!
So, you see, no one is exempt from the problem of Bitterness. It is important, therefore, to Get and Keep the Victory over it!
So, what can we do about this threat of bitterness?
>Recognize it and admit it.
>Confess it to God.
>With His help, “Turn loose of it…with forgiveness… accepting reality.
>Cultivate a Holy Attitude towards life. Philippians 4:8 is a good starting point: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.”
>Strive to be like Jesus!