Hebrews 12:14-15 - 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 may become defiled.
With people things are not always what they seem. For instance, I've noticed that often what I fail to see in a particular situation or dilemma causes me more difficulty than the things I do see. In this regard, the Holy Spirit alerts us to unseen hazards when He urges us to be mindful of what might lurk beneath the surface.
The phrase "root of bitterness" is apt in this regard. Botanists know that often a tree's root system is just as extensive as the system of limbs and branches above ground. So too can animosity lurk beneath the surface of our consciousness in a similar way. It hides itself, often even from the person harboring it.
"Oh, I've forgiven," we may say of someone who has hurt us. Yet we continued to nurse the memory of the insult. Meanwhile, the poison of bitterness continues to seep up from below ground level into our lives, and we're left puzzling over its source.
Shoots above ground point to roots below. Likewise, our attitudes may indicate resentment rooted deep in our hearts. For example, we might say, "I'll forgive, but I'll never forget," or we might harbor a smug satisfaction when the other person runs into trouble, or our prayers for the other person's welfare might be—how shall we say—less than insincere. We might even make remarks about the person that are ambiguous or questionable—remarks that don't quite put the "best construction on everything."
One of the most damaging things about a root of bitterness is that it hurts not only the individual, but it can impact the body of Christ as well. The writer to the Hebrews warns us that this root can defile "many." None of us is a "lone ranger." Our attitudes and actions do affect others, sometimes drastically. Entire Christian congregations have died or abandoned their mission, poisoned by the bitterness that in the beginning sprang from a single root.
We can't destroy these troubling roots by hacking away at the shoots that poke their heads above the ground. Neither can we destroy a "root of bitterness" by hacking away at symptoms. The only cure lies in digging it out.
But how? That's the work of God. By His grace alone, the Holy Spirit can uproot bitterness from our hearts. As a first step, we need to ask Him to bring any deep-seated issues to our attention (see Psalm 139:23-24). Then, once we are aware of the problem, we need to ask His pardon. In the assurance of God's forgiveness through the cross of Christ comes the capacity to pray—even for our worst enemies—to forgive them, to forget the hurt once and for all, and to seek their good with a sincere heart.
THE PRAYER: Heavenly Father, by Your Holy Spirit, cleanse us from the inside out. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
From The Lutheran Layman, June 1983 issue, "Digging Out Roots," by Jane Fryar
1. Was there a time when you had a root of bitterness in your life? Has this issue been resolved? Is it still being dealt with? If so, do you see an end to it?
2. Is forgiveness possible if the person doesn't show contrition over the wrongdoing?
3. Have you had to ask someone's forgiveness before over some big issue? How did that turn out?
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