Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; (Hebrews 12:14-15)
The root of bitterness is a subtle enemy, because it has the appearance – like unforgiveness – of being a justifiable response. More often than not, it’s the off-shoot of unforgiveness and the truth is that it cannot exist in a forgiving heart. Left unchecked, a bitter root can lead to ruin and destruction. To understand it’s power, we need to understand the purpose of a root and how this works in our lives.
A root of bitterness is like any other root.
The primary function of a root is to act as an anchor. It digs deep and develops phenomenal strength and tenacity – think of the enormous trees and what strength and power their roots must have to keep them stable and secure. The root of bitterness has the same purpose. It anchors us or ties us to the negative situation that generated the root in the first place. We cannot move on and cannot free ourselves. To all intents and purposes, the root has us stuck in one place.
Next, a root is the primary point of supply for all the plant needs to thrive and grow. It is the roots that absorb the minerals and nutrients from the soil and send them up into the tree. The root of bitterness does the same. It continually feeds us with the negative, bitter emotions, thus defiling us by tainting what is within us. We’re essentially feeding on our own bitterness, and the more we feed, the more bitterness is produced. Ultimately, what the root of bitterness feeds us will overcome everything else.
The root of bitterness is not visible at first.
The great danger of the root of bitterness is that we cannot see it growing. It happens ‘below ground’ and the tree may live for years, apparently healthy and strong. It starts small and digs deeper, slowly growing and strengthening and releasing its poison. It takes a long time before it usurps control of the tree, but a believer with a root of bitterness is no longer rooted in Christ.
Jesus said: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). A root of bitterness gradually suffocates every other root, effectively cutting us off from the life-giving root in Christ. It hijacks our lives and separates us from Jesus. It works invisibly to suffocate our growth, poison our hearts, and prevent the work of the Spirit in us. The danger is that we cannot see it until the tree begins to die and by then, we’re cut off from the vine that is our life.
Cutting off the root of bitterness.
There is no doubt that the root of bitterness is demonically motivated and sustained. It’s one of the most powerful methods of the enemy to isolate and destroy us. This, however, doesn’t absolve us of all responsibility. The old excuse of ‘the devil made me do it’ doesn’t work. The truth is that we allowed it to take root, and it’s up to us to face it and address it. It’s not something to pussyfoot around. It has to be dealt with completely and without mercy.
The first step is confession and repentance. We will never be free of the root of bitterness if we don’t come honestly to God and acknowledge our sin. As it works so closely with unforgiveness, we often need to address that as well. Then, the root must be completely cut off. It must be totally severed, so that no small part remains. To do this requires the humility and willingness to allow God to work in this area in our lives. We must choose the life of Christ with the surrender it requires. We must willingly choose to obey the commands of God and turn away from the bitterness that has taken root.
Grace is the answer to the root of bitterness.
Our verse today centres around grace, because grace is the only way to free ourselves fully from the root of bitterness. It is God’s graces that inspires the spiritual wisdom to recognise a root of bitterness. It also strengthens and enables us to confess and repent. Then, grace works in us to receive forgiveness and to be re-rooted in Christ. As we reconnect with Jesus, His life begins to flow through us and His grace will begin to wash away the poison we have absorbed.
Fortunately, grace is a free gift which enables us to do things that we cannot do in our own strength and ability. The reality of a root of bitterness is that, even though we may have dealt with the unforgiveness that first caused it to grow, it may remain stronger than ever. If we do as our verses today admonish us and seek peace with others and holiness, we are effectively choosing God. Our choice is empowered by grace because we are rooted in the eternal vine who is Christ. As we turn our eyes to God, we turn them away from bitterness and He is able to cleanse us.
How to avoid a root of bitterness.
The only way to avoid a root of bitterness is to be intimately connected to the living vine. The key word here is intimate – so close, so connected, that the life of Christ flows without hindrance. This may sound super-spiritual, but it’s actually very simple and practical. A root of bitterness grows when things happen that are not surrendered to Jesus. If we continually build a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him, He will be first in everything. Grace provides everything for every situation – wisdom, discernment, strength, humility. The list is endless, but if we remain in the vine, when things happen that could cause a root of bitterness, grace will enable us to respond in Christ rather than in self.
Jesus, help us to remain rooted in You. Grant us the grace to recognise our weakness and the discernment to identify a root of bitterness before it grows and takes hold. Strengthen us and fill us with Your life, so that we can look to You in all things and allow Your grace to work Your will in us.