Watch out that no bitterness takes root among you, for as it springs up it causes deep trouble, hurting many in their spiritual lives. [Hebrews 12:15 / TLB]
Have you ever been around people so bitter you could feel corrosiveness pouring out of them? Their bitterness flows like hydrochloric acid from a beaker in science class. And just like that acid, their words and actions “burn” almost everyone they contact.
Here are some examples of what bitterness looks like in everyday life. A previous friend jumped to conclusions and falsely pre-judged your actions—then has not reconciled even after you told him the truth. An ex-spouse clings to her anger about your divorce and poisons your children by badmouthing you year after year. A family member resents you based on a false perception, yet continues to project her previous heartbreaks onto you. You ask God repeatedly for something dear to you, then resent Him for not granting your request. These are just a few of the ways bitterness spills its acid throughout our lives.
Holding Onto Bitterness
Bitter people hold the pain of their past so tightly that it blinds them to the truth. Hateful and resentful thoughts have swirled in their minds so long that they exaggerate reality. Lies begin to appear true; truth is discarded as false. They overlook a key flaw of humanity: when you lie to yourself long enough, you start believing your own false reality.
Bitterness not only causes individual damage; it also damages relationships with others and the relationship with God. We may think it is harmless or even justified. Yet it is included with the significant sins of sexual immorality and godlessness. The writer of Hebrews warns us: “See to it that no…bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless…” (Hebrews 12:15-16).
Instead of the words “see to it,” the King James Version of the Bible uses “looking diligently” when warning us against this bitter flaw. To look diligently means to maintain acute awareness against something or to give painstaking attention to avoid it. This level of persistent focus is necessary to prevent bitterness from gaining a foothold in our lives. We must purposefully exterminate the seed as soon as it arrives, or it will grow to a root, then to a sapling, and before we know it, our bitterness is a full grown tree showering trouble and defilement from every leaf.
We know what trouble bitterness can cause; however, we might want to think about the defilement it brings. To defile something is to desecrate or pollute it or make it impure. Bitterness causes conflict between people, encourages slander and gossip, opposes forgiveness and brotherly love, and stunts spiritual growth. These examples of spiritual pollution emphasize the need to eliminate—not coddle and justify—bitterness in its early stages, before it causes trouble and defiles those affected by it.
Allowing bitterness to remain and grow is to tolerate a foolish, unrighteous mindset that encourages evil influences in your life. It is such a serious evil that Paul includes it in the traits we are to eliminate from our lives (Ephesians 4:31) and identifies it as an act of unrighteousness (Romans 3:14). James isolates bitter envy and selfish ambition as foolish, unspiritual, and demonic habits.
Two Different Processes
Think about it this way. God brings truth, forgiveness, healing, restoration, and growth. Satan incites lies, resentment, hurt, bitterness, separation, and death. When we forgive, speak truth, and seek healing and restoration, we follow God’s method of personal interaction. However, when we spread rumors and gossip, stretch the truth, resent others, and create conflict, we play Satan’s game of falsehood, bitterness, and isolation. To whose voice will you listen?
If you are nurturing something that is a root of bitterness, I encourage you to confess it to God, repent of it, and allow Him to pull it out of your heart’s soil. You don’t want that tree’s acid burning up your life. Instead of letting bitterness consume your mind, allow the Holy Spirit to transform you with His purity, peace, humility, mercy, and righteousness. He alone will give you the tools necessary to pull out those bitter roots.