Bitter Root

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. (Hebrews 12:15)  

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-2)
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbour?  (James 4:11-12)

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  (Galatians 6:7)
They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.  (Hosea 8:7)
Yesterday we looked at how we can develop a ‘heart of stone’, which robs us of the joy and freedom and peace that the Lord wants to give us. Today we are going to look at another of the self-inflicted chains that can also rob us of that same joy and freedom. Hebrews 12:15 warns us not to allow a ‘bitter root’ to grow up within our hearts. If we do, the writer warns us that it will cause us trouble. It will defile the purity and peace of our daily lives.

A bitter root can be defined as “a hidden response to the way that other people have treated us, which starts off small but which grows into something massive over time”. It is often the result of genuine sin that is committed against us. But Scripture tells us that we are responsible for how we respond. When we respond sinfully to those who sin against us, we set in motion the poisoning of our own souls. The passages we read today remind us that “God cannot be mocked. A person reaps what they sow.” The nature of a root is that it grows into something far bigger than itself, so we don’t just reap as much as what we sow. “They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.”

It is surprising how many of us, even as Christians, still harbour bitter roots within our hearts towards other people. Perhaps it’s because we expect more from people now, or perhaps it’s just what David and Amanda taught us last week about forgiveness. We are quick to forgive in ourselves what we struggle to forgive in others. A bitter root is planted when we set ourselves up as judge over the other person, effectively usurping the place of God in their lives. This is an act of blasphemy and it couldn’t be more serious. Hebrews 12:15 tells us that it causes us to forfeit the grace of God towards us.

So how can we tell if we have a bitter root growing within our hearts? One of the tell-tale signs is a lack of peace and joy. Another tell-tale sign is that we look back on what other people have done to us and we nurse it, rehearse it and curse it. That is, we go back over what was done to us, imagining what we might say to those people and wishing that they would be punished for what they did to us – instead of releasing their sin against us to the Lord.

The good news is that the Gospel sets us free from the bitter roots within us. A root is “a hidden, deep-seated way of drinking nurture for our souls”. If we choose to drink from the pain of the past, then we will keep on poisoning our hearts and minds. But if we repent of our sinful response to the way in which people have sinned against us, we can begin drinking from the Spirit of God instead – the Spirit who brings peace and freedom instead of bitterness.
  1. Our hearts are sinful and deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). This means that we can create bitter roots in our hearts without even realising we are doing so. When did you last ask the Lord to reveal the true state of your heart to you? Why not do so now?
  2. Think of the people who have wronged you most. How have you responded to their sin against you? Have you responded sinfully? If you have, then bring that sinful reaction to the Lord today.
  3. Do you feel consistent joy, peace and freedom in the Holy Spirit? If not, then the Lord wants to give that to you through his Holy Spirit today. Take some time to confess any ‘bitter roots’ and to tell the Lord that you want to drink your nourishment from his Spirit instead.
Father God, I am so used to the way that people respond to being wronged by one another that I feel blind to some of the bitter roots within my heart. Please reveal them to me and please help me to uproot them by confessing my own sinful responses to people and by drinking my daily nourishment from your Holy Spirit instead. Amen.
Today’s Everyday Devotions were written by Phil Moore, who leads our team of whole-church elders.
If you have time, consider carrying on your conversation with God using one of our helpful Prayer Pathways.
Today’s Everyday Devotions have also inspired a devotional video that you can watch on our YouTube channel.
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