"Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled."--Heb.12:15.--Thus says God's Word about the adverse results of bitterness, a very poisonous root that can defile your whole spirit, and seriously hurt and defile many others as well!
One reason that bitterness is so extremely dangerous is because it can take root and begin to grow and spread and spiritually contaminate and defile your heart and spirit before you even realise what's wrong with you. Sinful human nature makes it very easy for us to rationalise and justify ourselves for harbouring hurt feelings or a grudge against others when we feel that they have wronged or mistreated us. In fact, we can even feel this way towards God!
Like the roots of most plants, little "roots" of resentment and bitterness usually lie below the surface where they remain unseen. But there they begin to spread and grow, going ever deeper and deeper. If allowed to continue, such roots of bitterness will eventually eat away at your very heart and spirit, until they will finally devour and destroy you spiritually!--Ultimately leaving you spiritually dead and virtually useless to the Lord!
Bitterness is very much like the South American vine known as the "matador." Beginning at the foot of a tree, the matador vine slowly works its way to the top. But as it grows, it kills the tree, and when at last the top is reached, it sends forth a flower to crown itself. Matador literally means KILLER. Bitterness may appear harmless when it is small, but if it is allowed to grow, its tendrils of resentment, malice and hatred soon clasp themselves around the heart and eventually kill the soul.
This is why God's Word exhorts us to "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice."--Eph.4:31. And that's what this lesson is all about: How to recognise, deal with and get rid of the deadly root known as bitterness, so that you may freely love and serve the Lord and others unhindered by this destructive device of the Devil!--That we may "lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us!"--Heb.12:1.
When we're attacking the Enemy and doing all we can to conquer new territory and win new souls for God's Kingdom, the Devil, of course, is going to be quite busy trying to stop us!--And, thank God, he can't stop us if we don't let him. But if in some way you are harbouring his negative and destructive thoughts, listening to his debilitating doubts, or entertaining his faith-weakening fears, that is a partial surrender to the Enemy.--And any surrender to the Devil is always going to cause you trouble!
If you allow bitterness and resentment and a critical spirit to grow in your life, you will lose your anointing and your inspiration from the Lord. You can't keep complaining about and resenting your lot in life, and criticising and murmuring about things that God or others have done to you, and keep God's Holy Spirit on you at the same time. You just can't do it. The Lord dwells in the praises of His people, and He draws near to us when we draw near to Him, "offering the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name."--Psa.22:3; Jam.4:8; Heb.13:15.
"But without faith it is impossible to please Him."--Heb.11:6. If you don't accept the things that the Lord sends into your life, if you not only doubt and wonder about His treatment and care of you, but actually murmur and resent and rebel against it, that's certainly not faith, and surely displeases the Lord!
And if you allow that root of bitterness to take hold in your heart and life, it will cause you to fail both the Lord and yourself. Such a root can go a Hell of a long way, and can ultimately destroy you.--It can at least destroy your ministry, and your effectiveness for the Lord, and it can even harm the entire Work of God that you're supposed to be helping.
The way that bitterness can hinder your ministry and effectiveness is illustrated in the following true story about the great artist and engineer, Leonardo da Vinci: Just before he commenced work on his famous painting of "The Last Supper" he had a violent quarrel with a fellow painter. He was so enraged and bitter that he decided to paint the face of his enemy, the other artist, into the face of Judas, and thus take his revenge by handing the man down in infamy and scorn to succeeding generations. The face of Judas was therefore one of the first that he finished, and everyone could easily recognise it as the face of the painter with whom da Vinci had quarreled.
But when he came to paint the face of Jesus, he could make no progress. Something seemed to be baffling him, holding him back, frustrating his best efforts. At length he came to the conclusion that the thing that was checking and frustrating him was the fact that he had painted his enemy into the face of Judas. He therefore painted out the face of Judas and commenced anew on the face of Jesus, and this time with the success which the ages have acclaimed.
How clearly this incident shows us that we cannot at one and the same time be painting the features of Christ into our own life, and be painting another face with the colours of enmity and hatred. To become more Christ-like, and to accomplish what the Lord wants you to do, surely all bitterness and hatred must be "put away" and "laid aside."
To wilfully allow little roots of bitterness to grow in your life is like knowingly letting the Devil in! Such discontentment and resentment and murmuring in your heart will just grow and grow and begin to cover and affect everything around you. That's what bitterness does.--Which is why you've got to try to catch it at the very beginning before it takes root too deeply, and root it out!
This is why the Lord tells us, "Neither give place to the Devil!"--Eph.4:27. This verse shows that you can sometimes give the Devil place and room to operate and get in without necessarily being completely taken over or possessed by him. But let me warn you, he'll use whatever you let him get ahold of, so you'd better resist and give him no place!--So beware of letting the Enemy in through the little seeds and tiny roots of jealousy, murmuring or bitterness that he may try to sow in your heart!
The affairs of the heart and affairs of the spirit can affect you physically! In medical science they call such afflictions "psychosomatic" illnesses, which means they are caused by your mind. But we'd say they're caused by your spirit, by an improper attitude of heart, primarily a lack of love for the Lord and others.
There are all kinds of little roots, little roots of bitterness, little roots of jealousy, little roots of resentment, little roots of hurt feelings, and they can all get pretty bitter and they can all grow and they will all begin to eat on you from within, if you let them.--Until pretty soon they will crop out in very obvious or even physical manifestations.
Doctors have found that people who are bitter and have a lot of hatred in their hearts, have much more arthritis than those who are at peace. Similarly, they've discovered that those who have a lot of fear in their minds--worries, tension, phobias, etc.--have a lot more mental trouble and more stomach trouble, as well as more heart trouble.
Thank God that the elimination of fear by faith gives peace of mind and rest to your stomach and to your heart, and actually eliminates various poisons from the blood which cause illness. In other words, your state of mind and heart can actually poison your body. Science knows this and has proven it true.
How can one individual's bitterness "defile many"? Well, there are several ways. For one thing, people who are really bitter about one thing, will easily become bitter about other things too. It's usually because they never blame themselves for anything that seems to go wrong, they're always blaming other people, similar to the self-righteous hypocrite who never blames himself either.
People who are discontent and murmuring and resentful and critical are usually never satisfied unless they can persuade others of their own opinion. Misery loves company, and they love to have other people agree with them; and sad to say, it's usually easy to find'm. Belly-aching, murmuring and complaining is a very common ailment of the human race and something that is very easy to fall into. But from God's point of view, it is a sin that is absolutely intolerable. Just read the story of the wandering Children of Israel and you'll see how He let millions of people rot in the Sinaitic Desert for their murmuring and their complaining, and they never got into the Promised Land! (Num.32:11-13.)
Bitterness and murmuring are a very infectious spiritual disease, diabolical, and can spread and poison others very quickly if left unchecked. One bad apple can do it so fast! The Bible warns us, "Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump!"--1Cor. 5:6,7. Just like a tiny pinch of yeast will spread throughout an entire "lump" of dough and cause the whole thing to rise, people who are permeated with bitterness are a real burden and a real downer influence, and will drag everybody down that they can, pulling everybody's spirits down. They're always dwelling on the negative and always criticizing and always murmuring.
I was raised in the Hegewisch neighborhood on the southeast side of Chicago, Illinois, served in the USAF from 1970 to 1974, and became a full-time missionary for Christ living 40 years in Japan, 3.5 years in Russia, and a few months in other countries such as Finland, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, South Korea, Taiwan and mainland China where I also served the King of Kings, Jesus, as an Ambassador for His Kingdom.
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Next to part 2: II. WHY DO PEOPLE BECOME BITTER?
Also see an excellent Bible study about bitterness: