Some good friends of ours have 5 kids and the whole family has been sick for weeks. They share the same symptoms and assume the problem must be their air or water quality. But no one can locate the exact source of the problem.
Bitterness can infect like this–silently contaminating every relationship we have while remaining largely undetected.
Take a minute to make sure bitterness has no root in your heart…
Hebrews 12:15 offers an intriguing word picture for the toxic effects of bitterness:
“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.”
Here’s the connection between bitterness in our hearts and the “defiling of many:”
Let’s use the story of Jacob and Esau as a case study. Genesis 27:41 says, “Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him.” Jacob stole a blessing from Esau that was very important to him and his future was greatly shaped by the loss. The theft basically changed the very trajectory of his life.
When we miss out on a blessing there are two great temptations we face:
-How we try to fill the void and compensate for what’s lacking in our lives.
-The bitterness that takes root in our souls.
Esau learned a valuable lesson as a boy—people aren’t trustworthy. If your mom and brother aren’t trustworthy, people aren’t trustworthy. I picture him making an inner vow: “That will never happen to me again!” He probably saw a little of Jacob in everyone. Can you imagine his response when someone accidentally slighted him? Or how difficult it would be to risk vulnerability and trust people in intimate relationships? There were probably all sorts of triggers that led him to react in ways far disproportionate to what a circumstance would warrant. Why? Because he wasn’t reacting to the specific circumstances. He was reacting to his history and out of a heart full of bitterness.
Bitter roots that aren’t pulled up grow large and defile future relationships. We eventually look to other people to repay debts that they don’t even owe us and could never repay. The reason we’re taught to not “let the Sun go down on our anger” (Ephesians 4:26) is because eventually we lose sight of its source and allow it to warp us. Our anger is spilling out, and we’re not even sure why anymore.
I imagine the writer of Hebrews counseling Esau, “Be careful that you don’t allow Jacob’s sin to hijack your life. Mourn the loss but don’t fall short of God’s grace and sin in response to his sin. God can heal the effects of his sin against you. He knows your needs. He will meet them according to His riches in glory. (Philippians 4:19) So, guard your heart against bitterness, because if you sit too long in unforgiveness, it’s going to reap trouble and defile many.”
What signature wounds continue to shape your life?
What has been stolen or where are there significant voids?
What inner vows have you made in response to them?
In the next post, “Funny You Should Mention That,” I’ll describe the way to uproot bitterness.