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 (NIV)
Imagine this: so much had been changing with the policies at my job that I considered looking for new employment. I did not want to become bitter towards an organization that I’d given my adult life towards, so I began to think about when would be a good time to transition.
As I read Hebrews 12:15, it reminded me of the sentiment towards my job, but I was unsure if the roots of bitterness referenced in Hebrews were the same that I was feeling towards my employer. Using prayer and research, I decided to dig in.
The scenario occurred well over a year ago, but it’s given me plenty of time to spend time in Hebrews and Deuteronomy trying to understand the “roots of bitterness.”
The KJV refers to the root of bitterness springing up and troubling you, which in turn will cause many to be defiled. Within the NIV, one can see that bitter roots grow and cause trouble. As you read this verse, it appears that the passage is directed at the entire church of believers rather than just one individual battling bitterness.
The context of the passage becomes even more clear when you consider Hebrew culture, where any poisonous plant was referred to as bitter. If poison destroys, then the author of the book of Hebrews could arguably be using the metaphor of a bitter root for something that would destroy the church, much like poison would.
Taking this New Testament passage and crossing it to the Old Testament, one sees that in Deuteronomy 29:18, Moses cautions of being vigilant to the growth of bitter roots of poison. In reviewing the covenant between God and Israel, Moses is referencing the “bitter root” of idolatry. There are other references in the Old Testament where the concept of a bitter root is mentioned. For instance, in Amos 6:12 the unfaithful are called out as a bitter root.
Much like in nature, a bitter root in a church or individual’s life starts as a tender shoot.
If it’s nurtured and cared for, it begins to grow longer and stronger as the days go by. The poison of that root begins to gain strength, subsequently becoming more and more dangerous. The sin of the bitter root in a person’s life or within the church must be dug up, cut off, and not allowed to continue growing. If it’s allowed to continue, there are catastrophic consequences: the spiral of more sin begotten of other sin or the lack of unification in church membership. Essentially that bitter root becomes a stronghold for the enemy to mess with our lives.
Within the church, we are all responsible for cutting off the root of bitterness. It’s time to practice grace with one another. It’s time to speak truth to one another. It’s time to hold each other accountable. It’s time to support one another. It’s time to stop gossiping.
It’s time to stop nurturing the root of bitterness.
For me and my job challenges, I had to assess if bitterness was going to take root. If it was, then I had choices to make in order to cut off that root.
During the next week, look at your life and determine if there are shoots that need to be pulled before they begin to take root!