Individually and as God’s Church, How Can We All Avoid Letting a Bitter Root Grow Out of Our Lives? Hebrews 12:15-17

Hebrews 12:15-17 English Standard Version

15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

Arugula, Coffee, Dill, Dandelion Greens, Jerusalem Artichokes, Kale, Sesame Seeds, Turmeric, Ginger, Lemons and Limes and Grapefruits, Peppermint, Cocoa, Eggplant, Green Tea, Brussel Sprouts, Broccoli, Cranberry, Cabbage.

What do those foods have in common?

Your up and coming Thanksgiving Day feast – all those old family recipes lovingly passed down from the meal tables of one generation to the next?

Your own modern and contemporary efforts to load up the dinner table with an array of healthy salads, healthy spread of fruits and vegetables for the children?

Great ideas all around – healthy habits, physical health and wellness matter!

Well worth the time and effort for everyone whose task it is to prepare meals to foster a healthy body and a healthy mind through an array of very healthy food.

But, actually ….

The real intent of my listing the food items is for what they all have in common.

They all have a bitter taste when consumed.

We have probably overlooked or learned to cover up all those bitter flavors by adding various other food items such as some spices and sweet salad dressings.

Most of the time that is what is required to get us to eat those foods because the tasting of that bitter taste, learned early enough, means we rush to avoid them.

Despite the fact their nutritional values and their long historically well known healthy benefits for our bodily functions should interrupt, preclude our hates.

The bitter taste left in our mouths from these foods leaves a lasting memory.

Do we go out of our way to avoid them at all costs or decide to keep them on our tables, in our stomachs and in our lives – taking advantage of their healthiness?

On the other side of that “bitter taste” of food is ….

The bitter feelings associated with such emotional experiences as betrayal and anger and sadness, fear and anxiety and worry and depression.

Most of us have experienced the feeling of bitterness at some point, and can agree that it is a distressing emotion.

And once it rises, and takes “roots in our hearts” and “root in our souls” the feeling can linger and spread for a long time unless it is dealt with correctly.

The writer of Hebrews wrote this verse hoping to protect the early believers and the early church from the inevitable, undeniable destruction bitterness causes.

The image of a sour root growing up among a body of believers was a powerful way to remind God’s people about the dangers of letting unforgiveness and discontent well up within our hearts.

And as Ironic and even laughable as it will surely sound to some reading this, to say that if we are not careful, it can happen before we realize there is a problem.

Fortunately, the living and active Words of God’s Holy Scripture offers us the prevention and the sure reminder that there is a remedy and there is a sure cure.

What Is This Verse Talking About?

Simply put, Hebrews 12:15 is a clear instruction about guarding and protecting the integrity of a church body.

Each section conveys a sense of urgency to the command.

“See to it…”

This directive is given to everyone who is part of the church – leadership and lay members alike. All who would go to the greatest lengths possible to call themselves part of the family of God need to be ready to respond in obedience.

“… that no one falls short of the grace of God”

Repeatedly, according to our God’s Holy Scriptures, wrong heart attitudes like unforgiveness and self-righteousness can keep a person from receiving grace.

God will never force Himself on us, and so if we trust in our own goodness and lack humility, then we will all definitely miss out on the working of His healing grace not just in our hearts and minds, but in our neighbors’ hearts and minds.

“…that no bitter root grows up”

The lack of God’s grace in our lives results in a sense of bitterness. For when we are self-centered, we expect others, and God, to fill our needs all the time. We are more impatient, and more bothered when things don’t go the way we plan.

“…to cause trouble and defile many.”

What kind of trouble?

If our inner attitudes and thoughts are full of that bitterness, it will appear in outward words and actions and deeds that significantly impact those around us at home and in church negatively – and perhaps reach into the world beyond.

The Apostle Paul was very aware of this possibility in each of us. And he had no doubt seen how one person’s behavior could compromise a whole congregation’s health, and its influence in the world. He often mentioned this idea in letters to churches he had planted.

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (Ephesians 4:31).

Ephesians 4:31

“Your boasting is not good” (1 Corinthians 5:6).

“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness” (Romans 3:14).

This idea harkens back to warnings Jesus gave His disciples using the image of yeast, or leavening, being spread through bread dough and affecting the whole loaf. This represented how the wrong teachings of the religious elite would contaminate the minds and hearts of His followers, and weaken their witness to others.

“’But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:11-12).

“…Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy’” (Luke 12:1).

Luke 12:1

What Is the “Bitter Root”?

Bitter roots have been born out of simple disagreements, or unintentional offenses.

However they start, it’s essential that the initial upset, frustration or hurt is dealt with. If the air is not cleared, the seed for division and pain is planted.

Once bitterness has settled into a person’s heart, into their souls it eventually comes out in harsh words or in actions that often impact others they talk to.

What Is the Message of Hebrews All About?

Authorship of Hebrews has long been debated.

Scholars have found evidence both for and against the Apostle Paul being the one who wrote it.

Other suggestions include Luke, Barnabas, Phillip and Apollos.

Whoever the anonymous author was, the purpose was to prove the authority of Christ and encourage believers to be encouraged, persevere in their faith walks.

The Epistle to the Hebrews was an attempt to reach at least two specific groups in the church at that time: specifically, Jews who had converted to Christianity but felt the need to pull back into the ways of Judaism which they understood, and new believers who had not yet fully learned and embraced following Jesus.

Many Hebrew Christians at the time were going through both severe social and economic, sometimes physical persecution from both the Jews and Romans.

Some were considering returning to their former religious life.

The Epistle to Hebrews was an attempt to remind these believers of Biblical truths, and to encourage, reassure them that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.

What Else Happens in Hebrews 12?

Hebrews Chapter 12 starts with the word “therefore,” which is used to refer to something that has already been stated, and also to build on it.

The author goes on, “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,” and gives and impressive list of people of faith from the previous chapter. The author gives this directive to the followers of Christ:

“…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Hebrews 12:1-2

The next several verses talk about how we should welcome and value God’s discipline in our lives.

It is meant to bring us good, and to make us stronger spiritually.

And as we grow, we will begin to seek a new unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ – enrich ourselves in the taste of God’s Word (Psalm 34:8) shared at a time of meal and koinonia fellowship, communion – crucial part of God’s plan.

How We Can Apply This to Our Lives?

Those who truly want to follow Christ are called to a higher standard of behavior. Scripture gives us lots of guidance about what that looks like.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:12-13).

Colossians 3:12-13

This verse can be lived out in both spiritual and very practical ways.

In these contemporary times, in terms of our inward heart attitude: 

– Do not let old grudges fester or allow new grudges to take root
– Be content with what God has for you (Philippians 4:10-13)
– Study the Scriptures, Pray regularly together for others to be blessed

In terms of what we say and do outwardly:

– Avoid gossip
– Use our words to encourage and support each other
– Be ready to gently guide others in this area

In terms of how we communicate with each other:

– Share if you’ve felt offended or hurt by someone
– Be willing to try and work an issue out together
– Ask for help if you’re struggling with bitterness

Depending on our own current situations and circumstances, from whatever perspective or angle or theology or ideological bent life has dictated to us all;

You are either going to accept or will take great offense at the next statement:

Hebrews 12:15 contains a significantly encouraging message which can be as timely (mightily ironic and laughable also) today as when it was first written.

Ironically – For as humans, how we so easily, freely and decisively and directly we can be easily tempted to let disagreements or trouble make us hard-hearted.

But as God’s chosen and much beloved children, if we really want to, we can all ask for His power to cut away any root of bitterness and keep it out of our lives.

Ironically, while I was reading and praying and considering Hebrews 12 the other day, I just wondered, “Is it more difficult to live in peace or to be holy?”

Or is it easier or even tastier or more palatable to sit together at a table sharing and quietly or noisily or bitterly bearing our burdens, and smiling at each other.

Of course, when God commands me to do two things, I must 100% try doing both – steadfastly, immovably, whole-heartedly, obediently and faithfully.

Then I read, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.”

Does that mean I will not see the Lord unless I am holy?

Or that others will not see the Lord unless I am or they are holy?

And is living in peace also required in order for me and others to see the Lord?

If others will see the Lord only through my peace and holiness, I consider that as an overwhelming and awesome an terribly accountable responsibility.

If I won’t see the Lord unless I am peaceable and holy, that is a terrifying threat.

The next verse, however, speaks about grace:

“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God.”

Of course!

Without grace, none of us can live peacefully together, and none of us can be holy. Without grace, we can’t be a peaceful, holy influence on others either.

That made me feel better.

Living in peace and holiness are important and necessary—and what a comfort it is to know that God’s matchless grace empowers us to live that way for him.

And when we fail, that same grace will forgive, accept, and encourage us to “make every effort” again.

It always comes down to grace.

1. Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that is greater than all our sin!

2. Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,
threaten the soul with infinite loss;
grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,
points to the refuge, the mighty cross.

3. Dark is the stain that we cannot hide.
What can avail to wash it away?
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,
brighter than snow you may be today.

4. Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
freely bestowed on all who believe!
You that are longing to see his face,
will you this moment his grace receive?

If we genuinely want to receive the grace in the spirit in which it was first given!

If we truly want to receive the grace in the moment in which it was first given!

What should we all do, both individually and together, do to make these verses from Hebrews to come alive, to be made relevant and true, a revelation of God?

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

Heavenly Father, search my heart an search my soul, oh God, and help me to identify any seeds of bitterness that may be lurking within. There may be bitterness from recent events in my life or from things that happened long ago, but the bitterness still remains in my heart. Lord, by your grace please root out this bitterness and replace it with Your grace and forgiveness, mercy and kindness. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.

Author: Thomas E Meyer Jr

Formerly Homeless Sinner Now, Child of God, Saved by Grace.

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