See to it…that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
Hebrews 12:15 (NIV)
Many years ago I was the target of a malicious individual, once my friend, who acted deceptively and created all manner of trouble for me. The person disappeared for a time then later surfaced in a way that I regularly had to be around them.
In today’s chapter, the author of Hebrews, now in the home stretch of his letter, shifts to encouraging his fellow believers with all sorts of exhortations. There are so many good and memorable words of encouragement in this chapter that the one about not letting “the roots of bitterness grow” is, in my experience, almost universally ignored.
The problem with bitter roots such as anger, resentment, envy, jealousy, and long-held grudges is that they will germinate in my soul, they will spring up in ways I don’t expect (and to which I may be blind). Like weeds in my lawn, they will spread quickly if left unchecked. Their bitter fruit will infect my thoughts, my words, my behavior, and my relationships with others. The result, as the author of Hebrews points out, is to “cause trouble” for many. It has a ripple effect through my circles of influence.
Which brought my deceptive friend to mind. As I look back over the years and look at things with 20-20 hindsight, I believe that what prompted the trouble was the fruit of bitter roots in my friend’s soul which came from their own wounds and brokenness. If I had allowed bitterness from the troubles they caused me to take root in me, then the infection only grows, bearing even more fruit and infecting others as it reaches outward into more and more relationships.
In the verse before the one I quoted this morning, the author writes “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone.” Jesus said that if there’s bitterness between me and someone else, I should deal with it before I show up to worship. Paul wrote the believers in Rome, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” The “as far as it depends on you” part is me digging out the roots of bitterness, addressing them, processing them, working through the hurt to reach the point of forgiveness where I can let them go.
In a few weeks, my dormant yard will spring back to life. I will begin the process of looking for weeds taking root so I can root them out before they spread. It’s just grass. Even more important is the need to look in my heart and life for the signs of bitterness taking root so I can deal with it before it infects my life, and the lives of those around me.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.