Verse: Hebrews 12:14-15
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 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.

What I find so interesting in this short passage is the teaching that a “bitter root” would cause trouble and “defile many.” When we struggle with bitterness towards other people, I think we generally assume that it isn’t really hurting anyone. These are just our thoughts, how can they hurt anyone?

My experience of a “bitter root” is when we get hurt by someone, rather than going to them and working it out, we just let the unresolved hurt and anger fester. It eventually turns into bitterness. What is interesting is that the author calls it a “root.” Roots imply some sort of tree or plant. So we have to ask ourselves, “what is the fruit of the bitter root?” If the root is bitterness and unresolved anger/hurt/pain, what is the fruit?

Could the fruit be a fear of intimacy in the future? Could it be a more cynical or judgmental heart towards others? Could it be a quick temper, a short fuse, or a dark outlook on relationships and people in general? Could it be gossip – where we begin to talk about our pain, but with others rather than the offender?

Can you see how quickly this seemingly personal root of bitterness can begin to grow and “cause trouble and defile many”?

Relationships are at the core of the family of God, the “Body of Christ”, the church. When we choose to nurse bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, and hurt, we think it is just personal. In reality that lack of healing in our lives will begin to eat at us, but it won’t stop there. It will bring destruction to us first, and then to our relationships. Unchecked it will literally defile our relationships, leaving its mark on the hearts of those we love.

The alternative is to bring our pain to Jesus. To let him unearth the bitter roots, help us honestly look at our feelings and pain, and find healing in confession to him and even others. His plan for our lives isn’t just to “get us into heaven”, but as John Ortberg loves to say, he wants to “get heaven into us.” He wants to help us find healing and wholeness, so we can be fruitful — and produce the fruit of the Spirit instead of the fruit of the bitter root.

I pray that you would unearth and expose any bitter roots in my heart. Give me eyes to see where I need to lean into your healing work in my life.

Author: Christian Dunn