It's no accident that God uses the image of a weed to describe bitterness. Bitterness isn't one of those big, flashy sins that you can see growing above the surface of our hearts. It may not show off like anger or produce rotten fruit like disobedience. Bitterness is a silent sin, as it grows beneath the surface, down deep in the soil of our hearts. And because bitterness is a weedy sin that burrows in our hearts first, we can't just cut off the behaviors that bitterness causes. We need the Lord's help to yank that weed up by the root. I read in a great article about bitterness that there are four ways to spot a bitter root. Since bitterness is a silent sin, the truth isn't always obvious.
Here are 4 questions to help you spot a bitter root:
1. Am I replaying the tapes?
Do you find yourself constantly replaying the tapes of a conversation with someone? When you interact with them, do you spend days rehashing every word or body language cue? Bitterness flourishes in the soil of justification. If you fixate on your interactions with a specific individual, you're looking for justification for your anger or frustration.
2. Is my mouth out of control?
Romans 3:14 speaks about a person "whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness." There is a connection between the junk that comes out of our mouths and the bitterness that takes root in our hearts. Do you find yourself losing your cool often? Are you critical, snappy, rude? Maybe the sins you are committing with your mouth are simply an extension of the bitterness you’ve allowed to grow in your heart.
3. Am I making myself sick?
Psychologist Dr. Carsten Wrosch has studied bitterness for fifteen years. He says "When harbored for a long time, bitterness may forecast patterns of biological dysregulation (a physiological impairment that can affect metabolism, immune response or organ function) and physical disease." Scientists have concluded that bitterness, if left unchecked, interferes with the body's hormonal and immune systems. Bitter people tend to have higher blood pressure and heart rate and are much more likely to die of heart disease and other illnesses. Paul didn't know that when he wrote Acts 8:23, but still he wrote "For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity." It's a bile, bitter substance that can literally make us sick.
4. Am I infecting those around me?
The "bitter root" in Hebrews 12:15 is first described in Deuteronomy 29:18: "Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood;" Like all weeds, bitterness has a way of spreading. So, what do we do if we find we have bitterness?
It's just another sin of our fleshly man, but it has to be dealt with.
1 John 1:5-9
5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, & declare unto you, that God is light, & in him is no darkness at all.
6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Don't be bitter with God!
There is almost a 100% chance when you go to any sporting event that you are bound to see or hear someone letting the players know what they think. I enjoy watching a good baseball game when the season is in full swing and regardless of whether I’m cheering on the Cubs or at a Little League game, there is always someone that is voicing their opinion. Now there are the many times where this behavior can be blamed on the alcohol consumption of the individual, but there are also those that are simply being a critic from the sidelines. Sadly, even I admit that I have been that guy from time to time. Obviously, the umpire cannot see as well behind the plate as I can from my seat 200+ feet away. I think we all are guilty of doing this in one way or another. The situation could also be when you see a famous person married another famous person and you immediately take to social media to let the world know how you don’t think it will work out. Wherever there are people doing things, there will also be people watching saying how they would do it differently.
So where does this urge to give unwanted opinion come from? We could use the typical excuse of it being formed in childhood. Way back in kindergarten when we warmed the bench while someone else that clearly wasn’t as good as us was able to play. We joke with our fellow bench-warmers about how one kid runs funny and we could beat them in a sprint. If we wanted to give it a more grown up excuse, we would say it’s all politics. How do you get back at the person that got the promotion instead of you? You talk with your fellow coworkers about how you put more hours in for the project or how much better your presentation was. Regardless of where we think it originates from, there are some symptoms of a cynical mindset that are easily recognizable.
In his book “Mind Over Emotions”, Les Carter describes the characteristics of a critic as “being overly concerned with personal rights, taking other people's success personally, desiring selfish gain, yearning for status and achievement, and an inability to share.” I don’t know about you, but I’m guilty of one or two of those almost every day. If it is that easy to slip into the cynical mindset, wouldn’t it be easier to chalk it up as another human fallacy? This is the lie we tell ourselves when the critic comes out. “I can’t help it, I just have to speak my mind.” Or there is the classic attempt to hide your insult by saying “No offense, but…” I think we all can agree that when we start a sentence with those three words, it is usually something that is offensive. James 3:14-15 warns us about the origins of such actions by saying “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” If we have these feelings in our heart, scripture also reminds us that they will eventually flow out.
If we were to take this progression and lay it out in a church example, it would look like this: Joe has an ungodly issue in his heart -> Joe leaves this issue unchecked -> Joe’s issue moves from his heart to his tongue -> Joe critiques Moe (a minister at Joe’s church) after Sunday morning service by telling everything he could do better to Sally -> Sally now has an ungodly issue planted in her life. The cycle is started over again because Joe left an issue unchecked. The thing about critics is that they are only dangerous when they have an audience. The old saying is still true today that misery loves company. It is much easier to leave an issue unchecked when you have someone to complain about it to. This also makes it much easier to tear down someone that is trying to live a righteous life because you are not in their shoes attempting the same thing. The truth is that God did not call us to be critics, but instead to do his will. The last two verses of James 3 put it perfectly by saying “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.”
I’ve already admitted that this isn’t something that I have perfected by any means. I do know that it is something that the world we live in is drenched in every single day. My point, however, is to simply keep it in our sight. The next time you want to share your opinion about something, it might serve you better if you check the root. Do you have an unchecked issue in your heart that may need to be evaluated before your mouth can be trusted to speak freely? Are your comments coming from a place of peace or from a place of criticism? Choose today to be more of a peace maker than a critic from the sidelines.
Peace not Critique,