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The Root of Bitterness

January 5, 2010

See to it that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.  Hebrews 12:15

Bitterness is complex.  It is never a tidy ordeal.  Rather, it is messy.  Bitterness comes with a history – usually a complicated one.  Bitterness is never isolated.  It doesn’t just affect the heart of the individual, but “defiles” many others involved.  Hebrews 12 describes bitterness as a “root.”  Its a glimpse back to Deuteronomy 29:18, “Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit.”  The root of bitterness is contrasted with the root of faith, which, according to Hebrews 6:7, “producing a crop, useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated.”   The contrast is a sharp one.  Below are a few observations as to what is the essence of the distinction between the root of bitterness and the root of faith:

  1. The root of bitterness prizes personal rights as ultimate.  Things which the individual believed were rightfully theirs has  not been given to them or has been taken away.  These rights have taken the throne of their affections and the individual will lash out with hatred when these rights are threatened.  The root of faith does not minimize the importance of rights, but does not prize them as ultimate.  Faith can guard against responding in hatred because their rights do not own their affections, but rather Christ is the ruler of their affections and the Gospel has instructed their responses to difficult circumstances.
  2. The root of bitterness idolizes justice.  Justice is the first response to any trespass against them.  Since their personal rights own their affections, anyone who violates their rights will pay for it.  They will hold their sin against them.  The root of faith rejoices in mercy.  Those who rejoice in the fact that their sins have not be held against them cannot require payment for the sins committed at their expense.
  3. The root of bitterness only trusts what they can control.  Bitterness looks to control every life circumstance for their sinful cravings.  Yet, when they no longer feel as if they are in control and circumstances turn grievous, they ultimately become bitter towards the one who has full control.  The root of faith happily trusts in God’s sovereign goodness.  Faith trusts that God is sovereign over all circumstances and is fully aware of how it affects his children.  Faith trusts that God is good and works all things out for the good of his people.  God’s sovereignty and goodness is good news for the Christian who is suffering in grievous circumstances.
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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Sue permalink
    January 6, 2010 2:28 am

    The word exousia in Greek is the word for both authority and rights. If you argue for male authority over a woman, you are actually arguing for male “rights” over a woman. How do you reconcile this constant seeking of male “rights” over a woman with your post? Thanks.

  2. John Starke permalink*
    January 6, 2010 2:50 am

    I think its pretty clear that “authority” and “rights” have a different sense to it – even in the Greek. This just doesn’t work.

  3. Sue permalink
    January 6, 2010 2:53 am

    Don’t you think that this verse in Hebrews could actually mean that we should not let anyone else become embittered because we do not treat them as we would be treated ourselves?

  4. Sue permalink
    January 6, 2010 2:56 am

    Sorry, cross-posted. I have been writing about exousia. When Paul asked not to be flogged as a Roman citizen he used the same word exestin, the verb. He said that it was not legal for him to be flogged.

    When Paul said he had the right to take a sister, or to be fed as an apostle – he used the word exousia.

    I don’t know how you can say that just because in English we separate them, therefore the inspired word of God separates these two concepts.

  5. Sue permalink
    January 6, 2010 2:59 am

    I think that the conversations often don’t work because I started reading Greek before I studied exegesis. So now, coming to exegesis, I always group meanings, ideas and passages by the Greek vocabulary and not the English vocabulary.

    I think there needs to be a discussion of how to bridge this, because I always thought that using Greek as a basis for exegesis would help to get around the fact that there are so many English translations.

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