Avoiding the Pitfalls of a Bitter Heart

Dr. Steve Viars July 7, 2019 Genesis 25-36, Hebrews 12

“In short, for over a week the expedition resembled a hospital ward for the critically ill more than it did a platoon of fighting men. Herein lies one of the great stories of American history, even though it is a tale of what didn’t happen rather than what did. It would have been the work of a few moments only for the Nez Perce to kill the white men and take for themselves all the expedition’s goods. Had the Indians done so, they would have come into possession of by far the biggest arsenal not just west of the Rocky Mountains but west of the Mississippi River, along with priceless kettles, axes, hatchets, beads, and other trade items in quantities greater than any of them would ever see in their lifetimes.” Stephen Ambrose; Undaunted Courage

“Bitter (OT – Marah, NT – pikros) – sour, brackish taste, the opposite of sweet. The poisonous, putrid bile from the gall bladder. An inner emotional feeling of deep sorrow, or an outwardly directed anger that cries out to the power that seems to be causing the problem.” Theological Wordbook of the OT – p. 528-529

The Bible uses this word group in three distinct ways:

1. The presence of bitter conditions

2. The power of a bitter heart

3. The poison of a bitter lifestyle

4 steps to avoid crossing the line into sinful expressions of bitterness

I. Make Key Observations from Several Core Passages

A. Proverbs 14:10, 15:11

Proverbs 14:10 - The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not share its joy.

Proverbs 15:11 - Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord, how much more the hearts of men!

1. Our struggle with bitterness begins in a very private place

2. Our God knows what is occurring our hearts

B. James 3:14

James 3:13-15 - Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic…

1. To overcome bitterness in our hearts, we must avoid pride and embrace truth

2. This struggle is a wrestling match against our eternal foe

C. Genesis 25-36

1. Esau cared more about his immediate comfort and relief than he did his position in the plan and purpose of God

2. The unbelief in Esau’s heart was expressed with a “great and bitter cry” as he twisted the narrative to justify himself

3. Esau’s bitter heart sought revenge by even planning to murder his own brother

“Perhaps the saddest and most godless person in Scripture outside of Judas is Esau.” John MacArthur, Commentary on Hebrews, p. 408

D. Deuteronomy 29:18-19

Deuteronomy 29:18-19 - …so that there will not be among you a man or woman, or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations; that there will not be among you a root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood. It shall be when he hears the words of this curse that he will boast, saying, “I have peace though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart in order to destroy the watered land with the dry.”

1. Looking to false gods for satisfaction and fulfillment will not only defile you but have a poisonous effect on others

2. It is even possible to live this way while presumptuously boasting that one’s stubbornness and unbelief is justified

“Bitterness in the heart often begins when we fail to respond to God’s loving discipline in our lives (in the broadest sense) with stubborn unbelief instead of trusting faith. If that unbelief in our hearts is left unchecked, we can become like Esau whose life was like a bitter root that sprang up and defiled many.” John Piper; What is a Root of Bitterness?

E. Hebrews 12:4-17

1. God uses discipline (in the broadest sense) to develop godly character in us for His glory and our good

2. God’s grace (cf. v. 15) is available to help us handle discipline in a faithful, believing fashion

3. An unbelieving heart produces bitterness that if left unaddressed, can have a poisonous effect on those around you

II. Define the Concept of a Bitter Heart Biblically

“A seething and unresolved anger rooted in unbelief because the pain and disappointments of life were not processed through the lens of God’s eternal plan and purposes.”

III. Understand and Studiously Avoid Characteristics of a Bitter Heart

A. Focuses selfishly on the importance of temporal comfort, pleasures, and desires.

1. Genesis 25:30 - …for I am famished…

2. Genesis 25:32 - Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die…

3. By “regarding lightly” the discipline of the Lord – Hebrews 12:5a

4. By fainting easily when being reproved – Hebrews 12:5b

5. Is unable or unwilling to endure – Hebrews 12:3, 7

6. Has weak hands and feeble knees – Hebrews 12:12-13

7. Is sometimes intergenerational

Genesis 25:28 - Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game…

8. Is a characteristic of the enemies of the cross

Philippians 3:18-19 - For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.

9. Must be avoided by those who wish to please God

Colossians 3:1-3 - Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Matthew 6:33 - But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

B. Undervalues God’s plan and purposes in your life

1. Genesis 25:34 - …Thus Esau despised his birthright.

2. Hebrews 12:6 - instead of seeing discipline as proof of the Father’s love

3. Hebrews 12:7-9 - instead of seeing discipline as proof of your sonship

4. Hebrews 12:10-14 - instead of focusing on the holiness and spiritual fruit that discipline can produce

5. Hebrews 12:16 - evidence of being immoral and godless

“Esau is a paradigm for a person who treats the honors of an heir lightly. He is the consummate fool because he threw away a precious privilege on a whim born of a physical appetite. The cravings of the moment outweighed the premier gifts of a lifetime.” George H Guthrie, Hebrews, NIV Application Commentary Series, p. 409

Proverbs 3:5-6 - Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

C. Remembers and retells the story in ways that are inaccurate

Genesis 27:36 - …He took away my birthright…

D. Has a poisonous effect on himself and others

Hebrews 12:15 - See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled…

IV. Recognize and Joyfully Pursue the Antidote in the Life and Presence of Our Sweet Savior

A. Endures suffering because of its sweet fruit

Matthew 4:2 - And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.

Matthew 4:3 - And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

Matthew 4:4 - But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’ ”

John 4:32 - But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”

John 4:33 - So the disciples were saying to one another, “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?”

John 4:34 - Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.”

B. Focused resolutely on accomplishing the Father’s plan

Luke 22:42 - …saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”

Hebrews 12:2 - …fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

C. Is known for His commitment to truth

John 14:6 - Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

Revelation 19:11 - And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True…

D. Is characterized by a sweetness that encourages others to faithfully endure

Hebrews 12:3 - For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Dr. Steve Viars


Senior Pastor - Faith Church

Director - Faith Legacy Foundation


B.S.: Pre-Seminary & Bible, Baptist Bible College (Now Clarks Summit University)
M.Div.: Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min.: Biblical Counseling, Westminster Theological Seminary

Dr. Steve Viars has served at Faith Church in Lafayette, IN since 1987. Pastor Viars leads and equips Faith Church as Senior Pastor with a focus on preaching and teaching God’s Word and using his organizational skills in guiding the implementation of the Faith Church mission and vision. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith Church ministries. Dr. Viars serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation. Steve is the author, co-author, or contributor to six books and numerous booklets. He and his wife, Kris, were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and five grandchildren.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video